Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Writer, Name Thyself

Most people are given a name when they're born, and that's the one they live with forever. Maybe some will change it once - for instance, if they get married - but that's pretty much it. The only choices they'll have, in terms of names, will be what to name their kids and pets.

Writers, on the other hand, get the chance to name things all the time - themselves included. But do writers always make the best choices when naming themselves?

Think about your twitter handle. If your name is something like James Smith or *cough* Kat Ellis, that's going to make choosing a handle close to your name pretty difficult (trust me, I tried really hard*).

Maybe you have the bright idea, "I'll use my book title as my handle!" You're now known as @BrowniesTasteBad on twitter. The thing is, if you're at the query stage with this novel, what are you going to do if this is not The One, and you have to move on to something else?

Or even if you've published Brownies Taste Bad, what will you do when you write your next novel, Jodie's Toyshop? Jodie features no brownies at all, so people who are reading that and not Brownies Taste Bad aren't going to have a clue what your handle means. If they're searching for you by your name on twitter, you're not likely to stand out to the Jodie-fan among the reams of James Smiths if you have a randomly weird handle. What will you do, keep changing your handle every time you write a new book?

If you want to be found on twitter (and that's kind of the point, right?) that will happen more easily if people can tell who you are.

Your blog. Calling it 'The Writer's Right to Write' might seem cute at the time you set it up, but guess what? When I get your posts sent to my phone, I haven't got a clue who wrote it. And more often than not, I'm going to unsubscribe.

Have you ever googled yourself? Is your blog the first thing that pops up? If not, chances are other people who are looking for you online won't find your blog either, unless they go via your twitter account...but wait, if you're called @BrowniesTasteBad on twitter, and your blog doesn't have your name on it either...oh.

The genre switch. Written a YA thriller? Cool. But now you want to write a completely different genre - let's say it's an adult historical romance. Should you use the same name to publish both books?

Well, of course it's down to personal choice. The thing you might want to consider is: who's picking up your new book? If it's a fan of your earlier YA thriller, and they're expecting more of the same because your books have been shelved together and have the same author's name on the cover, they're going to be kind of WTF? about it. When someone begins your book with an expectation that a boy wizard is going to show up because that's what you've written about before, then your new book - no matter its standalone merits - is going to be disappointing. Because basically, you haven't let it be a standalone.

And of course I'm going to go there - if you switch from writing pretty much any category or genre to writing erotica, do you want someone to read it without knowing the type of content to expect?

I'm not getting into the argument of whether YA novels should contain graphic sex (that would be another long, ranty post), but if you're a YA writer who decides to publish books with very graphic sexual or violent content, FCOL pick another name to publish it under. Or even just add a middle initial. Something that will let people know that it's not another YA novel, to be shelved as such. As much as readers - teens included - have a choice about whether to read 'adult' content, they also have a right to fair warning before they do.

So, how did you choose your writerly names? Any regrets? 

*When choosing my own twitter handle, I had a choice between @KatEllisWrites (which in retrospect wouldn't have been that bad), @KatEllis4 (who really wants to be number 4?) or @KatREllis (which just looks weird). So I stuck with @El_Kat, which I think sounds vaguely like hellcat, and it's short. SO.

12 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. sorry, reposted below because the formatting went wonky, with hard returns in odd places. :/

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  2. Oh, dear. This is a subject close to my heart! I've been @MittensMorgul on twitter for a very long time, much longer than I've been writing (or at least writing with the intent of possibly publishing). On the one hand, nearly everyone now calls me Mittens, so at least they know who they're talking to. On the other, unless I put "by Mittens Morgul" on the cover of my books, it might lead to some confusion.

    My blog is called "Writing the Bad Things out", which meant something when I named it, but now I wish I'd given it a title that includes my name.

    And lastly, Laura Hughes isn't exactly an exotic or memorable name. There are at least two other writers named Laura Hughes, plus my niece who is named Lauren Hughes (who intends to be a writer, as well!). A google search reveals a ton of others with my name, too. My blog is usually the third or fourth entry, and never the first.

    I've been seriously considering inventing a pen name, retitling my blog, and creating a twitter account for it, just so I don't have that issue anymore. Maybe I'll just stick with Mittens.

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    1. Changing the blog title's easy enough - I did that with mine a while back (previously it was called "On Writing and Stuff". Meh.) And I know exactly what you mean about having a name that's already out there in the writing world. It's like our parents didn't even THINK we might one day be writers and name us appropriately!

      And I just have to say - I would SOOOO love to by a book by Mittens Morgul! :D

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  3. My Twitter handle is Anyechka, since that's one of the nickname forms of my name in Russian. (My real name is Anna, which I've chosen NOT to write under. Most boring, overused female name in history after only Mary, and at least Mary seems kind of refreshing and original these days after falling in popularity for so long.)

    I chose my pen name on 19 May 1993 (have it down in my journal). I wanted a name from a song, and since I was only just getting into Sixties music at the time, I didn't have a really huge repertoire to choose from. If I were choosing my pen name now, at a lot older than 13, I'd definitely choose something more original, but I've really grown into the pen name Carrie-Anne. And I'm still a Hollies fan so many years later, so it seems doubly-right. Brown came from the Herman's Hermits song, "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter." Two years later, when I became an Armenophile, I added -ian to the end.

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    1. I love knowing the thought process behind your pen name! When it came down to it and I decided to try writing FOR REAL a few years ago (a couple of years before I had any kind of online presence), I didn't really give much thought to pen names. Kat is what my husband calls me (though I get several variations of Katharine from others) and Ellis is my married name. It was only when I started to get into twitter and blogging that it even became an issue. Now I'm like, "Why am I not called Tallulah Tarbuckle??"

      Also, just had to google "Armenophile" ;)

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  4. Sometimes I *almost* regret choosing Literary Jam & Toast as a blog name but then I remember the my blog is on the first page when you search JAM AND TOAST and I like that I have managed to draw people who also like what I like in so yes. Mmm. I am on twitter under my name so that's good, I guess. :)

    <3

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    1. Haha! I like your stealth-marketing there ;)

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  5. Aaah, I struggle with this all the time. The reason I'm @MissDahlELama is because I didn't join Twitter initially to chat with other writers, but to keep up with other former Gawker commenters. My name over there was DahlELama, but a guy had already taken that name, so MissDahlELama I became, and I have a hard time letting it go!

    Hopefully the Daily Dahlia is memorable enough even without my last name!

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    1. You could actually just publish your books under the name "Dahlia" and the world would still know it was you ;)

      <3

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  6. I love how dyslexic people get over my last name. Google seems to think I'm looking for information on the actress Amanda Bynes (please note my last name has an R in it and no S, which people LOVE to add). Sigh.

    I've been struggling with what to rename my blog and I'm stumped. I want it to be witty and snarky and irreverent and NOT BORING, hence its current title (The Rubber Duck Brigade). On the other hand, plenty of people seem to find it by searching for rubber ducks.

    On the subject of names, though, I'll be sticking with my given name for publication, when I get there. Maybe then people will figure out how to spell my last name :)

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    1. As my full name is spelled Katharine, I completely sympathise with you on the spelling issue. It's one of the reasons I prefer "Kat".

      I've had people find my blog when looking for author Kate Ellison, Aussie politician Kate Ellis, and (worst of all) the movie The Wedding Date (because Kat Ellis was the name of Debra Messing's character.) Guess I know how high I need to aim in terms of raising my profile! ;)

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