Why You Should(n’t) Use A Pen Name: 5 Dumb Things

My name is actually Terry Maggert, and I made a conscious decision (a rare event, but still) to use that as my pen name. If you write, you might be faced with a similar decision as more people read your books, and I’ve assembled what I hope to be compelling reasons for the type of name you use when creating a brand. For me, even my brand has a brand. See?

  1. Necessity made you do it.  If you’re a youth minister who writes giraffe-based BDSM erotica, you may consider a pen name. (Note: I have dibs on Lance Goodthrust, and if you think I’m kidding, just watch me). First: congrats on finding your niche, you maniac, and secondly, your choice of a pen name is a defensive movement designed to protect your identity. Which brings me to my second point.
  2. There is no privacy. Occasionally, I meet some adorable writer who thinks that their life isn’t an open book. News flash– our lives are beyond open; they’re a commodity that’s  being sold. Make certain that you create two entirely different identities for your brand and your life if the two aren’t congruent. This goes down to the detail of social media (especially social media), because that’s where you’re going to build the most important part of your growth. Which brings me to my third point.
  3. Don’t Get Cute or Witty with Names. I refer to the social media handles you choose. I use Terry Maggert everywhere, and I do so despite having titles that range from Young Adult Fantasy to Zombie Erotica. (Seriously. It’s a product of my childhood. Leave me be.) People who like my books can always find me. You know who can’t find you? People looking for your name instead of Wordcrusher or PirateWench69 on twitter and Instagram. If you don’t use your real name, then you must build a brand name so that people can find you. Otherwise, you’re creating a barrier between you and your readers.
  4. Pen Names  Can Infer Genre. There’s an expectation within genre fans that their favorite authors, if choosing a pen name, will pick something that dovetails with the style of books they write. If you’re a romance author (and statistically, you might be), then Selenia D’Argent makes a lot more sense than Bill Shotzenburger, who might be a lovely person but has a name that belongs to a guy who manages a tire store. Like buying bananas, choose wisely when picking your name.
  5. Pick A New Variation. Look, we all want the money that big name authors have, but selecting a pen name that’s close to theirs isn’t just poor branding, it might anger fans. You know- those people who stand outside a book store at midnight because some author just released a playlist of things their characters did while suffering from the flu? Yeah, those people. They’re rabid, they’re loyal, and they will absolutely brand you a fraud if you try to rip off their beloved author by name-crowding.

That’s a general guideline and there are many good reasons for using a pen name (organization being one), but just as many reasons to be yourself. Remember– you are the brand, as much as your books, and you must protect that identity every day. Across the spectrum of social media and other interactions, your name will be with you when you break out.

So, pick a good one, or go with the one you’ve had since the start. It’s working so far, right?


Virginia. So Much More Than Ham.

I’ll be in one of my favorite cities next week, Roanoke, Virginia. I’m speaking at the Roanoke Regional Writer’s Conference. It’s on the beautiful campus of Hollins University.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Virginia is incredible. It’s just so American, and Roanoke is a shining example of a great town. If you haven’t been– go. See the star. See the town. See the people. They’re Virginians, so they’re steeped in history with the friendliness of the South, and the sights of the North.

Roanoke Writer’s Conference.

I can’t say enough good things about this event. It’s a wide spectrum of thinkers, writers, and writing styles wrapped up in an atmosphere of sharing– and there is an unmistakable joy for the written word. It’s my second year, and an absolute highlight for me.

In case you’re still not sold on Roanoke, let’s recap some things: The star!

Rivers, nature, and bridges that are statistically likely to terrify nearly one third of all humans!

And, of course– the city itself. Lovely.

So, to sum up: Books, fun, ham, Roanoke, coffee, friends, and nature. Can’t wait.

Indie Authors: Enemies Through The Gate

Dear Publishaurus: It’s over.

You had a good run. As gatekeepers, you were able to determine what was “good” or “bad”. You mercilessly sheared artists for the bulk of their rightful funds, and you did so all while demanding that the clamoring masses come to you in your shrine (New York) in order to reinforce this system.

Then came Napster.

I can draw a direct line between the immolation of the music industry and the ongoing crumbling of what has been a model of archaic business practice– the publishing world. Amidst the cheers of this new landscape, there are stalwart detractors who immediately use the same arguments in order to stave off the inevitable.

“Traditional publishers protect the public from poorly crafted art.”– Uh-huh. And where were you during the heady days of soft core smut that flooded the market and made dump trucks of money for you and your authors who tapped into the frustrated sexual zeitgeist of middle class women? Do the names Pat Booth, Judith Krantz, and Sidney Sheldon mean anything to you? They wrote, in my opinion, some of the most marketable fiction (that happened to be soft-core porn) of the past forty years, and yet I didn’t see them being held back from the delicate palate of the general public. Perhaps I missed that altruism on your collective part, but I doubt it.
There are absolute gems among the Indies of the publishing world, and anything other than embracing your new overlords is a death rattle that wastes your dwindling freedom on arguing a point that smart publishers will have conceded five years ago. The barn door isn’t just open, it’s off the hinges.
“We provide business acumen that independent authors cannot understand.”– That may have been true prior to the digital age, but now, that assertion isn’t merely false, it’s lazy. The speed with which Indies act is beyond anything that a publishing house can muster. Another issue: Indies share. Indies help one another, and we do it in a manner that is organic, inexpensive, and result-oriented.When your budget is smaller than most grocery bills, creativity and firing for effect become the norm. Lean becomes efficient, and that leads to– with the proper product– sales that weren’t generated by an ossified industry that still regards the right to determine artistic value as their own domain. And much like the larger dinosaurs who had primitive yet redundant nervous systems, the death throes are already occurring at the other end of the beast.
Don’t worry. The head will catch up soon, and when it does, the surprise will be as genuine as we in the Indie community expect.
Remember, we’re watching from the front.