I hate to break the trust that we’ve built up in all our time together (read: one other introductory post), but I think it’s time to come clean.
I use a pen name.
Take a deep breath and we’ll get through this shocking revelation together.
If you take five minutes and do a little search on what writers feel about pen names, you’ll get about fifty different opinions. Some good, some not. Some valid, some not so much. I decided to use a pen name for two reasons – one completely superficial, one that feels a little more legitimate (to me, anyway).
The Superficial Reason:
I was avoiding writing this week and decided to play around with a mockup of a cover for my current work-in-progress. I found the right photos and the right font and blended this and shadowed that. I liked it. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt and it had the right tone to match the story. Then I added my name.
Wah wah. No bueno.
I like my name. I like the sound of it. I like that it’s known around certain parts. I like that I was 1100 miles away in New Orleans and when a guy saw my last name on my license, he knew my family and had gone to school with my uncles. I like that our last name is known in certain circles and, more importantly, respected. I like that, all throughout my youth, my close friends joked about changing their last name to mine so they could be one of us (their words).
But when I slapped it on a book cover? I wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t like the arrangement of the letters or the soft sounds they make. It wasn’t visually appealing. It didn’t better with a middle initial or two initials instead of a first name. It felt wrong. It looked wrong. I simply didn’t like it in this context. There was a momentary wave of guilt before I realized that it was beyond silly to feel guilty about something like that. Bigger problems and what not.
If it helps, this isn’t that far off from my real name and the first name is incredibly close to my own. My real last name is also shared by a political figure that is in and out of the news on a regular basis so googling it means thousands and thousands of results returned. Let’s call that two reasons in the “NO” column .
The non-superficial reason:
A pen name gives me the freedom to fail.
Say what? I’ll explain.
I’m not a published author yet. I will be someday soon. I’ll complete my manuscript and polish, polish, polish till it shines. I’ll make or have made a cover. I’ll have a back cover blurb that I’ll hate no matter how much I work on it. I’ll do all the “right” things to promote it and get it in the hands of readers. The book could be great. It could be horrible too but let’s pretend it ends up being really good because that is decidedly easier and more fun and less scary. So the book is done, it’s as good as I can make it, it’s marketed right. Chance of failure? Still way way way higher than any chance of it being deemed as a “successful” book.
I’ve always done well when I applied myself. From school to work to personal relationships to hobbies. If it’s something I’m passionate about, care about, and something I want to do, I’ll put in the work and effort and stick with it until I reach a level I feel is acceptable as being “good.” I don’t like to fail and because of that, eventually I will succeed. Before you get all “woah ego much?” on me, let me say this. I fail all the time. Life is full of disappointments, letdowns, and heartache. What I’m talking about here applies to things that are within my control – when it comes down to how much effort I put in. I’ll put in the time, the work, and fix the failures. Unfortunately, this leaves about 95% of life outside of my control. This is where that permission to fail part comes in.
Writing can be hard but it can be done by anyone. Being a successful author is close to impossible in today’s world. A pen name allows me to try without worrying about those people that expect me to be successful. It’s a little selfish probably and I’m sure it highlights a whole host of insecurities but that’s my truth. If I fail, it’s ok because no one will know about it unless I want them to. That’s incredibly freeing.
It won’t be the decision for everyone. Take a gander at any commentary on the subject and you’ll see comments bouncing from “pen names mean you’re lying to people!” to “why would ANYONE want to use their real name in today’s scary world?” Valid reasons can be found to support both points of view and all the ones that fall in between.
There is no right answer, only one that is right for me. So…
Hi, I’m Angeline Roberts. I hope you’ll stick around for a bit.