Sunday, November 2, 2008

To Pseudonym or Not To Pseudonym...

Do you need a pseudonym when you publish a book?

At one time, publishers often required authors to take a pseudonym; a fake name the publisher may have owned, not the writer. This made it difficult for an author to switch houses. Who wants to spend years on promotion, building a career, only to have to start all over with a new name? You can see how this might affect contracts. If the publisher owns an author’s pseudonym, they won’t feel overly compelled to pay large advances.

Romance Writers of America, as well as many independent writers, fought for the right to publish under their own name and for the right to own any pseudonyms. By the time I began writing seven years ago, the authors had secured these rights. I was amazed to learn there was an inspirational publisher who still followed the old rules.

Now the question is often asked, “Should I use a pseudonym or not?” I struggled with this decision myself. I even asked fellow writers on several loops for their opinions.

I knew I didn’t want to write under my current last name because I wanted to keep my teaching life separate from my writing life. On the other hand, it took me two years to write this book, so I wanted it connected to me. It was my second baby. Call me sentimental. I even kept my married name after the divorce to maintain that connection with my daughter. So, I decided to go by Tina LaVon, which are my first and middle names.

First, I was told I should Google my choices. I first Googled my maiden name and was surprised to discover there was another woman with my name teaching in a state other than AZ. What are the odds? I knew my maiden name would not be an option when I decided I would go back to it after my daughter graduates college. Many writers with day jobs want to keep their non-writing lives separate. I’ve noticed my friends who write Christian romances often use their own names, while erotica writers almost always use a pseudonym. If you are at all worried about stalkers, which are rare, then you should definitely come up with a moniker like Dixie Trix. But never assume that no one will discover who you are if you write under Jane Smith. Even with the pseudonym, a former student of mine, who is now an adult, found my author page on MySpace.

When I Googled Tina LaVon, I discovered there was a Playboy model with the same name. LaVon is her middle name also. Apparently, she posed when Hugh was publishing photos of college co-eds. I wasn’t too worried about anyone confusing me with a Playboy model. I’m a middle-aged mother.

There are negatives to having a pseudonym. Friends and co-workers don’t always remember the name I write under so I have to hand out bookmarks, which they sometimes lose. On the other hand, using my middle name as a last worked out well at the post office. Since my PO Box is under my full name, I still receive my mail if it is made out to Tina LaVon.

Many authors who write different types of books use a separate name for each genre. Readers have expectations about an authors work. If your last book was about a vampire, then they expect the next one to be a paranormal. If it turns out to be an inspirational comedy, that author will probably lose readers. A writer could build two careers with two different houses if she used two names and each name was connected to a different genre. Jennifer Ashley is a great example. She writes paranormal, mysteries, and erotica under several pseudonyms.

So, should you use a pseudonym? It boils down to this - if you are worried about who might read your book, then yes. If you don’t care, then you don’t need one. If you write in more than one genre, it would be a good idea.

Good luck and happy writing to whomever you turn out to be.


Terry Odell said...

I figured I'd had my name too long to change it--can't expect friends to remember two names if they're looking for my books. But I don't write anything my mother and kids shouldn't read (although my kids have trouble accepting the fact that Mom might know anything about sex. Funny, the murder stuff doesn't bother them).

I suppose if I have to reinvent my career, then maybe I'll try to find another name. But for now, it's just me.

Anonymous said...

Another great post, Tina. Funny, I was considering taking a new name last year, but then decided since I've made too many connections and a web presence under my legal name, I decided against it. Who wants to do all that extra work? I will take a pseudonym if I ever do straight women's fiction or children's books, especially children's books if I ever get around to writing them. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm writng my first novel. A contemporary that might be considered "steamy." I sometimes wonder as to if I should use a pseudonym. And you know? I think I'm going to be me as well. To heck with "them" if they can't take it! And Tina- You're not "middle aged." Wait...I'm up there too so I guess we are younger then I once thought!
Donna Del Grosso

Tina LaVon said...

Donna, you are too cute.
I will keep telling myself I am young. LOL At least God gave me those apple cheeks to keep me looking younger than I am.

Actually, there's nothing wrong with being middle aged. I know what I like, I've accomplished a great deal, and my life is a whole lot more interesting than twenty years ago. Now that my daughter will graduate college in May, I'm looking forward to a whole new chapter in my life.

As they say, We've "come a long way, baby."

Pat Cochran said...

The math gets to be too much for me!
(Remember I had to take algebra twice!) Say you have two jillion authors, one jillion using another
name for the second genre, or third
or fourth! I'd rather be surprisedby an author as to what genre the next
will be!!

Pat Cochran