Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Pen Name Game

But first, a word from our sponsor. If you’re into reading and/or writing romance, especially the erotic variety, you’ve probably heard about the big flap Ellora’s Cave is currently embroiled in. It started with a set of massive layoffs, and has since degenerated into allegations of non-payment to both editors and authors, lawsuits, and general animosity on all sides. I’m not an Ellora’s Cave author so I won’t go into the sordid details here. Google Ellora’s Cave, pick your favorite writers’ group or blog, and happy reading.

Like I said, I don’t have a horse in this race, but I know someone who does. Serena Shay, one of our Shapeshifter Seductions authors, recently sold a story to EC. She got her acceptance and signed her contract shortly before the first gobs of shit began to fly at the fan. There isn’t much she can do now other than fulfill her contractual obligations and hope it all works out.

So here’s what I’d like you to do. Serena has three books with Liquid Silver Publishing. You can find them at or on Amazon at Instead of sending me your dollars, use them to buy one or two or all three of Serena’s books, because nothing cheers up an author like hefty sales. I’ll go back to plugging my own stuff and begging for pocket change next week. Okay? Okay.

# # #

As part of my campaign to get a million dollars, I’ve decided to take the plunge and go into self-publishing. I downloaded the Smashwords formatting guide and experimented with a story file. While I won’t be uploading that particular file (Savanna, who has self-pubbing experience, is doing that on behalf of Shapeshifter Seductions. Tons of thanks your way!), I found it wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined, and I learned a lot about my computer functions. I’m almost ready to try again, with a shorter story file.

Yes, it’s porn.

When it comes to self-publishing, it seems like everybody’s gravitating toward the same genres: romance, erotica, and flat-out porn. Why not? They’re popular. Your odds of selling increase if you hop on the widest bandwagon. Luckily for me, I found a niche that I can write with no problem, and it appears to have a large fan base. All I need is a cover and I’m set.

I thought buying or making a cover would be my biggest speed bump. Instead, another problem popped up (if you’ll pardon the porno humor): what name am I going to put on the cover?

It won’t be my real name, that’s for damn sure. Even though I don’t have a day job that I’d get in trouble with should my sideline become known, I’d still rather people not know I write this stuff. Bad enough I write sexy books. And that's another reason. I left my name intact when I jumped from mainstream to erotica, and from M/F to M/M. I didn’t realize at the time the audience wouldn’t jump with me. There’s such a thing as branding now. If I ever go back to mainstream M/F romance, I’ll have to start over with a new name. Ditto for this. I want to establish a new name in this niche, separate from my other stuff, to avoid reader confusion. Especially if some of those readers happen to be under 18.

I had a pen name all picked out. I thought I was okay. Then I googled my chosen nom de plume. Simple butt-covering. It wouldn’t do to have a real person find their name on a dirty book, and decide to sue.

If you think that wouldn’t happen, think again. There was a writer who had a childhood friend with an unusual name, and used that name in a book. The childhood friend’s younger brother had grown up to become a lawyer. They sued. There was a stand-up comic who met a man in California, and humorous incidents happened. When the comic got back to the East Coast, he added the stories to his act, and used the man’s real name. The man was 3000 miles away; who was going to know? Well, his sister, for starters. She was in the audience. I once drove cross-country, from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to Arizona. Who did I wind up talking to? A couple from Harrisburg. It was a small world before the Internet. Now it’s downright claustrophobic. And lawsuits are yet another way you can get a million dollars, or so everybody believes.

So I ran my fake name through Google, just to be on the safe side. And wouldn’t you know, real people popped up. People on Facebook, with Zeus knows how many friends, some of whom might be cruising the over-18 sections of Amazon and find their buddy’s name and point my opus out to them and go, “I didn’t know you wrote porn.” I know I’d be upset if I found my name on a dirty book, even if I wrote it myself. Or if I had a job and my employer found it.

I’ve used pen names before, and will again (see above, under M/F). If the name I pick turns out to belong to an actual person, no biggie. The subject matter of those books is such that the real person might be momentarily embarrassed, but should be able to shrug it off. Self-published porno on Amazon is a whole different deal. It could mess with people’s jobs. If I own up to it, it could mess with my future, especially if I decide to go ahead with those YA books I’ve been thinking about. The name I put on this had better not belong to anybody else, anywhere.

I altered the spelling. No luck. Real people had that version too. I changed the last name. Nope. Still too many real people. I made up a name on the spot. Yup, somebody else has it already. C’mon!

I’ll probably have to come up with an obvious fake, like Anna Lingus or Anita Dick or Kris P. Kreme (actual pseudonym currently in use by another author). If I had the guts, I’d slap “Stephen King” on the cover, leave it posted for a month, then grab the money and run. I’d better make sure there isn’t a real “Anita Dick” out there. Bet her life has been a living hell.

ETA: I just checked and oh dear God, there are at least a dozen real-life Anita Dicks in the world. I also found Yvonna Dick and Yvonna Mann. Screw it. I’m going to use one of those. If these twits haven’t changed their names by this point, they deserve whatever gets attached to them.


Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah I googled the pen name I'm using for my latest manuscript. I think there was a woman in Australia, and one on FB... but not much out there because of how I spelled the last name.

If I ever attempt a story on the porno side, even if I find an unused name, someone could have/choose it later... but then, I guess, it would be on their shoulders.

YES! Everyone, I've read Serena Shay's books, and enjoyed them immensely.

Pat C. said...

I have enough problems with my real name. I live in an area where every other person is named Martin. (The rest are either Yoder, Landis, Lapp, or Stoltzfus.) "Cunningham" is not a common last name hereabouts. Yet several years ago I was contacted by some agency trying to track down a Patricia Cunningham who lived in Ephrata and was in trouble for taxes or something. I was on Duke Street and she lived on State Street. Same name, same town. What are the odds of that?

My mother had it even worse. Her bank deposits weren't showing up on her statements. Turns out there was another Elizabeth Cunningham also living in Ephrata who had an account AT THE SAME BANK. The bank was putting Mom's money into the other Liz Cunningham's account. Makes you wonder why they even bother with all those account numbers and ID checks and stuff.

Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, that is weird about a Patricia Cunningham living in Ephrata.

I've heard of that before. People with the same name and the banks making that mistake. That's what I always thought, what about the numbers???

Guess what? Ride the Roan Stud just got accepted by Siren, so guess I'll be having another book out fairly soon under another pen name. ~smiles~

Pat C. said...

Hooray! Congrats! Though I'll have to go to McDonald's to check it out.

Another question about pen names. I'm assuming you have an account at Smashwords (I already have one at Amazon). Is it under your real name or your writing name? If you write something under "Jane Smith," do you have to have a separate account for it? If so, how do they pay you? I want to keep the dirty stuff separate from my other dirty stuff.

Savanna Kougar said...

My account at Smashwords is under Savanna Kougar. However you could make up a publisher name. When I pub my books, it's under Purple Silk Books. Also, to my knowledge Smashwords only pays through Paypal, which I know you don't like. However, all Smashwords needs is the email addy you use for Paypal, regardless of the pen name.

As far as Amazon, I'm not certain what the best strategy is, except if you have your own publisher name, you can use that, then publish different books under other pen names. Of course, Amazon wants your so-called real name or what you use on your bank account to deposit royalties.
I think I could just use my author account at Amazon and publish under different pen names.

Some folks use separate bank accounts. I ain't that rich, and don't have time to mess with it. However, you could use various names. I don't think banks care as long as they have your 'real' info. And can tell the IRS, etc. -- which Amazon does as well.

Pat C. said...

Thanks! I already have the PayPal account, and it's set up so I can transfer funds into my bank account. If they find out I'm making money through smut, they're liable to freeze my account. The bastards.

Next week I start shopping for a cover.

Savanna Kougar said...

Naw, it's the company they go after. Not the small potatoes... unless someone complained you were doing something illegal. If you're selling through Smashwords, that's NOT illegal.

Serena Shay said...

Oh my...((hugs)) seriously, thank you ladies, you're gonna make me cry. :) This has been, well, an interesting experience.

Now, congrats Savanna on your sale!!

Pat, give me a holler if you're interested in a cover. If you don't mind a newbie putting it together I'd love to help.

And pen names...I struggled trying to decide on mine until I thought, what if I took all of my names: first, middle, last, unmarried and treated it like a jumble, just to see if I could create a different usable name and wa-la, Serena Shay was born! It was actually kind of fun too!

Yep, I'm kind of easily amused. ;)