Identity Crisis: Changing Pen Names

©Igor Borodin, via Bigstock

©Igor Borodin, via Bigstock

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I’ve recently changed my pen name despite the fact that I’ve spent the last few years trying to make Jenna Blue mine… Crazy, right?

Oh, it is, though I didn’t take the decision lightly. First, beyond the practicalities of switching everything over, and the extra effort to re-build a brand, if you will, I chose Jenna Blue for a good reason. It had meaning to me. Unfortunately, it meant something entirely different to most everyone else hearing it for the first time. I can’t tell you how many people respond “that sounds like a porn star name.” Uh, really? Why? Crystal or Amber, it is not. I brushed off that same reaction over and over, thinking hey, all stage names and pseudonyms sound weird, until suddenly they don’t. If you manage to become successful enough, the name loses any other connotation but yours, right? Still, concern took root. My stories aren’t exactly sweet, but if readers are expecting erotica, they will be disappointed.

In the meanwhile, I’ve become friends with a fantastic suspense author named AJ Scudiere (ReadAJS.com) who, after an accidental experiment, discovered that a less feminine-sounding name got a far better response from agents representing her genre. No kidding—in this day and age. Lesson learned, however: perceptions do matter in this business. We talk and talk about branding, right? From book covers to your online platform, you need a consistent message. Readers want to know what to expect…and you guessed it, the first clue you give them is your name.

Currently, I write romantic suspense (RS), although my stories don’t fit into the tidy corners of that genre’s usual box. Also, my writing has been repeatedly called out as gritty. That word isn’t, perhaps, quite right, but there is a weight or a heft—maybe a gash torn from that expected cube—that speaks to both my voice and my subject matter. I am, I feel, writing RS with some women’s fiction in the mix. But even my contemporary romances—when I get to them—will still have my voice. Hmmnn. Jenna Blue was feeling more and more wrong.

Two other practical problems presented themselves in the meanwhile. First, another author has come onto the scene in other romance: Jenna Black. Yep, dang my slow start, her name is a little too similar for comfort—both for her sake and mine. Even more important, however, is my day job. I design as Julie Schroeder. But I’m not on social media that way—only Linked In, which I prefer to reserve solely for graphic design work. Nearly everything else was under Jenna Blue. Pleased authors who wanted to say thanks had to tweet with my Jenna Blue handle…uh, oh. How to grow a business when you aren’t easily findable, when you’ve made your multiple identities rather too separate? Yet, doubling my social media obligations simply wasn’t an option either.

I considered just using my real name for everything, as I’m sure anybody who really wants to find you, can, but while I was debating, someone close to me plastered a picture of me—one I hate, and not remotely recent (yes, I’d rather look current than young)—on facebook. And I realized by my swift, horrified, and somewhat unreasonable reaction, that retaining control of my online author persona, was important. I needed, for myself and my family, a level of separation, no matter how sheer. And yet, my names needed to be close enough, to allow both halves of my life to work together.

After much thought, I settled on JB Schroeder. Beyond the sense that it has a more appropriate feel for what I write (yes, audience?), I also thought I just might be able to answer to it. I still don’t even blink when someone says Jenna. There are a few people who do occasionally call me JB (my initials once upon a time), so it’s not like it doesn’t have meaning and history for me.

Still—submissions pending, contests entered—I had to wait. What if I wiped out Jenna Blue and one of those editors or judges decided to check out my presence online? Finally, when I made a decision to switch tracks on my writing career, the time was right to bring JB Schroeder to life. My apologies for the confusion in the meanwhile. And if you’ve got a pseudonym story of your own, we Femmes would love to hear it.

JB Schroeder
JulieSchroederDesigns.com

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