Monthly Archives: August 2011

Real Name vs. Pen Name

Many aspiring authors get to a point in their writer’s journey where submissions and potential publication are on the agenda. One question that needs answering is “Under what name will you publish?”

What name? Really? Isn’t that a given? My name, of course. I was born Mark Taylor, and everyone who knows me knows me by that name. (Okay, not everyone knows my middle name, but I’ll talk about that in a bit.)

Shouldn’t I use the written version of my identity, my honorific, my calling card, and the name printed on my birth certificate?

Possibly.

Are there reasons not to use a real name when assigning author credit to a work of fiction? What are the benefits and obstacles of using a pseudonym? Do readers even care about the name on the book?

Let’s discuss.

For many writers and authors, it is not even a question. They use their given name on their books and stories. This serves to expand their identity to include an author identity from which they can relate professionally to peers in the industry, publishers, agents, lawyers, and of course readers. The author brand created and maintained is an extension of the identity their maintain in their personal lives.

There is also a certain thrill, a professional satisfaction, of seeing your own name in print beneath the title of a story or book. My lone experience with this is my published story, “Time Soldier”. It was my first and only publication to date and seeing my name both in the table of contents and under the story title in that little literary magazine from Colorado was amazing and a bit surreal. I aspire to recreate that experience with my new works of fantasy.

A big part of me wants to see my name, the name I use all the time, for my written works. I want to see my name on my books on Amazon.com and at the local Barnes and Noble store.

After all, I’m writing the stories. Shouldn’t I give myself credit? Shouldn’t I be proud of my work and stand behind it by putting my own name on each story?

Why wouldn’t I do this? Why would any writer use another fictitious name?

Wikipedia defines a pen name as:

“A pen name, nom de plume, or literary double, is a pseudonym adopted by an author. A pen name may be used to make the author’s name more distinctive, to disguise his or her gender, to distance an author from some or all of his or her works, to protect the author from retribution for his or her writings, or for any of a number of reasons related to the marketing or aesthetic presentation of the work. The author’s name may be known only to the publisher, or may come to be common knowledge.”

The excerpt above relates nicely several of the reasons for an author to use a pseudonym.

If an author’s real name is either too common or too similar to that of a published author, he might use a pen name.

If an author is prominent in another field or industry and wants to keep professional identities separate, she might use a pen name.

If an author’s real name is not marketable enough because it is too unique, difficult to spell, or difficult to remember, he might use a pen name.

Who is to judge if any of these criteria apply?

Some authors use initials or a middle name to distinguish from other published authors or even prominent celebrities.

Popular suspense writer Dean Koontz went by Dean R. Koontz for many years. World famous Harry Potter author Joanne Rowling goes by J. K. Rowling. Fantasy and sci-fi author Orson Scott Card obviously uses his full given name.

What does this mean? Is there a right or wrong way to name yourself?

Ultimately, it boils down to author preference. No one, not even a publisher, will tell you what name to use. (Although if you are an established genre writer and wish to change genres, your agent and/or editor may suggest a pseudonym. )

After all, even Stephen King used the pseudonym Richard Bachman for his non-horror works

As for me, I am undecided. My given name was indeed given to me, and with a pseudonym I could choose any name I want.  But do I want an alternate identity as an author?

That is the question every author must answer.

Are you using a pseudonym?  Do you plan to use a pen name?  Why or why not?


Secrets of the Writer’s Journey (repost)

A full year has passed since I launched this blog in August of 2010.  Looking back, I learned quite a bit about the nature of the writer’s journey.  By writing about it and hearing from others on similar paths, or from those who offer support along the way, I’ve come to appreciate that no undertaking is ever completed alone.  As such, I will share some of what I’ve learned.

I’ve reflected on the pilgrimage over the last twelve months and have discovered the following:

  • The publishing landscape has shifted with the advent of self-publishing eBooks via Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt, or Smashwords.  Many new breakout authors are coming from the ranks of the indie published, and many big names are putting out new work themselves via e-publishing.  This change alone has altered my intended path to publication.  I have decided to forgo traditional paper publishing in the near term and will focus my efforts on what many call indie publishing.  I am in the process of forming a small publishing company and will be publishing my own work electronically.  More details about that next month.
  • My writing goals have expanded.  When I started discussing my own journey and what I knew or thought I knew my only work in progress was Book One of an epic fantasy series. Since then, I’ve put that book on hold to write a new Book One (it takes place ten years earlier).  I’ve also written two novelettes (stories around 10,000 words in length) for near term e-publishing.  One via an anthology with my writer’s group, Quindecim, and the other as a standalone story that serves as a prologue to a contemporary/historical fantasy I’m outlining for release next year.  So rather than just one epic fantasy project, I have five distinct works in progress.  The key will be to finish them all and get them in publishable condition.  I’ll post more about those experiences as they occur.
  • Feedback is critical to improvement.  “A writer writes” is my mantra and favorite slogan, but perhaps I should expand that to be: “A professional writer writes well”.  What is “well”?  Writing well, means having a professional level of story craft.  This comes from practice, practice, practice.  And it comes from feedback from your first reader and beta readers.  We writers are not the best judge of our own work.  We all need a few trusted readers to read our stories or novel chapters and tell us what works and what doesn’t from a story perspective.  Does the opening hook the reader?  Does the ending satisfy?  Do the characters resonate?  Is the pace right?  Are there confusing descriptions?  Is the setting clear and grounded?  Many, if not all, of these questions can be answered for the writer by trusted readers.  If you don’t have some, get some. Friends, colleagues, family, may all be willing to help.  It is also preferable to have at least one writer provide feedback, to add an even more critical review of the story.  Join a writer’s group and get feedback from peers.  The feedback is invaluable.

Even though I haven’t yet completed one of my longer works, I am pleased with my progress so far and can still see the pilgrim’s road quite clearly ahead.  Looking back, we’ve had some good discussions about these Arcane Roads.  For newer visitors, I’m listing below a few of the most popular posts over the past year.  These generated the most interest and/or comments.

The writer’s journey, or the pilgrimage to publication as I’ve dubbed it, is an endless road of discovery.

For the writers out there, what has your journey been like the past year?  For you readers out there, what roads are you traveling?


Three Reasons Writers Need Music

The other day, a writer friend of mine and I discussed the value of listening to music while scribing.  We compared notes on the types of music we liked in the background as our fingers danced over the keyboards in story creation.  We also discussed which music genres we thought were best suited for which genres of writing.  We even discussed how the rhythm or repetition within a song or style of music can aid or inhibit certain types of writing.

This discussion lingered and got me thinking about my own musical tastes while writing and how it helps me.  I came up with three questions about music and writing, and many more answers.

1. Why do many writers enjoy listening to music while writing?

2. What are the benefits?

3. Is there music best suited for particular types of writing?

If you read “On Writing” by Stephen King you’ll discover that he predominantly listens to rock and roll music while he writes.  He is an accomplished rock guitarist and his stories and novels are populated with rock song references so it all fits in with his persona and preferences as one of the most successful novelists of all time.  Peter Straub, another horror writer prefers to listen to classical music while writing.  I’m sure most successful authors listen to music at one time or another, and some must have music on while writing.   It is simply part of their writing routine.

Why is this?

I can’t answer that question for other authors.  For myself, music helps me with the emotional undercurrents of a story.  In a movie, the score and soundtrack bring out the emotion of a moment, whether it is a suspenseful threat to the characters, a battle scene, or a moment of loss and reflection.  Music enhances the emotions and what the audience feels.  Music in the background while I write helps feed my subconscious with motifs, sounds, currents, feelings, and auditory ideas that I can draw from when the time is right in a story.  Music helps me go deeper into the story and hopefully to convey that to the written version of it.  Music is a source of inspiration.

Again, I cannot speak to the benefits of music to other authors, but I can share how music benefits my writing.  First, my writing desk is not isolated in my home and to aid in my concentration and to reduce background noise in a busy household, I use noise cancelling ear buds and listen to music via my laptop.  This helps create a writing environment that more conducive to concentration on the story and characters and reduces outside distractions.  Second, as noted above, music inspires the emotional content of writing when matched in genre.  I’ll discuss more about that in the next paragraph.  Third, music can directly influence your stories and bits of song lyrics you’ve heard may be appropriate for an event or scene in your story.  (Just beware of copyright issues and get permission for use of any commercially published music that is still under copyright.)

What music best matches what types of writing?  That is actually a question for each author to answer for themselves.  The correct answer is whatever works best for you.  If you don’t know what works best for you, try listening to different music during your writing sessions over a two-week period and see what music genre inspires you most or what helps you get into the story best.  What music seems to enhance your writing experience?  This is a personal decision.

For me, when I wrote horror stories earlier in my development as a writer, I listened to heavy metal.  The tone of the music seemed to fit the nature of what I wrote.  The past decade or so, I listen to more tailored music.  While writing my romantic comedy screenplay, I listened to popular music from our iTunes library.  A mix of all kinds of rock and all kinds of artists.  When I began writing epic fantasy, I began listening to classical music via Pandora Radio and eventually settled on a custom station based on the soundtracks of Braveheart and Gladiator.  Big, epic, deep, powerful music helps me with the type of epic fantasy novels I’m writing.  This works for me.

Musical tastes are very personal and should be.  Many writers find that music helps their writing.  Music can inspire, influence, seclude, and focus the writer’s mind during story creation.

Does music do this for your writing?

What works best for you?


Reaching the summit

With a couple of days to spare, I’ve dragged myself up the steep trail and have planted myself firmly on the summit.  The elusive first draft of my novella, “The Last Portal,” is complete.

Whew!

My wife/muse/first reader gave me the thumbs up, so I submitted the story to my anthology group this past Tuesday for editing.  Thus begins at least two rounds of scrutiny and polishing to elevate the story to its peak altitude (mountain metaphors intentional).

So, what was my process for writing a 16,000+ word story?

Since this story is set in the fantasy world I created for my novel series, the world-building had already been done.  I decided on characters and a single significant event that would be considered a legend or myth by the protagonists in the novels (which occur chronologically some 5000 years later).  The same way we look back thousands of years for our history, mythology, legends, and origin stories.

So, I came up with characters who would do something so significant they would be remembered as legends or myths in the story world.  My goal was twofold: produce a new original story for my group anthology and deepen the story world of my upcoming epic fantasy novel series.

To complete this story, I wrote between two and three hours per day for three solid weeks.  I estimate the first draft of this story took me at least 32 hours.  That seems long, but at 16000 words, that averages 500 words per hour.   I am not a blazing fast writer, since I often stop writing to think through the scene or the characters actions and how the plot should progress.  I had written an outline and short synopsis for this story, so it wasn’t discovery writing.  Even with a story plan, I spent big chunks of writing time thinking through a plot point or deviating from the outline for a better story path.

The result is under review by my writing group.  I’ll update soon once I get some feedback.

The process of collaborating on an anthology project has inspired me to expand my focus on short fiction.  I have rekindled my enthusiasm for short fiction, finding the process creatively satisfying.  Thus, I will soon have another new project to discuss as I prepare another novella for publication.  More details to follow.  Yes, another teaser.  This project is even more exciting to me because it is a novella that introduces a potential stand alone novel in the historical/modern fantasy genre.

What do you do to reach the proverbial summit in your writing?  How do you stay with a story until the end?


Scott's Grimoire

MY SPOT OF INK: my ramblings on the ups and downs of writing a fantasy novel (or anything else that grabs my interest - books, food, movies, life)

The Undiscovered Author

A Day in the Life of aspiring Fantasy Author Stephen A. Watkins

Geoff's Ruminations

The thoughts and passions of a hopeful future author.