Should you use your middle initial on your book’s cover?

Don’t! Unless … well, read on:

Let’s say your name is Francine Lambert (I just made this up.) All your friends, relatives, and people you come in contact with know you as Francine Lambert. You introduce yourself at events as Francine Lambert. Basically, you are … Francine Lambert.

You write a self-help book on how to save money in a tough economy and it’s time for your publisher to put your name on the cover and into the necessary bibliographic databases. “How would you like your name appear on your book’s cover?” the publisher asks.

You’ve decided you will not use a pen name or pseudonym, which is wise in your case. However, after you blurt out “Francine Lambert” you pause and say, “Actually, make that Francine J.Lambert.” You believe your name with a middle initial looks and sounds more authoritative on your book cover. And you’re right … but you’re making a big mistake!

As we’ve seen, people know you as Francine Lambert, not as Francine J. Lambert. When you’ve pitched your book to an audience or even just to friends, they will go online to look for your book. Instead of looking for the title of your book (which they may have forgotten), they will search on your name. They will search on the name they know and remember, which is Francine Lambert, but all online databases associate your book with the name Francine J. Lambert. Will your book show up on these searches? Yes, but it will not score nearly as well in generic Google search results as it should!

Therefore, don’t use your middle initial on your book cover unless you have to.

When should you use your middle initial? I recommend it in two cases:

  1. You share a name with another author or famous person. Your middle initial will distinguish you and your book from the other author’s books. Online bookstore databases sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between two authors by the exact same name. One of our authors, John Lock, actually goes by J. D. Lock.
  2. You have a very common (i.e., popular) name, like Mary Smith or Paul Brown. I suppose for this reason Michael W. Smith doesn’t perform under the name Mike Smith. And that is the reason why someone known to all his friends as David Scott publishes under his full name, David Meerman Scott. You can get away with it, mind you, just ask Will Smith!

One last thing: If you actually go by the nickname Fran but you decide to put your full name, Francine, on your book cover, you should start introducing yourself to new friends and audiences as Francine (what’s on your book), and not as Fran. Why? So people who know you could find your book more easily. I have seen one of our authors interviewed on prime-time network TV. The celebrity interviewer identified him by his nickname, and so did the caption on the screen (let’s say the name was “Jack Jones”). However, his book cover, Amazon, and every single online database identifies him under his full name, including his middle initial (let’s say the name on his book is “John Q. Jones”).

Nobody who saw the interview will know that the author of the book by “Jack Jones” is actually “John Q. Jones”. Fortunately, the book has a very unique and memorable title.

For book marketing purposes, you shouldn’t use your middle initial or full legal name on your book’s cover. If you do, then it’s best for your book if you start calling yourself that way!