A practical post today for anyone thinking of using initials in their author name. This may seem like a minor point of detail, but how you format it can make a big difference to your discoverability, as I realised recently when searching on Amazon for an author whose name includes initials. The author was high profile, but none of her books came up until I omitted the initials altogether. It seemed I’d been formatting the name in a way that didn’t match Amazon’s records.
I’m not alone. On ALLi’s Facebook forum, our News Editor Dan Holloway reported:
I experienced exactly that problem a couple of days ago when searching for a friend, R.A. Johns. Until I actually got to the search box and started typing, it had never occurred to me, but I suddenly realised I didn’t know what to type. And Google can sometimes try to be clever (especially if you don’t put the full stops in) and think you’re not searching for initials at all.
It’s less of an issue if you have an uncommon name. Tasmanian author W R Gingell says she’s relatively easy to find online, wherever you put the dots – but then there aren’t many Gingells around.
British author Laxmi Hariharan agrees. “I guess this is one time having a more unique, difficult to pronounce name helps. I often thought of shortening it or using initials but didn’t, because it just felt like I was being disloyal to my name”. I think that’s an important point: it helps if your author name feels like it belongs to you, otherwise you’re going to stumble or sound unsure or apologetic when you tell people what it is – subliminally a negative message.
Which Format to Choose?
J K Rowling or JK Rowling or J.K. Rowling or even J. K. Rowling?
Depending on your age and how you were trained in punctuation, some of those will instantly look right or wrong to you. I learned to type when it was newly fashionable to omit full stops (periods) after abbreviations, which still looks right to me after Mr or Mrs but wrong after ie (or i.e.)
I never dreamed of using initials for my author name, not least because I don’t have any middle names (like me, my parents preferred the simple life). However there are plenty of authors who prefer initials to first names in full so as not to be obviously male or female, or so that readers will draw their own conclusions and arrive at whichever they prefer.
Obviously you can choose whichever format you prefer, but beware of potential pitfalls. Australian novelist JJ Marsh (look how carefully I spaced her name!) advises:
I don’t use spaces or points – JJ Marsh – but am not allowed to do that on Goodreads, who insist on J.J. Marsh. But it’s easy enough to distinguish me from the other two JJ Marshes who pop up – one’s a Swedish guitarist and the other’s an American bodybuilder.
Jenny Alexander has a similar problem:
I definitely found this a problem in Amazon when my publisher decided to use my initial instead of my full writing name for my children’s self-help books. They do appear on my author page, but not everyone searching for J Alexander would know my full writing name is Jenny Alexander, and if you search ‘J Alexander’ a mass of random authors with either the initial or the surname seem to pop up.
A Better Way?
US author Karen Myers offers practical advice on how to make it more likely that people will find you, whatever format you’re using for your intials:
Everywhere I could, I would include the whole list of variants:
* as HTML page keywords
* in blurbs (e.g., if main version is “K L Myers”, include, “KL Myers” somewhere in the blurb)
* on copyright pages (e.g., (C) K L Myers, KL Myers)
… anything to ensure that Google search and equivalents can find it under as many variants as possible
If one of the reason you’re keen on initials is that you think it sounds more authorly, it’s worth pointing out that initials are also harder for would-be readers to remember. Alternatively you may choose initials because someone is already writing under your name, as was Paul Murphy’s experience:
I wanted to publish under Paul Murphy but right at the last minute discovered there was already a writer of same name who wrote about travel. Hence the decision to publish under p.d.murphy. Not aware of any problems as such but if you search in Amazon for Paul Murphy, you will not find me easily.
If it’s androgyny you’re after, you could always achieve that impression by choosing a name that could be either male or female. Dare I confess it took me a long time to realise which gender Lee Child is? (Please don’t tell him.) Robin (or Robyn), Joscelyn, Rowan – there are plenty of possibilities.
British author Timothy Lewis has been thinking laterally to come up with another solution:
Maybe we should all just publish under a single searchable name, like the Brazilian footballers use…
As with any matters of spelling or punctuation, consistency is obviously important, if you don’t want to look either daft or indecisive. And at the end of the day, as with any decision facing self-publishing authors – it’s your call. Just one more joy of being indie.
OVER TO YOU What’s your take on using initials in your author name? Do you think the benefits outweigh the potential pitfalls? We’d love to know!
OTHER PRACTICAL WRITING-RELATED POSTS
How to Number Your Books in a Series – by Keith Dixon
How to Create a Language for a Fantasy Novel World – by Karen Myers
5 Myths about Writing – and 1 Universal Truth – by Helen Kara
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