Laura Bickle (a.k.a. Alayna Wiliams) has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She lives in the Midwest with her chief muse, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. Writing as Laura Bickle, she’s the author of Embers and Sparks for Pocket – Juno Books. Writing as Alayna Williams, she’s the author of Dark Oracle and Rogue Oracle. More info on her urban fantasy and general nerdiness is here: www.salamanderstales.com
Writing under two names is like having multiple personalities. Writing as Laura Bickle, I’m the author of EMBERS and SPARKS from Pocket Books – an urban fantasy series that can best be summed up as “Ghostbusters in Detroit with dragons and arson.” Writing as Alayna Williams, I’m the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE – about a criminal profiler who uses Tarot cards to solve crimes. Two different series, both urban fantasy. Having two names is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot to keep track of.
Every author’s career is different, and everyone who has one uses pseudonyms for different purposes. Sometimes, one is used for privacy purposes. “Laura Bickle” is not my legal name. I needed to keep some distance in my day job, and that was a name I had been using for awhile in short ficton, so I stuck with it. I’m not wedded to complete privacy, though.
There are many reasons to use a pseudonym for privacy. I know that some authors want privacy of varying degrees for their jobs…no one wants their boss or co-workers reading their sex scenes. Some folks are naturally private and wish to keep their public and private lives separate. Others may write for vastly different genres…such as YA and erotica, and may want identities insulated from each other.
If you are seeking to use a pseudonym for privacy purposes, there are a couple of additional steps that you may wish to take. Firstly, you may record a copyright with a pseudonym with the U.S. Copyright Office. And, secondly, purchase additional privacy protection through your website domain provider to protect your identity in a WHOIS search. I’d suggest the latter step for anyone, really…one’s name, address, and phone number don’t need to be easily found.
Beyond privacy there are other, less obvious reasons for pseudonyms. I know many authors who have changed directions in their career and choose new names to mark new beginnings in different genres or undertakings.
For myself, my editor recommended that I use a pseudonym for the ORACLE books. My first book, EMBERS, came out in April, 2010, under the Laura Bickle name. It was to be the first of a series. DARK ORACLE was scheduled for June of that year…and it was also scheduled to be the start of its own series. We thought it would be confusing for readers to have two UF series going on under the same name, with alternating release dates. For that purpose, it made sense to create “Alayna.” In that sense, it was a branding decision.
Building another personality was interesting. I used variations of my own middle name and my husband’s, so that it would be a name that I’d react somewhat normally to at conventions. I think that much of that relies upon only hearing my middle name when I was a kid in trouble: “Laura Alayna, get into the house THIS INSTANT…”
But it does make for a very long name badge. And if you are at a booksigning, you may find that the organizers place one pseudonym’s books at a table far away from another and you’ll be consolidating book tables in a panic.
If you use a pseudonym, consider what this will mean for social networking. Initially, I maintained two websites – one for Laura, and one for Alayna. That was a lot of work, and not one I recommend. If you can keep your pseudonyms open and they are not secret…using one website is much, much easier. I own the domain names for both personalities, and they reflect to the same site.
The biggest challenge, though, is attempting to build an audience. As a new writer in a very crowded field, it’s hard to stand out. As it is, few people about my other series unless they visit my website or read an article that mentions it. It is quite difficult to build a following with two pseudonyms in the same genre.
My best advice for those considering using a pseudonym is to consider the reasons why you want one, and map out the steps to give you the privacy or theme separation you desire. Questions to consider include:
1. What degree of privacy do I require in my day to day life? Do I want my mother reading my sex scenes, for example? This will guide your decision as to whether your pseudonym is “open” or “closed.”
2. Is the name I’m choosing unique enough that I will not be confused with another author in my genre?
3. Best-case-scenario…if I am using this name for many years, is it something I can live with? Trendy names are fine, but consider whether you will still love it twenty years from now. A pseudonym is like tattoo ink, in that respect. Choose something that will become part of you.
4. Is the name I’m choosing available as a domain name, or being used by someone else? If your chosen name is available, consider parking it right away, whether or not you’ll build a website right away.
5. Am I willing to maintain multiple websites if my pseudonyms are “closed”…i.e., no one but you, your publisher, and the IRS knows about it?
6. Am I willing to kill off a persona if the market requires it?
7. What are the ramifications to myself and my career if I am “outed”?
Pseudonyms are common, and a very helpful way for a writer to create, maintain, or revitalize a career. Like any tool, there are pluses and minuses to using one; consider the results you want to achieve carefully…and have fun building a “new you”!