I had a birthday this week (no, I won't tell you my age, but I'm sure if you take what I tell you here and think a little, you can make a decent guess - that doesn't mean I have to fess up), and it made me realize that it's been almost 20 years since I chose my pen name, Alexa Grave. This was years before I even sent anything out, hoping I'd get an acceptance.
I was in the middle of writing my first novel (well, now looking back, it's probably more like novella length - 4 years to write the rough draft, too - ha)...one that will never, ever see the light of day. Here's a juicy spoiler, though. Everyone dies by the end. Yes, everyone, including the point of view character (I wrote it in journal style and even took a red pen to show the blood spatters on the final page - yup, laugh at me, laugh hard). Now you can understand why that "novel" will remain in my binder and on my hard drive (the revisions of which I may not be able to access myself because I password protected it and forgot said password, but I digress).
I don't exactly remember how the name Alexa Grave came to me. I do remember sharing it in excitement with my few friends. And from that point forward, that's who I was when I wrote, who I still am.
Now, the meaning behind the name has grown over the years. I see it as a contrast of the light and dark, the first name being the former and the last name the latter. This also reflects my style of writing - dark fantasy, dark humor even, but it's never completely dark, as there's always that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel (for the most part - clearly not in the aforementioned first "novel").
It's a name that means a lot to me, though. One that I have grown insanely attached to.
And this really brings me to the other thing that prompted me to write this post. I've always seen the comments on pen names about how you can use a different name if you're writing in absolute different genres, like erotica and young adult. I've also seen the suggestions that if your career fails under one name, you can rise from the ashes by using a new name. Of course I see these tactics as beneficial for people - they make sense.
More recently though, with the indie publishing revolution in full swing, I've been reading a lot of posts in a pretty popular forum, and pen names come up a lot. Many people are of the opinion that you should use a different name for each different sub-genre. Yes, this means one name for epic fantasy and another name for urban fantasy. It's like pen names have become tissue paper.
Unlike the first two things I mentioned, I have a hard time finding the logic in this. They claim the audiences are different and will be mad if they really love your epic fantasy, pick up your next book without looking at what it's about, and feel betrayed because it happens to be urban fantasy. OK, I understand different audiences, but the reader has a responsibility of their own to at least read a short blurb before they buy a book. Not to mention, so many traditionally published authors keep the same name and write in different sub-genres. Jim Butcher writes both urban fantasy and epic fantasy, for example.
Not only is it a lot more work, managing several names (and I know some writers who do this - my props to them, and the ones I know personally tend to do it mainly because the major difference in genres, not just sub-genres) with having an author presence via website, social media, etc. You also have to rebuild a following each time you start a new name.
But one of the reasons I know I could never do this is because of the meaning behind my pen name. Names are important to me. It's one of my favorite things to do when I'm writing - picking out the character names! Because I feel those names should have a layer or two of meaning, at least for the main characters, even if that meaning is only something internal to me.
So, I guess it astounds me, how some people can just use name after name, thinking of them out of the blue, in the end only a means to an end and because maybe they sound cool. Like I said, tissue paper.
It also makes me wonder what ramifications this might have on future writers. In a decade, will so many names have been used that there will be insane overlap? How will readers then keep things straight if there are several authors with the same name? What will happen to building a following with your name as a brand then? Or will author names become so outlandish just so they can be different from what came before?
I already see similar names to mine out there. There's actually an author named Alexa Grace (I don't know if this is her real name or a pen name - I've only noticed her books on Amazon). Yup, only a single letter difference from mine. And I'm sure it will be easily confused in the future (actually it has already been once when someone asked to quote one of my posts in a forum).
I guess, in all my postulation and incredulity, what it boils down to is one thing - Alexa Grave will always hold a lot of meaning to me. Of course I can't speak for other authors, but I know my name represents who I am as a writer.
And I'll never hide my work behind another name because of that. Sub-genres? I think epic fantasy and urban fantasy can go together nicely under one name. YA? Yes, I have a few YA ideas, but they are still fantasy. Erotica? OK, I've come to terms with the fact that even though this is a great market to gain traction in and has a lot of voracious readers, I'll never be able to write straight erotica, so no problems there.
If my career tanks and something really bad happens that I can't recover from? I will be going down with the sinking ship, and I'll probably still be writing once underwater.
Is that a mistake? Maybe. But you can also call it part of my brand. Stubborn, for one. Dedicated, for another. Also loyal. Loyal to who I am and the name that I've carried with me on my writing journey for all these years.
NEXT UP: I've decided I'm no longer going to post NEXT UPS! The post for next Wednesday isn't firm, and it seems I trip myself up on occasion because of these NEXT UPS. I'd like to be fluid if necessary and change the topic if I need to. Though, you'll definitely see a chapter of Chains of Nect: Obsidian's Obsession on Saturday.
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