The other night, my dear wife asked me a question that's been driving me batty ever since. I mentioned to her that I'm nearly done with my huge, three-year masterpiece (I keep telling myself it's a masterpiece) and that I'm quite nervous about actually entering the part of the publishing process where I go and try to, you know, get published.
We were watching Castle (guilty pleasure about a writer + Nathan Fillion is awesome) and she turned to me, quite innocently, and asked, "Have you given any thought to what your writer name is going to be?"
"You mean my nom de plume? I wasn't planning on changing anything; I've been dreaming about seeing my name on the bookshelf for nearly a decade."
"I know... I mean, it's just that... you know your name isn't cool, right?"
Now, to be fair, my wife took my name when we got married, so she's not being mean to just me. And... the more I think about it, she has a point. I've read a fair number of publishing industry blogs, and I actually work in a field somewhat related to catching customers' attention, and I understand the value of a cool cover and author name. I've spent hours at a time wringing my hands over chapter titles, and I really believe in the power of a good title to set the tone for that which is within, both for a chapter and a book as a whole.
Why then would I never think about the author's name? Well, I didn't. My name is Michael McDuffee. It doesn't catch the eye. It's sort of a mouthful. It actually earned me quite a bit of cash as a math tutor in grad school (undergrads looked for any names that sounded clearly American).
There was a guy at my elementary, middle, and high schools growing up. I hated him, though I never actually met him. His name was Mike McCool. Mike freaking McCool. How was I supposed to compete with that? People asked me if I was that guy. I even got sent to the principle's office by mistake once (I have no idea what Mike F-ing McCool did). The real pain of it is, I still remember that guy's name. In fact, I bet many of you who've suffered through my rambling to this point will still remember that somewhere there exists a guy named Mike McCool.
Readers are consumers. We gravitate towards things that catch our eye, including author names. OSC has a cool name. Card. Just say it; it trips right off the tongue. R.A. Salvatore has a cool name; he sounds like some slick Italian political aide who'll sleep with your sister, yet somehow you'll have the urge to thank him for doing your family the honor. There are dull names that have made a splash as well - Patrick Rothfuss comes to mind (sorry Pat - I love your book though).
I know this is tiny and superficial, but have the rest of you considered it? How much did you change your name?
Of course I don't intend to become Commandant McAwesomeness (TM), Max Power, or Sexy McSexalot (TM) (a great eye-catcher), but how much do you think it's worth it to change your name?
Would you be more likely, just walking by, to grab something on a whim by M.R. MacDuff (TM)? Mike Strong (TM)? Michael Duff has a ring to it, but dammit, I'm not related to Hillary and don't want to try and look like I am (or is she now stale enough that nobody remembers her?).
I've always thought my name to be rather uncool. Yet, I think when it comes to writing my books, I really don't care. They're the books I care most about, the ones with themes that are important to me, and I want them to sell on their own merit. If my book is good enough, people will recommend it to each other despite any vapid concern over my name. (Completely different subject, mind you, to the situation where our name was persona-non-grata, like it was synonymous with an infamous serial killer or something)
I've thought though, about what I might do if I were to change careers and write fulltime. What if I ghost-wrote books? Did franchise novels? Wrote pulps in other genres for quick cash? I think in those cases I'd consider a pseudonym, purely because (as I imagine it now) those books aren't me.
But for the first book, which is about something I care about, yep... my name. Plus it'll give me mum something to smile about
Michael McDuffee -- looks perfectly fine to me. Your authorial name doesn't need to be kewl, it just needs to be easily remembered by your audience, so when they spot it on a book's spine, they'll reach over and pull it off the shelf.
Yours is ordinary enough to be easy to remember, yet with a twist (unusual spelling of what's more often "Duffy", and some visual symmetry) to make it memorable.
Such are the raving needs of my enormous ego that I had to put my own name---the one you see here---on what I've been trying to publish. I didn't even put out my Internet Fan Fiction under another name.
One exception: the time I tried my hand at a Harlequin Romance. Such is the market that they insist on girl's names on books. (Actually, it's just as well it was never published, and not just 'cause of the name on it.) It's the only time I've actually used a pseudonym.
That being said...I had a couple or three names picked out, that I'd planned to use if necessary...but that never happened. Still, I remember what they were, and if it becomes necessary in the future, they're still there.
Actually, most of you are already using pseudonyms...'cause what is a "username" but a pseudonym?
Well, a "username" is also the one that's easier to type into a password entry field. "micmcd" is massively shorter than "Michael McDuffee". I'm actually kind of surprised Hatrack lets you have usernames with a space in them. This isn't a particularly high-end (tech wise) internet forum (no disrespect intended), and there's a nontrivial tech annoyance that you need to use to deal with space-inclusive names that several fancier programming forums I'm on don't allow.
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For what it's worth I like the sound of your real name too, Mike. The alliteration is nice and I think it is memorable.
It's funny, my husband just asked me to think about a pen name too, but for different reasons. I just made my first pro sale of a short story and he'd like me to publish under a different name for our family's privacy. I don't personally thinks it's a big deal (who's going to notice my story anyway?), but I'll respect his wishes... so now I'm in the same boat trying to think of something that suits me and doesn't sound lame. My real name (which I like) is Laura Lee Ford. After rejecting many more exotic/fun possibilities I'm considering Laura McArdle or Laura Lee McArdle. It's my mother's maiden name. What do you think? Too gentle-sounding for a SF writer?
What about Laura Lee Henry? Cause Ford, and Henry Ford... Or better yet... What about Laura Lee Harrison?
Or completely switch it around, and go Laura Lee Chevy.
I think with a pen name, you want it similar enough so that those who know you well enough will still know the book is yours, but those who don't know you at all, like a perspective employer who doesn't like speculative writing, or creepy people, won't connect the dots.
I have a similar problem, except I wonder if my name is too different. My name is Sheena Boekweg, which I like the look and sound of, but so many people don't know how to pronounce my name, that it makes me want to change it for a book jacket. ~Sheena
I was thinking Will Smith. Even though he's an actor and not a writer, you can't get much more ordinary than that .
I see nothing wrong with your real name either, Mike. I think it would look very nice on your bookcover.
I also think most everyone has this thing about their name. My first name is Ginger. I know it's fairly original. Not many Gingers out there, but I've never really liked it. I did luck out on my last (married) name: Karns. It's also pretty unique since it's usually spelled Carnes, which has been a royal pain when it comes to bills, insurance policies, and paying taxes. Getting them to change the C to a K isn't much trouble, but try and get them to drop the e before the s. I had to have it redone three stinkin' times when I transfered a motor vehicle title into my name. A real pain in the a**.
And yes, I use Crystal here on Hatrack. That's because a pen name was mandatory on another writing site that I no longer visit, and Crystal Stevens is what I picked for that. So when I discovered Hatrack, that was the first thing that came to mind. Now I wish I'd used my real name instead, but it a little late for that.
Stick with your real name, Mike. You'll be fine. Trust me .
I want to stick with my name, but basic marketing concepts keep dragging me back towards making it... just a little bit cooler.
Take R.A. Salvatore, for instance. I've never actually read one of his books, nor done any research on the man (though I looked up his name on Google so I'd spell it properly in my first post here). If someone asked me whether or not I'd heard of R.A. Salvatore, I'd say "Yeah, he's a scifi/fantasy writer. I've heard of him."
In fact, if you asked me whether or not he was any good I'd say yes, even though I've never read anything by him. I just get the impression that he's a fairly major guy because I remember the name and I vaguely recall seeing a bunch of books by him on the shelf when I go to Barnes & Noble. Even though I've never read his stuff, I've heard of him, so he must be semi-decent, right? I say all this, knowing full well that I'm doing so for no reason. I know that's just the way human minds tend to work.
quote: I think EVOC's right: if your writing catches on with the public, your name will be remembered, whatever it is.
There's a key first clause to that statement: If your writing catches on with the public. That's not an easy thing to do, even if I were as to be so arrogant as to say my writing was good enough to catch on.
There are plenty of reasons why I'll buy a book. Word of mouth certainly helps, and of course if I'm seeing all over the interwebs that Title X by Author Y is one of the best fantasy books of the year, I'll give it a look. Other times, I'll just go through the shelves and browse.
And that last bit is what makes me pause. Why do I pick up book A over book B when I'm browsing? I'd be lying if I said the cover didn't matter. Not much I can do about that - hopefully my publisher, should I be so lucky as to get one, will do a competent job and put something awesome on there. I certainly consider the name if its someone I've heard of before... and I've heard of R.A. Salvatore. Why? I go by the shelves and see his name, and it sticks in my head. (Probably also because he has a bunch of books on any given B&N scifi/fantasy shelf, but the point is still valid).
Ultimately, the excerpts, reviews, and the writing itself is what sells the book, but you still have to get the customer to pick it up (or download the sample). For that, you get your name, the title, the cover, and luck.
Name recognition is a big reason I'll pick a book up, unfortunately. We tend to remember things like "R.A. Salvatore is a spec fi writer, I've heard of him," but not where we heard of them.
Of course the most important thing is the writing itself, and any other worries are very far past where I am (I'll have a real talk with a bunch of people about whether or not to use a nom de plume sometime after I've got an agent and a publishing deal, which won't happen 'til sometime after I finish, edit, and re-edit my book, if I'm lucky).
It's just something that's been eating at me since my wife brought it up the other night. Thought it would be fun to talk about.
Just a quick note: I read one book by Salvatore and thought it stunk big time. Worst book I've ever read by a well-known author. I've never picked up another one of his books since. It was "The Highwayman". Talk about no surprises. I guessed everything that occurred long before it happened. Can you say "boring"?
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There are copyright considerations when it comes to using a pseudonym. From the US Copyright Office site:
quote:Works distributed under a pseudonym enjoy a term of copyright protection that is the earlier of 95 years from publication of the work or 120 years from its creation. However, if the author’s identity is revealed in the registration records of the Copyright Office, including in any other registrations made before that term has expired, the term then becomes the author’s life plus 70 years.
So, if you use your real name, you own the copyright so long as you are alive, then your estate gets to hold it for 70 years after your death. After which time I presume it enters the the public domain.
If you use your pseudonym, it's 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever comes first. However, if you register your work using both your real name and your pseudonym then copyright lasts for life +70 years.
PS Michael McDuffee sounds like a perfectly good name to me
[This message has been edited by redux (edited February 17, 2011).]
I just remembered something I had read a while back about pen names. Some authors pick pen names based on shelf placement. For instance, if your book is horror genre, use a last name starting with the letters "ki" to have your book next to Stephen King's. At least that's the idea. So, to be next to OSC perhaps consider the pen name Cardamon?
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I must admit I was a little naive to all this about shelf placement and the such. Like Robert Nowall, I was all about my own ego.
quote:One exception: the time I tried my hand at a Harlequin Romance. Such is the market that they insist on girl's names on books. (Actually, it's just as well it was never published, and not just 'cause of the name on it.) It's the only time I've actually used a pseudonym.
I have to say, being a writer is the first time in my life having a unisex name in English (Pat) has ever been a plus.
One thing that stuck in my brain from a writer's class is that if someone shouts out your name at a convention it's pretty useful to recognize that they're talking to you. Made sense to me, so I'm Pat when I write romance, and Patrick in the States, and Padraig in Ireland, all of which I recognize as being directed at me, whether they are or not. Now I'm just waiting for people to shout out my name instead of general-purpose invective. Maybe I should have chosen "Bud" or "Buddy" or any one of a number of options represented on Hatrack as ******* or abbreviations thereof.
Michael McDuffee seems like a great name to me. Puts you near to Jack McDevitt in the hardcover rack. There are worse places to be.
[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited February 17, 2011).]
This has been a fun thread! I have to say that I think Mike (or Michael) McDuffee is a great SF/F writer’s name. Just pick a cool font to put it in.
I had someone from here ask me once about my name. It went something like, “Cool name is it really yours?” I felt a bit like someone had asked me if I had fake… well something else. I was a little bit flattered, somewhat indignant, and… sheepish. Josephine is actually my middle name, but I’ve always loved it, and my first name is Kathryn, Kat, Kate, so… Kait. I got the idea from Robin McKinley who is one of my favorites. I learned that her actual name is Jennifer Robin McKinley. Using Josephine Kait here is a bit like trying it on for size, and I’m starting to think it fits!
Thought I would say a word or two about this.
Some writer seem to love pen names and have a bunch of them. I choose one I thought sounded a bit cool. L. E. Doggett. But so many writers are using the two initials thing I may change it. Maybe there have always been a bunch but now I seem to be reading more and more of them.
Michael McDuffee isn't bad. Some of the newer writers seem to be using their real names..that is I hope some of those names aren't made up. Like Mark Del Franco and Larua L. Reeve, Margaret Ronald. But in any case some are longer like yours. If you want to change try M. McDuffee. That is shorter and adds some exoticness to the name. But as someone has said already its the writing that gets the reader coming back.
I've decided to use a pseudonym. My reason is due to commonality factors. My first name is Charles and my last name is Moore. My middle initial is N. I have Googled my name in many different variations, and there are several notable people who share it no matter which form I choose. C.N. Moore was kind of cool, nevertheless, due to the pun within it. However, I also wanted something that would stand out.
I think one's own name always sounds bland to oneself. I personally don't think "Michael McDuffee" sounds bland, but that is ultimately up to you. Anonymity is definitely a factor, as well as is marketability. R.A. Salvatore does have a more stand-out name. I imagine that is also why OSC includes the "Orson" at the beginning of his name - I believe he is "Scott" to his friends. I recently communicated with John Brown, who is a member of Hatrack, about his name and decision to use it. He is of the opinion, or so it would seem, that one should take pride in his/her own name and use it no matter how common it is.
It really doesn't matter to me. If I don't use my real name and I am well-liked as a writer, my real name will eventually become synonymous with my nom de plume. Everyone here knows that Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens and that Richard Bachman is Stephen King. If I had even a tenth of those guys' success, I would be happy.
Philo C. Nemas
[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited February 18, 2011).]
My experimentation for a good pen name started way back in my poetry days.
I chose a slight variation of my real name. My middle name, Mark, comes from my maternal grandfather, Marcus. The rest was easy. As far as I was concerned, S. Marcus Husk carried the literary connotation I was looking for. I was ready for print.
So, naturally, just before my first poem was published, one of my brothers announced that, if his soon-to-be-born first child was a boy, he was naming it Marcus. I held my tongue, which, as it turned out, was a great play on my part...he had a daughter.
After my poetry stint, I decided to change my pen name back to my real name. This, years later, freed me up to name my youngest son Marcus.
Unless the name is extremely famous, I don't see the harm in using a name already in use. After all, there must be thousands of John Browns out there. Heck, I work with one, and I know it isn't the one here on Hatrack.
OOPS!!!!! My mistake. That was Dan Brown not John. Or is there a John Brown on Hatrack too? Now, I'm getting confused.
[This message has been edited by Crystal Stevens (edited February 18, 2011).]
I feel the pain of everyone who massages their pen name to make it stand out more. My first and last names are as common as dirt, and my middle name is unwieldy long. I suppose I could just use my name and hope people ignore it and judge me by my story, but I'm afraid I'll get a reaction like "Blech, that guy's name sounds like he writes instruction manuals for a living. NO thanks!"
Maybe I'll go for the bizarre, like Smiley T. Orphus.