Advice to Aspiring Writers–Part the Next

There are things you can work on before your book hits the shelves that are fun and useful for those days when your material needs to marinate in your imagination.

For one thing, you might need a pen name appropriate to your genre. I’m convinced part of the reason Stieg Larsson does so well is because that’s the very best name the author of those books could have in any language. Man, wish I’d thought of it, and of the books that go with it. I was not born Grace Burrowes. I chose that nom de plume because Grace has a nice, old-fashioned feel to it, appropriate to Regency romances. Then too, I had an Aunt Grace who was a marvelous lady, as genteel as she was good-humored.

As for the Burrowes part, I went into all the local bookstores (which number about four within a fifty mile radius of my home), and I looked for the authors whose last names in the romance section were at eye level. Among eye-level letters, I figured I’d go for a B-name, as the further along in the alphabet I got, the more chance I’d be bumped down the shelves by people trying to cozy up to Eloisa James or Meredith Duran. One of my riding buddies (Yo, Kim!) suggested Burrowes, and it felt right enough that I went with it.

Then, I had to do a domain search, to make sure was available as an internet domain name. As I recall, some of the other spellings for the last name had already been reserved. (Word of my impending international fame is apparently out, and everybody is going to be cozying up to my last name, right?)

One consideration I ignored was that authors are frequently asked to sign their books. Anne Rice was ahead of this curve: Eight letters. This takes a lot less time to squiggle onto a book than G-r-a-c-e B-u-r-r-o-w-e-s. Eight letters can also be printed on the cover of a book in much larger type than thirteen can. Bear that in mind when you’re leaning toward Araminthea Bollington Wickford.

The other aspect of a pen name to be aware of is that you’ll be introduced by this name, and it had better be something you want to answer to. I like the name Grace. When my author friends introduce me as Grace, I’m not looking around to find some woman I’ve never met. I feel like a Grace, at least among book-friends.

So… this is part of being an aspiring writer: What will your pen name be? Another part of being an aspiring writer is getting ready for that day when your editor says the book has been scheduled for production, and you have a certain number of weeks to come up with Big Names who will give you cover quotes for it. “Criminy,” you say, “I don’t know any Big Names.”

I don’t either, but I read Big Names all the time. I have a keeper bookshelf that holds dozens and dozens of romances, and it was to these authors I turned when I needed those quotes. I could honestly assert a connection to them through their work, and cite some benefit to me experienced as a result of their writing. Loretta Chase got me through a bumpy plane ride. Eloisa James made me cry at RWA National when she talked about her daughter being the hospital because my daughter was in the hospital that very day, and so on.

Now, Big Names certainly can’t give you quotes for the books you haven’t had accepted for publication, but you can be thinking: If my MS were complete, whom would I approach and on what basis? What could I put in a letter to them that would be sincere and convincing? Asking a bestselling author to take hours to read your book is hard. Best start considering how you’ll meet the challenge sooner rather than later.

And finally, if you’re writing, you’re also probably a voracious reader. Give the books you like a glowing Amazon or Barnes and Noble review, and you’ll have a place to start when you’re approaching those Big Names with a request to put that name on your first book. And next week, we’ll treat this topic of preparing for publication again. Meanwhile, start thinking up that pen name!

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5 comments on “Advice to Aspiring Writers–Part the Next

  1. Hi, actually Priscilla Shay is my pen name :3 and I’m working at becoming a HR author. But, I have a question. You mentioned it’s easier to print 8 letters than 13 and it can be printed in much larger font…how do you feel about author’s names being larger than the title of the novel? Isn’t that selling the brand rather than the book? (Just curious)

  2. Priscilla, The only Big Name I’ve heard address this point is Judith Ivory, who as far as I am concerned wrote some of the best romances ever penned, bar NONE. Her advice was to get your name on the cover in the biggest, boldest, most eye-catching type you can negotiate. I think the idea is exactly as you say: To sell the brand. To reel in all those readers who will buy anything by JR Ward, Loretta Chase, or Mary Balogh (and those readers would be moi,moi and moi, respectively). Anything–a cook book, a how to, anything.

    And yet, with the series books, we see that a great deal of research goes into crafting the titles, and the cover images, and Harlequin has data to show that good decisions in those areas result in more sales. I guess the savvy author will try to get the name prominent while still cashing in on the hooks available through the title and the cover images.

    Good luck with your writing. Priscilla strikes me was a great name for HR.


    • mmm, ok, makes sense. But, that leads to another question: Do authors have a say in that aspect or is totally up to the publisher and cover designers? *picks your brain* =)


      Btw, are you excited about Payne’s book?

      • Authors are asked for ideas upon which to base a cover–mine were useless and far too literal. I’m fortunate to work with a publisher who has been known to completely start over with a cover if the author said it was wrong for the book. Successful authors can get language into their contracts saying they have final approval on covers and so forth but cover design is quite and art, and she who wrote the book isn’t necessary the best person to evaluate what exactly should go on the front of the book.

        And as for your name, if you have a big old, sesquepedalian moniker, then the art department simply cannot size it in type as large as they can a name with fewer letters–you can at least give them the option by choosing a shorter name–if prominence of your name is important to you.

  3. I’m happy to find you! Not sure this blog / newsletter works any more; no-longer-available came up when I tried to subscribe. But I do love connecting with good writers.
    I’m trying, some days more than others, to finish books…21, and I’m not starting another until one is published. Retired from university helps; passion for helping community projects doesn’t, so I’m still enmeshed in technical writing. Being 66 proves to be more tiring than ever. Very tough after being high energy for 60 of these years.
    In love with reading HR, I don’t want to write the genre, just bask in its fantasy. I’m writing not-sure-what — how to feel healthy even when you’re falling apart, where to find pure joy, topics that kept my students alert and faithful to early morning classes. I deeply want to unlock secrets for readers, people who struggle to get out of bed.
    Best compliment ever: I write like I talk. Being an editor since high school journalism duties kills forward progress. A writer recently reminded me that writing and editing are totally separate functions. JUST WRITE. Get it down on paper prolifically. Pretend someone else will edit. That’s helped, really. But life interruptions, debilitating health issues, and huge fear kill momentum.