What’s in a Name?

I’m rather well-known in the world of design blogs by the name I use on this site (which is my real, given name). Search for “Cameron Chapman” on nearly any search engine and I’m the primary result. And that’s good. I’ve done a lot to get this name out there, in the design world, and am glad that I’m recognized (by Google at least) as “the” Cameron Chapman. The one non-fiction book I self-published (Internet Famous) is published under that name, further reinforcing me as an author of internet and design-related books and articles. I’ve been included in a handful of design and internet marketing ebooks under that name, too. Any subsequent books I publish (either myself or with a traditional publisher) in the world of design or the internet will be published under that name, too.

But now I’m starting to run into some problems.

See, I don’t just write non-fiction, and I don’t just write about design and the internet. I’m trying to branch out a bit, because I feel like it’s important as a writer who wants some longevity, career-wise, to have at least a little variation in what they can and do write about. What would happen if tomorrow someone invented an “easy button” (to borrow Staples’ terminology) for web design? If all you had to do to get a beautiful, professional-looking website was push a button, I’d be out of business. I don’t see that happening any time soon, but a girl’s gotta have options. Just in case.

And I write fiction, though none of it is published yet (self or otherwise). I have a handful of novellas I plan to self-publish (as ebooks) this year, and maybe a novel or two, as well. It’s a conscious decision I’ve made, based on my own goals and aspirations in this business, and based on my own interests. Unlike a lot of writers, I like the marketing and business side of writing, almost as much as I like the writing itself sometimes. That doesn’t mean I’d turn down a mainstream publishing contract for one of my novels (I probably wouldn’t), but it does mean I’m not hung up on it. And I’d honestly rather spend my time marketing my fiction writing to readers rather than agents or publishers.

That brings me to my primary question: what name do I use for my non-design, non-internet work? And what name do I use for my fiction work? Should I continue to use Cameron Chapman for these things? Is that going to muddy up the “brand” I’ve created for myself in the design and internet worlds?

This would be so much easier if I wrote sci-fi or techno-thrillers, or even mainstream commercial fiction. In any of those cases, I’d definitely keep using Cameron Chapman, because there’d likely be some cross-over readership from the design and tech worlds to my fiction writing. Name recognition might help sell some books.

But I write fantasy, women’s fiction, love stories, and a bit of soft sci-fi. All of my books are primarily aimed at women. And while there are female designers out there, it’s an overwhelmingly male-dominated field, and I’m afraid there isn’t going to be a huge cross-over readership (though I’ve had a few of my male “fans” and colleagues say they’d buy my books for their girlfriend/sister/wife/mother/etc.).

The issue I see, too, is that if someone isn’t interested in my design writing, and they Google my name looking for my novels or novellas, they’re not going to be able to find them. They might wonder if I’m the same person. They might think they’ve gotten the name wrong and give up looking. My name shows up on some very highly-ranked sites (Mashable, Smashing Magazine, etc.) and it’s unlikely my fiction work will be able to compete in the search engines any time soon. Sure, this website generally shows up at the top of the search results when someone searches, but there’s still a lot of room for confusion.

Except I want to be recognized under my real name for all of my accomplishments. I don’t really like the idea of using a pen name. I just don’t want to have it work against me if I don’t. A lot of famous authors use pen names when they write in more than one genre (Stephen King/Richard Bachman, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, etc.). So there’s obviously some advantage to doing so, or they wouldn’t bother.

The way I see it, I have a couple of options:

I can keep writing everything under Cameron Chapman, and just hope that people can figure out that yes, I’m the same person doing a bunch of different stuff, and find what they’re looking for regardless. If I go this route, I’ll probably redesign this site and add more of a landing page with information about my various projects to help clarify things.

I can use my initials for my fiction writing: C.J. Chapman. I’m not wholly opposed to this. Except then it presents the problem of whether or not to keep using this domain as my primary website for everything, or if I should create a clear divide between Cameron Chapman and C.J. Chapman. Which would mean an extra website to keep updated and maintained. I’d probably have to do the same thing for Twitter and Facebook, too.

I can make something up entirely for my fictional works. If I went this route, I’d probably take it one step further and use a different pen name for each genre that I write in. I really don’t like this idea, though. I have enough different (character) voices and personalities in my head as it is, and this would just add to the confusion. And then I’d have to set up Twitter and Facebook accounts for each of these personalities, and I see the whole thing turning into one giant logistical nightmare.

I can see pros and cons to each of these options. I’m going to have to make a decision soon, as I plan to start putting novellas out this spring, and the last thing I want to do is change my name after I’ve done that.

If you’re an author who’s gone through or is considering the same thing, I’d love your take on this. I’d love the opinion of any agents or publishers out there, too. Leave a comment if you have any input for me!

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7 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention What’s in a Name? « Cameron Chapman -- Topsy.com

  2. Lots of good questions about the decision to use a pen name or not!

    I write and publish all my work under a pen name for three main reasons. The first is that I write erotic fiction. The second is similar to yours: I have a clientele for my web and graphic design business under my real name. Rarely do my clients know about my fiction. The second is that my husband is a very prominent figure in the San Francisco Bay Area because of his work (he is regularly featured in newspapers, radio and television). A Google search of him invariably brings up my real name, as well.

    If I were to publish my work under my real name this could easily present problems because of the fact that I write erotic fiction and the reactions to my work are not always positive. I like having the option of picking and choosing whom to tell.

    In your situation, I vote for using a pen name for your non-tech/design writing. It sounds like the two will have very different readerships. As you mentioned, this comes into play when someone is looking for your work. The tech/design folk want the ‘Cameron Chapman’ of Mashable and Smashing Mag fame. The fiction readership may just as soon skip that aspect of your name brand in their search for your fiction.

    Best of luck this year!

    • I definitely see why you use a pen name. I think if I ever try my hand at erotica, I’d do the same. I think it’s the idea of maintaining another website/facebook page/twitter account/etc. that’s got me really resistant to do so. I’m not looking forward to the extra work.

  3. You know, from all your points (and you have many good points), the comment I keep coming back to is, “I don’t really like the idea of using a pen name.”

    Ultimately no amount of logic is going to compensate for this!

    And what would happen if someone else published, say, a thriller under the name Cameron Chapman? Maybe it’s her/his real name. (Our names just aren’t as unique as we’d like to believe.) Maybe it’s a pen name he/she loves?

    Either way, whoever is searching for YOU will need to use a tiny bit of gray matter to click the link that will lead to the correct material. 😉

    • That’s definitely a good point. I’d hate to see someone else out there using my name on their novels. I love my name! That’s why I didn’t change it when I got married. :)

  4. Cam,
    I am a true believer in using your own name for whatever you do. You don’t write erotic lit, or anything controversial yet, as such there may be synergies to already having your name out there in one realm of the literary arts, “blogging” that cross over into fiction publishing. Even though you want to self publish, publishers/agents/editors who google you will see that you have a presence in the field, and it may give you a leg up in terms of securing representation.
    Penelope Trunk changed her name three times because she used pen-names that took off and became valuable entities – why risk the same thing happening to you and your brand. Brands are fluid, dynamic things and I think you should not pigeon hole you personal brand or fracture it for the sake of not alienating an audience. The public is more savy and accepting than most marketers realize.

    • The more I think about it, the more I lean toward using my real name. Partly because I’ve already got my name out there as an aspiring novelist, and don’t want to waste what little goodwill I’ve built up in that area by changing gears now. I’ll just have to think about how to redesign this website so that I can compartmentalize the different aspects of my professional life and make it easy for people who end up here to find which “version” of me they’re looking for. (And things will only get more complicated once I add filmmaking to my repertoire.)

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