Hi folks, my name is Raven ShadowHawk, thanks for having me here today. I want to talk about pen names and how (I feel) they can (and should) be used.
First off, I suppose I should mention that Raven ShadowHawk is a pen name. Ha, so this topic is close to my heart. I should also mention that it’s not my only pen name.
I also write fantasy under Ileandra Young and the two names are yet to meet (though I’m beginning to think a cross over is imminent). I work (write) from home while caring for my young boys (twins) and my older boy (who probably wouldn’t appreciate being called ‘boy’ as he is my partner and father to my sons :-p).
I should also mention that I have a plethora (man, I love that word!) of other names too: Leah (on my birth certificate), Trya (when I’m LARPing) Oi You (when I’m with friends), Sexy Balls (when with my old house mates – don’t ask) and Diavian / Shaniqua / Ilanyë / Lupa / Catarina / Yuvina / Minnie / Myst / Isys / Taithin / Michael (when I’m playing RPG games like Dungeons and Dragons). I have many names. Each of them has special meaning to me and that is the first thing I want to talk to you about.
Why Have A Pen Name?
Not for the hell of it, that’s for sure. Not just because you fancy a different name on the spines of your books; I honestly feel that your name should mean something. After all, it’s how you’re going to become known.
There is a (very) long story about how I picked the name Ileandra for my fantasy pennings, but the one for Raven is much shorter so I’ll tell you that. There was a man I met at university with whom I had a brief (thankfully) fling. It was intense and sexy but ended quite sharply when I told him it would be nice if he stayed the night rather than ‘partying and bailing.’ He told me I was a ‘typical woman’ and I told him to ‘get the fuck out.’ True story.
But… (!)the point of this tale, is that he used to call me his Nubian Princess (which I thought was pretty sweet). Then as he got more irritated with my insistence for an actual relationship, it became his Raven Princess (before downgrading to Typical Woman).
I liked (and continue to like) the name Raven. It has weight now, as it reminds me (on a low-key level) that all the smexxy-hot-times in the world (because they really were!) are no substitute for an actual relationship.
See? A name that means something.
Do You Need A Pen Name?
Not really. Unless you’re writing an exposé about your life with the Russian Mafia just as you’re stepping into a high profile political career. You can probably just use your own name. After all, isn’t it must easier to market/promote yourself if people know who you are? Using a pen name makes it even harder for the people who know you to find you in a saturated market, let alone the people who have no idea who you are.
Similarly if you’re writing personal, sensitive material then sure, you could use a pen name. I have a writing buddy who writes a column in the local paper. Since it’s about her life with her children, everyone has a different name to protect their identities and privacy. Not really a safety thing – it’s far too easy to find information on people these days – but if surface-level privacy is something you’re concerned about, then why not?
Is It A Marketing Thing?
I’ll be honest, it can be. Though I write with you here, now, as Raven ShadowHawk, until mid-2013 everything I wrote came under the name Ileandra Young. Now because I’ve separated the two names, I’ve made a bit of a spectacle out of it. On my blog, I refer to myself (Leah) in the third person since both I (Raven) and I (Ileandra) talk about myself (Leah) during the course of my blog posts.
Confused yet? :-p
Examples of savvy marketing with pen names range from hugely positive (JK Rowling and Robert Gilbraith) to vastly negative and fury-inducing (I won’t name these authors because they don’t deserve any attention from me for what they’re doing). Some authors use a pen name to distance themselves from the work or test the waters without the weight of their own name behind them (Stephen King, Shaun Hutson). Others use pen names to hide their gender (George Elliot, JD Robb, Harper Lee).
There are lots of reasons people feel the need to use pen names and these are just a few. I touched on this topic briefly on my own blog while discussing character names, but I would love to talk to you guys about it here. Any of you writerly types have a pen name? May I ask why? Does it have a special significance to you or, like some other writer friends of mine, is it because your true name is impossible to spell or pronounce easily? Why not hit me up in the comments and let me know?
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