Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Got to be Me

Sharon Wildwind

Yes, I have a great last name for a writer. Yes, it is my real, legal name. No, I do not come from a First Nations background. And, the question that irritates me the second-worse is, “What name do you write under?”

My own name, darn it! If I’m going to do all this work, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Wag the Dog, I want the credit!

But, computerized distribution systems are making me rethink my steadfast belief that I would always publish under one name, and one name only.

I don’t know how warehouses and wholesalers and book distributors used to do it. It being keep track of how many books were on their shelves, how many they shipped, how many were returned, and how many actually sold. I do know how they do it now: computers. From the moment one of my books—imbued with that wonderful new book smell—rolls off the printing press every aspect of my life in print is in someone’s computer. And that fact is giving me a minor identity crisis this week.

Here's the quote that started it all.

“Changing genres can hurt you because all major distributors now have computerized book sale tracking. If your first work in a new genre sells less than your last book in your previous genre, you are seen as an author in decline. If you want to change genres, write under a different name because, to the computerized book sale tracking systems, with every new name, you are a completely different person.”
~Barbara Hambly; science fiction, mystery, fantasy writer; November 2008

It’s not like I have a whole slew of names waiting in the wings. I’ve played that game of combining your first pet’s name with the place you lived when you were seven to get a new name. Mine would be Blackie Fremont, which is, I suppose, better than being Fido Broadway, but who is this Blackie person?

Where did she grow up? What color is her hair? What parts of her body does she have pierced? Does she drink coffee or latte? Should I loan her my secret vice—as a teen-ager, I loved to watch Roller Derby—or do I have to create a different tawdry background for her?

Anyway, if I do decide to write under other names, I’ll probably blow the gaff the first time I do a book signing. I can just see myself starting the evening by saying, “Of course, my real name is . . .” and there we’d be. Perhaps the computers won’t be listening.

Which would be a good thing because I'd like to try writing fantasy or science fiction as well as mysteries. That’s two new names I’ll have to invent. Or, if I combine genres, like a fantasy-mystery or a science fiction-fantasy, does that mean I have to combine my pen name for each genre? How many combined genre-specific names will fit on a business card, anyway?

I’m even wondering if I could write a graphic novel. Considering the popularity of Japanese anime and manga, maybe I should aim for a Japanese name for that one. Once in a live role playing game I was Rebecca Ku. (Ku is Japanese for the number 9). Maybe Ms. 9 would like to write a graphic novel. Then again, maybe not.

I remain, respectfully yours, someone or other. Excuse me while I go check my driver’s license.

Oh, in case you’re interested, the question that irritates me the most isn’t really a question. It’s the statement, “You’re self-published, of course.”


Auntie Knickers said...

I think if you get that last, most irritating "question" again, you have every right to bitch-slap the person who makes the statement. Sheesh!
Seriously, I guess the one reason to use different names for different genres (or sometimes even different series) would be to help readers who like one and not the other. For example, I have loved the Barbara Michaels romantic suspense novels, and for some unknown reason have absolutely no interest in the Amelia Peabody series written by Barbara Mertz (her real name) under the nom de plume of Elizabeth Peters. If they were all under the same name, I'd have to tell them apart some other way. Then there's John Creasey, who was so prolific I think he used pseudonyms just so people wouldn't think he was a robot or something. And then on the other hand, I think I'd read whatever you wrote or at least give it a try. I'll be interested to see what your next venture is.

Clair D. said...

There's a lot of reasons for using pen names, but confusion between genres is the one that makes sense to me. And I do believe computers would be too stupid to handle any sort of complicated stuff with author names.

Funny-- with the pet's name and place when you were seven-- I'd be Mittens Brighton. Who came up with such a silly thing... or do other people not name their cats Mittens, Scruffy, Shadow or Reddy? =)

Anonymous said...

Yes, auntie, I agree that a name doesn't make for automatic cross-over. There are a couple of authors where I love one series and have tried another, but just can't do it.

Clair, it would depend on if the people who programmed the computers cared enough to know what names belonged to what real person. It would only take a few lines of code to teach the computer to recognize that Sharon Wildwind and Blackie Fremont were the same person.

As for names, I've had 3 large, ginger toms as pets over the years. The first was Tom, the second was Tom-Tom, and the third was Tommy Cubed.