Pitch 2.0: Naming Names

Veterans of the Nymwars will know why my ears pricked when a member of the audience asked the panelists at Pitch 2.o about pseudonyms. And they’ll know why I scowled a bit when the first response was along the lines of “Why would you?” They came out pretty anti-nym, but for a good reason: identity. While it wasn’t made clear in that brief time for discussion, I think they’d agree that it’s not the ‘nym that’s the problem, but starting over from scratch.

If I’m mistaken, they’ll hopefully be by to set me straight. But let’s proceed on the assumption I’m correct.

(Apologies in advance for not identifying who said what – I don’t do shorthand and was scribbling too frantically to pop a name by the notions. I’d make a lousy reporter, wouldn’t I just?)

Right. So. Pseudonym. Should you? The question was from someone who’d written something outside of his normal sphere and was thinking of publishing it under a ‘nym. And when he said this, looks of horror crept across the faces of every person on stage. These are, mind you, folks who’d just got done talking about platforms (which I shall get to shortly – exhaustion is forcing me to write out-of-sequence in search of the low-hanging fruit. It is also apparently making me segue. How much does a seg weigh? Anyway. Where were we? Right. ‘Nyms).

One said, “Why give up the platform you have just because it’s different? You shouldn’t have to use a pseudonym just because you’re an expert in only one area so far. Show them your expertise.”

Another said, “We’re all complex people with lots of interests. Your followers are too. Something about you appealed to them. X % of people interested in your former thing will be interested in the new.”

And the last said, “People follow you because you’re a good writer.”

I didn’t jot down the rest. It had to do with being the world’s expert on trumpet polishing, and having written a widely-admired book on trumpet polishing, and then going on to write a treatise on strawberry slicing. You could do that under a ‘nym, yeah, and build a reputation as the world expert on strawberry slicing. But you’ve got this platform you built as the world expert on trumpet polishing, and your audience will have a subset of people in it who’d be thrilled to find out this nifty new technique for strawberry slicing. So why not keep your name, and show them your expertise, thus keeping a portion of your existing audience while also building a new following of strawberry-slicing fans? I don’t believe this bit was mentioned, but it’s also possible your strawberry-slicing fans will also contain a few trumpet polishers, and they’ll be glad to know their search for the best book on trumpet polishing is at an end.

So here’s what it’s about. It’s about an identity, not a name. We veterans of the Nymwars know a “real name” isn’t an identity. So if you, like me, write under a ‘nym, breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve got an identity you’ve established. People know you as your ‘nym. Your ‘nym has name recognition. The silly thing isn’t writing under a ‘nym to begin with. But it’s possibly very silly to write about trumpet polishing under one ‘nym and then create a new ‘nym to do the strawberry slicing thing, just because you’re worried people will somehow become upset if the world’s foremost authority on trumpet polishing has also some quite useful things to say about strawberry slicing.

I, personally, have never minded when my favorite authors of one sort of thing have pursued other sorts of things under their established name. I may not be in to everything they do, but I appreciate the opportunity to discover whether I am or not. Neil Gaiman, for instance, writes some fabulous children’s books I’d never have read if he’d published under the name Bob McRobert. Most readers will understand that you are no more cardboard than your characters (and your characters aren’t cardboard, right? Right?). They’ll be happy to let you prove your mettle at something a little different. They might even discover interests they never knew they had.

Some of your fans may gripe about you wasting your time on strawberry slicing when you could be spending your valuable time writing Trumpet Polishing Two: Electric Bugaloo, but no one’s forcing them at gunpoint to read Strawberry Slicing Secrets Revealed! And if someone is, in fact, doing so, then they really need to assess whether it’s wise to continue their relationship with that particular bookseller.

Now, if you’re known for wholesome children’s picture books, and you wish to write some rather, erm, vivid pornography, I suppose a case could be made that a new ‘nym might not be such a terrible idea. And authors choose to give up the platforms they have as one name and do something else under another quite often. It sometimes works. As with all things in writing, rules are bendy.

But you have to keep in mind what you’re giving up. You’ve got to create a new audience from scratch. You’ll have to create a website, perhaps a blog, certainly a Facebook page and perhaps a G+ one, and if you’re wise you’ll do a Twitter account, all under a new name. You’ll have to feed that identity as well as your previous one. You’ll have to keep the two separate. It’s twice the work. So the benefits should be pretty spectacular before you decide to create all that extra work for yourself.

Be sure it’s worth it before you spawn an alter-ego.

Also be sure to check out the comments on the previous post – Jason Black and Nathan Everett, two of the professionals who made Pitch 2.0 such an informative and fun time, put up comments that will certainly repay a perusal. Our own Hank Fox has direct experience with CreateSpace, which is welcome news for those of us considering whether or not to go this route. It pays to consider your options carefully, but isn’t it nice we have got them at last?

Pitch 2.0: Naming Names

9 thoughts on “Pitch 2.0: Naming Names

  1. 1

    Dana, I’m no authority on this subject, but I recall from some years back — when I used to read a lot about marketing in line with my work at the time — that at least one theory is the public gets confused if you stand for too many things at one time. Imagine a car rental company that also sold hamburgers under the same name.

    Apparently, bright people like you (and probably most of your readers) are not too put off by complexity. But the average consumer is. He or she wants Brand X to refer to just one product or service.

    And that, as I understand it, is why companies that make a dozen or more products name them each individually instead of naming them all after the parent company (i.e. Proctor and Gamble does not name its products “Proctor and Gamble’s Soap”, “Proctor and Gamble’s Mouthwash”, “Proctor and Gamble’s Deodorant”, etc.)

    So, if what I can recall of marketing is correct, then it might be wise to use a different nym for different “products”, so to speak. That way you don’t confuse the average consumer.

  2. 2

    That could make sense, however one of the troubles is again, the effort to reward ratio.

    Not to mention, hell, Asimov wrote on damn near everything ever and didn’t switch around with names and the like. Building a pseudonym for something else isn’t an awful idea, but whether it is worth the work involved depends not only on the person, but on the niche they’re going to be writing for with the next or previous work as well.

    Chances are, you’re not going to be confusing too many people. I’d wager there’s more harm than good in separating new work from your other work.

  3. 3

    Good points. Another consideration might be whether the kinds of writing you were doing seemed compatible to the public. For instance, suppose you used the same name to write both religious and atheist tracts. That’s an extreme example, but you get the idea: The public might not accept your authoring two or more “genres” if they see them as contradictory.

    At any rate, I agree with you that a lot of authors have written very different kinds of things under the same name. I’m just wondering if there’s a point beyond which you shouldn’t go without changing names.

  4. 4

    Oooh. That’s a good point. If you’re trying to play both sides of a fight where people get crazy, then it’s probably best to play with a pseudonym for one or both of them.

  5. 5

    I have been wondering about this topic for a long time myself. I have been exposed to the example of Barbara Michaels (the romantic suspense books) aka Elizabeth Peters (the mystery books) aka Barbara Mertz (the person/scholar – penned two very nice books on Egyptology that have recently been republished – but only because she is also Elizabeth Peters). And the previously mentioned contrary example of Asimov, who seems to have written whatever struck his fancy with no cost to his scholarly rep. At various points I have wondered if this is sexism of some sort, or that some people like Asimov can get away with something like this – are there any women authors that have a similar kind of breadth to their published writing ? I am tired so nothing is coming to mind.

    Certainly there is a cost/benefit analysis to be done before taking on a new nym – but at the time mystery readers were thought to scorn romantic suspense – plus of course both nyms protect the scholar’s reputation. Nyms for scientists seem still to be somewhat necessary – what would happen to the scholarly biologist who also happened to be the author of a series of hot contemporary chick lit books (especially if it was a guy) ?

    I also understand that some authors actually need different nyms to attain the schizophrenia necessary to maintain different literary universes. (An Irish mystery writer I heard on NPR comes to mind, but not well enough to remember either of his nyms.)

    Okay, clearly too tired to make much sense, but I hope more people chime in here.

  6. 6

    Asimov did use a pseudonym in one case: the Lucky Starr books were originally published under the name “Paul French”, apparently in the fear that they might end up with awful television adaptations.

  7. 232

    FWIW, Orson Scott Card used this device in his (wonderful) Ender series. Ender’s brother, Peter, hatches a plan to … sway their part of the Universe … via – in essence, blogging – with his sister, Valentine. He uses the ‘nym “Locke”; she, “Demosthenes”; each conveying its ‘nym’d’s political stance.

  8. 8

    My issue is going to be more confusing since I’ll have to write under my male name and publish under that since everyone I know will be expecting that book under that name – even though it’s possible in the future I’ll transition and legally change my name to the one I’m using now.

  9. 9

    Dana writes:

    > They came out pretty anti-nym, but for a good reason: identity. While it wasn’t made clear in that brief time for discussion, I think they’d agree that it’s not the ‘nym that’s the problem, but starting over from scratch.

    That’s an excellent distinction, and you’re right. I don’t think any of us panelists were anti-nym, per se. We all know that the book industry has used nyms for ages, and for a variety of reasons, some well reasoned and some half-cocked.

    The fellow who asked the question, however, did phrase it in terms of whether he should pick a pseudonym for a new book he’d written in a wholly different area. And in that context, my vote is still “why would you do that?”

    If you have an already-established identity, in basically any realm whatever, stick with that. But if you’re still Joe or Jane Anonymous, there’s nothing wrong with publishing under a pseudonym.

    But do it with open eyes: that’s harder to do than it used to be.

    I’ll give you my experience, as just one data-point.

    A couple of years ago, my first novel came out (plug: “Bread for the Pharaoh,” under the name Jerome Asher, and yes you can get it on Amazon). When I wrote it, I was Joe Anonymous. But between writing it and it being published, I became possessed of a public identity as a book doctor, and I thought, “gee, I never expected that to happen, but I don’t want my writer persona and my book doctor persona to get all muddled up,” so I picked a pen name.

    The book came out, and I regretted it almost instantly.

    You think maintaining one social media identity is hard? Try two. Two blogs? Two Facebook pages? Separate promo headshots, separate bio blurbs, et cetera, et cetera. In this day and age when you the author have to do all that for yourself, I found I could never do it. It was just too much.

    In hindsight, I recognize the two-way folly of it. Under a pen-name, it becomes more difficult to use my book doctor persona as a way to drive sales of the novel. And vice-versa, it becomes more difficult to use the novel as a credibility piece to support my book doctor work.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    The thing is, I’m on social media all the time, but I’m here principally as my book doctor persona. It would have made much more sense for book doctor Jason Black to have simply started saying “hey folks, here’s this novel I wrote too,” rather than creating a whole new, fully unknown identity to go around pitching the book.

    But, I’m stuck with it now. Maybe someday, I can get the publisher to put out a new edition with a new name on the front. But in the meantime, I can tell you for damn sure that the next book I publish is going to have MY name on it.

    That experience largely informed my answer up on stage, because it seems to mirror the situation of the fellow who asked the question. He already has an identity that at least some people know about. Much easier–and I expect, more effective too–simply to expand the range of what that identity is known for than to try juggling two identities.

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