What’s in a name?

“Someday I am going to publish my book.”   A lot of work happens with that goal.  A story is inside and must escape onto paper, or word processor, or something.  Plot, setting, theme, characters, genre, the list goes on and on.

My fellow contributors on this blog have been giving a lot of good advice on writing.  Today I want to take a moment and look at the business side of writing.  We all enjoy the art side, and talking about books, movies, the stories and what we like and didn’t like.  However the business side of writing is also a large arena full of decisions, and in today’s market a lot of decisions need to be made.

Self publish, large publisher, indie, e-pub, and POD.  However, I want to focus on something even more basic.  Your name.

Why stage and pen names?

John WayneMark Twain, John Wayne are two examples of a pen and stage names.  Mark Twain is the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens.  Marion Mitchell Morrison, better known by his stage name John Wayne, was an American film actor, director, and producer.

There are many reasons writers chose to have a pen name.  It keeps their worlds separate.  As a writer, you want to become famous. However, fame has a price.

No privacy.

Look at many famous people today; the paparazzi follow them everywhere.  Your name is your identity.  Your family and friends know you, professionals know you.  Some people want to keep family and friends separate from the professional side of things.  Now Samuel Clemens doesn’t sound like too bad of a name, but he liked the Mississippi River.  Mark Twain was a depth call used on riverboats.  The Mississippi River was a prominent part of his works.  Those who rode the river were familiar with the river culture would immediately identify a book by Mark Twain as being a part of that life.

Today the publishing world has genres and sub genres that a name will be forever associated with the genre the author writes in.  However, a good writer may want to try a hand at a different genre.  Thus, a pen name would allow the writer the ability to explore a new area of writing.

Your pen name becomes your identity.  If you go to a writer’s conference, sign in as your pen name.  Introduce yourself with you pen name.  You are that persona.  Think of it as your writing business.  Thus in today’s world it would be Mark Twain, LLC.  The LLC is not part of the pen name, but think of it as part of it.  Your writing company so to speak.

Some of the contributors to this blog are using pen names.  So it isn’t as uncommon as you might think.

Using Your Own Name


You can also use your own name.  Just be careful where and how you do things online.  It is you.  For me I want to see my book cover with my own name on it.  However, that choice has pros and cons to it as well.  How do I separate my writing life from my personal life?  It all blends together, but I am comfortable with that.  Other people are not, so a pen name would work better for them.

Now with all that said before here is the take home point.  Before you begin to build a platform, (I’ll blog more about that in the future).  Before you send out query letters, you need to decide on a name.  What will that name be under (or over) the title of that best seller you are working so hard to write?

What do you think?  Is a pen name for you?  Why or why not?


The Fine Line

I spent a lot of time working on my best selling high fantasy novel.  A year or so ago I thought I was ready to publish.  I went looking for an agent.  Well, at least I thought it would be a best selling high fantasy novel.  I have learned I still have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do on my manuscript before it is ready to be my debut novel, and hopefully a best seller.

I made several mistakes, I wrote alone.  I had close family and friends read my work and tell me how great my writing was.  So I was surprised at all the rejection letters I received.  However, I was (and am) very determined to publish my book.

I ran across a wonderful website Agent Query Connect.  This is a fantastic forum full of knowledgeable writers and other writing industry insiders. Here I learned my mistakes.

180,000 word book is way too long especially for a debut novel.  Next my book was not a stand alone story, I had written over 400,000 words in three books!  No one is going to touch that!

I got educated on this web site.  I’ve learned you need critique partners.  People who are honest about your work, unlike family who think you are the next best seller.  You also need some good beta readers who can pick out plot holes, or grammar errors.

I say that because I want to relate an experience I just had and give a word of caution to the aspiring writers reading this.

Finding an agent/publisher/editor to publish your work is a very tough job.  Once someone agrees to publish your work, there is more effort to go through and several years before you hold your book in your hands.

Another route is self publishing.  It has a lot of advantages, but there are some hidden dangers there.

So a few months ago I saw an online ad about formatting for an e-reader.  I thought that would be great so I clicked on the ad, thinking I was going to get a program that would format my ms into something I could put onto my nook.

I have printed my entire ms and bound them to look just a published book, page numbers, chapters, front and back, etc.  I love seeing what the book would look like.   So I was excited about taking it to the e-book.

However, the ad was for a publishing outfit.  They called and wanted to sign me up to publish my work.  They were persistent and persuasive.  I know my writing isn’t ready for publication.  I am in the process of rewriting my first book to make it a stand alone book.  I am not sure how well that project is going, my critique partners have given me a lot to digest on my first two chapters, and I am writing a new chapter to send to them.  It is slow going.  The publishing company called again wanting me to sign up.  The Representative was so busy selling me my dream about seeing my work in print they were not listening to me explain the technical issues and writing problems my book(s) have.  They just heard trilogy and three books, with another one written!  Lets get it signed up now!

I almost had to get rude on the phone when I said, “My manuscript is not ready for publication.”

Sure, I could send it out.  It will bomb the way it stands now.  I know that, but only because I’ve been working with some very talented people at AQC.  If I had clicked on that link a few years ago I would be a published author, but I would have ruined my reputation before I had a chance to make a positive impact.

So yes, lets get published!  Make sure you are ready to publish before you submit to agents, or go the self publishing route.  Be true to your craft.  Be true to yourself.  There is a fine line between being ready and waiting because of doubts, and publishing before being ready.  Know which side of the line you are on and make the needed adjustments.  If you are ready and keep tinkering with the synopsis and query letter, there is a time to just jump in and make it happen.

If your beta readers and crit partners are giving you more advice on what is needed, listen to them and keep working.  You are not ready to publish.

It is a journey, but remember, this is an industry and a business.  Learn your craft, and know when to put up the artistic side and put on your business hat.  Good luck.


Are We There Yet?

Arizona Grand Canyon from http://traveltherockies.com

Arizona Grand Canyon from http://traveltherockies.com

Many years ago, more than I care to admit, the family was on vacation. Our destination – The Grand Canyon.  I so wanted to see it.  I kept watching the road signs and tried to calculate how long it would be before we would be there.

From the front seat my Dad smiled and said, “You sure are enjoying the Grand Canyon.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You always enjoy something the most just before you get it.”

I didn’t understand at the time, I just wanted to get to the Grand Canyon. I wanted to see it, how could I enjoy it when I had never even been there?

As usual Dad is right.

Now, I have been counting down the days until The Hobbit comes out.  I’ve even called my friend in another state and left a VM on his phone, “David, only ten days!” and hung up.  He knows it is me, and he knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Again, more years than either one of us will admit to (before the advent of the VCR) we recorded the cartoon version of The Hobbit with a cassette tape.  So yes, we are both looking forward to seeing Peter Jackson’s film version.

My children went to the bookstores at midnight to purchase the latest Harry Potter books, then sat up half the night reading.

Why all the hype?  What makes all this so special?


PR works to get everyone wanting to be the first in line.  (I had tickets number two and three for Return of the Jedi.)

So, The Dark Knight Rises, Star Wars, The Hobbit, Harry Potter all have huge followings, and folks are willing to lose sleep to see/read them.

So my writing friends, the same thing works inside your stories as well.  Build the anticipation.  Let the reader know what is going to happen, but make the ride full of anticipation, and then give them the satisfying ending.  The end of the story is the ultimate goal, but the ride must be full of promises.  The secret is not to break any of those promises, you must deliver.  That makes the end so great.  That is the oxymoronic deal.  The End, great read, but it is over.  No more anticipation.  But the time spent reading was well worth it.

I still remember my first look into the Grand Canyon, but the ride and the conversation made that look even more memorable.

Give Them Just Enough to Want More

Joyce Alton blogged a few weeks ago about how much of your world building needs to be in the actual story.

This has been a fascination of mine.  I like to think I’ve a great imagination.  I have created a fantasy world.  The world has two moons.  So I have thought about duel moon phases, what would tides be like with two moons?  What about lights and shadows with double moons?    I’ve drawn maps, thought out the geology and climate, seas, trade routes, countries, and boarders.  I have the map at the start of the book.  I’ve envisioned so much in my mind’s eye I want to share it.  However it all needed, but it doesn’t need to be in the story.  Not all the detail I’ve worked out, but the effects of these things will be in the story.

I have two examples I want to share, and I know I may stir up controversy but both examples are from stories I like, but as I’ve learned more about writing I see the errors for what they are.

First I’ll go with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  I am a fan of Star Trek. (No I will not start the debate of Trekker vs Trekkie.)  However, I remember when the movie came out.  We were excited, Star Trek was coming to the big screen!  I enjoyed the movie.  But the nickname for the movie has been “The Motionless Picture.”  Special effects, cool new looking USS Enterprise, and we spent 10 Minutes of film time going around the ship in real time.  Later the Enterprise flies over Viger, and the movies spends more time with watching the ship fly over the bigger ship.  While it was nice to take a good look at the space ships, but it didn’t move the movie along, it didn’t help the story.

Another point I’d like to make is the Lord of the Rings.  Personally I didn’t like the chapters with The Old Forrest, Tom Bombadil.  The story takes a detour until the party arrives at the Prancing Pony.  A lot of story, a long story, and the Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite stories.  However, the point is the story is first, and while you’ve created a wonderful world, too much of the world gets in the way of the story and slows things down.  So true, share your world, but only show what helps the story go forward.

Where to Begin?

“Call me Ishmael. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In a hole in the ground…When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”

Image from collider.com

The  first line of popular and classical stories.  So it is time to write your story, and the blank page is in front of you.  What to write?

Images of writers with a typewriter come to my mind.  Ripping the page out of the machine and crumpling it up and tossing it into the garbage can.  A can already full with papers littered around the floor around the receptacle.

A blank page is pressure.  So many possibilities, so many directions, and yet….

A hook.  Capture your reader in the first few lines, real them in and keep them turning the pages clear to the end.

So where is the beginning of the story?  That is the question isn’t it?  I wrote a whole trilogy.  This summer I realized that my beginning, wasn’t really the beginning.  So I’ve a new beginning to write and a lot of work ahead of me.  However, it will be worth it.  One of my first rules of writing, story first.  What makes a good story?  What do you need to do, as the writer to make a good story?

Years ago I sat in a theater and watched in awe the beginning of Star Wars.  It was exciting, and visually satisfying.  Nothing had been seen like it before, and it was satisfying.  A great start.

So think of those great starts, what worked for you and why?  Look at your work.  Do you like the start?  So that blank screen, that empty first page.  What is it going to hold?

Another thought, somewhere I heard or read, and I don’t remember where, but I remember the concept.  Remember the ending of a story can be the beginning of another story.

Here is to great beginnings.

Oh, and by the way… The books are:  Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, The Hobbit, The Hunger Games.  Just in case you wanted to know.

Is Your Salty Sam Good Enough?

A great villain is an integral part of a great story.  The fella, or gal, you love to hate.

However, the villain has to be great, and believable, and must have motives to do what he is doing.  I have an old Ray Stevens song that a high school art department illustrated.  Along Came Jones, But in this case I wanted to show the villain, Salty Sam.  Also I just want to have a little bit of fun with this post as well.

Salty Sam, an early villain from the first grainy black and white silent films.  Complete with the moustache, and evil laugh.  Salty Sam worked for the quick short, but for a novel, or series Salty Sam doesn’t work.

My fellow AQC Speculative Fiction friends were chatting and we were kicking around villains.  Okay, kicking around the topic of villains, not the villains themselves.   Evil just to be evil, aka Salty Sam, doesn’t work.

My own experience with this was in our writing marathon last summer.  I had the chapter where my villain was introduced.  Everyone who gave me feedback told me he was just flat out too evil.  In other words, I had written a Salty Sam.  So I had, and still have, a lot of rewriting and work to do to give the bad guy redeeming traits.

The antagonist of the story needs to have motive, reasons for doing what they are doing.  Why did Salty Sam want the dead to the ranch?  Was he planning to build an orphanage?

Spec Fic is vast.  Aliens want earth and kill everyone.  Why?  What motivates the Aliens?  What motivates the monsters?  Why does the Dark Lord want to enslave all the elves?  Power?  Dominion?  Resources?  To live?  Will the bad guys change and turn good?  Is the Good Guy really the Bad Guy?  Conflict, the center of any great story.

Without giving any spoilers I am thinking about the new Spider Man movie. The villain was really a good guy, with great motives.  Make the villain very interesting.  A good villain makes for a great hero.

Keep the Reader Reading

Several years ago, I joined a car pool.  Work was a 50 min drive away so paying to ride vs drive everyday was well worth it for me.  My favorite part of riding in a car pool is being able to read.  I would read to and from work, well in the summer I could read on the way to work.  I bring this up because some of my fellow passengers never read.

One day I was reading a western, the hero was in trouble (of course).  He was in a creek, and when he came up out of the creek, he pulled his gun and fired.  I am riding in a car with hunters/outdoors-men.  I didn’t know if a wet gun could fire or not.  So I asked.

“What does it matter, the book is fiction, you can do what you want,” was the answer the driver shot back at me.

It mattered to me, if a wet gun does not fire, then the author lost credibility.

Credibility matters, a lot.  True the story is fiction, but it must be believable fiction.  I’ve noticed with the latest comic book movies that, even though they are comics and very unreal, the moviemakers go to great lengths to make them believable.

Speculative Fiction opens up all sorts of unrealistic and imaginative worlds.  However, each story, each world has a set of rules.  Once you’ve set up the rules DO NOT break those rules.  I read a time travel story, however the author set up the fact that the time machine was going back to a parallel time, not the past, but a parallel past.  Then when they went back in time, what they did, did in fact, affect the future time line.  So the past wasn’t parallel after all.  It didn’t work for me.  A great read turned into a turn off.  That author lost credibility with me.

So if you are creating, research to make it believable.  No matter how fantastic and out there the story is, it has internal rules that make it run.  Keep things inside those rules and you keep your credibility.

While riding in that car reading, I would have rather stayed in the story.  Coming out of it to ask fellow passengers if the writer wrote true broke the suspense.  It is so much more fun to stay immersed in the story.  Keep your readers reading, not scratching their heads.