Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Pen Name?

In the dream, I enter a bookstore, sashay to the children's section, spot a table stacked with novels, and beam as I snatch one with my name on the cover.

And then the dream grows fuzzy and bends around the edges. What name is on the cover? What? My name.

But my name is Barbara Watson, and it's just so.....common. A google search boomerangs 32.2 million results. Adding my middle name Ann still bounces 3.23 million. The name filters into the same role as white drywall. Dull. Boring. Humdrum. Snooze. Now, I'm not saying I am those things, just that my name is. (Glad I clarified that one. Phew.)

This begs the question, should I have a pen name? And with the publication dream so far in the future, should I even be concerned about this right now? The answer is complicated, as most good things in life are. And the reasons I consider writing under a pen name are the same reasons you paint a wall. Color. Splash. Flavor. Pizazz.

If I toss the idea of a pen name around, I guffaw (or at the very least giggle), but this post last week by Jami Gold, forced me to consider it more seriously. Even consider it right now. Because if I (or, in dreamland, a publisher) declare my real name too vanilla later on, there's much to re-brand at that point. Twitter. Facebook. This blog. A website. Maybe other things I'm not even aware of.

So, reboot the dream. I enter a bookstore, sashay to the children's section, spot a table stacked with novels, and beam as I snatch one with my name on the cover. What name is on the cover? Barbara (Something). Because I can't be anyone but Barbara, but maybe I should snag a last name with some snazz.

A pen name. What do you think about them? Do you have one? Have you considered one? If so, why? If not, why not? Share any insight you wish on pen names.


  1. I once thought about using my maiden name as my pen name and going by the name "Jenny Carroll" then I Googled around and found out that's actually a pen name Meg Cabot used to use! Oh well...

    Great post Barbara, and I love the pic!

  2. I'm kind of using a pen name -- Megan is a diminutive of Margaret Ann and Frances was my mother's middle name. She was a screenwriter and I love having that connection with her. I'm hoping that one day, I'll have an agent who will help me resolve the nom de plume quandary.

    Barbara Watson is a great name, BTW. It has a good ring. You could also consider adding your initial A. instead of Ann.

  3. Jenny, how interesting! And thank you.

    Megan, what a cool story, about your 'kind of' pen name. That is a neat connection. I, too, like the ring of my real name, I'm just concerned it's not snazzy or memorable.

    But honestly, I google book titles more than author names, so..... hmmmm.

  4. Barbara, you're right about googling book titles more than authors names. I only google authors when there is more than one book with the same title that shows up.
    Do get a pen name if that's what feels right for you and start early, even if publication seems so far away.
    I've considered it before, but decided to keep my name as is and just be proud of who I am. (that was my issue, self-confidence). :)
    Great post by the way.

  5. I've already created my pen name and persona. You know me as Carlie M A Cullen but the only thing about it that is genuine are the 'M A' which are my middle initials.
    My reasons for this are...unusual, I suppose you might say, and have nothing to do with my name sounding bland or it being used elsewhere.
    I created this persona as I'm going through a difficult divorce and as I have some interest in my WIP, if I'm lucky enough to get picked up by a publisher, I don't want my soon-to-be ex laying claim to anything I might earn from it. He's not aware of my pen name/alternate persona and as such I can (hopefully) earn some money without the bas**rd getting his hands on any of it!!
    As for the name I picked - Carlie Cullen - Carlie is a name I've always really liked and, now don't laugh, I closed my eyes, flipped through the phone book, stopped at a random page and pointed to a name and it happened to be Cullen. I thought Carlie Cullen had a nice ring to it, so, the rest, as they say, is history! :)

  6. So much to consider. And Akoss, that's the thing. I don't know if a pen name feels right. I'll keep pondering.

    Carlie, quite a story. The best to you, with publishing and the tricky-icky situation. Hugs, my friend.

  7. I've never considered it, but my name is pretty unique. I like Barbara Watson. I mean it! I've never met any other Watsons . . . It's a good last name. Short. Easy to say and spell.

  8. How about Akoss Wixted? Those are some names you don't run into every day.
    Just kidding... I have an X in my last name and I'm happy with that. It's my married name but my family name is vanilla so I know what you mean.
    (I didn't marry Jack for the X but I do like it a lot.)

  9. Nina, thanks for stopping by! I like my name too and need to feel like I'm still me. I think that's what I'm battling, that another name might be like an itchy sweater.

    Kristen, your last name is awesome. And you're right, the X makes it so. It's a keeper.

  10. To Pen or Not to Pen, it's a tricky question. Nathan Bransford did a fabulous blog post on this...I'd look up the link for you but I'm too lazy tonight. Seriously though, go find it. It actually persuaded me to keep my name instead of penning. Your name isn't boring and when you're writing for MGers, they don't care about your name, just your story.

  11. Bfav, I'll search for the link! And you're right about MGers not caring. More than anything, I want to feel like me, and I'm not sure another name would (the itchy sweater thing above).

  12. @ Kristen, Akoss Wixted sounds cool, but too much for my name. However Barbara Wixted, sounds a lot better. :)
    (I hope we're not having too much fun with this)
    @ Barbara, feel free to share the Nathan Bransford link when you get it. I'm curious to read his views on the subject.

  13. I'd love to share the link but I can't find the post. He even categorized his posts about a month ago but... Am I missing a search box too?

  14. You could use your initials with your last name, maybe? I don't know--I have heard that pen names can end up being nightmares--first, your real name is different, so it can be hard to draw on personal contacts for promotion, or you'll have to explain a million times how you and X penname are actually the same person. Also, I think Tax wise it can get a bit complicated. I don't know, I'd try to stay with your own name unless one of your 'online twins' is well know for something that would hurt you to be associated with.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  15. Mmmmmm. Angela, thank you for sharing your insights. Initials are a possibiity. Most of what you stated I hadn't considered (was focused on my generic name only), but when I add in all of that (and my itchy sweater analogy of not feeling comfortable using a different name), my own name is sounding better and better!


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