"Cats Don't Have Names."

“What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?'
'Cats don't have names,' it said.
'No?' said Coraline.
'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.” 
― Neil GaimanCoraline

My very first iteration of a pen name was Jessamyn Shade. 

Picking names is not my strong suit. Or my average suit. Or my $25.99 on-sale-at-H&M suit. No, the names I pick are my knockoff Juicy velour tracksuit: derivative, unflattering, and actually not very comfortable -- I mean they're not even fleece-lined, they won't keep you warm, and the poly-blend lining was developed by rogue NASA scientists to preserve sweat-smells so future generations can better understand the early 2000's. We look back at shoulder pads and bell-bottoms with a thoughtful, "Hey, it's ugly but I get what we were doing, let's bring it back but ironically." No one looks back at Juicy tracks suits and thinks, "That was a really solid idea, let's bring it back but ironically" because it was already ironic the first time. But bad ironic. Ironic like all the incorrect uses of irony in Alanis Morisette's song "Ironic."

Juicy tracksuit irony circa 2004. 
Where was I going with this? 

Pen names! Want to be a bestselling romance author? Unless you're is born with a rad name, its a good idea to pick a better one as your pen name. Here's why:

  • Your name goes on the cover of your book, so it's part of your marketing. No one is compelled to pick up an erotic contemporary romance called "The Bodyguard Billionaire's Juicy Mistake" by Edna Shoemaker-Levy. Your name needs to fit with the genre and that name is only appropriate if you're a comet or a law firm. 
Unless you're Fabio. Then your name works for every genre.
  • It's a good idea to separate your personal and professional life. It's 2017 and we all know how to stalk people on Google. Do you really want your child's 4th grade class to know Tommy's mom writes steamy thrillers on the side? If you want to become rich writing romance novels (see previous post), your part-time job will probably do a preliminary google search for your name before hiring you, and it's nice when the first search result isn't a link to your most recent blog post about all the different euphemisms for boobs. 
Difficult to explain to your prospective employers at the racetrack.
  • Also practical reasons: you're going to have to make an author page on Facebook, set up an author email for business correspondence, and -- if you actually start making money -- set up your author name as a business so you can get all those sweet tax write-offs on all the boob euphemism books you ordered off of Amazon. It's way less confusing when your author name is different than your real name. 
Also useful for avoiding an existential crisis before breakfast.
Okay, so we're on the same page here. You need a sweet pen name. But what makes a good pen name? Some things to keep in mind:

Make sure it's a name you're comfortable responding to in a public setting. 
Especially for conferences and other writer events. Even at my month's RCRW (Rose City Romance Writer) meetings, most of the published authors go by their "author name" at the meetings. Even though we all know each other as real people. Weird, huh? Think of it as role-playing. You need to be comfortable living as this character. I had to register with my pen name for the Emerald City Romance Writer's Conference I'm going to in October, and I was wracked with anxiety about using my newly minted name for the first time because it'll be printed on my name tags and all the registration info for the conference. 

Parents have nine months to plan for this eventuality and yet.

Keep it short, and (probably) 3-5 syllables. 
There's no actual rule except that it shouldn't be too long to fit on a book cover or spine. But one trend I've noticed is that MOST good names tend to be three to five syllables. The ones that are easiest to remember are three syllables. Think about it. Neil Gaiman. Stephen King. Danielle Steele. Kresley Cole (she's my favorite). There's a nice rhythm to a 3-5 syllable name. 

Make sure it's not taken. 
Google is your friend. I really liked the penname Noelle North... buuuuut apparently she's a 68-year-old actress who might also be a Scientologist. 

It should be genre-appropriate
The romance world is VERY delineated by genre. Yeah, there are crossovers and a few indie successes who shucked the constraints of standard labeling, but it's still kind of the first way that bookstores, publishers, and potential readers will categorize your book. These are the big ones: 

  • Contemporary - usually they take place in a small, charming Midwest or Southern town where everyone knows each other (Romantic Suspense is its own subgenre within Contemporary: Navy SEALS, Cops, Ex-Millitary Bodyguards... any variant of a badass dude with a gun)
    • Appropriate pen names: Jennifer Crusie, Rachel Gibson, Suzanne Brockmann (suspense), Cherry Adair (suspense)
  •  Regency - a very specific time period in England that's only loosely based on reality, in which literally every Duke is hot and rich and there are somehow way more of them who are unmarried and totally open to marrying spunky, unconventional women who are either spinsters over the age of 21 or impoverished, self-made dynamos
    • Appropriate pen names: Tessa Dare, Julia Quinn, Sherry Thomas, Judith Ivory
  • Historial Romance - every other time period except Regency. Kind of like how in school we spend five years learning about U.S./American history and then two years learning about "World History" which encompasses LITERALLY EVERY OTHER THING TO EVER HAPPEN IN THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN WORLD, because America.
    • Appropriate pen names: same as Regency. 
  • Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal - a catchall category that includes vampires, shifters, demons, witches, ghosts, time-traveling ghosts, time-traveling vampires, time-traveling... well, you get the idea. Sometimes Sci-Fi is a subgenre within this category, but for some reason Sci-Fi isn't really that popular in the romance world. I suspect within the "traditional" primary market for romance (ie. middle-aged white women from the Midwest and the South), the concept of spaceship travel and hot alien sex is less relatable than a magical world where everyone is a rich, handsome, English noble and/or a fictional world where everyone is a misunderstood billionaire just looking for the right wide-eyed ingenue to be his submissive sex slave-slash-wife.
    • Appropriate pen names: Kresley Cole, Jeanine Frost (actually her real name), Dara Joy, J.D. Ward
  • Inspirational Romance - this is how the industry labels "religious" romance. In Inspirational Romance, Jesus is particularly interested in a hapless but good-hearted Christian woman and ensuring that she and Mr. Good-Boy-Next-Door-Who-Is-Also-The-Sheriff become entangled in silly romps and absurd situations so they can fall in love but totally NOT have actual sex until marriage, and most kissing or fondling situations will just be coyly alluded to but not actually described and they would definitely, absolutely NEVER use the word "cock" because that is not what Jesus would do. 
    • Appropriate pen names: I assume anything that doesn't sound un-Christian
  • Erotica: self-explanatory. Actual pen names in this category include Eboni Snoe and Jaid Black. so call yourself whatever you want as long as it's spelled wrong. 
  • Other: genre-blending books that cater to niche markets. Very, very niche. 
Exhibit 1

Exhibit 2

Long story short, I decided Jessamyn Shade was too cheesy and I felt stupid saying it aloud, so I sat down and made myself a whole list of names. I used baby name websites, movie credits, book characters, made up names... you name it (ha!). I thought about using my first name (Jennifer) and then just changing my last name, but it just wasn't sexy enough. 

I thought about using my future-husband's last name (Comfort), but at the time we weren't yet engaged and I thought that was a little presumptuous of me. Also -- Comfort is a great name, but more appropriate for Contemporary romance. 

Finally, I settled on a name that just felt right. 

I took my XBox Live name: Kitten_Master, and morphed it into a romance author name (drumrolllllllllll......):

Kitt Masters!

It's appropriate for a steamy, paranormal fantasy romance. It's got three syllables. And I'll respond to it in public because I've used some variation of that name as all my gaming handles for the last ten years. 

Before I chickened out, I bought the domain name kittmasters.com because it was available, and even if I don't become a famous romance novelist I can use it to market cat products!

What do you think?