How I Rebranded: My Pen Name Story

If you’ve seen me sprinting on the Sprint Shack Twitter account lately, you may have noticed something. My name is different. Skye Fairwin is no more.

Why? Let me start with a confession. Skye is not my real name. It’s a pen name I’ve gone by for the last six years… but not anymore. Last month I made the decision to come out from behind my pen name and start going by my real name online. So allow me to introduce myself again.

I’m Faye Kirwin and it’s lovely to meet you.

Leaving behind my pen name wasn’t an easy choice for me. I swayed back and forth between sticking with my alias and switching to my real name for months, and not just for the reasons you might expect. Here’s my story—the why and the how I changed such a big part of my online presence and how you can do it smoothly and painlessly if you’re considering doing something similar.

First Things First: Why Use a Pen Name?

There are more reasons than I can list. To keep your writing and personal lives separate. To publish in a different genre. To protect your career.

For me, it was privacy. I created my online alias way back when I was 16 years old, just before I started posting my writing on the internet. My poor, fragile writer’s ego feared my friends and family reading my stories and not liking them. A pen name provided protection against that, but it also came with a price: I was hiding such a huge part of my life and myself from the people I cared about. I’d talk about how much I loved reading, but writing? Not a peep. Yet it was how I spent hours and hours of my day. As time went by, it became harder and harder to break the silence and tell people that I was a writer and so I kept hiding it. I fell into a rut.

My first turning point came when I went to university. In one of the first few weeks, as I sat with my new friends in the university bar and chatted about ourselves and our interests, I found myself talking about writing. I’d never spoken aloud about that part of myself before, and here I was, talking about it with people I’d only just met. It was… weird. But in a good way. In a very freeing way. I didn’t have to hide that part of me anymore and it felt like such a relief.

Though I’d now revealed the fact that I wrote, I continued to keep my online writing a secret. Telling people about my writing was one thing; showing it to them was another entirely. It wasn’t until late 2014 that I finally worked up the courage to tell my friends and family that I had a blog and that I wanted to make it into a business. They were supportive and interested, and now that they knew, there wasn’t as much of a reason to keep hiding behind a pen name anymore. Its original purpose—to keep the people I knew in real life from finding me—was no longer an issue. Time to get rid of it, right? Well…

The problem that faced me now lay in the practicalities of transitioning to a different name. Could I transfer all mentions of my name, across my blogs and social media, to my real one without confusing, bewildering or losing my readers and followers? That in itself was a major factor that kept me wavering for months on end. Finally, I realised that I had to make the change—but I didn’t have to make it all at once.

Here’s how I did it.

Step 1: Changing Social Media Usernames

Before, my social media usernames had involved my pen name, Skye Fairwin. If I changed that straight to Faye Kirwin, it could confuse the heck out of everyone, and followers who didn’t know about the change would have difficulty finding me. Instead, I decided to change my usernames to my blog name, Writerology, as people already knew me by it and could easily search for it.

Quick tip: If you’re switching to a new name, for whatever reason, consider using your brand name as a username across platforms.

While I was changing the usernames of my social media accounts to Writerology, I made sure my alias, Skye Fairwin, was visible in the name fields to make it clear that it was still me and thereby minimise confusion. For example, on Twitter, my name was Skye Fairwin and my handle was @Writerology; on Pinterest, my name was Skye Fairwin and my username (visible in the URL) was Writerology; and so on.

Quick tip: Make sure followers can easily search for you by making your name and username something that’s already associated with you. Don’t switch to a completely new, unknown name and username, at least immediately.

Step 2: The Reveal

A few weeks after changing my social media usernames to my blog title, I told my pen name story to my blog readers and revealed my real name. At this point, I began hunting down all references to my alias on my blog and changed the name fields of my social media accounts from Skye to Faye. For the next couple of weeks, I posted messages on the accounts recapping the reason for the name change to bring anyone who had missed the original explanation up to speed.

Quick tip: It’s unlikely all your readers and followers will know the story behind your name change. Keep recapping it at different times of day on social media and answer any questions they ask about it for some time after you change names.

Step 3: Keeping Tabs on Your Old Name

Just because you’ve switched to a new name doesn’t mean you can forget about your old one. In all likelihood, people will keep addressing you or mentioning you by the old one for a while after you change. Even now, I search for people tweeting to @SkyeFairwin, sending messages to my Skye Fairwin Google account and referring to me as Skye, so that I don’t miss messages meant for me.

Quick tip: Do regular searches for references to your old name and set up a Google alert to let you know when it’s mentioned online. You can find out how to set up a Google alert here.

It’s hard enough making the decision to change from a pen name to a real one without the fear of losing and confusing readers and followers holding you back too. Once you’re certain that switching to a different name is the best thing for you, follow the steps outlined above and make the experience as simple and painless as possible. Then go out there and rock that new name.

Good luck.

~

Have you ever written under a pen name before?

Be Professional, Dammit!

be professional dammitNote: This is a post meant for writers who are interested in self-publishing. You can find more articles on self-publishing here.

In this series of self-publishing posts I’m doing, I wanted to make sure to touch on an important topic for indie writers: professionalism.

While self-publishing has grown into a legitimate and respectable market, there still remains a stigma among many writers and readers. Often, people shy away from self-published works, saying that they’re garbage. To be fair, there IS a lot of self-published garbage out there (that’s inevitable since ANYONE can self-publish).

But don’t forget, there’s also plenty of professionally published works that stink. Just because a book is published by a professional publisher does not guarantee that it’s good. To dismiss all indie works is extremely short sighted.

For those of us that take self-publishing seriously and take every measure to make sure we’re putting quality work out there, it can be frustrating to have our work stereotyped as garbage just because SOMEONE ELSE wrote something horrible and vomited it up onto the internet.

So today I’m issuing a call-to-action for all you indie writers out there: be professional!

I mean it. Sure, you might be doing all the formatting and editing and cover designing on a minuscule budget, but make sure you write a QUALITY piece (this means having others look at it objectively before you publish), have a gorgeous cover, and do everything in your power to make your readers (these are your CUSTOMERS) happy.

I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret: Being unprofessional makes you and your product look bad. And it makes all us self-published writers look bad. Would you want to buy a book that looks like the cover was designed in MS word in 5 minutes? Would you leave a good review for a book riddled with typos? Probably not. Take your time and make sure you’re putting out a great product.

Another not-really-a-secret is this: If you put out a professional-level book, you will get more sales and more positive reviews. This keeps your readers happy, loyal, and willing to invest their time in more of your stuff. That’s the point of self-publishing, right? To get your work out there? You want to do everything you can to stack the deck in your favor.

So what do you need to do to be professional about your publishing? My friends, it means you have to go the extra mile. Yes, get a designer to do your cover (you can get professional-looking covers done at Fiverr for $5!) if you’re not an amazing graphic artist. Definitely have people you trust tell you if your work is worth publishing or if it needs edits. Eliminate ALL typos or grammatical errors. Format your book nicely, market it appropriately, and always go out of your way to make your readers happy.

So be professional. I don’t know how else to say it. Be. Professional. Do it for yourself, for your fellow indie writers, for your sales, your reputation, and – most importantly – your readers. Present something you’re proud of. Hold yourself to the same standards that a traditional publishing house would hold you to. Then go even further than that.

The Importance of Editors, Beta-Readers, and Proofreaders

The Importance ofNote: this piece is geared toward writers interested in self-publishing. Find other pieces on self-publishing here.

So you have a manuscript and dream of making some money off it. Or at least you’re hoping to put your work out there for the world to enjoy. There’s a whole checklist of things you’ll need to tackle in your self-publishing adventure, but today I’m going to give you a brief overview on editors, beta-readers, and proofreaders. So let’s jump right in.

Editors
Who they are: The term “editors” is a very broad term. But for the sake of simplicity here, let’s just discuss developmental/substantive/continuity editors. These are professional, experienced editors that take your manuscript and help shape the voice, tone, storyline, etc. They’ll get deep into your story and help you to re-work it.

Where to find them: You can find these sorts of editors all over the place – there are professional editing companies, as well as freelance editors. Do your research (Google!) and find yourself someone good.

Cost: There is a wide range, but unless you’re friends with an editor who is willing to do you a favor, you’re most likely going to end up paying something. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, check out freelancing sites such as Elance or oDesk.

Beta-Readers
Who they are: Beta-readers are people who read your work and tell you what works, what doesn’t work, what’s confusing, and where that comma really should go. Ultimately, beta-readers are editors, but with less professional experience. Typically they’re well-read people with a good grasp on language and story-telling.

Where to find them: Anywhere! Usually beta-readers are friends, family, members of your writing critique group, fellow authors, etc. Whomever you ask, make sure they’re going to give you honest feedback. It may be great to hear your sister say she loves your book, but the whole point of beta-reading is to get feedback so that you can make your manuscript stronger.

Cost: Free! At least, beta-readers are usually free. More than likely, you know someone who would be willing to read over your manuscript and give you some feedback.

Proofreaders
Who they are: Proof-readers (sometimes also known as line-editors) are usually going to be the last stage of your editing process. Their job is to correct any grammatical/spelling errors. They’re there polishing things up.

Where to find them: Just like with editors, you can find them all over the internet. There’s a wide array of proofreading services and freelancers (again, check Elance, oDesk, Fiverr, or any similar sites for freelancers). However, if you have a friend who knows language and grammar thoroughly, give them a call. They might be able to do the proofreading for you.

Cost: Free (if you have a friend do this), affordable (if you go with freelancers), or a little pricey (if you go with professionals/services).

So why do you need Editors, Beta-Readers, and Proofreaders?

As much as we writers like to think we know how to best write our books, that’s not always the case. Sometimes we need a fresh set of eyes to look at our work objectively. By the time we finish a manuscript, we’re so involved with the story line and attached to the characters that we don’t want to change a thing. Or sometimes we know the story needs improvement, but can’t figure out how to do that.

You might not need beta-readers AND an editor. Maybe you’re really good at proofreading your own work. But you should always, ALWAYS have someone else look over your story before you publish it. It’s all about making your story as good as it can be and presenting a professional-quality product.

But always keep in mind that you, as the author, have the last word. You get to decide what goes and what stays in your manuscript. That’s the whole point of self-publishing: at the end of the day it’s YOUR story and YOU get to make the calls.

~

Any questions about today’s post? Thoughts? Leave them in the comments below!

The Aftermath: What I Learned From My First #10KWritathon

10kOkay, first confession: I wrote the first draft of this post DURING, not after, yesterday’s #10KWritathon. I needed a word boost and a break from my current WIP, which I’d been working on for approximately 6 hours. So I figured it was time for a change of pace, subject, and genre.

This was my first #10KWritathon, so I thought I’d write up a post for you guys on how it went and what I learned. And my decision to switch gears brings me to my first two lessons: be prepared and switch it up.

Lesson #1: Be prepared. Probably the hardest part about this Writathon for me was that, not only was it my first time attempting to write 10k in one day that I can recall, I wasn’t as prepared as I’d have liked to have been. My original plan was simple: spend the few weeks between the announcement of the Writathon and the actual day of it tearing apart my WIP and reorganizing it into a cohesive outline, then work on rewriting problematic areas during the Writathon itself. But what I didn’t account for was a little thing called life, and that actually-not-so-little thing wedged itself between me and my plans just about every day possible until I had very little time left. As a result, I found this challenge to be a struggle—perhaps more so than I normally would have with a concrete outline and budding ideas—and so, I had to resort to lesson 2.

Lesson #2: Switch it up. Ideally, this step should take root in your planning and preparing stage. Come to the Writathon with a list of things you’d like to work on, which can include anything from a short story to an article to a chapter, or even an outlining or brainstorming session for a new work. Of course, some will want to knock out 10k on one manuscript alone, and that’s great! But for many, writing for hours at a time on one manuscript can often bring us to that proverbial brick wall we call writer’s block when we’re suffering from sheer exhaustion, and having something different to work on—bonus points if it’s a completely different format or genre— is a great way to wake your brain up and refresh your creativity.

Lesson #3: Have a timer ready. This goes for whether you’re participating in the Writathon or hosting it, yourself! I used my phone as a timer to remind myself when sprints began and ended, that way I didn’t accidentally let my break spill into writing time or get so caught up in a lucky wave of words that I missed the sprint’s end. Of course, if you’re going to use your phone, you’ll have to be diligent about not checking it during your sprints; the whole point to having an alarm is to prevent you from looking up to check the clock/Twitter, so make sure to put your phone on silent or Do Not Disturb mode so you aren’t tempted to check it!

Lesson #4: Writing all day is hard. Well, duh, right? But I include this here because, during the busy hubbub of our daily lives, it’s easy to forget that, yes, writing is hard—even (and, sometimes, especially) when you have all day to do it. It’s so darn easy to stretch that break out a little longer, or call for an extra break before you really need one, or busy yourself with menial tasks to avoid the actual work. So, while most writers will tell you with confidence that writing 10,000 words in a day is hard, participating in a #10kWritathon might be the exact reality check we need to understand just how hard it is to do this daily for a living. And maybe, possibly, that’ll give us some more appreciation for whatever our daily life is like, and encourage us to enjoy and make use of the small snatches of time we have to write amongst all our other responsibilities.

Lesson #5: Word padding isn’t helpful. Some may argue with me on this, and this is a lesson born of both our Writathon AND NaNoWriMo, but it’s one I’m going to stick to. While writing the original, unfinished, messy draft of this WIP during NaNoWriMo, I let the words absolutely fly. Adverbs ran amuck; I stretched conjunctions into their full length to create stiff but wordy dialog; and I described everything I could, often derailing my work from the plot and the issues at hand. It helped me reach 50,000 words, and I did get some great lines and ideas out of it, but I took it too far. The result? A troublesome #10kWritathon in which I struggled to reorganize and rewrite the beginning of this work, and the manuscript is such a nightmare to get through that reaching 10,000 words, even including outlining and brainstorming, felt like slogging through thigh-deep mud to a far-off finish line.

In fact, I didn’t reach 10,000 words. I burnt out at just over the halfway point.

Ultimately, though, this challenge has brought me to a little epiphany I’ll call our bonus lesson: Any word count, whether 100 or 10,000, is a victory. This is something we commonly say to motivate anyone who is disappointed in their word count during a sprint, and it’s true—but until yesterday, I didn’t understand just how true. Watching the #10KWritathon hasthag scroll throughout the day on my Tweetdeck was a great reminder of how productive this challenge is for so many people; some reach their goals, some don’t, others don’t aim for that number at all. But it’s helpful to know that, even if your word count didn’t get quite where you wanted it to, it may just have inspired someone else to keep writing—which is one of the wonderful and beautiful things about our little writing community on Twitter.

And now… our Hall of Famer! While I didn’t get to 10,000 words yesterday, one determined writer did. A HUGE congrats to Christina (@chuffwrites) for reaching 10k in our first in-house #10kWritathon!

And, of course, here are some honorable mentions with their stellar word counts:

Cari Wiese (@cariwiese) with 8,003 words

Tami Veldura (@tamiveldura) with 7,954 words

Holly Starkey (@holly_starkey) with 6,000 words

L.A. Lanier (@TheSquibbler) with 4,986 words

Congrats everyone! And for those not mentioned here, if you participated, let us know how you did!

Self-Publishing Checklist: 12 Steps to Success

Self-PublishingYou’ve put in the hours. You’ve bled and cried. You’ve driven yourself crazy trying to iron out that nasty plot hole. And now you’ve done it – you’ve finished your manuscript! Huzzah! Congratulations!

But now what? If you want to get your work out there and are considering self-publishing, you’ll want to make sure you cover the basics before attempting to put your words out there for the world to read.

I published my first ebook back in April 2014 – nearly a year ago. And now, with four more books slated for release this year, I’ve put together a checklist to help myself stay on track and would like to share them with you to aid you in your own self-publishing adventure!

Note: This is meant to be a very basic checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything. But not to fear! I’ll be posting more about these checkpoints in detail over the next few months.

 

Self-Publishing Checklist: 12 Steps to Success

  • Beta-Readers, Editors, Proofreaders
    • Have you had a second (or third or fourth) set of eyes look at your manuscript?
  • Revisions
    • Have you edited, revised, and polished your work?
  • Launch Date
    • Have you selected/announced a launch date?
  • Cover
    • Do you have a professional-looking cover for your manuscript? Is it eye-catching? Does it look good as a thumbnail (this is how it will show up on most websites!)? Have you done a cover-reveal?
  • Print vs. eBook
    • Are you producing this book as an eBook? Are you doing Print on Demand (PoD)? Find the vendors/sites you want to sell through and adhere to their guidelines (formatting, marketing, ISBNs, etc.).
  • Formatting
    • Has your book (whether print or eBook) been formatted to the appropriate formats for your vendors (or wherever you’re selling?).
  • Uploading
    • Give yourself a couple extra days to upload your book with to your vendors’ sites so that you don’t miss your release date.
  • Price
    • Have you selected an appropriate/competitive price for your book?
  • Blurb/Product Description
    • Have you written a stellar (and accurate) blurb to put on the back of your book or on your book’s page?
  • Selecting Key Terms
    • Have you selected succinct categories and key-terms for your book on your vendors’ websites?
  • Marketing Platforms
    • Where are you marketing your book? Follow any guidelines for those platforms.
  • Review Copies
    • Have you sent complimentary copies of your book to any reviewers you have lined up?

 

I hope this checklist helps you get a good handle on your self-publishing journey. Keep an eye out for more posts on self-publishing in the coming months!

~

Have any steps that you find crucial to the self-publishing process? Have something you think should be added to the checklist? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below!

Co-Founder Confession: Why Do I Write? – Cristina R. Guarino

A while back, our coWhy Do I Write-founder Skye Fairwin asked a good question: Why do you write?  After seeing your awesome answers, we only thought it fair that we answer that same, very personal, question. Each month one of us from the Sprint Shack team will answer that burning question: Why do I write? Last month’s answer came from Taylor Eaton – look for Skye Fairwin’s answer in March! But first, Cristina R. Guarino is chiming in.

I can always count on my co-founders to ask the tough questions. When the ladies suggested we all contribute to the topic on why we write last month, I was stumped. I’ve thought about it just about every day until now, sitting at my writing desk, and I’m still scratching my head. Why do I write? How can I come up with something that’s not the embodiment of good writing’s most crippling plague—the cliché?

At the moment, a black binder sits on my desk to my right, a small spiral notebook and a set of color-coded post-its atop it. It’s the binder housing my many, many scattered notes for my current fantasy WIP—the story that’s taken me three years thus far and still hasn’t come to a conclusion. I organized and color-coded my various scraps and outlines last night in preparation for my upcoming #10KWritAThon, in which I hope to start tackling the brunt of the problem with the story. In addition, I have a short story desperately needing revisions tucked away in the dark corners of my “Writing” desktop folder, a YA novel from NaNoWriMo that needs reworking, and a bunch of half-formed ideas awaiting completion.

Why have I struggled so hard through these projects? The answer has always been a source of worry for me: simply, I’m often afraid of writing. I talk myself out of it. I run from it. And what’s a writer that doesn’t write? Many would argue: not a writer at all.

But the truth of it is, I want to write. I love writing. When I stop over-thinking it, I guess it comes down to something as simple as story. I love stories. I love reading them, listening to them, seeing them unfold. Most of all, I love creating them.

I think creation is a part of all of us; from the time we’re able to stand and walk and talk, we create stories. We embark on epic adventures with our toys. Our pudgy toddler fingers bring characters and scenery to life with our doodles, even if they just look like haphazard scribbling to the adult eye. But only a few of us go on to build off that into a hobby, a passion, a dream, a way of life. And no matter how many excuses I can find about lack of time in my day-to-day life, the fact is, I still always come back to writing in my most emotional moments: from the messy crayon “books” I punched together with a stapler and unsteady hands in elementary school, to the fanfiction that ignited my love for the craft, to the complex and sometimes mind-boggling projects I’m still trying to sort through now.

I may not have it all figured out yet, but I’m a writer, and I write because I don’t know how to live without stories. I never have. And I hope I never have to learn how.

Guest Post: Amy Good – “Story Bandit:” Stealing Your Writer’s Block With Random Prompts & Dares!

Guest Post TemplateNo two writers work the same way. Some painstakingly labor over each word; others simply open a vein and bleed words onto the page. Some construct a catchy beginning and write on the fly from there; others write their endings first and work their way back. Some go through long bouts of writer’s block; others never take a break from writing, even for a day.

But all the writers I’ve met share one thing: we all want writing to be fun. Whether we consider writing a hobby, a part-time job, or a full-time profession, we want to enjoy ourselves.

For me personally, I relish when writing works like puzzle-solving. I delight in working my way towards a particular ending, or in connecting disparate pieces to make a story come together. Like most other writers, I detest it when the words don’t flow. And when taking a shower or a walk just won’t cut it, I turn to other methods to trick the words into flowing.

Writing dares are a favorite (and fun) trick of mine, so much so that I actually co-created a Twitter account and Windows app devoted to them: Story Bandit. Although the app has limitations in the kinds of prompts it can give users, the Twitter account affords me a wide latitude to create a variety of challenges, which my co-creator tweets out at random so that I can amuse myself by trying them out as well. The dares may include a word limit, a list of random words to incorporate into a poem or story, a setting or conversation to integrate into a story, or an opening or ending line. And so far, the dares are really catching on!

Some writers who take on @StoryBandit’s dares find the challenge useful in combatting their writer’s block:

A few writers like that they’re pushed outside of their normal comfort zones:

Some are inspired by the dares to create poems or stories they otherwise wouldn’t have written:

And many of the writers simply have fun and enjoy the challenge:

I use writing dares for all of these reasons and more. Not only do they add inspiration, fun and challenge to my regular writing routine, but they can also be finished in a short writing sprint, usually in anywhere from ten to thirty minutes. So if you’re looking to add a new dimension to your own writing routine, why not give writing dares and @StoryBandit a try!

Amy Good

Amy Good is a U.S. writer in Dublin and the author of Rooted. She is the editor of RewritingMarySue.com, a website dedicated to highlighting compelling and unabridged female characters in fiction. She also manages @StoryBandit, a Twitter-based writing prompt generator. You can find out more about her at Amicgood.com and follow her on her personal Twitter account.