What’s in a name? Art Thou Still a Rose?

Yeah, but…you might not give the impression you wish.

There are several reasons for pen names or nom de plumes. And they exist for the same reason they always have. A level of anonymity. Here is a list of examples.

Number one, suppose your name is perceived as ugly or inappropriate for the genre:

Charles Manson IV writes children’s books. However some cretin with an almost carbon copy of his name has made a name for himself as the leader of a murderous cult. Although his family and friends know The Fourth as a sweet man, his name on a book would not bring in killer sales.

Eulah Wojaoklalichky writes self-help household organizing books. However, due to a desire to make life easier on her readership to assist in finding her books or writing to her publisher with questions, she simply decided on a more friendly sounding name, Lolly Lalich.

Petunia Ann Wadsworth writes hot steamy erotica, not the poems that her mother’s tea friends think. Since Ms. Wadsworth would like to keep her Country Club Membership, she uses the pen name, Thira Tart. It is not as if her readers do not think that Thira Tart is a blatant and amusing pen name, they do, but the name more clearly defines her style of erotica than her personal style of living. And she gets to stay out of arguments about where her pin money comes from.

Another reason for pen names is that there exist names that only a family member could love, Harold Lee Crouch. Imagine being Harry Crouch the third, it only takes a slip of the tongue to be something altogether different. A reader might be hesitant to ask for a book by Harry Crouch because of a fear of an unpleasant public moment of mis-speaking.

Still another strange, but nevertheless true, reason for a pen name is that Publishing houses used to own writer’s names. Yes, such a notable author as Jayne Ann Krentz lost the use of her name through contract. As of a tape I listened to from 2004 RWA conference, she has the rights to her name restored to her. Losing your name is not so common anymore, but it is worth protecting so keep an eye on those contracts. There is a reason the names were important and still are to publishing companies. They invest money to support and grow recognition and value in an author’s name. How much do you think Ms. Krentz’s name is worth right now on the cover of a book?

If that were not enough, here’s an interesting reason. There are crazy people out there. Protecting yourself from them by putting up one more barrier for them to jump over to find your front door isn’t the worst idea you’ll ever have. If you have never had the pleasure of having someone on substantial medication back you into a corner to explain to you thoroughly why you have to write their life story, then you have not let enough people know you write. By the way, usefull answer to a situation like that is to encourage them to write their own story. No one will be able to do it justice that has not lived it.

The last several reasons I’m going to roll into one since they all relate together. Sales, marketing, and brand recognition are affected by the ability to grow a readership to support a name. Suppose your writing goes stale and sales go flat because you are set on writing vacuum-cleaner ghost romances. The first few sales weren’t too bad, but the initial interest is gone. Now, whenever someone sees a new story with Sucks Tobe Ewe on the title page, it goes immediately in the rejection pile. The story isn’t a vacuum-cleaner ghost romance, you gave them up months ago. No, this one is about a virile space pilot, Rod, and his side-kiss Nancy.

Because your name, Gladys Goink, is associated as part of the brand that was supposed to build for those ghost books, it is also unpleasantly associated with failure. A new name is needed for those snappy, sassy, space pilot, Rod, adventures with his lovelorn side-kiss Nancy. Maybe something like Stern Thompson.

I am currently up the creek for what I’ve done to myself. I never knew I would write a book, finish one, or that anyone would read it. Then I wrote one, finished it, and knew that no one would ever know that I had done that, just in case it was really bad. However, I also wanted a pen name that started with an ‘a’. So, one night while my husband and I were getting silly, we settled on Blatant Appeal as a pen name. I also, thinking ahead, thought that if I saw a book with Blatant Appeal on the spine, I would probably laugh and pull it off the shelf to open it. I pictured consumers doing that. And that is as far as our thinking went. It wouldn’t matter if I were Blatant Appeal because no one was ever going to know that was me. That rosy state of denial lasted less than two months.

My beloved told everyone at town. The library called to have me give a talk. Imagine being introduced as Blatant Appeal when your image is more like Dolly Dumpling. Oh, and I stutter under pressure as well as break out in splotches of red like a Holstein cow has black ones. The flower shop crew gave ME flowers to give me moral support for the event.

Then worse happened. I had the book print-on-demand published through Barnes and Noble to see if strangers would like the story. They did. So, here I am, having written a genre book, adventure survival romance with a very inappropriate pen name for the genre as well as public appearances. I need a new one. Especially since, I’ve attempted other sub-genre’s and I can write the adventure survival ones much easier than any others. I need to keep writing them, so switching to another sub genres isn’t going to help. To compound the problem, I’ve written self-help books under my own name and children’s stories under Skippy Rydell. I thought children could remember the name Skippy Rydell. However, I’ve currently decided I’m not Super Woman or even Super ½ Woman, so I’m abandoning at this time everything but the adventure writing.

Pen names are serious, fun, and necessary. Take the time to pick the right one each time—it really does matter. In the meantime, if you’ve a hankerin’ to see what kind of mess can happen when you put Blatant Appeal on the web-go to www.blatantappeal.com


Reese Mobley said...

Nina, what a thought provoking post. You always do such a good job. I really hadn't put that much thought into a pen name--until now. Thanks for the sharing your story.

Rox Delaney said...

Uh, should I really click that link? LOL

Rox Delaney said...

Ahhhh, okay, I did click and see what you mean. (Soap and scrub brush for my brain is required here.) Help may be needed. We should all put our heads together and knock out a knock-out penname for you. :) But let's not do it here. ;)

I agree with Reese. A very thought provoking post. I had played around with names before I sold, knowing I wouldn't use my "real" name. With a crumbling marriage, I didn't want to use my married name, and my maiden name didn't thrill me either. I did what I had to do.

Rox Delaney said...

One more comment, and then I'll go away. Using more than one penname/pseudonym may not be advantageous. It truly depends.

Nina Sipes said...

Reese, thanks for reading the post. Really, the pen name thing has been a trial. One thing I didn't mention is that readership has a tendency to really like only one kind of book that an author does. There is a remarkable lack of cross-over sales and the reason that JD Robb is not Nora Roberts. The genres are too different to satisfy the true blue fans. Ms. Roberts didn't like having to go another name and had to be talked into it by her agent and others. There is a small line between continuing satisfaction to consumers and product identification crossing over to sister products.
However, that line can work for good if there is product failure. One won't take out the other.

Nina Sipes said...

Ah, come on. Scrub your head? What delicious thoughts must be bubbling through your head....
But, Blatant Appeal, as you can see, is not quite right for adventure survival romance. She's more of an inside girl, if you know what I mean.

Rox Delaney said...

The buying public has their...biases. Part of the reason Nora Roberts took a pseudo for her J.D. Robb books was because the publisher wanted to reach out beyond romance. Men, especially, might not buy a book by Nora Roberts. :) Not saying they're sexist, but...well, they're sexist. LOL It worked. It's not an uncommon practice, depending on where the author is expanding her stories.

Someone going into single title romance from category might not want to change names. It's always hoped that readership will follow in cases like this. That's why it was such a big deal when H/S authors could retain their rights to their pseudonyms.

Starla Kaye said...

Yet another great blog post! And this one hits me "close to home," since I'm one of those writers who have a jumbled history of pen names.

Like Nina, my first book was published through Barnes & Noble, under the pen name Starla Kaye. It was a sweet romance and my thoughts at the time were to use one name for that kind of writing and my real name for non-fiction writing (which I've only done a few articles using). And I wanted a name I could remember.

Then I went to puslishing hotter stories with a touch of fetish online, so I did those under the name Kay Starr. BUT when my editor decided to start publishing those stories as actual books, then I had to come up with a website, etc. That's when I discovered that there is a singer named Kay Starr. I didn't want to "step on her toes" and decided to change my name to Starla Kaye for that publisher and website.

Next I sold a short work to another publisher it was flat-out erotic, so I published under Starla Kay (no "e").

Meanwhile my first editor asked if I could write under a second name as well, with a slightly different sub-genre (romantic suspense with a touch of fetish). So I added S.K. Fero. But I continue to mainly publish with that place as Starla Kaye.

Next, my newer publisher thought it would be smarter to use Starla Kaye on future works. The idea was that, hopefully, we could tie in my well-known name and fanbase to the other sub-genre.

So at the moment I have books available at various publishing sights and Amazon, B&N, Lulu, etc. as Starla Kaye, Kay Starr, Starla Kay, and S. K. Fero. Nobody is more confused than me.

Sadly, I'm wanting to also branch out to writing a children's series, and will want a different pen name for that.

And my daughter and I are gearing up to write a more cozy style of mystery series involving senior citizens. We'll want a different pen name for that, too.

Where does it stop?!!!

Joan Vincent said...

Amusing, accurate, and thought provoking--great job Nina. Some might think that coming up with a pen name before publishing is like writing an acceptance speech for the Oscars before being nominated but it isn't. When I first sold I was told my real last name would never do and it took me forever to come up with a pen name. Actually I didn't come up with it. One of my best friends and my husband's best friends suggested Joan Vincent on the same day. It's always better to be prepared and with this post everyone can take in all aspects of a pen name while mulling over which name would be best.

Becky A said...

Hey Miss Nina aka Blatant Appeal/Dolly Dumpling/Skippy Rydell/and any others I've forgotten,

Sorry I am so late to the party but life got in the way. You have certainly given me food for thought and I have questions. First of all, are you sure you don't have a little split personality thing going on here??? :)

I have often thought it would be best to have a pen name in order to keep some sense of anonymity, and also so that an author could write in different genres if they so choose. (I never thought of how any of the names might sound.)

Can you do a Prince number like this: A Better Name, formerly known as Blatant Appeal?? Or try sticking with the same initials, B.A., (which by the way I think are great), thus keeping your new name similar to the old? Maybe if they promoted any new books as: Written by the same author of, Whatever Title You Did Well With.

I don't know much about this stuff, (say obviously), but I have great faith that you will figure it out!

Thanks for the great blog, Becky

Penny Rader said...

Loved the made up names you used in your post. Especially Sucks Tobe Ewe. Still LOLing about that one. Thanks for the great post, Nina. And best of luck in your pen name search.