Finding a Pseudonym


Edith Maxwell, here. I needed to create a pen name, a pseudonym. I am fortunate enough to suddenly have contracts for two different series. My current Local Foods Mysteries contract stipulates that I can’t publish a different mystery under my real name (or any name resembling it) during the term of the contract. Kensington Publishing doesn’t want the competition, I guess. I agreed to the clause.

But Barking Rain Press is going to publish Speaking of Murder, the first in Speaking of Mystery series with Quaker Linguistics Professor Lauren Rousseau, this fall. So I had to come up with another name, and it was a lot harder than I had imagined.

My late father, Allan B. Maxwell, Jr was a big writer but not a published one. He nevertheless had a pen name he was fond of using: R.J. Nalla. Clever. Pronounceable, spellable, and with logic behind it: Allan Jr spelled backwards. Somehow I don’t think LLewxam Htide is going to really catch on with readers. I wish Daddy were still with us so I could ask for his ideas.
So I went looking for guidelines on creating a pseudonym. Jamie Hall’s essay on the topic made a lot of sense to me. Besides a name that is pronounced and spelled unambiguously, it should also have the following characteristics:
    • Be short (you hope you are going to have to sign it dozen of times in a row).
    • Be toward the front of the alphabet, so it’s shelved at eye level in a bookstore or library. Of course, with ebooks this loses all relevance.
    • Have the URL/domain name available.
    • Have few or no existing hits in an Internet or Facebook search.
    • Be available as a Twitter handle.
    • Be a name you aren’t going to mind responding to.
    • Sound like the gender in whose voice you wrote the book.
    • Preferably have a two-syllable first name and a one-syllable surname.

That’s a lot!

I wanted to come up with name I was happy with so I can start building that “brand” — web site, FB page, new photo, and so on (a somewhat exhausting prospect, frankly). Avery Aames did it for her Cheese Shop mysteries, and admirably, successfully (she also got a separate picture taken), so I know I can, too.
Because my protagonist is a Quaker (I am, too), I started looking into old Quaker names for women. I found a few I didn’t care for, and then I saw Tace. Ooh. I liked that. And it’s certainly unique on the Internet. I decided on Baker for a last name, since it fits the easy-to-spell and front-of-alphabet criteria. And there we have it. I registered the domain name, took out the Twitter handle, and when I find a corner of free time, will set up my Facebook Author page. I just hope I can direct enough readers from Edith to Tace and back.
What about you? Have you created a pseudonym? Is it working for you? If not, how have you felt when you discovered an author you like was operating under a hidden identity? What kinds of names attract you or turn you off?
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About Edith Maxwell

Agatha-nominated and national bestsetlling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing) and the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries (Midnight Ink). As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries series and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries (both from Kensington Publishing). Edith has also published award-winning short crime fiction. She lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.
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4 Responses to Finding a Pseudonym

  1. Nancy Gardner says:

    What fun to be able to choose your protag’s name, Edith. Reminds me of Donald Maass name we author’s as Story Gods 🙂 !

  2. Lisa Jackson says:

    I have to have a pseudonym for my fiction because there’s already a prolific (60+ novels) author on the mystery shelves named Lisa Jackson. So many people actually think I *am* that author when they friend me on FB, Twitter, or want to connect on LinkedIn. The giveaway is when they say “I love your books!” 🙂

    I played around with some names, but decided on an old family name, “Haselton”. I like how it sounds and I like the spelling (“Hazelton” is common). It’s working for me, but people who know me don’t know what to call me many times, so I’m starting to go by Lisa Jackson Haselton. 🙂

    I don’t mind discovering that an author I’m reading has a pseudonym. I don’t even go out of my way to find out if it is a pseudonym either. In fact, I love J.D. Robb’s works but not Nora Roberts’ novels. One-and-the-same author, but different genres and different voice. I never would have guessed if I hadn’t heard it somewhere. 🙂

    I also have a 2nd pseudonym for romance writing, and I came up with that name in a similar fashion. Romance isn’t a genre I focus on, so I don’t share it much. Plus nothing is currently available at the moment anyway. 🙂

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