Branding yourself as a Writer: What’s in your name?

“The power of truly mindful branding is mighty, indeed. “

Girl with cool T-shirt“It’s the reeaall thing, Coke is…”

How about this one, “Ho, ho, ho, Green Giant!”?

Certainly, bologna’s first and second names do not escape us easily…

Now be honest, you sang those little ditties out loud when you saw them, didn’t you?

The power of truly mindful branding is mighty, indeed. It’s almost impossible to erase the images and feelings, once they’ve sizzled and burned themselves into our brains. Branding is a foundation for marketing, one that creates a fan club fit to rival every competitor.

About the only thing that can damage a solid brand is faulty reputation – something the company (or person) itself falls prey to, by not living up to its name.

Hmmm…

Let’s test this theory in the grand scheme of things, shall we?

Think Lance Armstrong, since he’s been in the news so much, as of late.

Here’s a guy whose fans stood by him through some really tough times. They trusted him to be who he claimed to be, deliver what he promised and live up to the brand he spent years creating for himself. No one had any reason to bail on him, until he himself gave us one.

Anyone can create a brand for themselves.

If you’ve a reason to get noticed in the public eye, it’s a good idea to consider the importance and necessity of branding yourself, especially if the market is saturated with competition as it pertains to your field.

Hello?

Writers, starving artists…you know who you are, and while it’s clear you’d rather be writing and creating, taking a little time to make your name sizzle in the minds of others could be one of the best things you ever do.

It all starts with a name, doesn’t it? We’ve heard it countless times, the book that didn’t get published (or even looked at, for that matter) because the title was a bit too out there [or] odd. Pen names are impacted by this phenomenon too.

Mark Twain or Samuel Clemens
George Orwell or Eric Blair
Lewis Carroll or Charles Dodgson
Ayn Rand or Alisa Rosenbaum
George Eliot or Mary Anne Evans
Anne Rice or Howard O’Brien

The pen names listed above require no further explanation. Fans adore them. Samuel, Eric, Charles, Alisa, Mary Anne and Howard have effectively branded their pseudonyms, making their marketability a given.

Publishers came to depend on and predict a certain style and genre from these authors. They expected these writers to be reliable and consistent with their message, delivering it to an audience that awaited nothing less.

Marketability of works from these authors was a given.

However, the authors had to be willing to be true to their brands, saturating the marketplace with those brands as required, to help sell their work. The nice thing is, because their brands are so firmly established, there is no need to overwhelm or bombard people with incessant advertising. The brands sell themselves much of the time.

It’s the same reason Life® cereal doesn’t need to go overboard when promoting a spin off like Cinnamon Life® cereal. Who doesn’t remember Mikey? “He won’t eat it. He hates everything…” but he sure eats his Life® cereal, doesn’t he?

So it is with writers. We have an obligation to ourselves, fans and clients to be reliable and consistent with our manuscripts. It’s not enough to develop a name for ourselves. We have to honor the name we’ve chosen to write under, and deliver the words people are longing to read.

We must live up to the reputation we’ve created, and earn the paycheck clients are happy and willing to pay us, if we remain true to the works we’ve proven we are capable of writing.

»photo credit: bobby-james

MJ JoachimM.J. Joachim has published more than 1000 online articles. Don’t miss her Writing Tips blogsite. M.J.’s interests and expertise range from Crocheting and gardening to marketing and brand management. Learn more about M.J. on our Contributors Page.

questionDo you use your real name, or a pseudonym, when you write publicly? Do you like the sound or the look of the name you’ve chosen? What have you done to establish your brand? 

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Comments

  1. Jim Bessey says:

    This is something we often forget to consider, isn’t it, MJ?
    Growing up, I hated my last name and the teasing that came with it. I vowed to change it legally when I was old enough. When I was a radio show host in college, I was “Jay Carroll” (my first initial and middle name).
    I figured if I ever wrote a novel I’d use the name James Carroll; then I found out that name was “taken”!
    I’ve been writing under my own name now since I first discovered the Internet in 1999. In fact, I’ve never even tried to use a penname. I’ll just have to let my words stand up for themselves, huh?
    One thing, though — I’d sure love to find a picture of me that doesn’t make me look quite so ooooold. “PhotoShop”!!

    • As you know, Jim, I use a pen name. Way back when I started writing on the web, it was advisable to remain “anonymous” for security reasons. At least that’s what I was told. By the time I wanted to switch over to my real name, M. J. Joachim was a brand. I like the whole initial thing I’ve got going on, so it’s all good:)

      You picked some nice names to use as pseudonyms. Coat tails are always the best bet, so it’s just as well you didn’t ride on any.

      Other pen names I toyed with (way back in my high school and college days) were Teresa Rose and Tess…standing alone and speaking for herself, haha. Oh, I had a lot to say back then…

      Funny how age creeps up on us…not too good with photo shop, so from a distance will have to suffice:)

      Thanks for publishing my article, kind friend!

      • Jim Bessey says:

        “Funny how age creeps up on us…”
        Or how it jumps out right in front of you from behind those bushes, laughing hysterically at the look of abject horror in your eyes, raises its hairy gnarled arms high in the air and shouts “Buggah Wuggah!” in a raspy bass howl with bloody spittle spraying from between its blackened lips…
        OK, I’ll just crop out the date on a picture of me from 2002; how’s that? [Have you seen a jacket photo of Stephen King lately? ...not that he gives a fart about what we think of how he looks today, gazillionaire that he is.]

  2. Interesting, about a week ago I participated in a workshop which was called “branding yourself”:)
    Now when I think back I realize that few months ago I’ve undergone major rebranding. After quitting my job I was no longer career woman and working mom. I have a new business card, which says writer/blogger under my name and guess what? It is the best title I even had on a business card – ever!
    I am still establishing my brand and the most emotional result I have received was when they asked my son ”what does your mum do?” he answered ”she’s writing books” :)
    As to the name – my last name is very complicated both to pronounce and to spell. I thought about pen name before, but then decided that I want to be myself, including the name.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      What a great feeling that must be, Ani!

      Friends, for a superb discussion about the liberating power of writing under a pseudonym, please take a few minutes to read Johnny B Truant’s post “How to Write Your Ass Off” on Copyblogger. His first line is, “My name is not Johnny B. Truant.” Love it from there!

    • I have to agree, Ani, choosing to do what you love and going for it is an amazing feeling! Love the fabulous support of your son…that’s gotta be a thrill!

      Looking forward to checking out that article, Jim. Sounds like there’s some very useful information in it.

      It is fun to find out about unexpected synonyms, isn’t it Lori? I agree, branding is interesting, and once you’re hooked on it, you’ll never look at commercials and advertisements the same way again!

  3. Hi Jim
    As they say – you learn something every day — I had no idea that Ayn Rand’s real name was Alisa Rosenbaum! I hope I’m not the last person on the planet to find that out! Lol! Branding is an interesting topic – thanks for this post!

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Thanks, Lori,
      The only one I knew from MJ’s list was Mark Twain! How about those gender switches, too? Would love to know the why’s of those. I did know that John Wayne had some frilly name like Lynn Regrave or something, so his choice of a stage name made perfect sense! -grin-

  4. Enjoyed the post, M.J.

    Jim – If I remember right, the female name to male pen name thing had something to do with chauvinism back in the day.

    I’m going to take somewhat of a contrary view on this. I know this post is about fiction writing. My comment is not…

    I have a thing about pseudonyms. I’m fine with them in fiction writing. If fact, that’s kind of fun and mysterious. It’s also fine in entertainment (radio, tv, movies), or as M.J. pointed out – for safety.

    But with online ‘brands’ who sell coaching and consulting, I don’t care for it. Maybe it’s just me, but if I’m going to pay someone hundreds or thousands of dollars to consult for me or my business, I should know who they really are, if they’re really qualified, and if they’ve done anything nefarious previously in life … not who they ‘brand’ themselves to be online. It’s like hiring a fictional character.

    Who would you *really* be giving your money to? I wouldn’t hire a babysitter for my kids with a pseudonym … so why would I trust them with my business?

    So in a long, round-about way my answer to your question, M.J., is that since I write on a blog about real business issues, I use my real name. I did pause before doing so, but not for long. At the end of the day, I felt I would lose credibility any other way.

    Now if I were writing a novel … a pseudonym would for sure be a consideration.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      I’ve never bought a thing from JBT, but I do love reading his posts, Gary.

      I see your point about authenticity. I follow Mary Jaksch, Tea Silvestre, Derek Halpern, Brian Clark, and Jon Morrow — in addition to JBT, who is a recent addiction. I do like the way Johnny writes, tho I’d never attempt to imitate his style here. Can I say for sure that each of these others is writing under their real name? Not really, no.

      As for trust, I’ve had no problem handing money to Mary or Brian. Derek seems like a good guy to get drunk with. I’d love to be able to sit on Jon’s balcony, watching the dolphins, and talk to him about life and writing. As for Johnny, hmm, not sure. He’s a little in-your-face for me, but he shoots straight and with passion. If his real name was Melvern Hucklefiddle, would that make a difference to me? Good question!

      MJ has her brand, and I know what to expect from her. But Johnny does, too. At the moment, I can’t think of anything I’d want to buy from JBT, aside from an awesome post, of course. And I’d buy from you, Gary, even if your name was Tina. I think it all comes back to consistency of style and approach, and the value of your content. It’s case by case for me, I suppose.

      Have you started that novel?

      • Jim:

        Not about JBT specifically really. Just about business vs. writing of fiction or those other things I mentioned. I’m sure he has some good stuff.

        And I certainly wasn’t referring to MJ. Just an “in general” observation.

        As for me and a novel … I’m admittedly not cut from the right cloth for that. It’s a talent I admire a great deal but don’t have.

  5. This is a great topic, M.J. …. Branding can make or break, no doubt about it. So can one’s initials, for that matter.

    I decided a long time ago that I would write using my FULL given name even though it is somewhat unusual and difficult. “Kukkee” is pronounced ‘cookie’ with every known jest and implications of chocolate chip, raisin, shortbread and oatmeal. “Cooookie’ is also used to denote ‘quirky’………but overall, I think it sticks in the mind,— which is successful branding isn’t it?

    “Branding” does create certain expectations, and that can be problematic. We as writers are encouraged to be versatile. Does branding limit genre-crossing? I have, for instance, written children’s books, ie. “Morgidoo’s Christmas Carol”, a family Christmas classic– but my name is also going on “Fires of Waterland” which is coming out soon–and the genre is entirely different, ie. ” YA, not suitable for young children”. I have wondered about that potential contradiction.

    One aspect of using a pseudonym that some may not agree with is the bottom line reasoning for using a pseudonym. Perhaps pseudonyms are chosen NOT because a given name is so ‘ boring, awkward’, ‘funny’ or ‘just plain weird” — but that using a pseudonym provides escape from reality, and it provides a few comfortable degrees of anonymity for whatever reason. We all have our own subconscious reasons for privacy, do we not?

    Perhaps a writer is unsure or embarrassed by the thought behind content, for instance, the ‘warped, evil, devious, mischievous” writing of erotic novels which are now so popular, but clearly mommy may not ‘approve’ of writing ‘that’, –or simply the writer’s specific self-image or personality gets in the way.

    Being an introverted, private type with a nervous inclination to remain detached six degrees from anything published can create fear of ‘exposure’ to the public. Perhaps content is super- controversial or even ugly in nature. Perhaps it ‘insults’ somebody, think of S. Rushdie’s problem. Should we isolate ourselves? That does become the real question.

    The way I look at it, ‘public opinion’, fallout and repercussions do occur at times, at times for the silliest or simplest of reasons; but if someone wants to find out who you are so they can ‘diss’ your written work,— they will do so, regardless of which name you ‘attach’ to it.

    I say “writers unite, be fearless; be true to who you ARE” and write what you are compelled to write. Use your own name. By no means does your writing define who you are in absolute terms. Be thought-provoking, for that is where the best writing often occurs.
    By the way, M.J. is that pronounced “Joe-chim” , ” Joe-keem”….or ‘Yokeem” ? “:))
    Regardless how it is pronounced, this is a great article. It sticks in the mind, well branded!

    • Jim Bessey says:

      One of the many things I love about you, Raymond:

      When you have something to say, you dig right into it. No drive-by comments from you, my friend!

      I always wondered why you didn’t go by RA Kukkee (which has a nice ring, don’t you think?), or “you can call me Ray” — but you do it your way and stand by it every time. And yes, I also wonder how to correctly pronounce MJ’s last name; glad you asked!

      I’ve had sales calls in which the caller asks, “May I speak to James Beaseley, please?” Um, no, you can’t. Good-bye now.

      When MJ and I first discussed her thoughts for this column, I told her it sounded like a nice, light and fun topic. Turns out, there’s some meat to chew on here, isn’t there?

  6. Great article …. and very true about brand names. Its a name that should have character and reflect who we are. As writers, some of us adopt pen names, while some of us retain our real names. But whoever we are or whichever name we go by, this name has to create an instant image in the mind of the reader / fan. I know many people now connect me with Mandy’s Pages. Similarly Raymond with Incoming Bytes. It’s little steps that start out with brand names creating a product, an image and trust. I know, if I am unreliable, so is my brand name. It is very important that one who creates a new product and display a brand name be true to whatever the motto or creed of that name.

    “To thine own self be true,
    and it must follow, as the night the day,
    thou canst not then be false to any man. ”

    - William Shakespeare

    I like how Shakespeare created a brand name for himself. :)

    • Mandy’s Pages is a wonderful site, Mandy :) And you’re absolutely right, it takes time to develop a proper brand. Reliability and consistency are key elements of sustaining a brand over time. Love the William Shakespeare quote…fits so perfectly into the discussion :)

  7. Joachim is pronounced (Joe kim), Raymond.

    I have all sorts of directions at my disposal, in which to take your comments, Gary. Suffice to say, I’m not biting, since branding isn’t about whether or not writers choose to use pseudonyms. Have any of your babysitters ever been called by a nickname, btw? One could reasonably argue that nicknames are types of pseudonyms, I believe.

    I must agree with Jim and Raymond on this. Authenticity, genuineness, trust etc. all speak volumes when it comes to branding. And the reasons for using a pen name, are as varied as the people using them.

    Credibility, as you mentioned, Gary, is also important. However, I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who don’t think M. J. Joachim is credible – many who have issued payment to me and my real name, after purchasing my work. Business to business isn’t necessarily about what name you choose to publish under, as it is about the people involved in the relationships.

    • Nicknames are a form of pseudonyms I suppose, but if I didn’t know what the real name or identity of the person they wouldn’t be watching my kids or my business.

      I agree 100% with all the authenticity comments as well, so we’re on the same page there. I’m just saying writing with a pen name is much different than operating a business with a pseudonym. And I didn’t really mean to call anyone in particular out on it.

      I was moreso referring to many anonymous bloggers out there selling things who people don’t know the way they know you. It’s just something I think of when making buying decisions. No offense at all. And certainly not pointed at you. I enjoyed the post.

      • Ah, no offense taken at all, Gary :) Your comment truly made me smile. Actually, all my work is copyrighted with my real name, directly on my blogs. There’s no big secret about who I am at all.

        Warning! About to open a can of worms about women’s lib and chauvinism – never saw much point in either of them myself. I mean, am I any more or less of a woman, because of what I do to earn a paycheck or how I take care of my family? I think both men and women are fabulous, albeit extremely different too. You won’t catch me trying to level out that playing field. I happen to think it’s pretty cool with all its differences :)

        Must agree, knowing who you’re doing business with and what they’re all about simply makes good business sense. It’s the sign of an educated mind to perform due diligence. Great points in your comments, Gary. I couldn’t be happier with your “food for thought” in this discussion! Nice to meet you, btw :)

  8. I think the actual branding process – and ability to write well – has more to do with marketability than using a pseudonym. Would I not read Alice in Wonderland by someone named Charles Dodgson? Would I not have read 1984 because Eric Blair wrote it? No, I read them because they are amazingly written pieces of art. I don’t care what the name is. I’m not against pseudonyms, I just am not sure they’re necessary.

    • Ah yes, the power of excellent writing, Bobbi! The product must be able to stand alone. Dare I suggest that Charles Dodgson and Eric Blair could have been branded as easily as their pseudonym counterparts? In which case, their next books would have an automatic running start? And if those next books didn’t live up to the reputation presented with the first book, would their brands have suffered for it? As I said in the article, it’s not enough to develop a name for ourselves. We have to live up to that name, to make the brand that represents us.

  9. I have read about the need to develop a personal brand but am at the beginning stages of finding my voice. Once that happens I will have something to start working with.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Your name has intrigued me since I first met you, Priska.
      Do you use your last name online at all, or always stand alone as Priska? I’m not familiar with your name, either. It has a certain sparkle to it, almost as if Priska was a nickname or short for something else (is it?).
      As a guy named James, I’ve never been able to use my first name by itself as any sort of identity. So it’s always been amazing to me to watch people like Cher and Madonna brand themselves so perfectly that those single names are enough.

  10. Jim, I don’t use the ‘r.a.’ because initials themselves are too common, there’s even a ‘rae kukkee’ which does become problematic. Raymond Alexander is very specific. At one time I was considering using a pen name but gave up on it when I realized how unique my full name is. “Branded”, regardless of genre….I have to laugh, if you were “James Beaseley, I would wonder if you are related to the better half….”:)

  11. “Now be honest, you sang those little ditties out loud when you saw them, didn’t you?”

    Actually, I have no idea what those songs are!

    But that’s good advice – having a consistent style. I’m still developing my style, so I guess I’ll hold off on branding.

  12. Hi Jim,
    Jovell here from A-list blogging. This is a dilemma I’ve had since I decided to become a freelance online writer. Like you, I don’t like my last name. It’s hard to pronounce and remember. Of course, when I ghostwrite for clients, this is not a problem. I actually did not have my last name show on my blogs and social media profiles at the beginning. But eventually, I said “what the heck!”, people will not know it’s me if I didn’t put my last name. They might think it’s another author or that I’m hiding something. So now, even if I still get the question ” what’s your last name again?” or “how do I pronounce your last name?”, it doesn’t bother me anymore. And besides it’s my new last name after marrying my husband, so I need to use it :)

    • Jim Bessey says:

      I agree completely, Jovell!

      “It’s my name — deal with it.” :-) Especially if you acquired that name by contract, for heaven’s sake!

      So how do you pronounce your last name? I seem to read it as “All-ing-good” but see that it might also be “Ailing God”? Regardless, it’s yours and certainly not weird or creepy, and fits nicely with your somewhat unusual first name, too. All in all, it helps make you memorable when coupled with the writing that you proudly attach your name to.

      Glad you stopped in, and hope you’ll join us for our next contest, coming shortly (before the holidays).

      • Hi Jim, I can’t stop laughing after reading your reply!…it’s a Filipino last name so mostly, we pronounce words as they are spelled. It’s A (as in apple) – lee – ngod (the “ng” like in long). It’s hard to teach it in writing, I just realized that!
        Thanks for the invite and I’ll make sure to check out your updates :)

        • Jim Bessey says:

          Well, then, Jovell — your pronunciation is much better that way! Why, it virtually sings! :-)
          Have a wonderful evening.

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    • No thanks, Candelaria.

      We subscribe to the idea of putting thought, effort, and talent into our writing. We also have a pretty fair idea of what Google likes and doesn’t like. Thanks anyway.

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  1. [...] manuscripts, but also delivered a relied-upon story line publishers and readers readily count on. Branded authors proven through time — alpha writers who have made a name for themselves that remains forever [...]

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