I like my name.
My full name is Christopher Brennan Wright. It’s a good name. I’ve had it for 41 years and it works well for me. My wife likes the name. My friends like the name. All in all it’s served me well.
That said, it’s not a very distinctive name. There are currently no less than four people named “Chris” in my current job. We’re all in two rows of cubes and whenever anyone calls out “Chris” we all stand up like prairie dogs, trying to figure out which one of us is being called. There’s a guy on the floor above me named “Chris Wright,” and I occasionally get his mail.
And this job isn’t an outlier. I run into other guys named Chris at work all the time.
But I like my name. So when I started Help Desk back in ’96 I signed it “Christopher B. Wright.” When I send professional emails I sign them “Christopher B. Wright.” When I published Pay Me, Bug!, I was going to put “Christopher B. Wright” under the title… but for some reason Bowker (the organization that lets you buy and assign ISBNs) doesn’t let you use a middle name on its ISBN form. So… I just signed it “Christopher Wright” instead.
All of bigger online eBook publishing platforms — Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords — give you two fields for your name, First Name and Last Name (and some have a drop-down field for an honorific). So when I created those accounts, I used the name “Christopher Wright.” Because, again, I like my name.
Imagine my surprise when I looked at the entry for Pay Me, Bug! on the Sony eBook store and saw in the bio that I wrote my first book while I was an aerial reconnaissance photographer for the Royal Air Force, serving mostly in Mali and Germany.
… looks like I got someone else’s email again.
If you search for “Christopher Wright” on Amazon, or on Goodreads, or do a Google search for “Christopher Wright writer” you’ll come up with some interesting results. You’ll find a guy who writes an awful lot of books about the old testament (according to my mother there’s a Christopher Wright who is a noted Biblical scholar on the Book of Deuteronomy). There’s also guy who writes about art history. Neither of these guys are me, but they both come up in the search results before I do because they’re more established. There are plenty of other examples, too, but I’m not going to list them here.
So the problem is that while I like my own name, there are other people who have the same name who like it too, and apparently they got here first. So I’m considering a pen name.
It’s funny, because I always thought of a pen name as something you used if you wanted to keep your authorial identities separate. An author who wrote both children’s books and steamy romances, for example, might find it useful to write the children’s books under one name and the steamy romances under another, because a parent who was searching for a children’s book and found a bodice-ripper instead might… panic.
Or you might use a pen name because the subject matter of your book is controversial and you don’t want to get fired from your job, or threatened by an angry public. There are times I wonder if Salman Rushdie wished he had published The Satanic Verses as “Joe” instead of using his own name. This would have had the added benefit of convincing everyone that it was written by an American, and in the 80s it would have been written off as yet another example of an American being a jerk, so whatreyagonnado?
But I never actually thought of adopting a pen name because there are too many other people in the market with the same name. But that’s where I find myself.
It’s a pretty logical reason to use one. There’s a reasonable case to be made. Of course, the next question becomes “what pen name do I use?”
There are a three things that I believe factor into a good pen name. I’ll list them here.
It has to solve the problem
So if my problem is “I’m competing with too many people in the same namespace,” it doesn’t do any good to choose a pen name that is just as common. “John Smith” isn’t “Chris Wright” but something tells me I’ll find a fair number of John Smiths out in the world writing books. So… the name has to be unusual enough to serve as an effective filter.
It has to be memorable
If you’re going to adopt a pen name on the grounds that it will filter your works better in database searches, then you might as well apply a little SEO to the name choice as well. If it’s going to be a name that you want people to search on, it should also be something they remember to use when searching. Make it stick out. Make it memorable. Make it punchy. Make it easy to spell.
I am a Self-Publishing Super-villain
This doesn’t apply to everyone. Not everyone, after all, is a self-proclaimed Self-Publishing Super-villain. But I am, so it seems only natural that my pen name should reflect this.
But how? I have to be careful here because all the obvious villain names are trademarked by either DC or Marvel. And I’m a self-publishing super-villain, which is very specific. I’m not trying to rule the world or anything. That would be both expensive and exhausting.
So what I need to do is use a pen name that has the ability to be unique in publishing, will stick in people’s minds, and accurately reflects me in some way.
That’s why I’m thinking of using “The Baptist Death Ray”
Once upon a time when I was posting music online, on sites like MP3.com, AMP3.com, and others, my musical persona/stage name was “The Baptist Death Ray.” It’s a fantastic name for punk rock and industrial music. I still use it on a few sites where I discuss politics. It sticks in people’s minds–even people who hated the name admitted to me it stuck in their minds.
I’m pretty sure no one else in genre fiction is using it. Also, I still own the domain name!
And as far as super-villain names go I think it works pretty well.
There are, however, a few drawbacks
First, “The Baptist Death Ray” isn’t what people would call a “respectable pen name” in fiction. I mean, come on. For a musician in a punk band, fine. But in the world of fiction we prefer actual Honest-to-God names that sound like names. The chance of people actually taking an author seriously who uses the name “The Baptist Death Ray” on all his books? Well. Let’s just say that chances diminish.
Second… well, it’s four words, and that’s going to screw up a lot of online forms. I could shorten it to three by using “Baptist Death Ray” and I might be able to get away with “Death Ray” as a last name. But I suspect there will be logistical issues.
Third… all these sites that have real name policies are going to be a pain in the ass to manage. It’s not like I’m actually trying to hide my real name. I’ll still be doing business with my real name. As far as I know you don’t need a DBA to use a pen name if you’re still using your real name to have checks sent to you, and to sign contracts, and to register copyrights, and all that stuff. But I suspect that trying to use a name that is, let’s be honest, slightly more outlandish than the average pen name will trigger some automated flag somewhere that tells a site administrator “hey, some wise-ass is trying to be funny. Delete this account.”
Now is your chance to talk me down… or egg me on
I’m still just thinking about it, but I have a habit of following through on these things pretty quickly once I make up my mind. That means the window is still open for you, my dear readers, to say “hurrah!” and give me the thumbs up or to say “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” and quickly form an intervention group to prevent me from doing something that we will all regret for at least fifteen minutes.
Let me know! What do you think? Post your thoughts below!