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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who... Are....You?

This line from Alice in Wonderland's Hookah Smoking Caterpillar has had me thinking a lot lately. What am I talking about? Pen names. Looking back to about five years ago, the idea of actually publishing something was a dream that I never thought I could make happen, and while I'm not published yet, I feel that I'm much much closer to that reality today. Back then I had this crazy idea that I would probably use a pen name, and my reasoning went somewhere along the lines of being a little embarrassed about my writing, a little bit shy, and wondering what my friends and colleagues would think knowing I wrote YA lit. I wasn't very confident that I wanted everyone to know about this secret life. Then about a year or so ago, I finally felt as if my writing had made a great leap forward, and I started to see that I deserved credit for all the progress I had made. I started to imagine my real name, not some made up name, scrawled all over the front of my book. People I knew would see it and they'd go WOW! Angie's a writer! I imagined my parents pride when they saw their little girl actually having a book in Barnes and Noble. I was about 95% there with the going by my own name. (Ok, so maybe I'm putting the cart before the horse here, but every writer has this dream, don't they? If you can't imagine yourself being successful then I think you have a much bigger problem than learning good sentence structure and the horrors of adverbs).

Then, sadly, I read a post on agent Kristen Nelson's blog. Kristen talks about an interesting reason for using a pseudonym that I had never really paid too much attention to. Well, I'm paying attention to it now, and it has to do with web presence and how potential employers use that to their advantage when screening employees. We've all heard about how you shouldn't put pictures you don't want your boss to see on your blog, myspace, or facebook page or how you shouldn't send out damning twitter messages just in case your boss is reading. But I never thought about how that would apply when it comes to something you do professionally, like writing a book and marketing your book. This is something to be proud of, not something you should have to hide. But if you're still planning to work full time while you make a transition to full-time writer then it very well could be something you don't want your boss to know about.

Some falsehoods that people not familiar with the publishing industry assume:
1. You're making tons of money - why do you need this job anyway?
2. Writing is a full time commitment, and if you're more interested in spending your free time writing then you won't be spending that extra time thinking about your job.

Point 1 is obviously a falsehood, but employers don't know that. They think that every writer is making millions like Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer. When I mentioned to my sister a year ago that I was writing a book, the first thing she said was, 'oh, maybe you'll become a millionaire!'. Um, no. Sorry sis.

Point 2 I think is arguable depending on the field you're in. Not saying that it's fair, just that I understand where an employer's reasoning comes from. For scientists, it's almost imperative that you spend more than your allotted 40 hours a week in the lab *whispers: this is why I'm not that successful as a scientist*. And if your area of research is anywhere near the hot topics (cancer, stem cell research, etc), then you can bump that up to 60 hours a week, easy. I'm sure this is also the case for many other fields, and given the current economy, I wouldn't doubt that it factors into almost any employer's thought process. I mean, who would you rather hire - someone who has basically a second job that they already love and want to make into a full time career or someone who's available to put in extra hours for the company?

What all this leads to for me is the realization that I may have to take a pen name after all. I'll be leaving my current job in a year, and I certainly don't want to screw up my chances of getting hired. And well, on the sucktastic scale, this hits a good 10. I'll be querying soon and I was considering changing that anonymous picture up at the top there with my full name so that I could show I at least have the beginnings of a web presence. But now, I'm leaning more towards not. And yes, I'm sure that agents will understand why I'm choosing to remain anonymous for now, but it still bugs me. Instead of being rewarded for having creativity and the courage to put myself out there, I feel like I have to hide. Instead of getting credited for my accomplishments it's going to have to remain a secret - at least for now. I'm wondering if anyone else out there feels the same way? Do you have a pen name picked out? Do you feel that this is something you have to do, not that you want to do? What are your reasons?

And just because I know you're curious, I'm thinking of the name Kae Hughes. Kae is my middle name and Hughes is my great grandmother's maiden name or something like that. Kind of dull, but I can't really see myself as an Angelique Romiere.


Joann Swanson said...

Great post, Kae! :-) I love the name Kae Hughes! It has cadence and personality.

I read that post too and thought it was interesting, but, IMO, not universal. My co-workers know what I'm up to and I've been very vocal about how little authors are paid, how much I love my job, and how writing and publishing is the fulfillment of a dream, but not something I anticipate taking over my life. Of course everyone says "you never know", but I kinda do. My interests are diverse and I honestly think writing full-time isn't for me. I'd go a little crazy. But, damn if I don't want recognition for my hard word, so a pseudonym was never in the cards for me. I know people believe writers make a fortune, but I think it's our responsibility to educate them on the realities. My co-workers are getting a bird's eye view of the publishing process and it has been incredibly eye-opening for them. If I hid my light under a bushel, so to speak, they'd never know. And, I gotta tell ya, they are just as excited as I am - giddy, even. That kind of enthusiasm and energy is catching and it makes me work twice as hard.

I do know what you're saying, but I hope you'll allow yourself credit for the awesome stuff you're writing, even if it's down the line after, you know, the millions of dollars have flooded your bank account. ;)

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Angelica R. Jackson is my pen-name, although it's very close to my legal name. I use it because I write in so many genres, and there are already established writers in some of those genres. But I anticipate using Angelica R. Jackson for all the stuff I write (i.e. not using one name for adult fiction and one for kids')as I get published in more fields. So yes, I'm taking credit for all the things I write, just as another persona. I've learned to answer to both so it's not hard for me to separate them.

Joann Swanson said...

Holy crap. I seriously exceeded the number of clich├ęs a writer should be allowed in a lifetime, let alone a single comment to a blog post. :hangs head in shame:

Angie said...

Joann - if you hadn't had mentioned it, it probably would have flown under my radar *gasp, cliche*

So if I had job security and I knew that I'd be staying here for a few more years, then I'd probably be more vocal too. And I will probably tell my close lab mates that I've known for years, but while looking for a job I think that makes it a different situation. I'd like to say that I love my job too and while I do love science, I would rather be a full time writer.

Angelica - I like your choice of pen name. It flows nice and sounds like a real person's name. Some of these names I just kind of shake my head. Was it hard to get used to people calling you by your pen name? I think that's going to be the weird thing for me, although I suppose that I'll get used to it.

Melanie said...

Hmmm....never really thought about it like that. Still not sure how I feel about it. Hard to say being that I'm currently a SAHM and hope to be moving to PR by the end of next year. It might not matter over there, although I'm probably better off using my maiden name as my pseudonym rather than my married one if I'm living there. *shrugs* who knows. Right now I'm M.K.Santiago, but I also have my reasons for not wanting to use my maiden name, which you might know about. But, I have my first name, middle name and two last names at this point to play around with. I guess I'll decided when the time gets closer.

BTW, I actually think Kae Hughes is a very cool pen name!

Jennie Bailey said...

I don't have a pen name. I'm not sure that I'm creative enough to come up with one! Although I have thought about returning to my maiden name for our non-profit should I end up being published. I fully intend to continue giving in-classroom presentations until I die. I'm very proud of my non-profit. But I have had that fleeting thought that people might not book us wanting to actually be educated regarding animals. I don't want a high school booking me only to show up and have them grill me about my book rather than pay attention to my PowerPoint presentation and spend time getting to know my wonderful dog. Of course, this will only apply if I get published. :-) Until then, I'm safe either way!

What a great post! If I were in your shoes, I would use the pen name. Employers are stupid. Why on earth should you spend your free time thinking about your job? Free time is for YOU. Of course, the company doesn't think that way, though. I like Kae Hughes. I love the spelling of Kae and love that you took a family name as your last name!

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Angie--There are all sorts of variations on "Angelic" names in my family and I was used to hearing them, so that helped. I also took my husband's last name (gasp! how antiquated!) and had some experience getting used to answering to a new last name. It hasn't turned out to be that big of a deal--unless someone calls and asks for Angelica, then my hubby knows it's an editor or someone else in writing.

Angie said...

Angelica - that's good that it was easy for you. Obviously my name is of the same form, but it feels so strange to me when someone calls me Angela (my full name). I'm far too used to my nickname. When I was younger, around 11-12 years old, I met this girl who for some unknown reason couldn't remember the name Angie and wanted to call me Annie instead - and insisted on it. I cannot tell you how much that bugged me. And when I was really little my sister used to call me Annie Kae and oh, how I hated that! Maybe it was all that sibling teasing that has me cringing at the idea of using a different name. Although I suppose I'll get used to it.

Jennie - that's a really good reason to take a pen name too. Agreed that employers can be very stupid. And thanks for saying that you love the spelling of Kae - my mom was trying to be inventful. :)

Mel - Hmm...trying to think what your reason would be and it's kind of slipping my mind right now. You have permission to whack me over the head when you tell me. And so glad that you like the name too!



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