January 13, 2015
First, why go with a penname?
You're marketing yourself. An author's name is as important to selling your work as your book title. Javinhouf Rosenbergenelstein would be an awful name for you--or anyone--to have to write, let alone remember.
Personally, I can only speak from my side about the penname issue. Why did I go with a penname? I didn’t. Not technically, that is. See, I was J.J. Peterson and that last name is both boring and common. Then my spouse gave me the last name Broering to choose from (spouse’s born last name). And I’m going to be frank here: no one can spell or pronounce that properly. (Unless you just said Bro-er-ing, you didn’t either :p). And everyone was constantly asking how to spell it. My father still couldn’t pronounce it correctly a year later.
A year after we were married, that is.
I love my spouse. Doesn’t mean I had to love the name.
I was going to use a penname— J.J. Sherwood (Sherwoods are relatives of mine from my father’s side), but in this technological age, it’s impossible to keep people from ultimately finding you and your real name. And your legal name still has to be used on anything government based, anything you pay with your credit card for, etc. and it becomes more work and more confusing than it’s worth… Honestly, in this day and age, there is really no point in using your penname to separate your personal life from your writing because anyone who is anyone can find out who you are and you’ll just end up as the confused one. And if you just want to use one because your name sucks, it's not going to help your confusion either. TRUST me. (my sympathies, Javinhouf Rosenbergenelstein. Or for some horrendous, truely awful names, you can go sympathize over here.)
And you'll confuse the people who know you. For example, let’s say my child goes to school and tells his friend that his parent is an author. I meet Joe’s father and he says, “Oh, you write books? What do you write?”
“That’s nice. I love high fantasy.”
And then Joe’s dad has to leave. Joe’s dad is sitting around a few weeks later and goes “eh, I could use a book” and looks you up. But he can’t find you because you aren’t J.J. Broering like your son’s name. You’re J.J. Sherwood—your penname.
And unless you want to introduce yourself to everyone as your penname and confuse them later when they meet your spouse/kids—or reverse situation—it’s just not worth it.
So my spouse and I legally changed our last name to Sherwood. This is a fairly simple process—a few hundred dollars, living in the same county for at least a year, and then popping in to the court building to file some paperwork as to the whys of your name change (it’s like a one page form). Then they give you a court date, you put a publication in the paper that they even phrase for you, and like 30 days later, you go to court.
Which isn’t as scary as it sounds. It’s a business room with two men who just sit down and chat about your criminal record (better not have one) and why you want to change your name. The whole thing takes about 5 minutes and wa-la, you walk out as the Sherwoods.
And J.J. Sherwood is both a catchy name and a name that sticks to my genre in a “cool” way that Peterson and Broering simply can’t.
So if you are thinking about doing a penname, consider going the extra step to making your penname your legal name.
As a side note, if you’re a woman and worried about asking your husband to take YOUR last name choice: consider why you thought that to begin with. This is the year 2014. Your reason is as good as his. So discuss what’s best for the both of you. This isn’t one gender vs. another. You two are a team.
When my spouse and I changed our last name, we took some family heat, but in the end, if they love you, they’ll forget about it.
It’s about you and your spouse first.
And then your writing. WRITE MY FRIENDS!
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