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Pen names – do you or don’t you?

Those of you who have followed my posts on Mad Genius Club, know that I’m one of those writers who got started rather late in life. It’s not that I wasn’t writing. I’ve written stories for as long as I’ve known how to write.  If it weren’t for Sarah, I’d probably still be happily writing my stories and then shoving them in a desk drawer or under my bed. But she somehow convinced me one day to email her something I’d written. From that moment on, she became my mentor and sometimes my tormentor as she pushed me not only to write but to start submitting my work to agents and publishers. Then, when Amazon – followed by the other major e-tailers – opened up to sales from small presses and self-published authors, she convinced me to not only start working for Naked Reader Press but to submit my work to NRP for consideration.

Believe me, even though I work for NRP, I don’t get any special consideration. Not only does Sarah read and edit my work, but Kate has been tagged to be the first line. If it doesn’t meet Kate’s standards, it doesn’t go any further in the process without me fixing whatever was wrong.

But back to the story.

About a year or so after Sarah started beating me about the head and shoulders to 1) submit my writing to publishers and agents and 2) to quit having bonfires with my rough drafts (and I still haven’t forgiven her for that. Bonfires are nice. Fire good) the two of us attended the national RWA convention in San Francisco. I enjoyed many of the seminars, talked with a lot of authors and got a lot of pointers. I also picked up all the free books I could. And, believe you me, many of them were so bad that I knew I could do better.

So, while Sarah was off with her then agent attending parties or meetings, I holed up in our room and wrote.

I never meant to actually finish the story. I most certainly never meant to let Sarah, or anyone else for that matter, see it. Little did I know that the story had other plans.

A month later, I had a 90k word novel. Worse, Sarah had walked in on me while we were still in San Francisco and caught me writing. So she kept asking how the book was going. How long until it was finished? This is when I discovered she had a warped sense of humor. She was actually enjoying tormenting me about this book, this romantic suspense book – a genre a very rarely read, that had taken over my brain.

That’s when I made my second mistake. I told Sarah I’d finished it. I should have known that she’d want to read it. She did. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She didn’t care that I’d not written the novel for public consumption. She said things like, “you are your own worst critic,” and “you aren’t allowed to have a bonfire.” So, I gave in. The pressure was too much and I sent it to her – and to Kate who she had roped into the conspiracy to drive me insane.

Not too long after that, I had messages from both of them. They liked it. I’ll admit, I looked at the AIM windows and wondered when the aliens had taken over the bodies and minds of two women I liked as friends and who I respected as writers. They came back with a few suggestions on how to improve the book and I was convinced that meant it wasn’t worth the electrons it was digitally printed on.

Around this same time NRP came into existence and Sarah was already reading the writing on the wall about a lot of legacy publishing. She told me that she wanted the novel for NRP. She did her best to convince me that readers would like it. I wanted to know why she wasn’t sharing the good booze she was obviously drinking.

Okay, there was one other consideration back then. There was still a very large and ugly stigma to self-publishing or small press publishing, at least in the eyes of agents and publishers. So, a pen name, if I agreed to publish the novel, made sense.

We went back and forth about it for awhile. You see, here’s the issue. The book is fluff. Pure and simple fluff. It wasn’t like anything else I’d ever written. It was almost as if someone else had taken over my brain and my hands and written it while I looked on.

But it was more than that. I didn’t want that to be my first book. I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed as a romance writer (not that there is anything wrong with that. It just wasn’t what I saw myself being back then). So Sarah of the many pen names came up with a solution. Without batting an eye, she asked why I didn’t release it under another name.

I still wasn’t convinced but I’d promised long ago to listen to her advice as my mentor. Plus, what was the harm? If it was a closed pen name, no one would know it was me. I could release the book and then, when the sales tanked, I’d be able to tell Sarah “I told you so” and go back to writing what I wanted to.

Fate’s sometimes a fickle bitch. And she most certainly was this time. It took awhile but the book sold and sold well. Even now, after being out for several years, it continues to sell. Some months it is only a few copies and others it is much more. More than enough to make me reluctantly admit that Sarah had been right.

But I let the pen name sit. Oh, I put out a couple of short stories under it but no more novels. After all, that wasn’t me. I didn’t naturally write romance or romantic suspense, much less rom/susp with humor.

Enter Sarah again about a year ago. I’d hit a spot where I was having a hard time getting into any writing project. I’d tried different things and all I wound up with was a lot of starts and stops. Nothing seemed to gel. Finally, probably out of frustration because I kept whining at her, Sarah threw down a challenge. I had no problem writing the Nocturnal Lives series. So, since paranormal romance was the hot thing, she told me to write a PNR.

I knew she’d lost her mind. There could be no other explanation. Me? Write paranormal romance? No way. Absolutely no way. Unfortunately, my muse, evil bitch that she is, had other ideas. Over the next few weeks, a seed of a story took hold. Before I knew what was happening, the book was written. And, you guessed it, Sarah and Kate liked it and Sarah said NRP was going to put it out. No ifs, ands or buts. It was going to happen. But, since it was PNR and not Urban Fantasy like the Nocturnal Lives series, she suggested I bring it out under the pen name. I jumped at the chance to use the pen name because, yet again, a book had come out of me that I swear I hadn’t written.

That book, just like the romantic suspense before it, sold and sold well. Both have individually paid me more than I’d have gotten in advances from a legacy publisher. The second book in what is now an ongoing series is going to do the same, given time. That’s not something I can sneeze at.

For the last few weeks, as I finished Nocturnal Interlude and started preparing to work on my next project, I started thinking about why I’ve kept the pen name closely held for so long. I can no longer deny the fact that I write romance of different flavors, maybe not as easily as I do urban fantasy, but I write it. Looking back at Nocturnal Serenade and, more recently, Nocturnal Interlude, I see some of the traits of the pen name starting to bleed into those novels. No, they aren’t PNR – heaven forbid – but there is some romance. More than that, the plots are getting tighter and the pacing is better. At least I think so.

Over the last week or so, I’ve had several conversations with Sarah about whether or not it was time to come out of the pen name closet. I talked with Kate about it and even drew Cedar into the conversation. So, long story somewhat short, and with Sarah’s approval – heck, she’s actually kicking me out into public and slamming the door behind me – it’s time to stop hiding behind the pen name.

So, let me introduce myself. My name is Amanda S. Green. But I also write under the name of Ellie Ferguson. The name is a mixture of family names. Ellie was my great-great-grandmother on my mother’s father’s side of the family. Ferguson was the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother on Mom’s mother’s side of the family. Both are names I’ve grown up knowing all my life and together they have been a name I could be comfortable with.

Why, you might ask, am I finally revealing this? Because it’s time. By not being open with the pen name, I’ve been running the risk of losing readers who like the Nocturnal Lives series but who would like more romance with their shapeshifter stories. The same thing goes for those who have enjoyed the Hunter’s Moon series. There may be some of those readers who like mystery and police procedurals mixed with shapeshifter stories.

There is it. My secret is out and now I can’t hide. At least not unless I run faster than Sarah. (Looks around for a really good hiding place. Sighs. She’d find me. She always finds me.) I might not be completely comfortable about this, but it is time.

Welcome to my world and please no more pen names to hide behind because I have enough genres running through my head already.

You can find Ellie’s Amazon page here.

My Amazon page is here. (and I am working to get the pages merged.)

 

34 Comments
  1. I haven’t read any of your work as Ellie, I will have to take a look… but I need to read Interlude first!

    I’m planning to use a penname for a couple of upcoming pieces that are so very different (and yes, romances) from my normal work, I need to differentiate them. I’m planning on an open pen name, though. I haven’t yet written anything I need a closed penname for (Like I would admit it if I had!)

    January 21, 2014
    • Yeah. It is sort of liberating — and very terrifying — to finally admit to more than a few folks that Ellie and I are the same person, so to speak. But when we first brought out Wedding Bell Blues, it was necessary because that was just at the beginning of the indie push. Publishers and agents really did view small presses as evil and self-publishing as the kiss of death. Not that they still don’t, but they will more than happily sweep in and try to sign an author to an onerous contract if they’ve been successful as an indie, etc.

      January 21, 2014
    • Why wouldn’t you admit it? Sarah does. She has said multiple times that she has at least one pen name no one will ever know about.

      For myself, if and when I ever get anything ready to publish, it will be under a pen name, because I am not sure I want all the people I know to see it. I only know one person not in the group of people here and at ATH who actually has published any fiction, and anyone who knows me would be amazed that I might do so myself.

      January 21, 2014
      • Wayne, that “I’m not sure I want all the people I know to see it” was part of the reason I used the pen name. Another was because I didn’t want people thinking they were buying the harder edged UF and being stunned — and possibly upset — to get something lighter. Now, the two “brands” are established so there is no reason not to come out and let folks know they are both me, just different “flavors” of me.

        January 21, 2014
  2. Laura M #

    Ah, hah! I didn’t figure it out until halfway through your post, but it all comes together in a vast seamless web of intrigue. In hindsight. Very cool.

    January 21, 2014
    • Thanks. Right now, I’m terrified. I liked that nice, dark writer’s closet I’d been in. 😉

      January 21, 2014
  3. Ha! Can writers come out of the closet? Or do we come out of desks?

    I use an open pen name to differentiate between my YA stuff and the more mature content novels. I don’t know that it was needed, but, well, extreme branding might be useful down the road, if I ever get into bookstores.

    January 21, 2014
    • Pam, I agree. And, as I noted in the post, there had been a reason for “Ellie” back when I got started. But now, with the way the industry has and is changing, that is no longer an issue — at least I hope it isn’t. Now to get everything set so folks can see that we are actually the same person. sigh.

      January 21, 2014
    • Probably come out of file cabinets, where all the stories have been filed.

      January 21, 2014
  4. She’s lying. I didn’t push her. WOULD I push anyone?

    January 21, 2014
    • Yes.

      January 21, 2014
      • I’m MALIGNED! I’m going to sit in the corner and write.*

        *Nobody pays me for sulking.

        January 21, 2014
  5. Writers don’t “come out of the closet.” “Writers come out of the drawer.”

    January 21, 2014
    • In my case, out from under the bed 😉

      January 21, 2014
  6. Jim McCoy #

    Congrats Amanda! That took guts and, as R. Lee Ermey once said, guts is enough. As for using your rough draft for a bonfire. Hmmm.

    How about this?

    Make three copies of your rough draft. One you can submit. One you can use for your bonfire, which, given the frustration I feel toward pushing through to get to the end of writing a novel might just be therapeutic. Then just give me the third copy. I’ll uhh… protect it. Yeah. I’ll just put it here in my backpack and make sure it’s available if something happens to your other copy. Read it? Early? Whaddayamean? This is a sacred trust. And it’s not like it’ll stop me from buying it when it comes out. And I promise I won’t let anyone else see it. And besides, it wouldn’t be snooping. I would just be checking it for typos. And enjoying myself thoroughly. But that’s beside the point. Right?

    January 21, 2014
    • JIm, I do like the way you think. But be careful when you offer to “protect” a writer’s work. We might just take you up on it — and expect you to read it and give feedback.

      January 21, 2014
      • Jim McCoy #

        I’d be happy to. Seeing how you react to my advice might just make me a better writer.

        January 21, 2014
        • Remind me the next time I ask for beta readers — of course, you may regret it. Bwahahahahaha

          January 21, 2014
        • TXRed #

          Or you’ll find out just how good your defensive reflexes are, Jim. I’ve been told that getting hit by a flying typewriter is no fun. *evil grin*

          January 21, 2014
          • Jim McCoy #

            It’s all good. You just need to know how to duck.

            January 21, 2014
  7. TXRed #

    Congrats, Amanda. 🙂 I’m going the opposite direction – I may be adding another pen-name, to write romance under. Urban fantasy can slide for Alma Boykin, but a sweet romance might jar unsuspecting readers.

    January 21, 2014
    • LOL. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll still write as both Ellie and Amanda, but there won’t be any denying Ellie any more. Nor does that rule out another pen name down the road. For now, though, I have enough voices and people living in my head. I don’t need another alter ego cropping up.

      January 21, 2014
  8. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    I wondered why I thought “Predator or Prey” could fit into the Nocturnal Lives universe. [Smile]

    January 21, 2014
    • Paul, that was actually written before any of the Nocturnal Lives stories. I will admit, however, that I’ve toyed with expanding it into a full length novel. Not sure if it will ever happen and, if it does, which universe it will wind up in.

      January 21, 2014
  9. BTW, if anyone is interested, I have a snippet from one of Ellie’s books up at my person blog today. You can find it here: http://nocturnal-lives.com/?p=629

    January 21, 2014
  10. Hey! It’s a twofer. I like both writers. I don’t care about the names.

    M

    January 21, 2014
    • Thanks, Mark!

      January 22, 2014
  11. “Welcome to the writer’s lounge. I’m Mr. Cross. You already know Mr. Parker…”
    “Pen names, obviously.”
    “Quite right.”
    Off to the side a man sat writing furiously. When he reached the edge of the page, his pen would strike his drinking glass, making it ring, at which point he would slide the paper up the desk and continue scribbling at speed.
    “Who’s that?”
    “That’s Mr. Underwood. Have you chosen a Pen Name?”
    “Call me Bic.”

    (Okay, I admit posting a version of this ages ago).

    January 22, 2014
    • LOL. Of course, now I have a short story in my head and I do NOT need anything else fighting for my attention right now.

      January 22, 2014
  12. Ooh ho. Gutsy. But it also makes a lot of sense to be open about it, so congratulations and I hope it helps your sales across both pen names! I’ll have to pick up a few titles.

    I currently write under a closed pen name. (One could say that I only write under that name, considering very little is published under my real name and AFAIK, none of it is on Amazon. I’ve forgotten if the one anthology a short is in is up there or not.) Erotic romance, so since I also think I’ll be writing not just YA but middle grade fiction, it’ll probably never be made an open pen name.

    I’m waffling over whether or not I’ll have more than two. I have a total of five picked out. The first three open and the last two closed. One for middle grade/YA. One [C. R. Reaves] for the majority of my work, another pen name for more mature/darker material, the aforementioned erotic romance pen name, and a second erotic pen name for “the weird stuff” (not that I’m exactly considering writing dinosaur porn, but it’s just weird in the bizarre 80s sort of way and I figure it might do better if people weren’t sure if the author were a lunatic, a troll, or what.)

    I’m not sure if I really want to manage five “different careers” so we’ll see how many I end up with in the end.

    January 22, 2014
    • I know what you mean. I’m not a great “juggler” which is another reason why I decided t admit to Ellie actually being me. Good luck with your juggling act.

      January 22, 2014
    • I’m TRYING.

      January 22, 2014
      • And succeeding more than most people could with one!

        (to Amanda – Thank you!)

        January 23, 2014

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