What’s in a Name?

One question I never thought I’d need to address was whether to write under a pseudonym. Pen-names weren’t for me. My dream was to be a writer. Why wouldn’t I want to ‘own’ that?

I came to a stuttering halt when my first novel turned out to be erotic romance (heavier on the romance/adventure aspect). Why? I had an idea which nagged me and a market to submit to, delighted to take it. I dithered over what name to use with a few friends coming up with some (truly) ridiculous offerings. I had to explain the publisher I was with would never allow such jokes to stand, and neither did I wish to use one.

Then a writer/friend advised I should never write something I wasn’t willing to put my name to; speaking from experience, if I were to put out work without owning it, I might come to regret it. My thoughts were similar: “What if this is the only novel I ever publish?” I had nothing to hide, though I have to admit I never gave a day job a thought. Never occurred to me an employer might object to something one of their employees wrote, though I’ve since come to realise that for many writers, their day jobs are foremost on their minds when publishing.

This still seems unfair to me. Especially with certain genres, of which romance and/or erotica appear to get the brunt of dislike. I believe a writer should have the right to depict an accurate reflection of the world. Sex? For goodness’ sakes, be an adult. No one seems to object when the teenage couple slink off into the woods to have their kissing interrupted by an axe-wielding maniac, or cannibalistic family living in the wilderness. But depict consenting adults doing what makes the world go round, and too many will advert their gazes. If you don’t like something, don’t read it. Simple as.

Still, I now realise many writers choose pen-names for protection. They don’t want their writing to affect them in their workplaces, or halt their non-writing careers. They don’t want to encounter abuse from friends, family, colleagues, or neighbours. They don’t want a super fan right from the pages of Stephen King’s Misery to track down where they live.

So, it’s a serious question worth considering before you’re ever published, although these days one can never guarantee keeping an identity secret. Still, I wish I had given it more consideration for another reason: although never my intention, I’ve slipped into the precarious category of multi-genre author, not an enviable position to be in.

I’ve often said I write as I read, meaning anything and everything. When you’ve varied tastes and the muse strikes, it’s hard not to follow where the ideas lead. Yet it’s not the wisest choice. Writing can be as much about branding as the work itself, but success in one genre does not guarantee success in all. Readers, even devoted ones, will not necessarily follow you everywhere, especially if you’re a lower-end or mid-range author (perfectly acceptable levels in which to have excellent publishing careers) rather than that of the household name variety. Writing in two (or more) genres often means twice (or more) the amount of work. Hence, unenviable. You may also want to avoid confusion. Readers come to expect a certain something from a brand (name).

An ‘easy’ way to separate genres is to choose different names, regardless of whether you keep them unrelated and/or secret. In retrospect, I wish I had made a better selection for all my romantic endeavours, but it’s far too late now. Changing at this stage might confuse those who love my work. When I came to write steampunk, and then Doctor Who related fiction, I simply dropped the middle name — originally added because I thought it sounded better. But, though these works have dark elements (as so, too, do some of my romances), they’re not as dark as several short stories, or the horror novel I’m working on. How do I brand this fiction?

For a long time I toyed with writing under the name Sharon Kernow (much of my original interest in myths and legends arose from holidays in Cornwall/Kernow, but I grew to love Devon and other counties as well), and even attempted this with some short works, but now I’m not so sure. Though I don’t consider my name to have a particular ‘author-like’ sound, I don’t wish to feel detached from my writing. So, I switched to using initials, as there’s still some belief that, as men have and still use pseudonyms to write romance, women still struggle to achieve recognition in horror. But I’ve seen a few women who are breaking these barriers, and I’d feel proud to be one of them and part of women in horror month.

For now, I remain torn. Do I discard the middle name, use initials, or change my name entirely? Some days I feel like calling myself Sharon Savage, but that’s more to do with my mood than reflective of anything I’m writing.

What do you think? Anyone who has thoughts on the subject or a similar experience is welcome to comment.