Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What's in a Pen Name?

by Holly West

Hello there, lovelies! I hope you had a wonderful holiday and that your new year has started on a positive note. I allowed myself two weeks of utter freedom, if you call hosting family and friends for several large meals freedom. It just so happens that I do call it freedom and it felt wonderful.

Over my Christmas vacation I finally came up with a pen name for myself. I have no immediate need for one and truthfully, I hope I never have to use one--that is, I hope I'm able to sell my next novel using my own name. Well, if we're being really honest here, I hope I'm able to sell my next novel period. On the cusp of submitting it to my agent, I have that same peculiar blend of authorial confidence and withering self-doubt that fueled my initial foray into publishing. But I'll get to that in a minute.

My pen name is not particularly sexy and it's far less cool than Holly West is. I get an obscene amount of compliments on my name, which seems weird. It is, after all, just a name. But people love it.

I went back and forth on whether I should make my pen name unisex but quickly decided if I couldn't sell a book as the female I am then so be it. I also didn't want to use initials because I get confused when authors use them. I can never remember what the initials are--in my addled brain PD James becomes PF James and while that probably won't prevent me from finding books by that author, I'd like to avoid any possible confusion for my own books.

Ultimately, the name I chose is practical and a little nostalgic. It's a bit old-fashioned and maybe hints that I'm older than I am--or at the very least hints at my actual age, which is old enough. It reminds me of my heritage, but mostly, it frees me of the constraints of being Holly West. Being Holly West is awesome but for the last year or so I've wanted to get away from her, writing-wise. I'm not sure what that means yet but I'm looking forward to exploring it, even if I never actually use the pen name.

Back to what I said about authorial confidence/self-doubt. From the day I wrote the first sentence of my first novel, I never had any doubt that I'd be published. If I had, I might never have tried. This was just before self-publishing became an acceptable and common practice, so that wasn't a consideration for me. No--I was going the traditional route and that meant writing the book, securing an agent, and selling it to a publishing house.

In the end, I achieved this goal, though not in the exact way I imagined. Though being published hasn't thus far been what I thought it would be it's still been pretty great. Having just written that sentence I'm reminded of my supposed regrets and realize I don't actually have any regrets at all with regards to what's happened since my books were published.

Wow. Who knew that writing a simple DSD post could bring me to such a profound realization? I have no regrets. Maybe I don't need that pen name after all.

Ah. I forgot about the second part of the equation--the self-doubt. Although perhaps its not self-doubt at all. It's the knowledge, based now on hard experience, of how difficult it is to make it as a writer. "Making it"means something to different to each of us but regardless, it's a tough slog and one that we have little control over, even if we're self-published.

And yet still, I try. That's where the confidence comes back in. The confidence that one way or another, my books will reach an audience. Maybe this one won't but the next one will. Or maybe this book by Holly West didn't catch on, but this one from insert pen name here will.

Here's to 2016. I'd raise a glass of champagne but since it's Dry January you'll have to settle for coffee.

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