The Dirt on the Pen Name

Someone recently asked me for advice on whether a pen name is a good idea for an author. Here are some tips, if you are considering one.

1. Google your name. Do you share it with an axe murderer? Another author perhaps? How unique is it? How difficult is it to spell or remember? Are you a top hit or buried behind three million other people named Smith?

2. Consider the impact on marketing. If you use a pen name, you shall be cursed. You shall be cursed with two Facebook accounts, two Twitter accounts, two email accounts, two Google Plus accounts, etc. It takes time to build an online presence and you may have to start from scratch with a new name.

3. Realize anonymity is a myth. A pen name will not protect you. Everyone you know knows it’s you because you have to promote the book. The moment someone snaps your pic at a book signing, for example, you’re out there. Facial recognition software is not a thing of science fiction dreams anymore.

4. Factor in your own creativity. Does a pen name excite you? Do you feel more free writing under another name? Have you always fantasized about writing as someone else? If so, go for it.

So what did I choose? Despite all the downsides, I went with a pen name, K. B. Jensen. Why the dual identity? Am I an eccentric, reclusive millionaire? A criminal with a secret past? Am I hiding something?

No, of course not. It’s just that I’ve got one of those exceptionally rare names that is impossible for 99.9 percent of the population to spell and pronounce. People don’t return my phone calls because they can’t understand it sometimes. Add to that the fact that I have a professional identity as a journalist as well. Google my real name and you’ll get a ton of hits about everything from stories about animal-assisted therapy to photos of CeaseFire rallies in the Chicago suburbs. I’d like to maintain a professional identity separate from my fictional world.

I’ve also always been worried people will read my work and think I’m crazy. Let them think K.B. Jensen is crazy. It takes a certain amount of freedom to write. You have to let your mind wander in ways beyond the ordinary everyday. So what’s in a name? Freedom.

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