Choosing a Pen Name

I’m going to let you in on a little secret…Savannah Carlisle is a pen name.


My real name is Kristi Dosh. Savannah Carlisle is…a pseudonym…a nom de plume.

What is a pen name?

It’s simply a made-up name authors adopt for any number of reasons. Often, established authors choose a pen name in order to write in a new genre or publish additional books without violating their publishing contract or otherwise circumvent the unwritten rules of publishing. Many bestselling authors have pen names.

Stephen King’s pen name: Richard Bachman.

JK Rowling’s pen name: Robert Galbraith.

Nora Roberts’s pen names: JD Robb, Jill March and Sarah Hardesty.

Emily Bronte’s pen name: Ellis Bell.

So, why did I choose a pen name?

pen name

The biggest reason is because I’ve been writing as a sports journalist, and published a nonfiction book (and am under contract for another), under my legal name. That presented a few issues:

  1. I’ve already been using for more than a decade for my sports work and have SEO built up there all around my sports broadcaster brand.
  2. I didn’t want romance readers looking for more books by me and finding my sports books instead.
  3. Sports fans sometimes get angry. One way in which that manifests is bad book reviews…even when they haven’t read your books. I didn’t want to risk one of my opinions in sports negatively impacting the success of my romance novels.

I also thought it would simply be fun to start an entirely new brand. As the owner of a PR agency, I love the marketing side of being an author. A new logo, brand colors, fonts and more…I had a blast creating my new branding with my designer Kayse Blair!

And now, I get to build an entirely new website from scratch. From the design to the content, I love the idea of starting an entirely new brand built all around my romance writing and my love of all things beachy.

What to consider when choosing your pen name

Here are some things I took into consideration after researching advice on pen names and consulting my literary agent:

  • First, check to make sure you can get the URL and social media usernames for the name you’re considering. That ruled out dozens of names I tried. One of the best ways to do this is through namecheckr, which searches for the URL and all major social channels. I had to shorten to @savvycarlisle on all social platforms because of the character length on Twitter. Although I could have gotten @savannahcarlisle on Instagram and Facebook, I decided I wanted all my social channels to match.
  • Do a Google search for the name. Is it going to be difficult to rank for? Does anything negative come up? There was a different last name I was considering, but when I searched the first page of results was flooded with reports of a murder in an apartment complex with the same name in Savannah, Georgia. Not really what I want people to find when they search my pen name.
  • Consider if the name will be difficult for people to spell if they hear it without seeing it written. For example, maybe they hear you do a podcast interview and want to Google to find your books or social media. Although there is another way to spell Carlisle (Carlyle), I ultimately decided this last name met all my other criteria and was a viable option.
  • My literary agent advised that I choose a last name in the first half of the alphabet. Although many books are bought online these days, you still want your books easy to find when a reader is browsing through your genre and books are displayed in alphabetical order.
  • Be aware of how certain names are associated with specific genres. For example, using initials like J.D. Robb are often associated with male-dominated genres. One of the last names I considered was Somersby, which several people I spoke with associated with historical romances, not the contemporary romances I’m writing.

I’ll leave you with a few resources I can recommend that I consulted: this post from Joanna Penn, this podcast from The Creative Penn, this episode from the #AmWriting podcast and this episode from the Create If Writing podcast.


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