Swoon Author Chani Lynn Feener: A Rose By Any Other Name… Will Still Care What People Think
Constructive criticism can be extremely helpful. I really appreciate when a reviewer points out a mistake I made (it won’t be fixed otherwise), or an inconsistency in the plot (how’d that get there?). Negative feedback isn’t merely part of the job description, it can also be really useful.
So long as it’s not coming from someone I know personally—and they’ve actually read the book.
I was still in college when I rushed to put my first self-published novel out there. It was a YA about witches, and while I knew I still had a lot to learn, I’d recently discovered a place called Goodreads where people could help me. All I had to do was supply e-book copies of my book, and I’d get feedback. I thought this was a brilliant plan; What better way to learn and improve than by throwing myself out there and gaining firsthand experience?
Strangers really liked it, and even when they didn’t, they were polite about it. For the most part, even the reviewers who left me a one star rating also left lengthy posts about how I could improve. Being able to see exactly what they didn’t like and what they thought was wrong was super helpful.
And then feedback from people I knew in the real life came pouring in.
“Why are you writing for teens? You’re no longer a kid.”
“Witches? Really? What are you going to do next, faeries?” (Which, actually, yes. I was).
“You’ll never make it in the publishing world writing genre fiction, Chani.”
People I’d been friendly with in the halls and at work suddenly felt like they had the right to put in their two cents about it without actually reading the book, and the things they said were usually the opposite of supportive. I started getting self-conscious, second-guessing my choices, not only to self-publish, but to become a writer at all. The supernatural and paranormal were things I liked writing about, and I liked writing in the YA category. I didn’t want to do anything else.
Yet, those doubts kept growing and I started reacting poorly to all types of feedback. The comments I’d once found helpful, I now looked at as reprimanding. It might sound melodramatic, but again, I was already in college studying to become an author. Here were people, people I knew and liked—including some professors—telling me I was doing it all wrong. I got so frustrated being judged for what genre I was writing, and not the content.
Then it hit me. I didn’t have to use my name in order to continue to put my work out there. I didn’t have to walk around on eggshells worried that someone I thought was my friend was going to verbally chide me for writing about “fake and childish” things. I could be someone else, anyone!
Almost immediately after this revelation, Tempest C. Avery was born.
Tempest didn’t care what the guy she worked that summer job with thought. She didn’t even know him! And the best part was he didn’t know her. No one knew her.
Which meant I could focus on what I loved: Writing about witches, and Greek gods, and yes, faeries. I didn’t tell people I’d switched to a pen name, I just stopped talking about it. They stopped talking about it too the second they could no longer cyberstalk me and find my work.
My point, and I know I took a lot of time to get to it, is that from the beginning I knew putting myself out there was going to be tough. I also knew that I was uncomfortable using my own name. On some level, I had to have known the people around me would judge—many of them did so without the intention of being mean or discouraging—and instead of trusting my instincts, I allowed myself to get over eager and rush into the publishing world.
My earlier stuff wasn’t even very good. It was riddled with grammatical errors, and my written voice hadn’t yet found its footing. But being Tempest C. Avery allowed me to learn from that, and I should have trusted my gut in the beginning and used a pen name from the start. Tempest got me to step further out of my comfort zone without worry about what people in my life might think—I even tried my hand at paranormal romance for adults. Negative feedback went back to being helpful and constructive.
Everyone is always saying how if you want to be an author, you have to get used to putting yourself out there, and that’s true. But you don’t have to force yourself into an uncomfortable position simply because you’ve been told that’s the “right way.” I wasn’t ready to hear from that girl I’d had four conversations with in one class tell me I was wasting my time. I was just starting out, and when something is new like that, people feel they have the right to comment.
When I realized I was ready to be me again, that I had established a stronger sense of self and respect for my writing, I shed the pen name. I was in a much more confident place and I didn’t need to be her anymore. But I also wouldn’t be where I am today without that pen name. I probably would have let the doubts and the head shakes and eye rolls get to me, and then Amid Stars and Darkness would never have been written!
Pen names are good. They add an extra layer of security and allow you to express yourself and your writing without fear of what, say, your boss or professor might think. If you don’t use one, that’s great, and if you do, that’s great as well!
Basically, there is no right way or right thing or right type of genre that you should be focusing on. We write because we love it, so we should write what we love, whether we need a pen name to do it or not.