Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Heaven Can Wait: Eat the Pen?

I'm writing this new book, 'Heaven Can Wait' (working title), and it's very definitely a Young Adult novel. Despite the fact that both 'Bad Romance' and 'The Death of John Collins' have attracted 'are you writing YA?' questions from beta readers, they definitely aren't YA. They are - at least as presently stands - serious and quite philosophical novels aimed at a fairly narrow audience.

I think this means I need a pen-name for 'Heaven Can Wait'. I'm usually dead-set against pen names; I hate the idea that readers aren't sophisticated enough to tell what genre a book is from anything other than an author's name. My favourite author, Dan Simmons, writes sci-fi and supernatural horror, and I'm happy for him to do both; I'm quite capable of telling the difference from things like the blurb and cover.

Still, there's a difference between wrting in two genres - and it has to be said that horror and sci-fi aren't too far apart on the genre spectrum - and writing for two different audience groups. It's a matter of branding, and it's not just a matter of audience reception; it also affects my public image. Most of the people who (I hope) will enjoy 'Heaven Can Wait' won't enjoy 'Bad Romance' or 'The Death of John Collins', and it's in my interests to keep them separate in readers' minds. Failure to do so - particularly since, as my betas have picked up on, there are still YA elements to both 'grown-up' books - could lead to misconceptions about what I was trying to do with the more thinky books and thus damage my long-term career.

The situation is further complicated by the redraft I'm doing on 'The Death of John Collins' (which may include a re-titling, of which more later this week), which is probably going to take out a lot of the more abstract, technical stuff and make the book as a whole more YA-ish. It's therefore entirely possible that I'm going to end up primarily a YA author, at least from a commercial perspective, so it's important I get this right.

So I need a pseudonym. I'm going to put 'Heaven Can Wait' and any other YA stuff I write under the pseudonym because, however much I enjoy writing YA - and I'm loving 'Heaven Can Wait' - what I'm really about is the philosophical novels; they are the books that express things about me. It would be marginally dishonest to deflect responsibility for them onto a pen name when they're so intimately tied to me as a person. There's no such personally-representative issue with the YA stuff.

I don't know if there are any guidelines for choosing pen names. Obviously, it needs to be something fairly distinctive for googlability purposes, but beyond that, are certain names more acceptable than others? I'd appreciate any information you have to offer on this point.

The nom de plume I'm thinking of using is Rich Davenant. It seems to be the tradition that your pen name should be similar to your real name, and 'Davenant' is one of the names 'Davnall' might be a corruption of (we're pretty sure that the 'e' only vanished from the name in the last three or four generations; other options include 'Davenport' and 'Davenhall'). Other first-name options include 'John' (my father's name and one of my middle names) or 'Vin' (the name by which my paternal Grandad was normally known).

So, 'Heaven Can Wait' by Rich Davenant. Your thoughts?


  1. Why not "Richard Davenant"? Rick sounds a little... eh.

  2. Rich with a H, rather than a K, but 'Richard' is OK, I guess. It feels a bit on the posh side to me, not to mention long and old-fashioned; I'm just too used to shortening it. Thanks for feeding back!

  3. The problem I see with the Daven.... part of the name (and no offense to your real name) is that to my unsophisticated North American ears it sounds like far too much of a grown ups name. What about David Z. Richards? I know there are a Million +1 David Richards out there so an unusual middle initial would help with it's googleability. Just a thought from the nut free peanut gallery