Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: A Guest Post by Alessandra Thomas

This week, I've decided to do something different for Writing Wednesday. Usually The Secret Lifers post about their tips and tricks for overcoming everything from planning to revisions, but this week, I have to be honest. 

I'm sick of it.

I've talked a little bit about the revisions I've been trudging through over on my own blog, and I'd intended to do the same over here. But. I'm still in the middle of revising, it's still slowly sucking out my soul, and the last thing I want to do is talk about it. Some more. 

So today, I've invited Alessandra Thomas, the author of PICTURE PERFECT, to talk to us about how writing under a pen name saved her life. (By the way, you can add PP to your Goodreads right over here. You definitely want to do this, promise.) 

Take it away, Aless.

The business of writing can kill you.
At best, it kills you socially. You lose time with friends and family. You give up parts of your precious family and social life willingly, to be sure. You have to write. You have to do this, for you.
Staying up late and waking up early, drinking a little bit too much caffeine (okay, a lot too much) and not exercising nearly enough - yeah, it can kill you physically, too.
Those things are fine. We writers accept them like a badge of honor, even, because we know they’re part and parcel of this writing life. Dirty houses, takeout meals, unkempt hair and nails. Bring it on - we know we have to suffer for our art.
But that’s nothing compared to the way the business of writing can kill your spirit.
You think you’re prepared for rejection. You’ve armed yourself with the memory of that one time your critique partner tore your story limb from limb, and some mantra reminding yourself that all the best writers suffered rejection for months and years before they became successful.  You’re going to be okay, just like them.
The first few rejections are fine. “Subjective,” “Didn’t connect,” “Not confident I can sell it.” “Subjective,” “Keep trying,” “Subjective.”
After twenty of those, your eyelid begins to twitch and your stomach churns. How horrible *is* your book, anyway? What is it about it that people would rather lay down on the floor and die than pay money for?
“Subjective,” “Didn’t connect,” “Subjective,” “Can’t market,” “Don’t be discouraged.” But you know what? Sixty, eighty, one hundred rejections later, you’ve poured your heart and soul and every second of free time into this book, and sacrificed a whole hell of a lot, and here publishing is, telling you, “It’s fine, but ultimately, it’s worthless.”
Maybe, eventually, you get requests, maybe you get an agent, maybe you make it to acquisitions at a big publishing house, but if you don’t sell a book? Sorry. All that work means one thing and one thing only - Your book won’t be a book. All this was for nothing.
Now, that? That can kill your spirit.
I engaged in that mad race for years. I was proud of and loved what I was writing, I loved the friends I’d made along the way, and I’d definitely found some level of success in publishing... but  for all the hard work I’d done, as beaten down as it all had made me up till then, I wasn’t going to be published. I’d been in the writing community awhile, a good handful of people were familiar with me, and...I don’t know. I kind of felt like everyone was watching, waiting, to see when I would sell a book.
Or maybe I was just watching myself. Every writing plan I made or activity I did, was all about when I would sell, all about the serious seriousness of when I would finally, finally write something that could break through the gates and Be Published. What was selling today? What would be selling tomorrow? If I wrote an outline that seemed promising, how quickly could I have it written? Would anyone like it? Would it be a waste of time? Or would this finally be The One that made my career? Was my stuff any good at all, or was everyone just telling me that it was because they liked me?
Would I ever even have a career?
Would I ever see any return, readers-wise, money-wise, recognition-wise, for all my hard work?
I knew I wanted to keep working on my masterpieces, but I needed an excuse for creative abandon, a shot of confidence that I was a Good Writer, a chance to put something that I’d written free of worry about marketability, conformity to genre standards, perfection of prose, or relatability of characters, out into the world and see it succeed without being a danger to my growing writing career.
I needed to write a story that was one hundred percent what I wanted to write, and to ask readers I didn’t know whether it was any good without risking everything I’d built.
I needed a pen name.
So, I got one. I picked the name “Alessandra” because I like nicknames, and Aless sounds classy and flirty at the same time - just like the book I felt like writing. That book was in the New Adult genre - about a college girl who’d gained more weight than she felt comfortable with, and how she got her groove back.
I wrote it without stressing out about all things one usually stresses about when writing an “issue book.” I wasn’t going to try to sell this to a big publisher, or even a small one, so why would I worry worry if it fit into all the molds and blueprints they are always telling all us writers we have to stick to?
The words poured out on paper into a story that was a little funny and pretty sweet and very sexy, and guess what? It turned out pretty damn well. The plot’s not complicated or extra-hooky, but it’s the kind of thing that happens in real life, and most people will probably like hanging out with the characters.
My CPs said it was good. I got a cover and a copyeditor. I set a publication date. In the first few days after I put it up on Goodreads, PICTURE PERFECT got over 150 adds.
If something goes horribly wrong, I can pull the book down and walk away, no harm done to my other writer career, the one where I use my given name. But just that process, that whole thing about writing-and-not-caring, and the story being good anyway, and people saying, “Yes! Awesome! We want to read it!” without knowing a single thing about who I was, did wonders for me.
It let me write stress-free for just a little while, showed me people want to read my work, and who knows? I might even make a little money.  Imagine that.
That’s how my pen name saved my life. 

Readers: Have you ever considered writing under a pen name? Are you doing so now? I'd be lying if I told you I haven't been considering it myself. Tell me about your journey to publication, pen name or not, in the comments below. 

5 secret replies:

  1. I've been toying with the idea of a pen name mostly because my name is complicated and therefore not marketable (hyphenated last names scare people). Still haven't decided one way or the other, but it's interesting to hear how others arrived at deciding to publish under a pen name!

  2. Honestly, I think it's going to be too much work lol
    See, I always wrote the same category, and I don't plan on switching ... though I did consider getting a pen name before all this started, when I just started writing and querying ...
    But, if for some reason I try other categories, I would consider a pen name that is close to my real name ;)

    PS: I love this sentence "But that’s nothing compared to the way the business of writing can kill your spirit." Ain't it the truth?

  3. I love pen names. I've been building my platform on a pen name, and I have such scattered ideas that I'll likely need more in the years to come. Especially when it comes to adult versus YA. I think it really helps to have a distinction - even if it's just a slight variant to your writer name - to help free you up. It's like a nod to your audience, like, "Hey, this is me, but it's not quite the same me. Just a heads up."

  4. Pen names ftw. I think there's a lot of advantages if you use them right, although there's surely some work involved.

    Like you say though, this can be a spirit-killing business if you let it be. It's important to do whatever you personally need to do in order to thrive and be happy.

  5. I'm always writing under a pen name. 1. I hate my real last name and people will constantly misspell my first name it if I use it. 2. Especially as long as I have a day job too, I want that separation. I don't want my coworkers reading my writing, regardless of what genre I end up publishing in.

    And really, as long as you're happy, screw the cynical and critical people. Write what you love. Write what makes money to support writing what you love. It works. That's all that matters.