On Pen Names

Welcome to my brand new blog and my brand new identity. I’m Ariel Bolton, a soon-to-be-published writer of SF short stories, and a maybe-someday novelist. This week, I sold my first short story. When I received the contract, I had to make the first important decision about my writing career: to choose a pen name or not?

In the end, I decided to go with the pen name. I like my real name, and I’m not ashamed of my fiction, but several factors pushed me to choose a nom de plume.

1. My real name is hard to spell. Everyone gets it wrong at least some of the time. In daily life I’m okay with that, but it becomes a problem when you’re a writer. In a world where more and more books are being sold online, people have to be able to spell your name in order to find you. I don’t want to lose ten or fifteen percent of my potential audience to spelling errors.

2. I intend to publish unsuccessful books under my real name. At some point I will finish turning my PhD dissertation into a monograph and attempt to get it published through a university press. While I love my dissertation, I have no illusions that a book filled with quotes in Latin and historical legal terminology is going to be a bestseller. It will sell perhaps a hundred copies. I’m not sure whether poor sales of a nonfiction book would contribute to a novelist’s so-called Author Death Spiral, where a bookstore orders fewer and fewer of an author’s titles based on the mediocre performance of previous books, but why take the chance? It seems prudent to keep the two brands separate and distinct.

3. I may work for the federal public service in the future. I’ve applied for a job at Library and Archives Canada in the past and I may do so again. LAC’s code of conduct is notorious for muzzling its employees. If a librarian or archivist wants to teach a class or speak at a public engagement on her own time, she has to get special written permission from her employers, and that permission will only be granted if the event has nothing to do with libraries, archives, history or, you know, books. Hopefully, having a separate writing identity will go some way towards keeping employers out of my personal life and ensure that I’m not perceived as speaking on their behalf when I go to SF conventions.

I plan to update this blog regularly. Stay tuned for more posts!

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