The Power of the Pen Name

How old is Franklin W. Dixon anyway? I mean, that first Hardy Boys novel came out in 1927 and new ones are still being published with Dixon still credited as the author. Assuming he was 20 when he started, Dixon would be 103 today and still going strong!

Well, of course author Franklin W. Dixon didn’t really exist. The publishers hired many writers over the years to pen books under that name in an effort to keep the authorship consistent. It’s a fairly common practice with many long-running series.

But what about authors that choose to go with a pen name? I used to wonder why writers sometimes used a pseudonym, as if they were somehow ashamed of what they wrote. That was until I started doing it myself, after which the answers became a little clearer.

If an author is established in one genre and attempts a foray into a completely different genre, then perhaps using a pen name would work for them. A steamy romance written by Stephen King may raise a few eyebrows but not sell very well. However, published under a pen name any prejudice would be removed and the novel would be given more of a fighting chance.

What if the author’s true name doesn’t suit the genre they happen to be writing for? Would religious readers buy a Christian book by someone named Lucifer? Would fans of erotic thrillers flock to a book written by a Chastity? Would the book itself be overshadowed if its author had the unfortunate last name of Manson? Extreme examples to be sure, but also instances where pen names would probably be recommended by a publisher. 

A pen name may be practical if the author’s personal safety was in question due to controversial subject matter. Of course, one would also argue that writers should always take ownership of what they write. But even if Salman Rushdie use a pen name when he wrote The Satanic Verses, the death and violence that ensued afterwards would have only suggested him a coward had he stayed hidden behind it.

In my own case, I think it’s high time to consider a pen name.  Not only do I share my moniker with a deceased Irish actor and a retired NFL quarterback, no less than five writers out there are named Richard Todd. Even including my middle initial hasn’t stopped confusion and embarrassment on the part of people erroneously contacting me instead of “that other” Richard Todd.

Most recently I was confused with the music reviewer of a large urban newspaper. Adopting a pen name would stop that confusion too. But then again, think of the concerts I could get into…

Richard S. Todd is a Canadian author and blogger. Visit him online at www.richard-todd.com.

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The Bright Side of Rejection

If there’s one thing every author (or artist of any discipline, for that matter) to have a thick skin. That plus a strong belief in yourself to combat disapproving parents and family who wish you’d get a “real job”, or friends who don’t understand why you’d rather work on your manuscript than hang out at the local coffee shop.

Despite your disposition to live in another world for weeks and months at a time, chances are your family and friends will still be there when you finally surface. The same can’t be said for the cold, indifferent business world, where you’re only worth as much money as someone else can make off of your talents. It’s a sad but age-old fact.

Rejection from that big agent or publisher you’re trying to impress can be devastating to the unseasoned writer. Never mind that they hold the fulfillment of your dreams in their hands, but respect from those in the industry can really give your confidence a boost. Not that I would know that much about it; I went through dozens of rejections for Raincloud before I felt fated to self-publish. But once it was out there I recieved dozens of warm reviews from critics and readers alike. However, despite my success, the threat of rejection became apparent again this Fall as I had a new book rejected.

The rejected work was for a publisher that had asked me to submit for his line of short, simple novels aimed at the casual reader. I had an idea for a simple story and avoided my trademark descriptiveness and flowery language until I had a manuscript I thought would fit. My editor thought it would be a great fit for the genre as well. The publisher, however, felt otherwise. It hurt for a few days until I could rationalize his decision and make it work for me.

Many of the reasons for the rejection was could have been resolved through a rewrite but one in particular couldn’t. And it was the most important one: the manuscript didn’t meet the reading level criteria. His readers were, according to his scoring system, people with a 2.5 – 4.0 reading level. My book scored well over a 7. And that was with me trying hard to adjust my style to fit.

So what do I glean from this? Bad story? Crazy publisher? More than likely my style wasn’t a good fit for the genre. Pure and simple.

So from now I’ll stick to what I do best. Just before the rejection I had a short story accepted by a publisher and have been invited to submit for two more of their anthologies. I’ll stick with those while completing my current novel. And maybe down the road I’ll rework the rejected story to suit my style and those of my readers. Until then, I’ll keep on staying true to myself.

When you can come to a new self-realization as a result of negativity, you can see the bright side to anything. Try to remember this the next time you get one of those all-important rejection letters.

Richard S. Todd is a Canadian author. Visit him online at www.richard-todd.com.

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