By Any Other Name (Or, The Biggest Mistake Of My Career)

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Gather ’round, folks.  I’m ready to confess.  I’m about to share with you the biggest mistake of my career.  (Thus far.  I know that there are bigger mistakes out there for me to make!)

Once upon a time, I signed my first book contract.  It was for The Glasswrights’ Apprentice, a sequel, and a book to be named later.  Clever me (OK, clever agent), the “book to be named later” was actually a book already written — Season of Sacrifice.  Sacrifice was the novel I wrote during the year that my agent was shopping around Apprentice.  While Sacrifice was similar to the Glasswrights series in genre — traditional fantasy — it was set in a completely different world, populated with completely different characters who worked a completely different magic.  (OK, actually Sacrifice included characters who worked magic; there is little or no magic in the Glasswrights series.)

So.  I thought I’d played the game brilliantly.  I wrote a book in its entirety.  I interested an agent.  While my agent worked, I wrote another book in its entirety.  I sold both the first book and the second one.  Yay, me.

Except for this little wrinkle:  When it came time to publish Sacrifice, there was no good time to bring it out.  I could wait until the Glasswrights series was finished (and, in the meantime, I’d received a contract for three more volumes, so that wait would total five years).  I didn’t like that option, because it meant sitting on inventory for half a decade.  Also, I feared that my writing style would have changed so substantially in that time that Sacrifice would no longer reflect my best work.  Finally, I didn’t want to disappoint avid Glasswrights fans who would be required to change allegiances to a new type of storytelling.

In the alternative, I could publish Sacrifice right away, under a pen name.  I didn’t like that option, either.  I had spent thousands of dollars and countless hours promoting Mindy L. Klasky as an author of traditional fantasy.  In my post-book-tour (financed by me!) exhaustion, I couldn’t imagine duplicating that time, effort, and money to promote Pen Name Enterprises.  Plus, I really wanted credit for my work, written by me.

Therefore, I chose option three:  I released Sacrifice between volumes 2 and 3 of theGlasswrights series.  It came out in January 2002, dividing up the July releases of my five-book series. 

And that was the last that anyone heard of Sacrifice.  It was lost — lost in January, lost in the middle of a series, lost in a mediocre cover….  And I was devastated — I had some great stories to continue telling in that world!  Sacrifice remains my greatest disappointment in my publishing career.

At least my agent and editor were kind enough not to say “I told you so”.  (Not directly to my face, anyway.)

So, skip forward ten years.  I write light paranormal romance.  I write steamy category romance.  And then I sell Darkbeast, a traditional fantasy targeted to middle grade readers. 

At my very first meeting with my editor, she asked  if I wanted to go forward with my name or with a pen name.  We talked about the impact of my other books (especially the steamy romance) and rather quickly decided that a pen name was the way to go.  Morgan Keyes was born.

So far, Morgan has received more prominent and better reviews than Mindy ever did.  Morgan has been praised in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Horn Book.  She has put together a website — www.morgankeyes.com — that is completely different in look, feel, and content from Mindy’s website — www.mindyklasky.com.  Morgan has been asked to speak at events where Mindy has begged to appear, and Morgan is actually getting a modicum of attention from her publisher’s publicity department (something Mindy never enjoyed).

It’s not all sunshine and roses.  I need to invest time and effort into building Morgan’s online persona, all the while maintaining Mindy’s identity.  (It helps that, so far, Morgan doesn’t blog or tweet, because her target readers are a bit too young for either.)  I need to keep straight where I’m known as Morgan and where I’m known as Mindy.  I need to educate concoms, trying to arrange for the panels that would have fallen neatly into Mindy’s lap but which may be out of range for that newcomer, Morgan.  And I desperately need to keep track of which emails I send from which accounts.

But so far?  It’s working out.  So far, I’m not repeating the biggest mistake of my career.

How about you?  What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?  On a different note, do you write under a pen name?  What would it take for you to give up your current name or pen name?

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24 comments to By Any Other Name (Or, The Biggest Mistake Of My Career)

  • Megan B.

    This was fascinating to read about. Aspiring novelists have so many possible hurdles ahead of us, some of which we may never have thought of on our own. This is a very useful cautionary tale.

    As for pen names… I have thought about it, and have one picked out for myself. But I don’t know what it would take for me to actually use it, unless I decided to use it from the beginning. It would afford me a certain amount of privacy, and perhaps a layer of separation between me and my bad reviews. It also sounds nicer than my real name (but has the same initials). However, I have already begun a humble little career in short stories using my real name, so… I can see why this is a tough decision! I’m glad it worked out so well for you.

  • I’m actually not sure how much detail I want to go into in discussing the biggest mistake of my career. Suffice it to say that I pushed myself and my agent to sell several books in two different projects several years back. I wanted the advance money, and I was certain that I could make both projects work, though my agent was a bit less sure of this than I. The results? Disappointing on both counts. Sometimes patience really is a virtue, particularly in this business.

  • deborahblake

    I must confess…I own all the Glasswright books and everything else you’ve written…except Sacrifice. I simply haven’t come across it. But frankly, considering the impressive span of your career, if that’s your worst mistake, you are still doing pretty well :-)

    Deborah
    Glad that Morgan is getting so much recognition!

  • Wouldn’t take much to change my name anymore. I used to say I’d never do so, didn’t want to, hated the idea. I wanted to be known under my own name, no matter what I wrote. But now I’m realizing that it’s still not a bad thing and can actually help keep your career going, should your genre stall. And it doesn’t seem a horrible thing, as long as the readers are following their favorite author (which is far easier in the age of social media and web presence than it was years ago). People still know who DB Jackson really is and those who don’t eventually will, and may even pick up those other titles from the “other author.” So now, I have three or four pen names picked out. Some pretentious, some simpler and meant to be gender neutral. My only problem now is that I can’t decide whether I want to use my real name right out of the gate for the romance titles or if a more neutral name would be better for sales.

    As far as big mistakes go, at times I feel like the biggest was not trying to finish and publish much sooner; there are so many younger authors out there getting picked up or represented while I’m in my 40s now. But then I think back on my skill back even in my 20s compared to now and I know I wasn’t ready, both in ability and in taking rejection/criticism. I’ve learned a lot in style and voice, and in self-editing, that the extra time was worth it in the end. I probably could have hammered through, but I might also have quit. So, at the end of the day, I’m good with that mistake. 😉

  • I chose a pen name to write under initially (my real last name is impossible to pronounce based on the spelling, and impossible to look up for the same reason), and am slowly building up my identity under that name (although I am not yet published). However, my third book will in all likelihood not be published under the pen name I’ve chosen, due to the protagonist’s POV (very masculine) and subgenre. I agree, that I’m probably going to rue the (possibly) wasted effort I’ve already spent on building up my blog, tritter, and other platforms under Pandora Swift, but I’m already trying to think up alternative names in the event that the publisher will want the change. Ah well, it’s only work… I’d be happy to have multiple pen names if that means I’m published in multiple places.

  • Neil Gaiman manages to publish adult fiction, children’s books, comic books, screenplays, and poetry (and probably some other stuff I’m overlooking) all under his own name. How does he manage it?

  • Elsceetaria

    Ugh, I had a longish comment, but then the internet went spastic and ate it. I shall now attempt to reproduce it.

    This is a discussion of yours that I’ve read before (at least in bits and pieces adding up to this if not the entire discussion in one place).

    I’ve been a fan of yours for awhile now even before I ventured into the land of communication and sff.net newsgroups. I’ve read Sacrifice. I own Sacrifice. I really like Sacrifice. Perhaps after I finish my thesis I’ll reread Sacrifice (I reread Master last summer, and it hadn’t lost its magic. I doubt Sacrifice will have either).

    If I ever end up publishing within the realm of fiction, I’ll probably publish under a pseudonym of some sort. I’m in the process of building up an academic identity under my real name, and while I know that there are people who manage to have overlapping fiction and nonfiction identities, I’d rather keep them separate. I’d like there to be some distinction between the me that publishes on ethical issues(even if it’s ethical issues in speculative literature) and the me that’s writing fiction.

    My biggest regret is probably just that I haven’t had the dedication to write more. I’ll start projects and abandon them or forget to write my ideas down. I’ve read works where I know I could have written something that good or better except that I’ve never built the dedication up to the point of completion.

    Anyways, I really do like Sacrifice, so it has at least one fan (there are probably other out there too).

  • Biggest mistake? Keeping the “pea_faerie” name here and not changing it before I got really involved in this site. I meet people at Cons and say things like “hi! I’m Emily.” And they look at me blankly. “Pea_Faerie?” I ask. And they go “OH! HEY!.” :) Nah, I’m kidding. I think the mistakes I’ve made (and I’ve made ’em more than once) are sending out stuff before it’s ready. I think a couple rejections I’ve gotten might not have been if I’d spent a bit more time on things. But, then again, you can’t hold onto something forever.

    Pen Names> I edit under a pen name (and that adds a glorious third layer to the “who are you” issue above). I want to write under my own name. It’s not common, especially when I use my middle name, and it’s not difficult to pronounce, so I don’t see a reason not to. Would I consider using a pen name? Sure. If I was writing something that I thought wouldn’t work with my professional life, or I wanted to try rebranding, etc. But for now, I don’t see any reason not to use my real name. (and I think pea_faerie would look silly on a cover.)

  • My *biggest* mistake? Oh My Goodness, there are so many. And when I think about them I get depressed.

    But changing my name (both times) was the smartest thing I ever did (both times). And if needed, I’ll change it again. And again. At first I was careful that no one knew of my other names. Now I just don’t care. I am Gary, Gwen, and Faith Hunter.

    Gary wrote police procedurals.

    Gwen wrote all sorts of things in the mystery/thriller/medical-thriller/women’s fiction market, with minimal violence and no sexual scenes, suitable for YA or even younger if they got their hands on mom’s books.

    Faith writes fantasy, with a strong urban component and lots of violence. Not for children stuff though I still don’t write sex. Because I don’t write it well. Each genre has its own general voice and each book/series within each genre has its own specific voice.

    Gwen’s fans would (and do, in general) detest Faith’s work. So why not have a new name? It makes sense.

  • Well, for me it feels like my biggest mistake so far was *getting* a pen name because I got scared, and wasting a lot of time and effort *building* that name, then having to kiss it goodbye when an author with that name published in a very similar genre. (And yet I still own moirayoung.com. Sigh.) I’m really happy I have my own name, and I think I’ll play with variants of it depending on how things go. Unless I get some Harlequin Romance published. Then I’ll aim for Elle Tyler. 😉

  • Like Daniel, I think my biggest mistake is probably waiting so long to write seriously. When I was (much) younger, I briefly focused on writing short stories and sent a couple out to various publications. Neither got published, but I did get encouraging and helpful notes from editors on both, which I knew was a Good Thing but a new job, a move, and assorted other life issues got in the way and it took me 20 years to get back to it. Also like Daniel, I don’t worry too much about it now–clearly I wasn’t ready to focus before and I’m 100% confident that I’m a better writer now, so I don’t fret about it too often. Just sometimes in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep!

    Since my real name is Cindy Crawford and I’m not the famous supermodel/sheet designer, I’ll probably have to come up with a pen name if I ever get published.

  • My biggest mistake was not understanding what it meant when my undergraduate writing teacher pushed me to rewrite the ending to a certain short story multiple times. She basically told me “you’ve already got the grade, but rewrite this because you’re a better writer than this ending.” Now that I’m a teacher myself I realize that means “I believe in your potential. No go learn the skills you need.” I appreciated her encouragement, but I was too shy and too wrapped up in the myth of inspiration that I didn’t get the message. I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer at that point. I lost several years there of not working at this craft when I could have been learning to be a better writer, instead of believing that it was just a silly fantasy that died. I try not to waste time regretting, but if any of you younger writers are reading this – DON’T waste time and don’t believe the lie that “real” writers spit out perfect novels on the first try.

  • Megan – I’m glad you found some use in my woeful past :-) Plenty of authors use pen names to preserve privacy, especially if they’re concerned about kids and spouses being in the spotlight… You can decide, when you move from short stories to novels, if your name changes!

    DavidBCoe – Ah, yes, the overcommitment problem. I, too, have had “eyes bigger than my stomach” when it comes to lining up writing commitments. I think that we all work so hard to gain stability that we forget to protect ourselves! Thanks for sharing…

    deborahblake – Um, thanks for proving my point? :-)

    Daniel – If you’re writing romance, most publishers will insist that you use a female name. That is *just* starting to change, but the ***vast*** majority of men who write romance write as women. As for the age question, I certainly understand wanting to achieve all of your goals (which can become difficult as we age and our goal-achievement-timeline becomes shorter), but I think that age-of-author has little to do with ultimate success in our field. (There are some phenoms who publish very early and get noted for that, but otherwise, not so much!)

    PandoraSwift – There are, of course, female writers who write from male POV. I suspect, though, that if your novel is military in focus, you might be more pressured to change your name (although women obviously serve in the armed forces — and that might be a selling point.) It’s hard work to build a reputation before you’re published, and it can sting, when you end up not being able to use the persona you created.

    Wolf – I think that all rules change when authors are supercharged bestsellers. Just as contract offers for the Grishams and Nora Robertses and Steven Kings have different payment, publicity, etc. terms, so the “rules” about who can write what changes. I find the trend of hugely-successful adult authors writing children’s books fascinating, precisely because all the “rules” get thrown out the window… (In my case, there were multiple reasons for the switch, including the fact that my last book didn’t live at the top of the NYT Bestseller list for (any) time, which means that bookstores will order fewer copies of the next book written by Mindy Klasky. Morgan Keyes has no track record and will enjoy better initial orders.)

    pea_faerie – :-) We all learn the code names for each other! And yes, I have that “third layer” too — my maiden name (Klasky), my married name, and now my pen name. I’m hell to travel with :-)

    Faith – I have several authors I love under one ‘nym and really dislike under another. I appreciate the categorization made easy for me!

    Laura – Your situation sounds like it was written for a film — so many things so close, in that case! (And, to salt the wound, the other author choosing to promote a website under her book title, rather than her name!)

    SiSi – I laughed when you revealed your real name. Um, yeah. I think you can safely assume you’ll be joining the ‘nym crowd. And congrats on having already survived your biggest mistake :-)

    Sarah – In another venue, I’m writing an article on what rejection letters mean, and how we can read between the lines. I think that when we’re first starting out, it can be really difficult to parse what we’re told — especially to sift encouragement from the wreckage. I’m glad you’re back to writing now!

  • Yeah, waiting. I turn 5-0 this year, and that sounds way better in Hawaii than it does when referring to my age. I’ve only been writing with the aim of publication for three years. Even though I haven’t reached that goal yet, I really wish I’d started sooner because life is so unpredictable. If anybody ever asks me what I advice I have for young writers, I’ll say “the very minute you realize you want to be an author, grab on to that with both hands and don’t let go. Lost time is gone for good.”

  • Cindy

    Faith is there something wrong with me? :)
    I like Gwen’s and Faith’s work.
    Cindy

  • Mindy, it gets worse. Turns out she’s originally from about ten blocks away from where I live now. o__O

  • Razziecat

    Uh, yeah, Owl…don’t we know that feeling all too well. My biggest mistake? Not figuring out 30 years ago how to get into this game. Letting too many years go by without putting in the serious, concerted effort.

    It does sound like a lot of work trying to keep various pen names/author identities separate. I think I’ll stick with the real thing :)

  • Heh! Thanks, I figured as much would happen. If only I’d get that far in the process. 😉 Now, should I go for female and pretentious or gender neutral (initials) and could be female?

  • Thanks for sharing, this was very interesting to read about. I completely understand your original hesitation to not use a pen name. Probably, if I were put in the same situation, I would have done the same thing. But it’s nice to know it all worked out well in the end for you :)

  • Cindy, you are among the minority, but the fact that there are a few makes me do the happy dance.

  • Megan B.

    As long as people are talking about wasted time… I wasted a few years myself, and then when I did get ‘serious’ I short-changed myself a few times. There was a contest I entered once, and for some reason I sent in a really silly story that I knew in my heart could never win, instead of one I had worked harder on. I would have lost anyway, because I had a lot to learn as a writer, but I sometimes wonder why I didn’t send in the better of the two stories. I think I was a little afraid. I wasn’t truly serious yet about getting published.

    Now that I am truly serious about it, I sometimes make the mistake someone mentioned above, of sending something in too soon. Each story gets one chance at each publication you submit it to. I have blown some of those chances, I don’t doubt. :)

  • Late to the party. Sorry. All my stuff (thriller, fantasy, historical fiction and middle grades) is under the same name. When I first started publishing fantasy, after already doing several thrillers with a different publisher, my new house insisted I keep the A.J. Hartley name because they wanted to attract a crossover audience. I was baffled by this and still don’t think that crossover ever happened. But I like keeping everything under one name, not because my readers read all my stuff (most of them don’t) but because I’m content to announce my natural hybridity :) It’s pretty hard to establish an A.J. Hartley “brand,” unless my brand is my eclecticism… ?

  • Owllady – I’ve really been surprised by how many people share your regret about age. (I don’t say that in any judgmental way; I’m just surprised!) I agree that “lost time is gone for good”, but I would encourage people with those regrets to realize how many things they’ve learned during the time that they weren’t writing. (In an odd way, it seems similar to how I knew my husband was right for me — because I’d dated so many people who *weren’t* right. That was the great advantage of meeting and marrying relatively late in life, even though we’d missed the chance for some things (youthful exploration of physically challenging venues; youthful parenting, if we parented at all, etc.))

    Laura — The world is a very, very small place!

    Razziecat – It certainly is work to track who I am on any given day, but there are benefits as well. (Just remind me of that, when I miss meeting up with someone because I gave them the wrong name…)

    Daniel R Davis – ::grin:: Of course, if you’re writing in the romance genre, your pen name will end up reflecting the subgenre. “Kat Martin” would write romantic suspense. But Katherine Manderley would write historicals… Choosing a female name alone isn’t enough!

    jqtrotter – “It’s all worked out in the end” – that’s what I try to remind myself, on a daily basis!

    Megan B. – Sometimes, I think we set traps for ourselves. “I’ll send this proposal instead of that”, when I’m really afraid to move into a new genre… It’s hard to balance the “too soon” and “too dilatory” aspects of editing… I generally err a little on the too soon side, figuring that my work is *generally* polished, and a bump here or there is better than never getting the work out at all…

    AJ – Thanks for coming to the party, a touch late or not! I, too, laugh when I hear authors talk extensively about brand. My “Mindy Klasky” books are all over the map (category romance, traditional fantasy, paranormal chicklit…) The brand I’d like to emphasize is “strong characters, well-written”, but that’s too English-majory for most marketing efforts. So, yeah. Not so big on the branding concept…