Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Learning Curve of the New Author

I was really delighted to be invited to be an Editor with Pink Heart Society and write a monthly column for them.  Not least because I’ve spent the last few years reading this blog and hopefully learning from it.

Almost exactly one year ago I got The Call.  On 21st January at 1.34pm.  Not that it is engrained in my brain or anything.  The chance to join the medical authors that I’d always read was a dream come true.  And so started my life as a published author.

For the last year I have been on a steep learning curve.  I’ve learned a whole host of things that I didn’t even realise I needed to know.  And that’s what I plan to share.

So where to start?  Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place to start.  Are you all singing yet? 

What happens when you get The Call?  Well, one of the first thing that happens is your editor wants to know what name you’re going to publish your story under.

Lots of people use their real name, many others publish under a pseudonym.  I hadn’t given it a lot of thought.  Some other would-be authors have already picked their pseudonyms and set up their websites and blogs.  I had done the obligatory google search and amazon search under my own name and found another author published in the US – and unfortunately she wrote romance!  I spoke to my editor about this and she investigated a little further and came back and told me I’d need to pick a pseudonym.

Easier said than done. 

Why?  You have to check no-one else is published under the name.  Another author signed before me had to add an initial into her name to differentiate her from someone using the same name.  The name has to be acceptable for translations as Harlequin Mills & Boon stories are sold all over the world.  Should you pick a name that puts you at the beginning of the alphabet?  How close is the name to your own – because people might actually call you that name and you have to remember to answer to it!  And more importantly your editor has the final say!  They might tell you they already have too many other authors with the same first name.  One other Mills and Boon author told me suggested 11 pseudonyms before they finally agreed on one!

So I drew up a shortlist and my family and workmates voted on it.

Poppy Wilson
Scarlet Bain
Reese Elliott
Suzanne Wilson
Ruby Bain

Where did they come from?  Don’t ask.  No, honestly don’t.  Some of the names I just liked.  One is the name my mother wanted to call me when I was born.  Another is an amalgamation of my children’s names.  One surname is my own, the other my partners. 

And do you see a theme emerging?  Scarlet, Ruby, Poppy – yes, I’m a big fan of the colour red.

And the winner was?

Scarlet Bain.  And was I allowed to use it?  No.  It apparently sounded like a lady of the night.   I was asked to use my own surname Wilson as it sounded more ‘wholesome’.  So I became Scarlet Wilson.  And now I quite like it.  I’ve liked becoming Scarlet and it means I have an excuse to wear a lot of red at any author things I go to.

So think carefully about your writing name.  It can also become the name your work is copyrighted under. 

And remember, even though you might have a shiny blog under your chosen pseudonym you might be asked to change it!

So, do you write under your own name?  Or have you already picked a pseudonym and where did it come from?  And would you be willing to change?


  1. Hi Scarlet! That is fascinating! I just assumed you could pick whatever you liked and as long as it wasn't a duplicate you were good to go. I would never have imagined that a name could project an image, lady of the night LOL! I can see the attraction of having a pseudonym if you're keen on anonymity but it isn't something I've considered at all. Maybe if I ever get published I will choose something fabulous!

  2. What a shame regarding your first choice. I like the fact they think Wilson is more wholesome given that is my mother's maiden name!!

    My own name isn't one I want to use for several reasons. I'm a foster carer so I don't really want parents/adoptive parents of children I care for to be able to look me up and maybe start commenting on FB etc.!!

    I chose Catherine as it was my great grandmother's name and Coles is the maiden name of my grandmother on the other side of the family :-)

    But in answer to your last question, would I change it? You bet! If they wanted to buy my book I'd call myself whatever they wanted!!

  3. Hi Scarlet... Extremely impressed with how much thought and effort you put into this... I rather stupidly did not bother to check whether my real name (which I publish under as I had already used it as a journalist) had already been used by another author, which led to quite a lot of confusion after my first few books were published and the 'other' Heidi Rice (who writes a humour column in an Colorado paper and had published a book about her wacky homelife!) wrote a blog about me!! LOL. Of course she only had the titles and the clinch covers from Amazon so she made some very colourful assumptions about what I was writing... Long story short: we ended up having a good old laugh about it in the end.. But sheesh, that'll teach me!

  4. I had to provide six names for M&B to choose from, Scarlet. I love yours - exciting, unusual and yet Wilson grounds it in reality. A bit like your book. :)

  5. I had no idea choosing a pseudonym was so complicated! I'm a teacher and therefore don't use my real name online. I had to pick this name fairly quickly when I decided to enter the New Voices competition and decided to stick with it for my blog. But would I change to another if asked? Of course, if it meant getting published!

  6. Hi, Scarlet! I ended up deciding to use a pen name, as another author with a very similar name to mine had just signed with M&B a few months earlier, and after the news of my sale people started getting us mixed up.

    I sent my editor three suggestions using family names, none of which she liked, so I went back to the drawing board. I ended up trawling through a book of surnames and writing down anything that went with 'Fiona'. From a long list of 58 (!!!), I wittled it down to about eight and tested those out on my editor. Thankfully, she liked Harper, so it stuck. I ended up having a completely different pen name from anything I'd dreamed up.

    There is another Fiona Harper who is a travel writer. I often get Google alerts about her and think she has a glamorous life...

  7. Hi Charlotte
    Fabulousness is definitely the way to go! Let's start planning your name!

  8. Hi Catherine
    Here's hoping they let you keep your writing name - I like it. I also like having the same initial for both your first and second name - it kind of flows better. Wish I'd thought of that!

  9. Heidi. what a brilliant tale! I've just went and looked up the "other" Heidi and she's no where near as fabulous as you!

  10. Aww.. thanks Liz. Six names? Do you remember what they were? I like Liz, and I know whenever I see your name on a book I'm going to love it!

  11. Hi Tora, I really like your unusual first name. I've never heard that before. Here's hoping it translates okay and you get to keep it!

  12. Fiona - 58 surnames, I thought I was bad with my mini list!
    But you can definitely have the prize! Fiona Harper is a great name x

    1. Hi Scarlet - great blog and how fascinating. Didn't know it was so involved. If I ever get pubbed I would like to stick to "Caroline" (my real name) and either my married or single surname if possible. Although I've always liked "Ryman" as a surname - in homage to the stationary stores of the same name! Caroline x

  13. Hi, Scarlet! And I do think of you as Scarlet considering that gorgeous red frock you had on at AMBA! I use my name, but I had other possibilities ready to go just in case. But no, my editor said my name was fine. There is a Lynn Harris who writes chick lit and a column for MSNBC, but I never considered using that name. I went with mine because, though I dislike it, there's only one of me. :) And I had built a web presence, etc, using it.

    1. I should add, btw, that I was a bit worried about E. Lynn Harris. I've had searches to my site in the early days looking for him, but it doesn't happen anymore. I guess people figured it out. :)

  14. Scarlet, you have an original writing name. I write some of my stuff by another name, but anything of mine that's been recently published is under my own name. Years ago, when I had some non-fiction published in a women's magazine, I used my aunt's name instead (which is a variation of my onw name).