Friday, April 20, 2012

How I picked my pen name.

When I decided that I wanted to try my hand at erotic romance, I recognized the need for a pen name. One reason was that I have a lot of teen fans. I'm uncomfortable with them reading the books I write as Jennifer Armintrout, most of the time. I certainly did not want to have those same teens coming up to me at events and telling me how much they like my erotic romances, I would feel like a molester. The other reason was more of a practical, business reason. I write in the Urban Fantasy genre, which kind of straddles the line between horror and science fiction, sometimes a little romance is thrown in there. I end up getting readers from all sorts of reading preferences. But there is a belief in the industry, and I think it's fairly true, that a romance reader will go outside of their genre to read, but readers of other genres tend to thumb their noses at romance. I don't know why this is, and certain it's unfair, but it happens. I didn't want my readers from those other genres picking up an erotic romance by Jennifer Armintrout, expecting vampires and gore and violence and feeling like they'd been sold something dishonestly.

So, I had arrived at the decision to pick a pen name. What to chose? It's kind of intoxicating, the freedom to rename yourself. Names are an inherent part of our personality and how others perceive us. Right off the bat, I decided I was going to follow some rules:

  1. No initials. Some of the best, and saddest, advice I've ever heard given to female writers is, "If you want to be taken seriously, use a pseudonym with initials. People will think you're a man, and you'll sell better." Yay, feminism! Using initials, though, is a really good idea if you're writing in the traditionally male dominated fields of literary fiction, mystery/crime, or horror. It's not fair, but there you have it. I wasn't going to be writing in those fields, though. I wanted to write erotic romance, and more to the point, I knew I was going to be writing some of my stories about gay men. I didn't want to seem like I was a pretending to be a gay dude, writing stories from a place of experience. So, initials were right out.
  2. No puns. When I was in high school, I read a book about fairies, written by Hugh Mynn. Say that out loud. At the time, I thought it was super clever. This was when I was in high school. Recently, I learned that there is an author out there named Paige Turner. Say it out loud. If people were going to groan at my pen name, they probably wouldn't get further than the cover. No puns.
  3. Nothing impossibly exotic. When people meet me at an event, I didn't want them to be saying, "You're Anastasia Von Sexington?" with incredulity. I can't live up to that name. A lot of authors can't live up to the extremely unique pen names they set for themselves. I know, because I've met them. Confronted with a woman in a too-tight t-shirt with her own book's cover stretched out of shape over her bosom, unkempt, graying hair sticking out in all directions above horn-rimmed (and not ironically) glasses, I would be the one saying, "Are you sure you're Sinsual Divine?" I'd save names like Elisabetta Sable and Nissy Vixen for drunken fanfic writing. I am no Sinsual Divine.
  4. Nothing someone had already taken. I googled my pen name, to make sure there wasn't another person out there with the same one, or one that's very, very similar. Point of fact, I did the same thing when I started out with my own name. It's just polite.
  5. No smooshing together celebrity names. Cameron Cruise, we all know what you did.
So, with those in mind, I came up with Abigail Barnette. I like Abigail Barnette, because she sounds like she could run for city council. B-sounds inspire confidence in me. So does the hard consonant at the end of her last name. Abigail Barnette seems successful and self-assured. Perhaps too self-assured. When people meet me, they probably think, "Are you sure you're Abigail Barnette."

And then I admit it's just a pen name, and I tell them I'm Jennifer Armintrout, and they ask me if that's a Native American name. True story.


Patricia Kiyono said...

Great advice. I probably should have done #4 because there is another person out there with my pen name. I hope she doesn't mind. Or doesn't find out.

Brynn Paulin said...

Okay, I'm still laughing at the Native American thing. Are you sure you didn't make that up?

Jennifer Armintrout said...

"Is that a Native American name?" was one I got several times during the year after Blood Ties came out. Totally not making it up. I had a few people who were totally disappointed when I explained it was a phonetic spelling of Irmantraught.

J.C. Hanks said...

I didn't Google mine...maybe I should have. I picked initials because not only are they my grandmother's initials, they are also my husbands. :) Last name comes from a nickname my grandfather's friends gave me, and as I adored that old fart to the ends of the earth I felt it fit.