Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Pseudonyms

So a friend of mine last night was asking about pseudonyms, wondering if she needed one, what all was involved, was it worth the hassle, etc. She is working on a memoir and is concerned about, among other things, having to deal with annoyed family members.

For a great explanation of pseudonyms, I recommend this article over at Toasted Cheese. However, the short short version is that a pseudonym is any name you use which is not somehow a derivative of your legal name.

Pseudonyms are a bit more controversial than the layman might think at first glance. After all, lots of people use pseudonyms, right?

Many people argue against using pseudonyms unless you have a compelling reason, feeling that you should be proud of your work and want to take ownership of it. Some writers feel that they are lying to people if they use a pseudonym (particularly at book signings). That's something everyone has to square with themselves. In the Internet Age of online handles/nicks/whatever-you-want-to-call-them, so many people have an online persona that they may not feel that using a name different than their legal name is in any way distancing them from their audience, or being disingenuous.

There are many perfectly good reasons for using a pseudonym. Just a few examples: you hate your real name, you have a very common real name, someone else is already published in your field under your name, you want to write in more than one genre and you don't want to confuse your readers.

(Or, say, you have a very common name, you want to distinguish your fiction from your non-fiction, and you write erotica. That last of which I might have been less worried about until some poor guy got fired for being married to a porn actress.)

So, what's in a name?

When you're looking at setting up your web presence (which is very necessary these days and we'll talk more about that some other Tuesday) you should keep your name in mind. You need your fans to be able to find you.

  • Check to see if www.yourname.com is available or if it's already taken. If it is taken and you really want that name, you can try www.yournameauthor.com, www.yournamewriter.com, etc.
  • Do a Google search for your name, and read through the first few pages. (On average, most people never get past the third page of any browser search.) Does it show anything recent and interesting? For example, when I first Googled "Mercy Loomis" I mostly came up with genealogy pages listing people who died in the 1700s and 1800s. Doing the same search right now netted me four of the first ten search results, and I'll probably have more once I get my website up and running.
  • Check for blogs, Facebook pages, LiveJournal accounts, MySpace accounts, etc. using your preferred name.
  • Check to see if yourname@gmail.com or your.name@gmail.com is available. Same for other free email services.

Honestly, you'll want to be making all those accounts and stuff anyway, regardless of what name you use, so why not make it easy and use a name that no one else is apparently using?

Now, if you are working on or shopping a novel and you haven't decided on a pseudonym yet, don't worry. You can always wait and ask your agent or editor for their thoughts on the matter. But if you are publishing articles or short fiction or poetry and you want to build a following, figure out the name first. Don't worry about having a really outlandish name - in fact, a really outlandish pseudonym may turn off prospective editors. (Depending on what you write.) Pseudonym or not, remember there are plenty of writers out there like Stephen King and Dan Brown who have very common names - they just got out there first and became hugely successful. It's not the name, it's your writing that really counts.

Once you've decided on a name, you have to know what to do with it. My friend wondered how you would submit something using a pseudonym.

Keep in mind that your agent, your editor, and your publisher will always know your real name. (It goes on your check!) It is perfectly fine to send out submissions under your real name and discuss pseudonyms upon acceptance. Another option is to mention it (briefly) in the cover letter, and on the manuscript have "Story Title by Your Name (writing as Pseudonym)." Doesn't need to be a big deal. Your agent/editor will have seen this all before and will not be fazed by the fact you are using a pseudonym.

My friend also asked about the author bio, wondering if she needed to make up a whole new person if she decided to use a pseudonym. Again, that's up to the individual. You can use real information for everything, just with a different name, or you can embellish.

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