Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted a pen name. Maybe it’s not that weird – I was allergic to dogs so wishing for a puppy was out of the question.
Later, in high school, while my friends were busy writing the names of their boyfriends on their notebooks, I’d be trying out names for the day when I became a published author. Ok. Maybe it is weird.
Now that I finally have the chance to use one, it turns out it’s not that simple.
Social media for one
Does my pseudonym get a Facebook page? Somehow that’s the toughest. Twitter account – easy. Anyone can have several. It’s more anonymous. So is Pinterest and even Instagram. But Facebook somehow is more personal. I don’t want people “friending” someone who doesn’t exist.
And having two accounts on this and maybe three accounts on that - plus another blog/website, email, book page - is bound to get confusing.
Do I make one up or use my own? I think I’ve decided to use my own. Maybe not everything, but some of what I’ve learned and done.
What about interviews?
I’ve signed up for a blog tour and said I’d be willing to do interviews. But again, do I create a whole new persona? Somehow that seems wrong. Even though it might be fun. I’d add a few inches to my height, take off a few pounds, give myself great hair, and a posh pied-à-terre in Paris. Maybe I’d like skiing in the winter and surfing in the summer. I could even claim hobbies. And suddenly I’m turning myself into a character in a book.
Recently I’ve read about the difference between secret and open pen names. Keeping it secret, like Elena Ferrante, seems a bit pretentious for an unknown. But making it open only seems to matter if you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. At the moment, I doubt anyone cares either way about my real or pen names. I don’t foresee a time when I’ll be confusing my fans by switching genres. So I’ve decided to tell my friends and leave it at that.
And the benefits?
Early in my career, I needed to learn to write grant proposals. My boss sent me to a two-day workshop in New York. The premise of this particular grant-writing workshop was to learn to write ego-less proposals. Gimmicky but interesting.
When we arrived, we were given numbers – we were not supposed to use our names. They broke us up into groups mixing beginners with people who had experience. Our tasks were divided into one-hour units. For each unit, a different person was designated the leader. By the end of the workshop, everyone had been a leader at least once.
The point of all this was to help us learn to take our egos out of the writing process and concentrate instead on what we had down on paper. To make us less attached to our own ideas and more involved in creating a piece of work.
Sure, it was a little like being in the army, except we stayed in a hotel and had a cocktail hour at the end of each day where we could use our real names. But it worked. At the end of two days, we had written a decent proposal.
That idea of doing something that takes you outside of yourself and your own little world – even if it’s artificial - stayed with me.
A pen name is kind of like that. I get to be removed. Approach my writing a little more objectively. I’ve already written about the joys of editing mercilessly. A pen name helps give me the freedom to do that.
Maybe it’s an introvert thing
There’s an interesting irony in doing this now when it’s all about author branding. Promoting yourself. Getting discovered. Getting name recognition. Blowing your own horn. I’ve never been comfortable with any of it.
Fortunately, there’s this pen name who will handle it all for me.