Quite a lot, actually. A lot of to-ing and fro-ing, trying to find one that looks right, sounds right, balances well on a book cover and isn’t too hard to pronounce (so you don’t end up with lots of confused readers in the bookstore who want to buy your book but don’t know how to say your name and are too embarrassed to go and talk to the girl on the Customer Service counter in case they get it wrong and look like a plonker).
In the opinion of my agent, it is not dissimilar to the naming of cats. I’ve always maintained that cats should be named something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to yell down the street at midnight to get the wretched thing to come home, and my subconscious immediately presented me with an image of a group of agents wandering around Bloomsbury trying to round up their authors after one of Gollancz’s legendary parties.
I’d originally picked Elizabeth Cooper as my pen-name, because I felt my real one didn’t exactly trip off the tongue. It doesn’t seem to have hurt Conn Iggulden much, but there you go. Anyway, my publisher was keen to go for something that balanced better on a cover, and we batted round some ideas. We even tried playing the gender-ambiguity card for all it was worth, since research suggests that boys tend not to buy books written by girls. Strange but true.
In the end, we decided that the rule book had been comprehensively trashed by the likes of Stephenie Meyer and Charlaine Harris, and that for fantasy authors female is the new black and Elspeth Cooper it would be. Plus the foreign publishers loved it. The name with which I have existed in a state of armed truce for some forty years, which I am reduced to spelling out over the telephone as echo-lima-sierra-papa-echo-tango-hotel only to have the person at the other end go “Um…”
But really, I don’t care, because in 2011 the name in gold-embossed lettering on that gorgeous cover over the thick hardback book will be *mine*.