Sunday, July 24, 2011

I Feel Like a New Man

James Scott Bell
twitter.com/jamesscottbell


My next print book will be issued under a pseudonym.


In the past, there were various reasons writers chose to publish with pen names. Evan Hunter (The Blackboard Jungle; Strangers When We Meet) always considered himself a "literary writer." To earn some extra dough he wrote police procedurals under an alias so the critics would not look at his "serious" work with a jaundiced eye. But as Ed McBain he produced a remarkable run of noir that made him a multi-millionaire. The truth came out eventually, though Evan was probably always a little jealous of Ed.

Some writers wanted to have more books published per year than a single contract would allow. Dean Koontz at one time was writing under nine or ten pseudonyms, including a female guise. He wisely got the rights back to those early works and re-released many of them under his own name after he became a mega-bestseller.

Stephen King wrote some novels under the name Richard Bachman. He says his reason was to see if he could "do it again," by which he meant find success from the ground floor. He wanted to show that his status as a bestselling author was not the product of pure luck. His experiment was starting to show some results until a suspicious bookstore clerk outed him. So King "killed" Bachman, which was a pretty funny way to end the line.

Then there is protection of a "brand." Agatha Christie was hugely popular as a mystery writer. Her name on a book meant clues and suspects and sleuths. So when she wanted to do romances she adopted the name Mary Westmacott to keep readers from confusion or frustration.

My own reason for taking on a pseudonym is quite simple: I don't want the heads of my established readership to explode.

You see, my new book is different from my brand. Boy Howdy, is it different. Imagine Hemingway deciding to write for Mad magazine––that sort of different.

But this is a book, and series, I wanted to write. Plus, I now have this added authorial benefit: I get to write as two people, which I find very cool. I will be issuing books under two names, not one.

See, I loved those old pulp days when writers like Erle Stanley Gardner (aka A. A. Faire) were turning out the work, pounding their typewriters long into the night. I always thought I'd have fit in perfectly in the 1930s writing for Black Mask and Dime Detective and then putting out novels and getting called to Hollywood and hanging out at Musso's with Chandler and Faulkner and Ben Hecht, writing legendary dialogue for Billy Wilder and Jacques Tourneur, and talking back to Harry Cohn and getting fired, then getting re-discovered in the 60s and going legend, writing into my nineties while college kids tracked me down for interviews.

Or something along those lines. One dreams.

But this is now and I am here, and I'm just thankful I get to play in a new genre.

So what is my new name, and what is the book that will have it on the cover? Well, I write suspense so . . .

 . . .I will reveal all next week.

Meantime, would you ever consider using a pseudonym? For what purpose?

37 comments:

  1. I think I would use a pseudonym if I had books published in more than one genre.

    I'm unpublished at the moment though, so it's not an issue I have to think about :)

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  2. What an interesting announcement! I'm confused, though: why write under a pseudonym when you plan on telling us you new name?
    Or am I missing something?

    And YES, I plan on writing under a pseudonym in the future! Why? Because I'm a traditionally published author in the Mind/Body/Spirit genre ...who wants to write twisted fiction. :oD

    I even have the name picked out!

    Best wishes to you!

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  3. Good question, Savory (talk about pseudonyms!)

    As I mentioned, it's purely for brand distinction. It's like everyone knows Norah Roberts is J.D. Robb.

    It won't be a secret. It's just a way to give consumers a label for easy reference.

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  4. I have considered a pseudonym because while I write mostly historical fiction, I have a few contemporary novels in the hopper, and wondered if writing under two different names would be less confusing to readers.

    Speaking of confusion, here's a question that has always mystified me. Do writers adopt pseudonyms with the idea that they are going to be sneaky and prevent people from finding out who they really are? And isn't this impossible anyway since I thought the copyright was under the author's real name?

    Nora Roberts as an example. I have a friend who reads Nora Roberts books and those published under JD Robb (hope I have that right--I'm not familiar with the books). I don't know how long the JD Robb pseudonym has been around, but clearly this is not fooling this dedicated fan.

    So it seems to make a circular argument in my mind. If a reader can so easily determine who the writer really is, what then IS the point of using a pseudonym?

    Confused in Arizona,

    BK Jackson

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  5. LOL! Before I could even hit "send" on my post, you answered my question, and mentioned my example, Nora Roberts. *-)

    BK Jackson

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  6. I've always wondered about this topic and would love to hear some more comments about it.

    I work full time as a Family Nurse Practitioner now, and my novels, which are on submission, are thrillers that might turn the heads of some of my patients.

    As a medical professional I wonder if that would hurt my practice?

    I love both my roles.

    I'm very proud of my stories.

    Sometimes I wonder if a pseudonym might help keep those identities separate.

    Anyone else with this issue?

    Paula

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  7. My co-author and I adopted a single pseudonym. It just seemed to make sense to have a single name on the cover, so instead of writing as "Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion," which is a mouthful, we just write as "M.H. Mead."

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  8. Good luck with the new name, Jim. Looks like you’re doing it for all the right reasons.

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  9. Paula, that is a time honored reason to write under a pseudonym, to keep it out of the "day job" world. Since you're new, it wouldn't really hurt to do that.

    Margaret, there are many who do that, e.g., Perri O'Shaughnessy (two sisters) and P. J. Tracy (mother/daughter).

    Joe Moore and Lynn Sholes decided to do it the other way, putting both names on the cover. Maybe Joe will offer a comment why they chose that route.

    Methinks, however, it's still what's inside the covers that's most important.

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  10. Jim, Your reasons for doing this make sense--for you. They may or may not be cogent ones for writers just starting out, as has been pointed out by others commenting.

    Having been one of those privileged to read your new work, I'll simply agree that--as you say--your current readers' heads might explode (figuratively, of course) if they saw this one under your byline.

    Nice job, and good luck. I can hardly wait for the denouement of this saga.

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  11. Indeed, Dr. Mabry, each situation is unique. My readership base has been built over 15 years, and I just don't think it would be fair to them to jump out with this new series without some explanation. But since I can't hope to communicate with each one, having a pen name avoids needless confusion. Plus, I'm going to pick up a lot of readers who've never heard of JSB, but will be drawn (I hope) to this new genre twist.

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  12. Jim asked, "Joe Moore and Lynn Sholes decided to do it the other way, putting both names on the cover. Maybe Joe will offer a comment why they chose that route."

    The main reason was that when Lynn and I started writing together, she already had 6 novels on the shelf and a solid following. I had zero. That's also why her name always appears first. In addition, because we felt from the start that our work was a 50/50 collaboration, we would share the cover equally with both names. We would succeed or fail together.

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  13. That's a good reason for the two names, Joe. I was paired with a writer like that early in my career, for the same purpose.

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  14. When I get published in YA, I will probably go with a slightly different name, to differentiate from my sexier paranormal books. But maybe not. I've got a tiny following right now, and won't confuse anyone if I start publishing in a different arena.

    I really think it depends on where you are in the publishing world as to whether or not you need a pseudonym...you know?

    But hooray for you! HOW exciting...

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  15. James, you're a tease. Can't wait to hear the news next week.

    I would use a pseudonym in a heartbeat if I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself or family. Actually I do use a pseudonym already. But don't tell anyone.

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  16. Thanks, Christine. I do find it exciting and fun.

    And Joe, guilty. Not only a tease, but a shameless tease. That's fun, too.

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  17. Oh, that's so unfair, Jim! I want to know now!

    You know all about my pen name. I love it! I thought it was kind of weird at first but I've developed a real affinity for Jillian Kent. I came up with the name and my agent Rachelle Gardner suggested I do so to create a stronger brand for historical Regency romance.

    With my married name being Jill Nutter, working as a counselor in a large hospital setting for nursing students it seemed to make sense. Although I don't hide the fact from anyone in the work place. They are some of my biggest fans.

    Nutter
    Dictionary.com says:–noun
    1. a person who gathers nuts.
    2. British Slang . an insane person.

    I write a strong mental health thread through my books, Bedlam, asylums, etc. I think the author name Nutter would have been a bit much. Plus I'm so tired of the being called Nutter-Butter. :)

    Remember the show Twin Peaks? David Nutter was the producer or director of that tv show. I should find out if we're related and if he'd make a movie for Jillian Kent since I changed my name. :)

    Can't wait to read next weeks post. Go Jim!

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  18. I really like your pen name, too, Jillian. Sometimes our own monickers aren't right for the genre.

    Frank Morrison Spillane doesn't sound nearly as tough as Mickey Spillane, does it?

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  19. I'm thinking about writing a new thriller series with senior porn elements and launching it under the pen name John Ramsey Gilstrap.

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  20. I read JD Robb but not Nora Roberts so I appreciate the pseudonym.
    And to piggyback on Doc, I've read the new book and my head *did* explode. I'm still finding pieces scattered around the house. ;-).

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  21. Um, Joe, may want to re-think that one.

    Carrie, I hope you find all the pieces.

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  22. okay that whole paragraph about writing legendary dialogue, getting fired, and then getting rediscovered in your 90s was one of the best things I've ever read in a blog

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  23. This sounds like the start of an exciting new adventure in your career! I started out using a pseudonym, switched to my real name when I began writing mysteries, and now use my name for both genres. Will you combine your identities in one website or create a new one for your alter ego?

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  24. Taylor, that's so nice of you. Thanks. It was just one of those paragraphs that just flowed. It must have been sitting my mind for a number of years!

    Nancy, I will have a standalone website that's fun and low maintenance. I'll have the ID on my personal website, too. Don't know about more social media yet.

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  25. Looking forward to seeing your new work under a new brand, James!

    I use a pseudonym for two reasons: 1) because I have an incredibly long name; and 2) because I'm an introvert and I want my stories to be public, but my identity to be semi-public (nothing's really private anymore in this age of Facebook).

    That said, my pen name is really my real name, abbreviated!

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  26. I’ve given a lot of thought to a suitable pseudonym. I am currently leaning toward Stan Klump. It may not roll off the tongue, but that shelf space between King and Koontz is gonna be all mine, baby!

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  27. I didn't understand the use of a pseudonym until I read your post. I think I get it. It's kind of like an illusion. You know the guy with the funny hat didn't really make his assistant disappear, but it's more fun and interesting to pretend along with him. Besides it's not like you can explain how he did it. Except a pseudonym is a mental illusion.

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  28. Ashley, I used to do magic so I'm tracking right with you.

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  29. I have thought long on this. Currently my espionage/military fiction is under Basil Sands, which happens to match exactly with my given name which is coincidentally Basil Sands. Pretty neat trick, eh?

    But I plan to write both historical and YA as well, so I, figured I would take parts of my son's names for those. No secrets about it. Just like JSB said, a way to differentiate between the subject matter.

    You be the judge.

    Historical fiction: Ian Alexander
    YA: Nate Benjamin
    Satire: JJ Beach (get it? Beach? Sands? I smart nah?)

    At any rate, a pseudonym oughta be something that sounds right for the subject imho.

    Oh, how about Douglas Adams style whatever kind of genre that was......

    I was thinking Maynard G Krebs. What does the G stand for? Why, Walter of course.

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  30. Basil, I actually MET Maynard G. Krebs, so there.

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  31. I definitely have another personality who is itching to write, so yes, I would write with a pseudonym.

    Can't wait to hear your other name, James. I'm sure the book will be excellent!! (Do you want us to keep the link to you a secret?) :)

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  32. No, Kathleen, no secret. After Sunday...

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  33. I would write under a pseudonym if I ever wrote a different genre. Especially since my genre now is Christian romance. If I went secular, I'd want to make sure to use a different name.

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  34. I have considered using a pen name when the time comes to publish, but not for the usual reasons.

    When I began writing, it seemed like using the same name as an author that I use as a painter might cause confusion of its own.

    Now I'm not so sure, though. I've been painting long enough (over 30 years) it seems unlikely writing under the same name would cause anyone problems.

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  35. I write under a pseudonym (Annelise Ryan) for my current mystery series because a) the books are a different genre from my previous books, which were thrillers, and b) my publisher wanted it that way. It's never been a secret and I was outed early on.

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  36. I'm kind of torn on pseudonyms. I've thought about changing my last name on books if I ever get published. Then the other day I was thinking about the story I'm writing for my MFA (well, I say that, but I still have to apply and get accepted - but there's nothing wrong with a jump start, even if I don't get into the program), and while I'm completely devoted to that story, I suddenly felt like writing something different than the dark literary tone that my current story is. That, of course, led me to think about pseudonyms - say, if both my dark literary and more lighthearted books were to get published. Should they go under different names because they're two different types of stories in terms of genre or tone? It makes sense to use pseudonyms, but I also feel like an author shouldn't have to use one just because they want to do something different. People are going to find out it's you, anyway. I guess it makes sense for marketing purposes, and I can see how a reader would be taken aback to see Nora Roberts on J.D. Robb books. I don't know. It's a tough call.

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