Saturday, January 19, 2008

Will the Real Jennie Bentley Please Stand Up...?

by Jennie Bentley

I’ve always had a pretty healthy self image, I think. At least I used to believe so. But I’ll freely admit I’m starting to feel a little schizophrenic.

It all started when I began negotiating with my editor at Penguin-Putnam about generating a series of cozies for them. (The first, FATAL FIXER-UPPER, will be released in November. It’s about a home renovator, and it has those cutesy tips for Do-It-Yourself projects in the back. It also has two cats, a hot handyman, missing heirlooms and a few dead bodies. But more about that later.)

We had established that I was qualified to write the books, that I wanted to write the books, that I was willing to write the books for what they were willing to pay me... and then my editor said, "Oh, by the way... we’d like you to use a pseudonym."

Hunh.

Now, it wasn’t like it was unexpected. I have an unusual first name. People mispronounce it all the time, and nobody would be able to remember how to spell it, so Google wouldn’t have any idea how to find me. (I’m going on the assumption that sooner or later, someone would have to use Google to find "those really fun DIY Home Renovation books that that woman writes... you know the ones I mean, with the cats and the hot handyman... what’s her name again?") My last name is Irish, courtesy of the love of my life, whom I married a while back, and it’s also easy to misspell. The juxtaposition of the two is interesting, to say the least. Not best-selling author material, though. At least not according to Penguin, who suggested I come up with something different.

Hence, Jennie Bentley. Bentley because it’s close to my first name and Jennie because... well, really just because I thought they sounded good together. (The runner-up, in case you were wondering, was Crafton. I had just visited Pittsburgh when the name-issue was brought up to me, and I thought Crafton would be an appropriate name for someone who writes home renovation mysteries. Someone suggested Charisma as a first name, and but for the grace of God, I might be writing this as Charisma Crafton. My editor stepped in and said that Jennie Bentley sounded more approachable, and if I’d been in New York at that time, I would have kissed her.)

So here I am, pretending to be someone named Jennie, and let me tell you, it’s freaky. People think that’s who I am. They email me, saying things like, "Hi, Jennie! I saw your profile on Crimespace," or "Jennie, I was visiting the ITW Debut Authors page, and discovered your series," or – alternatively – "Jennie has just thrown a sheep at you. Throw a sheep at Jennie!" (That’d be Facebook, in case you were wondering.) I just know that one of these days I’ll be walking across a hotel lobby somewhere, and somebody’ll yell, "Hey, Jennie, hold the elevator!" and I’ll let it shut in their face just because I don’t realize that they’re talking to me.

I know that there are benefits to using a pseudonym, and the misspelling nightmare is just one of them. Dean James’s fans no longer have to wade through pages of hits on a certain 1950s teen idol to find out about his books, and during the time Rhonda Pollero wrote her books as Kasey Roberts, it was that much harder for the recently paroled to find her. (She has a sizable fan base among the prison population, I’m told. Poor girl.) And of course there’s the reason my agent brought up: "If the series bombs, the Bookscan numbers won’t go against your name, sweetie."

Of all the excuses, that may be the best one yet.

So what about you? If you’re a writer, do you use a pseudonym? Would you choose to, if you weren’t required? Why, or why not? And if you’re not a writer, what do you think of the whole idea? Do you care what your favorite writer is named? Would you read a book, or not read it, based on the name of the author?

And while you’re at it, why don’t you help me figure out who this Jennie Bentley chick is, who has taken over my computer. Because I’m sure she isn’t me. Pretty sure. I mean... she’s not me, right?

Right?!

21 comments:

Gina said...

Welcome to Workingstiffs, Jen-- uh, what did you say your name is?

Annette said...

I echo what Gina said. Welcome, whoever you are.

I have one of those odd names, too, and if an editor suggests I change it, hey, no problemo. As long as they spell my name right on the advance/royalty checks, I don't care who they call me on the cover of the book!

Tory said...

Welcome, Jen!

I sort of feel like I have a pseudonym, as my real name is Victoria, my nickname is Tory, and many people don't realize both are the same person (it's about being a Gemini, I'm told.) I find it's a great way to screen out phone calls: if the person asks for "Victoria" (or, worse yet, "Vicky") I know they got my name off some list.

I read a book that was sort of like "astrology for names" and talked about the personality that goes with major consonant sounds. Scary thing is, it did really fit the people I looked up!

And then, as blog readers who read yesterday's "comments" section know, I narrowly escaped being named "Anemone Petunia." The problem with Anemone is my tongue gets all tied up trying to pronounce it (well, not the ONLY problem . . .)

So, what IS your "real" name?

JennieB said...

Thanks for the welcomes, y'all!

Annette, absolutely. Getting the name right on the advance check is imperative.

Tory, unfortunately, my 'real' name is a loosely guarded secret - easy to find if you know where to look, but one I'm not allowed to reveal in public, since in Berkley's eyes I AM Jennie Bentley, and they want it that way - so if you're interested enough to tag me Off Blog, I'll tell you then. :-)

Nancy said...

Welcome, Jennie! Or Charisma. Or whoever you are!

When I started, all women were *required* to use a pen name. Which to me felt like being kept barefoot and pregnant at the time.

But my first choice was Samantha Lovejoy----but I chickened out. I went by Elissa Curry for a long time---long story how that name came about. But at least it was easily spelled and pronoucable.

But poor sales do mean you might need to change your name. In this age of instant information, any bookseller in the world can figure out if you're bombing or succeeding. Thing is, it's hardly a vote of confidence from the publisher, is it? What a business!

But good luck! Tell us more about the books!

JennieB said...

Thanks, Nancy. I didn't know about Elissa Curry. I'll have to look for those.

CJ Lyons said...

Hey Jennie! I know what you mean about pennames. I needed one because as a pediatrician writing rated "R" (for sex, violence, language) medical suspense, I didn't want any of my "kids" to think it was okay for them to read my books. Their parents, fine, but the kids, no....

But, the cool thing is that after awhile, it's like another you! A stage persona....Hey, I might not do that, but CJ can!....that kind of thing.

It's actually quite fun (if you're a total introvert like me, lol!) and you get used to it quickly.

So have fun as Jennie!!! Who knows what you could get away with???

Karen Dionne said...

I saw a deal posted recently on Publishers Marketplace where the author of a young adult book had a long, difficult to pronounce first name, coupled with an equally difficult last name, both with obvious and different ethnicities. I remember thinking "there's a good candidate for a pseudonym!" I tried to find the deal just now to share it here, but couldn't remember enough of the name to look it up . . .

I like CJ's suggestions to think of your pseudonym as freeing, rather than restrictive. And since I've only known you online as Jennie, even if I found out what your real name is, you'll always be Jennie to me!

JennieB said...

Thanks, guys! It's so nice of you to stop by to make me feel better about myself.

CJ, I didn't realize you hadn't always been CJ. So are CJ your initials, at least, or did you pull them out of a hat?

Karen, I agree, there are a lot of people out there who could benefit from a pseudonym. Not all of them writers, either.

Just to let y'all know, I'll be back here next week, on Thursday the 24th, to wax poetic on the subject of virtual vs. real personalities, to kind of go along with what you're saying about the freedom to be somebody else. Check back then!

Jamie said...

Okay Jennie, this is very funny. I'm amazed at the number people who use pseudonyms. I use my first name, but not my last, since my husband's last name is nearly impossible to get people to spell correctly. Even as I'm spelling it to them.
Did you know Gemma Halliday's is a pseudonym, too? She blogged about it, and it was as funny as your blog. Think of it, a whole new identity, and you aren't even in the witness protection program. Yet.lol

JennieB said...

Jamie, thanks for stopping by! I actually figured you were using a psedonym since your email addy is different from your Crimespace name. But I didn't know about Gemma Halliday. I'll have to sniff out her blog and see if I can find the post. I'm in the middle of working on your manuscript. Fun stuff!

kristine said...

Welcome, Jennie!

I really enjoyed your post, especially since I've also decided to use a pseudonym for both professional and personal reasons.

I haven't decided on a name yet, but it's kind of fun coming up with a new identity.

JennieB said...

Thanks for the welcome, Kristine. Yeah, coming up with a new name is fun. Remembering to answer to it later is a little different. Someone suggested I should create a whole identity to go with my new name. Maybe I should solicit comments on what Jennie should be like. Get myself a blond or red wig and big, black glasses, or something...

Joyce said...

Hi Jennie!

Sorry I'm so late chiming in today, but I went outlet shopping. I found an $89 sweater for $7.99. It's a lovely sweater but I would have bought it if it was the ugliest thing I ever saw for that price!

My name is pretty simple, so I can't imagine anyone asking me to use a pseudonym. If I was still using my maiden name of Oliphant, it might be a different story.

JennieB said...

Hiya, Joyce. Congratulations on the successful bargain shopping. At that price, I would have bought the sweater, too.

I think the pseudonym situation depends on more than your own name. Some publishing houses seem to like their authors to use them, even if the author's own name isn't anything out of the ordinary. A staggering number of Berkley writers use pseudonyms. And there are other good reasons for wanting to be anonymous, too. Look at CJ's post, above. And while most of us won't ever get to Stephen King's or Janet Evanovich's fame, and so won't ever have this problem, I betcha they sometimes wish they could go about with nobody knowing who they are. They probably travel incognito, just so they won't be recognized.

Nancy said...

Jennie, when you go on tour, be sure the publisher uses your real name for all travel arrangements! I know of 2 authors whose plane tickets were written in their pen names---and of course their ID didn't match!

JennieB said...

Nancy, thanks for the tip. I doubt I'll be doing any traveling, especially any publisher-sponsored traveling, for this book, but I'll keep that in mind for when the time comes, if it ever does!

It's been great fun being here with y'all today. Thanks for having me!

Kelli Stanley said...

Great post, Jennie! (I'm reinforcing the habit, see?) ;)

I know it's not easy to adjust your identity (unless you're a schizophrenic double Gemini like I am, or someone wanted for murder hiding out in a trailer court, or ... well, you get the idea).

Just think of yourself as a movie star! Lucille LeSuer was renamed by the public as ... Joan Crawford. It certainly worked for her (Mommie Dearest aside).

I agree with CJ and Karen -- it's not only freeing to invest in an alternate identity -- it's glamorous!

So live it up, girl, thrive on knowing you've got a cool, CIA-type alias ... it's protection, power, and clothing -- enjoy it! :)

NL Gassert said...

Great blog, Jennie. I have to admit I was a bit bummed when my publisher asked me to use a pseudonym or initials. I’ve always loved my first name, Nadja, and I would have enjoyed seeing it printed on a book.

So it says NL on my book, but I still sign all my e-mails with Nadja and introduce myself that way, too :-) Force of habit, I think. I never thought of it in terms of a new personality, that’s a great idea. I definitely think NL needs a wig.

JennieB said...

Kelli, thanks for stopping by and cheering me on. You're such a pal! (And such a hoot, too!)

Nadja, I agree. Your name is lovely, and I've been envious of it ever since Nadia Comanechi got the perfect 10 back in the... 70s? A pity you didn't get to use it for your books. But at least they're your initials, right?

Lorraine_Bartlett said...

I'm with Berkley too, writing under a pseudonym (Lorna Barrett), but they have no problem with me telling people my real name. (Same for a friend of mine.) My goal is to write for them under my REAL name. I hope that day eventually comes.