Why I Love the Author Community

Life is full of competition and people who only look out for themselves. It’s dog-eat-dog, every man for himself… or so it seems. There’s competition for jobs, for acceptance into a program, for tickets to events, even for something as small as that last bottle of your favorite drink at the store.

But you know one place that doesn’t feel this way? The writing community.

I don’t know if any of you have experienced this, but other than the occasional bad egg (looking at you, arrogant person on Twitter obsessed with telling people how stupid they are), I have never felt more supported and encouraged than when I talk to other writers online. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but I have theories.

Writers, especially those going into traditional publishing (even self publishing), know how hard this life is. They understand the rejection that lurks around every corner. They know how difficult it is to “make it.” And they know the trials they went through and are still going through and will be coming back tomorrow.

And you know what? I think that makes them some of the most empathetic people I’ve ever met. Well, that and jumping into a new person’s head every day they write.

You see, there’s enough hard stuff in this industry, and writers remember how it was starting out, how intimidating and big and scary the industry seemed (and still is, to many). They know what it feels like to feel insufficient, like you’re not good enough, like your work isn’t good enough, and not even knowing the first step to take to tackle a mountain-sized project.

And they don’t just stop with the empathy.

They help.

Like, actually help. Got questions on minor details of a formatting issue? Post it in a writer’s group or on Twitter, and someone will come to your rescue. Feeling the burn of a rejection? You can find sympathy, empathy, and encouragement from any one of these people! Confused how to start editing your book? There are so many editors out there who hang out in forums and hashtags and just answer people’s questions.

And what’s more, these people very rarely say anything negative to you. They build you up. They encourage you. When you query, they cheer you on. When you get an agent or a publishing deal, they dance and celebrate with you. And that is such a rare thing in a professional world, to have your peers celebrate your successes with you.

Sure, there are things I encounter in certain groups or threads that burn me up or hurt my feelings, but the frequency of this kind of encounter is so much lower than all the positivity I have found to radiate from the writing community. It truly is like nothing I’ve encountered before, and I am in love with it.

In a career filled with negative things, let’s keep this positivity going.

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What about you? Do you participate in any writing or author communities? What have your experiences been like? Do you agree with me? Why or why not? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

What’s in a (Pen) Name?

Guess what, folks? I’m married now! Woot woot! I know, I can’t believe it either. I had hit that age where I thought for sure I would be alone forever, me and my undetermined number of cats. And my immense library, of course. But then I found someone to accept my love of cats and my hundreds of books (and give me a dedicated room in the house for all those books), someone who is just as geeky and weird as I am, and that changed the story I saw for myself.

However, that also changed something else. My name.

Names are a big deal. I lived with the last name Eckert for 29 years. I like that name. I branded myself with that name. And now my last name is changing. And you know what? They never tell you how hard that is, even when you want to take your husband’s name and you’re happy to be a family with him. And it’s not just hard because of the government office visits. Changing your name takes an emotional toll, makes you consider the other things that are changing. It’s enough to give anyone a bit of an existential crisis.

And so I decided to keep Eckert for my pen name. I’ve already started marketing myself under this name, and I think it’s a pretty good one for an author, don’t you?

But all this thinking about names really got me thinking: just how do authors pick pen names, anyway? And why might an author want a pen name? I really wanted to know.

Let’s tackle the first question: how do authors pick their pen names?

  • Maybe, like me, they use their unmarried name or a name they had started building their author platform with.
  • They use a nickname or middle name or a place name.
  • They pick a name they always liked.
  • They use a name that fits in the genre they write.
  • They pick a unique name.
  • They pick a name that is easy to spell and pronounce.

And then I wanted to consider why an author might use a name other than their own. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Again, like me, they started building their platform with a name that they changed at a later time.
  • Concerns about their privacy or the privacy of their family.
  • Hiding their identity or keeping their writing career separate from another career (let’s face it, sometimes you don’t want your coworkers to read your work!).
  • If they write in multiple genres, it may be effective to use different names to distinguish the genres and avoid confusing readers.
  • To look for a different publisher (depending on contracts).
  • To relaunch their author brand after a particular work does poorly in sales and/or reviews.
  • To avoid gender bias. (Seriously, I knew a woman in college who had to publish under the name Andy instead of Andrea because she wrote science fiction and the publisher didn’t think it would sell with a female author) This isn’t as big a problem as it once was, but sometimes it can still be a consideration.

Those are all some pretty good reasons for using a pen name, but only you can decide if one of those reasons is right for you. As writers, our name is our brand, so it is certainly a big and important decision! If you decide to go with a pen name, make sure to research it thoroughly and ask people you trust for their opinion. Then, run with it!

So what do you think? Do you use a pen name (or do you plan to)? How did you choose? Why do you or don’t you use a pen name? Tell me in the comments!

What I Did at Bookcon 2018

Happy Friday, everyone!

So this month I had the chance to go to Bookcon in NYC. Frankly, this is a con I wanted to attend for the past five years, but I never had anyone to go with and I’m kind of terrified of the city and public transportation (you know, things I didn’t grow up with, since I spent my childhood in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania). But this year was different. I finally have an author friend, Ann Dayleview, to do these events with, and she is so much braver (and more city-saavy!) than I am!

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Ann and I taking selfies surrounded by books. Heaven!

She is a wonderful, wonderful person who just got her agent (!), and you should definitely check her out on her website, Ann’s View (don’t mind the wonky look right now… she is in the process of updating). She has so many helpful tools there!

But I digress.

So Ann arrived at my house late Friday night, we looked up the train schedule, and then we woke up super early (all the sleepies) to make it to the train station in Jersey early. And then drove to the next one farther north, since parking was a mess in Trenton.

And so the adventure began. And I really should have taken more pictures.

So we caught the train and made it to a few blocks away from the Javitts Center. And we started to see the people. Our people! Book people! They were everywhere! It was glorious and exciting. What an adventure! We stopped on our way for delicious, delicious toasted bagels and coffee (hint: if you go to NYC, avoid the touristy places… the small corner stores are where it’s AT!), and then checked in at the Con to get our badges and enjoy everything they had to offer.

And wow, was there a lot!

We spent tons of time meeting people, like Morgan Matson, Jenny Han, and Siobhan Vivian (who had a photo opp and ice cream on the main show floor… they were so happy and so pleasant!):

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Oh. My. Word.

We went to a ton of panels, such as this one with Holly Black, Neal Shusterman, and Charlaine Harris, dealing with dangerous characters and dangerous themes in fantasy:

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Oh the power names. Also Charlaine Harris is such a sweetheart. And now I really want to read Neal’s book Dry.

And we got a special sneak peak of the new The Darkest Minds movie in a panel with Alex Bracken herself (who I got to meet later on the show floor) and Amandla Stenberg:

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Be still my heart.

And so. Much. Swag. Seriously, I went home with a bunch of books, samplers, book-themed items like jewelry and totes, and all the pins. Most of that was free!

We spent two days going to the panels, playing games, meeting people, and exploring the booths on the show floor. And let me tell you: it was one of the best cons of my life. I’m so glad I faced my fear (I almost declined the invitation because of the city and number of people) and went to this event. I have finally kicked Bookcon off my bucket list, and I’m sure I’ll be back.

Did any of you go to Bookcon this year? Tell me your favorite part! For those of you who couldn’t attend, do you think you ever will? Do you even want to? Talk to me in the comments!