Love or Money

Several years ago, I was faced with a difficult decision of whether or not to accept a new job that didn’t exactly line up with some of my beliefs and ethics.  We were struggling for money and the pay offered by the new employer was great. Beyond great, actually. Sort of an answer to our prayers.

But something about it didn’t feel right.

I asked my then-husband what he thought. “They aren’t breaking any laws,” I told him. “Technically, they aren’t really doing anything wrong. Would it be wrong to work for them?”

“If you have to ask that question, then you already know the answer,” he said.

We may be divorced now, but I’ll always be the first to admit that he can be a very wise man. I turned down the job offer and we went back to struggling financially and cursing my minimum-wage job. But I’ve never regretted that decision.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about his words of wisdom because of something going on in the writing community. Specifically, within the self-publishing area of the writing community.

Before I dive into that, I want to explain to some of my non-writer friends out there that most writers engage in a never-ending debate about “writing for love” versus “writing for money.”  Those in the “love” camp are the kind of artistes who can be heard saying things like, “I write what I love, what’s in my heart, and if no one ever reads it … well, at least I’ll die knowing I was true to myself.”

Those in the “money” camp are quick to counter with, “I want to earn a living with this, no matter what it takes.”

For the record, I’ve always considered myself pretty firmly lodged halfway between the two camps, where I want to write what I love, but I also really want to make a living with it. I’ve never believed the two are mutually exclusive, and so I’ve been bumping along with a sale here and an award there, just hoping to earn a little more than I spend each month on marketing. Hoping that soon, I’m finally going to write that book that pushes me up to the next level.

In the meantime, I fritter away far too much time at a place called KBoards Writers’ Cafe. It’s a forum where my fellow writers gather to share ideas about writing and publishing. Most of the authors there are way out of my league; they are the type of professionals who have reached a level I don’t even dare dream of. And yet the majority of them are the type of professionals who are also willing to share a little of what they’ve learned, constantly reaching out to offer advice and guidance to piddly little nobodies like me.

In recent days, there have been some really eye-opening conversations at the ol’ Writers’ Cafe. And I’ve come away feeling depressed, overwhelmed, and … well, doomed to obscurity.

A man came into the forum and freely admitted that he publishes under a number of pen names and uses ghostwriters to churn out multiple books each month. Okay, nothing too bad so far. I find it a bit distasteful, but not horrible.

But the kicker is that he uses female pen-names and then pretends to be a woman in order to connect with his female readers. On a personal level. As in, discussing things like sex, orgasms, virginity, etc. with his fans, encouraging them to open up because he is, after all, one of them. Just one of the girls.

Under another pen name, he pretends to be a gay man so fans of his homosexual romances will trust him and chat with him.

Under yet another, he is a black woman gleaning information from trusting readers who enjoy his multicultural novels.

The list goes on and on. And although the majority of KBoards authors were quick to denounce him, a significant number stepped up to say that they see nothing wrong with what he is doing. After all, they argued, he’s not breaking any laws. He’s not hurting anyone. Besides, his readers and fans should know better than to share personal information with someone on the internet, right?

He’s successful, and isn’t that all that matters?

Well, yeah, but …

It’s paying off for him, and for others like him, to the tune of thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands, if he is to be believed. He and his group of friends have books that dominate the bestseller lists, so obviously it’s working.

I’ve learned a lot since I started self-publishing four years ago, but I think these past few days have been the most educational of all. His posts have inspired some intense discussions that have left my mind reeling. In addition to his creepy deception (yup, I’m gonna go there and call it creepy), he’s also shared information about  buying circles and mega-marketing groups that work together to push each other’s books up the charts by throwing huge sums of money around in order make even more money.

In the debate between writing for love or writing for money, these people are leaving the “love” writers in the dust.

It’s becoming clear to me that one little ol’ writer, sitting at my computer in a tiny town in Michigan, is never going to be able to compete with that.

I’ve got to admit, I haven’t done much writing over the past few days.  I’ve been terribly discouraged, and I’ve wondered if maybe I’ve just been fooling myself this whole time. Yeah, I thought about giving up.

And then I thought about that age-old debate between writing for love versus writing for money, and I realized that I’m no longer lodged halfway between the two camps. I finally know what kind of writer I am: I write for love. Plain and simple.

I write because I want to tell stories and entertain people. I write because I’ve always written; I write because I’m a writer. It’s not who I am. It’s what I am.

I write because I’m not happy if I don’t write.

I’m not giving up; I’m just shifting my goals a little bit. Changing my focus. I’ll keep on writing my books — and enjoying myself — and I’ll keep publishing them because it’s fun. It makes me happy, and it makes a little bit of money. And I accept that it’s probably never going to earn me a fortune.

I’m okay with that now.

Because, basically, it all comes down to this: If I think about being the other kind of writer, a writer like the man who challenged my viewpoint this week, I’d have to ask myself, “Is it really wrong?”

And if I have to ask that question, I already know the answer.

 

 

 

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Tangents

I have a new friend whose mind works a lot like mine. In other words, we are both easily distracted and often guilty of slipping into “squirrel mode” at any given time. She is a professional writer, so I am a little bit in awe of her, but all of our conversations end up in a jumbled mess of tangents and non sequiturs that make absolutely no sense to anyone else in the vicinity.

I’m not sure if we have ever followed any discussion all the way through to its logical conclusion. We tend to reach a point at which one of us hollers “derailed!” while the other makes train whistle noises, after which we simply start all over again as though nothing has happened.

For the record, my children think we are idiots.

But as I sat here this morning trying to come up with an idea for a new blog post, it dawned on me that our conversations are a lot like my writing process. I start with a lot of vaguely connected ideas and then start veering off into weird tangents that usually lead me to ideas and thoughts that I never even knew I had.  The fun part of all of this is deciding whether to try to tie it all together or just run with it in a whole new direction.

So I thought I’d throw out some random tangents today and pull them all together to answer some questions that several people have been asking me lately about my pen name.

Tangent #1. I hate my given name. It doesn’t fit. Amy is a name for someone refined and delicate; Amy is quiet and sophisticated. I am none of those things. Growing up, I hated the fact that my entire name—first, middle and last—had less letters than some first names. I craved something more elaborate, more unique. I wanted a name that could be shortened into a nickname that wasn’t a verb.

To this day, I refuse to acknowledge anyone who addresses me as “Aim.”

Tangent #2. My mother had a huge crush on Gerald McRaney, which meant that we watched a lot of Simon & Simon when I was in high school. That was fine with me because I happened to have a pretty huge crush on Jameson Parker.

simon

She also had a thing for Yul Brynner, but Westworld scared the crap out of me and sort of ruined me for watching him in anything, even The King and I.

Tangent #3. I grew up addicted to the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators books, a series of Young Adult mysteries about three boy detectives. The series started in 1964 and I became hooked about ten years later. I have read every single book, short story, magazine article and blog post I could find about the books, the characters, and the authors.  I even have a not-so-secret past as a Three Investigators fanfiction writer.

My favorite Three Investigators author was M.V. Carey, who had a profound effect on me as a young girl. I assumed that she used her initials instead of her full name to disguise the fact that she was a woman writing for a series that was aimed at boys.  At the time, my greatest dream was to write my own series of Young Adult mysteries that would appeal to readers of both genders, so I decided that I would someday use my initials in a pen name, just like my hero M.V. Carey.

Just as sort of a sub-tangent here, I should mention that Carey created one of the greatest female characters to ever grace the pages of a Young Adult series, even though she only appeared in two books.  Allie Jamison was smart, brash and spunky, and I always hoped she would be spun off into her own series.  For a while, I even fantasized about writing that series myself!

t3i

Tangent #4.  When I created a pen name, I wasn’t trying to hide anything; it’s never been about hiding my identity from anyone. It was an opportunity to step away from a name I have always despised. Besides, there were at least four other Amy Goodwins out there when I started Googling my name. One is a journalist and three others have books published on Amazon.

I was married at the time, and I didn’t want to hurt my husband’s feelings by going back to my maiden name.

A.L. Goodwin wouldn’t work because there is a comedian named Al Goodwin.

I tried the trick of combining the name of my first pet with the name of the street I grew up on to create a pen name, but I didn’t think anyone would buy a romance novel by Smudge Schuring.  We also had a parrot named Fonzie and an exceedingly whiny Seal Point Siamese named Alley J. Cat, but none of those really rang any bells for me.

siamese

Meanwhile, I was trying to come up with a name for my blog. I wanted it to be cute but not too cute, clever without trying too hard, memorable but for the right reasons. I thought about the way my Aunt Marian used to nudge me and wink every time someone said my last name. “Good one, Goodwin,” she’d say.

Amy Goodwin. A Goodwin. A Goode One. Derp. There was the name for my blog. I added the “e” because I thought it made it seem more like a name than a self-promoting description. In retrospect, I think it seems a bit pretentious, like Petunia in Keeping up Appearances, who insists that her last name be pronounced “Boo-kay” instead of “Bucket.”

Okay, so how about A-something-Goode? And that’s when it fell into place. My favorite character created by M.V. Carey was Allie Jamison.  A.J. My favorite character on Simon and Simon was A.J. Simon, played by Jameson Parker (who is now an author and blogger, by the way). I had a cat named Alley J. Cat.

So I became A.J. Goode.  Pretty simple, in a convoluted sort of way. For a very brief time in the late 80’s, I used my middle name to publish a couple of articles as A.J. Lee, but that was long before a much younger, hotter, and prettier young lady became far more famous with that name than I will ever be under any pen name.

Other than that, the only pen name I ever used was something so flowery and with so many syllables that it made “anti-disestablishmentarianism” seem like an abbreviation. I used it to publish a bit of erotica about a year ago – an embarrassing little tidbit about a middle-aged woman and a studly Latino gardener. It sold well for about two weeks and then tanked, as it should have. It was a slap in the face to every author out there who actually writes good erotica, and I hit “unpublish” as soon as my 90 days in Kindle Select were done. It was so bad that I feel like I owe an apology to erotica writers everywhere for making a mockery of their genre.

And there you have it. The ridiculously tangential answer to the questions “What does A.J. stand for?” and “Why do you use a pen name?”

The answer to “Have you ever written under any other pen names?” is just a bonus.

You’re welcome.

So what about the rest of you? If you’re a writer, do you use a pen name, and if so, how did you come up with it? If you’re not a writer, what pen name would you use if you ever needed one?

What’s In a Name?

Well, I did it.  Something I never thought I’d do.

I wrote The Scene this weekend. The Biggee.  I wrote a full-out, down and dirty, detailed and delicious sex scene.  A lemon.   And it was fun.

That’s right; I did it . . . . And I liked it.

All I had to do was step away from the characters I’ve been working with and write about a pair of complete strangers doing things my established characters have never even thought of trying.  Well, things I’ve never thought if doing to them — with them–for them — oh, hell, ya’lll know what I mean.

The bad news is that this particular scene doesn’t fit with my novel, even if I plug in different names. No, this is basically a stand alone bit of erotica.  The good news is that I feel ready to do it again now that I pushed my way through the first time.  I’m not scared of it any more, now that I know what to expect.

Not unlike losing my virginity a second time, but with Josh Groban playing in the background this time around instead of Michael Bolton.

So now I have this . . . thing that I’ve written and I don’t know what to do with it.  I’ve discovered that most erotic “novels” on Smashwords are actually little more than short stories, and I’m thinking about putting my little story on Smashwords.  I have to do more research first to make sure that Smashwords really is free, and that I really would retain all rights to my own work, but I’m seriously considering the idea.

My biggest dilemma here is deciding what name to use when (and if) I self-publish it.

As it is now, I don’t use a pen name to hide my identity from anyone.  I use a pen name because my real name is boring.  Also because I apparently share my real name with a  semi-famous journalist.  But I post links to my blog right on my personal Facebook page with my own picture, and there’s not a person in my life who doesn’t know that I am also A.J. Goode.  So far, I have nothing to hide.

I have no idea what to do if I self-publish erotica.

Do I publish it as A.J. Goode and use the experience to build up my professional writing resume?   Do I create another pen name just for this?   If I publish erotica under a different name, do I keep it a secret from my followers here on this blog, or do I share the links with you guys and just let the world know that I write under two names?

Or do I just set the whole thing aside and forget about it while I get back to work on my novel?

I’m just not sure what my next step is at this point.