Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Putting on Your Clark Kent Glasses (or Aliases, Pseudonyms, and Secret Identities)

By James R. Tuck, @JamesTuckwriter

Part of the How They Do It Series

What name to write under is a question many authors face at various times in their careers. Sometimes it's their choice, other times not. James R. Tuck steps up to the podium today to share some insights on writing under a pseudonym.

James was born and raised in Georgia and grew up drawing and reading a steady helping of Robert E. Howard stories, Golden Age comics, and books he was far too young to be reading. Combined with a very Southern involvement in church and watching horror movies, this became the bedrock of his creativity. He became a tattoo artist, and now writes dark fantasy. He's the author of the Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter series, a variety of short stories and novellas set in the same world (and some outside of it), and the editor of the Thunder on the Battlefield anthologies. His newest series (co-written with Debbie Viguie), Robin Hood: Demon's Bane, comes out in the fall.

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Take it away James...

There come times in the life of an author when you have to go on the lam. You gotta dodge the man, make like a bandit, lay low, and all those other cool terms for not being yourself. Maybe it’s because your last book or series did not perform to the industries expectations (I'm sorry. Publishing sucks sometimes), maybe you write too fast and have too many projects to place under one name (Go you! Way to be productive!), maybe you want to write something completely out of the box from what you normally do (hello YA author who wants to write erotica), or maybe you are just a rebel who wants to change the status quo (freakshow! lol).

Doesn't matter, if find yourself in any of those situations and it’s time to reach for the time-honored pseudonym. King, Koontz, Rowling, Dickens, Lewis, and more have all written under nom de plumes.

So what do you do once you decide to carry forth and use a different name?

Step one: Don't take it personally.

I had a fairly successful run writing Deacon, fans liked it, the series won an award, I made some money, and I sold a series to a totally different second publisher in my own name. It all felt like success to me!

So when my newest publisher (a third, different publisher to keep things clear) picked up my newest series and wanted a new name I was taken aback.

No, scratch that, I was mad as hell.

It REALLY rankled me. It crawled down inside me. I was actually angry.

That lasted for about an hour.

Then I took a breath and realized that I could make this new persona anyone I wanted. I could totally reinvent my whole author game and still keep all the hard work I'd put into my own name as a brand. I could write new things with absolutely no expectation as to what they would be. New people would be discovering my work and they wouldn't be upset that this wasn't anything like a Deacon Chalk novel.

I became excited. Really, legitimately, embarrassing-if-I-could-feel-embarrassment excited.

You should feel the same. It's all an opportunity. With the new name you can open all new worlds of exposure because you are starting this new part of your career with all the opportunity of a new author with all the experience you have already gained. It's like winning the lottery on your birthday.

Step two: Pick one.

This can be difficult but it shouldn't be too bad. You named all your characters, just act as if you are doing that again. In fact, you almost are. Keep in mind that you want something distinctive enough to remember but easy enough to spell and type out. Use strong words for last names. My advice is to go simpler over complex. Harsh words tend to stick in our brains so look to those. Words like Stone, Edge, Cook, or Butcher. (No, you can't pick Jim Butcher as your pseudonym.)

From my own experience I can tell you things were absolutely different from the beginning. The contract I signed as a new author for the Deacon series isn't the worst contract ever, but it ain't good. I lost a LOT of rights to my work for no reason at all other than I didn't know any better. With the new series I kept almost everything, only giving up one thing that I was absolutely comfortable with after we added a “use it within this time frame or the right reverts” clause. This all happened because I knew from past experience what to say no to. (And because, now that I'm not a newbie, I have the indomitable Lucienne Diver as my agent. Total credit to her, she's awesome.)

So if a publisher wants a pseudonym, embrace it. It's one more tool in your author career toolbox and it can be a game-changer.

About Robin Hood: Mark of the Black Arrow

Sherwood Forest is a place of magic, and Prince John and his allies are demons bent upon ruling Britain. The solstice draws close, and Prince John and the Sheriff hold Maid Marian, whose blood sacrifice will lock the prince’s hold on the kingdom and the crown. Unless Marian can reach Robin with a magic artifact coveted by the enemy and entrusted to her by the Cardinal, the ritual will occur.

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  1. Good information. I've been wondering about whether to use my real name or a pseudonym.

    When you've been known as Author X for a while, then start writing under a pseudonym as Author Y, do you have to give up 100% of Author X's fan base? Yes, readers might discover you all over again, but in terms of announcing your new book, can you use the e-mail list Author X built? If not, how do you acquire a new following?

    Also, do you have to open a new bank account for the new persona or do you still get paid as your "real name"?

  2. I've been wondering about this too. I'm a newbie & want to start with a pseudonym. I don't use my middle name (not even the initial) except for legal documents, so want to use it for my books. But when the droves of fans want my signature (hey. It could happen.), do I autograph with my "real" name or the name on the book? Same with bank accounts or whatever.