Pen Names (and also tangents)

nom de plume

I’ve never really thought about using a pen name.  I can see the benefit if you want to keep your personal and writing life separate (I know I wouldn’t want my grandparents to know I wrote smut, if I did that. NEVER happens. *cough*), but I want my own name on my work when it goes out into the world.

Well, kind of my real name… in real life, I’m not Kate. I’m Kathleen. I know, SHOCKING. The weird thing is, I spend so much time on this blog and commenting on others, with critique partners and at write-ins on Twitter that I now think of myself as “Kate” and have to stop to think when I introduce myself to people in real life. Do you know how awkward it is when someone asks your name and you have to stop to think about it? So much worse than forgetting your own phone number…

Anyway. I’ve wanted my own name on my books for a long time. Definitely since I started thinking about publishing anything. There’s just one teeny-tiny problem.

Quick, how do you spell my last name?

Did you have to look? That’s OK, everyone does. Please don’t feel badly if you’re someone who does/has done it in the past, because it’s not just you. Everyone writes my name as “Kate Sparks.”

It’s a fine name, if you ignore the fact that the name “Sparks” in writing leads you to thinking of sappy, tear-jerker romances. But it’s not my name. I’m Sparkes with an “ES,” and  like it. It’s not the name I was born with, but it’s actually a pretty cool name. It’s a shortened form of the word “Sparrowhawk,” for one thing, which is a tiny little badass bird. Fine by me!

So what’s the problem? If readers can’t remember how to spell my name, they can’t find me. If someone tells a friend, “I read this amazing book by Kate Sparkes” and their friend is all “AWESOME, I’m gonna look for that” and they search for “Kate Sparks”…


See the problem? Especially for someone just starting out, I mean. If Stephen King changed the spelling of his last name to “Kyngge,” we’d still find him. For me, someone not finding my work on their first Amazon search could equal them saying “screw it, I’m reading the Hunger Games again.” And who could blame them? Fantastic book.

I’m getting off track again, aren’t I?

I’m not changing the spelling of my name to make it more searchable. I’m not changing it to Tallulah Fandongola, even if that is the name I give when I call the pizza place and it might be more recognizable (and is spelled phonetically). Most people probably search for books by title, so I’ll be OK as long as those are easy to remember (not like these ones), but still…

Questions! Will you publish/are you published under your own name? If not, why not? Do you recommend authors to people, or just books? Do you think Kate Sparrowhawk would be a good pen name HOLY CRAP THAT WOULD BE THE BEST PEN NAME EVER! What was I saying? Oh, any other thoughts on pen names, weird spellings, searchability on Google or Amazon? Anything, really. Tell me all of the things. ALL OF THEM! I’m not so much looking for advice or reassurances, since I already know what I’m doing. I just want know what you think.

(Also, if the day ever comes when someone searches on Google for “Kate Sparks” and it says, “Did you mean Kate Sparkes?” I will throw a huge party. Just saying.)

(Also also, have you ever read your own name so many times that it stops making sense and you begin to wonder whether you’re spelling it right? That’s me, right now, editing this post.)


About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with six cats, two dogs, and just the right amount of humans. USA Today bestselling author of the Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy), Into Elurien, and Vines and Vices. Writing dark, decadent, and deadly Urban Fantasy as Tanith Frost. View all posts by Kate Sparkes

33 responses to “Pen Names (and also tangents)

  • grapelipgloss

    There is already an author named K Armstrong, (ok, shes kelly and im kat) who rights crappy adventure/romance books. I will probably use something other than Armstrong when/if I ever decide to publish. It’s too common a name. Nicholson sounds too old fashioned to me. I have no idea what I will do. K.E Nicholson. Maybe that would work. Ok. So there was no real point to this comment. I’m done now. 🙂

    • katemsparkes

      If you mean Kelley Armstrong, who writes paranormal romance, I adored her YA trilogy that started with “the Awakening.” But anyway…

      Armstrong is a common name, but at least it’s easy to remember and spell. As long as you had an easy-to-remember title to go with it, I don’t think it would be a problem. 🙂

  • Huw Thomas

    I like Kate Sparrowhawk… although it possibly sounds more like a character than an author.
    I have plenty of trouble with the spelling of my own name. It’s bad enough when people write it as ‘Hugh’, what really annoys me though is when people write ‘Hue’! I want to scream ‘that’s not even a name, it’s another word for colour’ but generally just smile politely and keep my mouth shut.
    Most of my books are published under my real name but I published one under the pen name of William Webster (my grandfather’s first two names) as it is quite different from the others. Funny thing – ‘William Webster’ is selling far more books and getting far more glowing reviews than ‘Huw Thomas’!!

    • katemsparkes

      Huw is an unusual spelling, isnt it? I used to have a friend named Hieu, same pronunciation. Very confusing for people, but I liked it. Good thing your last name is easy to remember. I have often wondered whether it would be better to use different names for stories written in different genres. I’ve heard so much conflicting advice on that.

      I think Kate Sparrowhawk sounds like a famous adventurer, possibly in a steampunk setting (which I, unfortunately, don’t do). Maybe a treasure hunter. Or a bounty hunter. Or both! 😀

      • Huw Thomas

        Nothing unusual about Huw! It’s the Welsh (Celtic) spelling of Hugh.
        Although Thomas is easy to remember some people still ask if it’s spelt with an ‘h’ or not! I’ve also often wondered if it would be better to have a name that’s nearer the start of the alphabet… like Dan Brown!
        Maybe you need to write an apocryphal autobiography about your life as a bounty hunter travelling through the jungles of South America aboard a steam-powered paddle boat, fighting off crocodiles and headhunters as you search for the lost city of gold…

  • L. Marie

    Hi, Kate! I started blogging under my pen name, though it really is my name. I’ve published under my full name. But since my fiction is markedly different, I decided to go with a pen name. Keep ’em both separate. I see the value of publishing under your given name, especially once you’re getting established. And who doesn’t want to see his or her name sprawled across the cover of a book???

  • Charles Yallowitz

    I use my real name even though most people said ‘Yallowitz’ is a terrible name. In this social media era, it’d be impossible to hide my true identity anyway. Besides, Schwarzenegger stuck to his name.

    Kate Sparrowhawk is a great pen name. Easy to spell too.

  • ioniamartin

    I think it will only be a matter of time until google is auto correcting us when we search for you.

  • mysticcooking

    I’ve thought about this a lot, especially since I’m co-writing a book, and I did toss around the idea of making up one name for both of us. In the end, Kati and I both decided we wanted our actual names on the book so when we go on to write our separate stories, we’ll have some name recognition. Might be getting ahead of ourselves… 😉

    Oh and I think your name will look very nice on the cover of a book. 🙂

  • Gloria Weber

    I have always written under Gloria Weber. Even before I legally changed it (I spent years avoiding the Social Security office and license bureau… And I still have managed to avoid the bank). Yes, I was not born a Weber (and its web-er like the grill not we-ber like the street in Toronto). My maiden name is a cluster[HE-HAW]. Never ever wanted to use it professionally. Not even as a pen name (I’ll use Grandmother’s maiden names if I must, but not that).

    But as I pointed out pronunciation, I know out there some people are calling me “We”ber instead of “Web”er. And in the future someone could be told “I’m reading Gloria Weber” and look for Gloria WebBer (the 2 b variety). So, I know your pain.

  • Lin

    I write under a pen name because my career choice means that everything connected to my real name must be Serious and Scholarly. But I kept my last name, just changed the first name.

  • Raewyn Hewitt

    I’m a bit like you, I wanted my real name on my will-be-published-oneday, honestly book. (I think if I keep blogging about it, surely it must happen…). I have trouble with people spelling Raewyn (yer names wot?), but I figure at least it kind of looks like something that should be in a fantasy book.

    As long as you have a good title, I’m sure google will autocorrect. Stephenie Meyer isn’t the traditional ‘Stephanie’ and it didn’t seem to do her any harm…

  • ontyrepassages

    You make the name, not the other way around, so I’m certain that either would work (and both are good choices). The way search engines work these days they’d be suggesting Sparkes by the time people typed the “r” or “k.” To me, for whatever reason, Sparkes carries more power (no pun intended) and Sparrowhawk possesses more mystery.

    I don’t use a pen name and after extensive research I’ve discovered that my real name—is my real name. My name is seemingly straightforward, yet I often have to explain it as, “Christina with a ‘ch’ and Hawthorne with an ‘e.'” Many people try to spell it without the “e” because that’s how the bush is spelled. If I use my middle name it’s the same problem. “That’s Anne with an “e.” Of course, my name is so long I’ll probably have to publish in landscape.

  • Kira Lyn Blue

    I actually don’t remember the titles of most of the books I read, but I think I might be a special case. I don’t read many standalone novels because I need writers who can feed my epic addiction to books. So, I go for series and the name of the series and the name of the author is what I remember and use when making recommendations.

    I use a pen name because my married last name would look really weird on a book cover, my maiden name is unpronounceable, and every fantasy fan knows that True Names have power. Got to keep that shizz to yourself 😉

  • melissajanda

    I just read a book that touched on this very topic this past weekend. I read three books (they were short) and can’t remember which one this advice was in but I think it was Self Publishing 101 by Shelley Hitz. Really good book and the Kindle version is free. The advice was to avoid using initials and odd/unusual spellings of names. A search for K M, KM, and K.M. would yield different results and odd spellings would easily be forgotten by the reader. Great post. I actually like Sparrowhawk, has a nice ring to it and follows the advice I just referenced. 🙂

    • katemsparkes

      You know, I’d never thought about using my initials. I only use “Kate M Sparkes” on my blog ID because “Kate Sparkes” was unavailable; I kind of hate my initials. Also, I’d hate to feel like I was trying to hide my gender or something. 🙂

  • Ashida Grand

    I like Kate Sparrow for an author name.

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