Two Articles by Mayra Calvani
By Mayra Calvani
Since I have several children’s titles coming up later this year and the next, I thought it would be a good idea to get a pen name. For one thing, my children’s book publisher advised me to do this. I write horror fiction, and normally people don’t like associating a horror name with children’s books, which is a fair argument. The idea of acquiring a double persona was also appealing in a dark way, like having multiple personalities without being demented.
Many authors use pen names for different reasons. Some authors wish to keep their real names private even though they only write in one genre. Others adopt pen names to ‘brand’ and distinguish their different works, as would be my case. Still others use pen names because they find their real names too common or boring, not ‘catching’ enough. Some authors use pen names simply because their publishers tell them to do so. There are many authors out there who write books in similar subgenres (romantic adventure/romantic suspense/paranormal romance, etc.) yet have multiple pen names for each category. It is often common for romance authors to adopt pen names that sound ‘romantic’ or somehow match the theme and tone of their books. Sometimes pen names are useful to avoid confusing readers. For example, an author who has written ten novels in only one specific genre (like crime fiction) would be advised to use a pen name if he/she suddenly writes a book in a completely different genre (historical romance) because fans of this author would already have fixed expectations. Since I write in so many genres—horror, dark paranormal, literary fantasy, satire, YA, children’s, and non-fiction—this rule doesn’t apply to me. If it did, I would have to get too many pen names.
The reasons stated above could be viewed as advantages. However, there are disadvantages as well, the biggest one being promoting your new or various pen names. Let’s face it, with so many thousands of authors on the internet, it’s already an arduous task promoting only one name. Authors who use more than one pen name have to spend twice or triple the amount of time promoting all their names. Multiple pen names mean multiple websites, blogs, author pages and email accounts, not to mention promotional material like press kits, postcards, bookmarks—all these in the end amount to more money. Still, with so many authors using pen names it’s obvious people think it’s worth it.
But how do you decide if you need a pen name? Ask yourself the following questions:
*Do you wish to keep your real name private?
*Is your name too common, plain and ugly? (If you’ve always hated your name, this is your chance to have a new one!)
*Have you always been attracted by the idea of having two or more personas?
*Do you wish to separate your fiction from your nonfiction?
*Do you wish to separate your different types of fiction from each other? (There are situations where this is almost an absolute necessity. For instance, you should have two different names if you write erotica and children’s books, for obvious reasons. The same goes for books which are overtly violent, as is the case with some types of horror and crime fiction.)
*Are you already known as the author of many books in the same genre?
*Do you loath or love book promotion?
*Do you have the time and resources required to promote more than one author name?
*Are you an author who also happens to be a self publisher? (If your name is Wilson Harris, and you plan on self publishing your book under this name, you sure wouldn’t want your small press to be named Wilson Harris Publications!)
As I said, in my case I didn’t want my horror or dark paranormal fiction to have a negative influence over the parents who are going to buy my children’s books. I considered various pen names and finally opted for M.C. Garcia, which in fact could be considered as one of my real names—Mayra Calvani Garcia (this last one my mother’s last name). It was ‘close to home’ so it felt good. I knew I needed a separate website under this name, but I decided to wait and start a blog first to test the waters—boy, am I glad I did. Because, you see, I made a big mistake before choosing that pen name—I forgot to google it! I knew that Garcia was a pretty common name, but I never thought that M.C. Garcia was just as common. Not only did I now have a common pen name, but I also had to compete for search ranks among hundreds of thousands of others with this name.
Even though I had signed with Technorati to send their powerful ‘spiders’ to detect my blog tags, my blog/pen name was sunk under all those others M.C. Garcias on the net. A lot of people told me that they liked my real name for children’s books as well, so in the end I told myself, Why not keep my name as it is? For one thing, it is a pretty unique, unusual name. It also has a nice ring to it. Yes, I write horror, but it’s not graphic or particularly offensive. And anyway, even if I use different names, it’s not as if people aren’t going to find out. After all, I would have to put a button on my children’s book website directing readers to my other website, and vice versa. While using a pen name for children’s books may not always be a necessity, having a separate website is a must, and there’s a good reason for it. In the US, children’s book authors cannot get their websites listed in many sites and rings and get free PR if their websites contain adult book information. Okay, so I was decided. I would keep my name but have a separate website under another domain name. This time, I wrote down several possibilities, then I went straight to Google!
Most of my choices were already taken (so much for my originality!). Then I realized my domain name would be unique if I added ‘Mayras’ at the beginning… thus http://www.MayrasSecretBookcase.com was born—don’t bother to click on the link yet, as it’s still in the designing stages. I deleted the M.C. Garcia blog and created this instead: http://www.mayrassecretbookcase.blogspot.com. After a lot of mental struggle, I think I’m happy with my decision.
Getting one or multiple pen names might work for you. Just make sure you get a few opinions from your publisher, fellow authors, and friends before you make a decision. Most importantly, be sure to google it too before going through the trouble and expense of starting a blog and setting up a website.
©2007 Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.
By Mayra Calvani
Reviewing has been a hot subject among kidlit bloggers lately, ever since the magazine n+1 came up with an article about a week ago which criticized—though not in such direct terms—bloggers of not being objective, honest enough with their reviews, of not posting enough negative reviews and of lacing their positive reviews with facile praise. The main question seems to be: is it possible to be unbiased in a cozy environment where the people who post friendly comments under the bloggers’ posts are often the same people who request reviews from these bloggers? In other words, is it possible to be objective in the blogosphere, where authors, publishers, publicists, reviewers and librarians are in friendly terms with each other in such blog communities as Live Journal?
In a perfect world a reviewer should never review a book by a person he/she knows. But, as usual, more often than not, what is ideal in theory is not realistic in the real world, and this ‘sin’ is not only committed by bloggers, but also by professional reviewers who write for online and print review publications.
Another issue seems to be the lack of format which many (maybe most?) bloggers have when writing reviews. Unlike the ‘legitimate’ reviewers who seem to have a preference for a ‘standard’ structure—an interesting lead/opening sentence, a short summary of the plot without ever giving away spoilers or the ending, and an intelligent, fair, tactful evaluation—the bloggers write about books anyway they want. They have the freedom to write in any length or style without a thought to format—even to the point of giving away spoilers or relating the ending of a book. This freedom comes with the territory of being a blogger. But then, the questions arise… Are bloggers ‘real’ reviewers? What defines a review? After all, there are many types of reviews—academic and long, light and short, and snippets like those in such publications as Library Journal.
Different review sites and publications have different guidelines. Are blogger reviews a new, different type of review? Should we draw a distinction between bloggers who are simply readers and post ‘reader reviews’ and ‘legitimate’ reviewers who post ‘real’ ones on their blogs? After all, just like on Amazon, there are reader reviews and reviewer reviews. Are bloggers the lowly counterparts of legitimate reviewers? Is this an elitist attitude?
I find these questions fascinating because I think there are no easy answers. As usual, opening a discussion about what is right and wrong is like opening a can of worms.
A couple of years ago, this dilemma started with the emerging online review sites… I remember how librarians and bookstores often dismissed them as ‘not legitimate’. Online review sites have come a long way. Now it’s the bloggers who are being attacked.
Ultimately, I think we’re not giving enough credit to the discerning reader of reviews. It’s so easy to tell a good review from a cheesy one guilty of facile praise! There are good and bad reviewers everywhere. Serious blogger reviewers aren’t going to be stupid enough to post overly positive reviews because if the reader buys a book based on that review and then finds that book to be poorly written, that blogger will lose all credibility and that reader won’t come back to this blogger for more reviews. Honesty and fairness go with our job as reviewers, without it, we’re nothing but weak, cheap publicity. That is not to say we should be nasty or mean… which brings me to the writing of negative reviews…
I personally think there are too many good books out there to be spending time writing about the bad ones (even negative reviews are a type of publicity!). Unless it’s a book that has been written by a famous author and/or heavily hyped, I won’t bother posting negative reviews on my blog and newsletters (this wouldn’t be the case, however, if the book was assigned by a review site/publication, in which case I wouldn’t have a choice but to write the negative review).
One thing the blogging technology has done is bring books and literature closer to the public and, let’s face it, the average person is so busy and/or has such a short attention span that long, insightful reviews are not the most practical thing in the world. Blogger reviews are like quick tasty treats of information for people on the run who enjoy reading about books. In the end, and in spite of the ‘slippery’ questions mentioned above, I’m all for anything that brings literature closer to the public.
©2007 Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.