On identity as a writer

Do you ever feel like you’re two people? Or three?

In a writing sense, anyway. I do.

One of me writes writes contemporary and secondary world fantasy that examines themes around family, belonging, and books. This me can’t resist including queer ladies falling in love, and takes pot shots at library closures. This me writes adventures with female friendships at the core, and the choices my characters make are never easy.

The other me writes hot m/m romances with a dash of contemporary fantasy. These stories are me letting my hair down, throwing in my favourite tropes and seeing what shakes out. There may be too high a body count for a traditional romance, but I’m having fun and I’m pretty sure there’s an audience out there for it, because I’ve read and loved books with a similar blend of romance and high stakes plotting.

At some stage, I’m going to have to market what I write, and I’m very aware that the two versions of me will probably have different reader audiences. They may overlap sometimes, but in my experience, people who are looking for an m/m romance aren’t interested in a young woman’s adventures in a magical library. And they won’t be happy if they pick up the latter expecting a raunchy m/m romance–or vise versa–even if they’d usually love it.

When I first started writing original fiction, I had no plans to write under a pseudonym. But the more I look at what I’m writing, the two flavours of it, and relate it back to my experience with writing fanfic, the more I think that I’ll need to do it. I’ll need to find a way to indicate which idea pile a given story or book comes from, so that the people looking for that story can find it.

Ian Banks stuck an initial in the middle of his name to indicate whether he was writing literary fic or sci fi. Seanan McGuire writes her SF zombie stories as Mira Grant, so that nobody picks up a book expecting mythology and gets brain worms instead.

I don’t like the idea of pretending that my different identities are really different people. After all, they’re both me, and I’ll be doing this more as a way to help readers manage expectations than trying to disavow one side of me or the other. I’ll be open from the beginning about having more than one byline.

This year, I’ve been submitting stories to magazines that are firmly from the first me as Katherine Jay. I’ll need to decide whether I go the Banks route or the McGuire route when I pick the byline I use for sending m/m romance out on query. I found the Banks method harder to remember and relied more on the covers and bookshop placement. McGuire and Grant are definitely easier not to mix up, even though they’re both shelved in the same stacks. I doubt my m/m romances would end up on the same tables as my other work, but you never know, which is why I’m leaning towards the definitely-different byline approach.

However I implement it, though, I can now see why people write under multiple names, and that it’s going to be a reality for me.

Have you had to consider using a pseud, and what did you conclude?

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4 thoughts on “On identity as a writer

  1. I have thought about what name I would put my writing under. The genres and audiences I write for are not so diverse that I need to worry about one group finding books intended for another. I do though have the desire to separate my writing from my personal life. This is especially true as even if I become a published author I can’t imagine I won’t have a day job. I settled on using my initials and last name. It is my real name, but a slightly different take on it. Hopefully different enough to separate writing me from the rest of me.

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    • With my surname being so short, I decided that going by initials was just going to be ridonkulous for me! And using a different surname for everything would mean that none of my books ever felt like ‘me’, because I’ll probably borrow a family name for my alterna-name.

      I’m not sure how I’d feel about my writing being known about in my day job. It probably wouldn’t affect my future prospects, but I’d prefer the m/m romance side not to be something that gets bandied around in the department. If it happens, it happens. There’s not much I can do to stop it–I’ve seen YA authors getting outted at their workplaces by disgruntled fans, even when they’re working under a pseud.

      Your publication name is a good one. Has the advantage of being gender neutral on book covers while not sounding like a bunch of initials strung together 😉

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      • I’m not too worried about getting ‘outed’ in the sense that if I managed to get published I’d be yelling it from the rooftops. I don’t think my coworkers would be able to avoid knowing I had sold a book (or even a short story etc)!

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        • Heh 🙂 I think for me it will depend a lot on what gets published as to how far and wide I’ll shout about it.

          Telling people at work would require admitting that I write, and we’ve already got one amateur poet in the department. On the other hand…selling something would be so amazing that I might not be able to stay quiet, even around the office!

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