Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Pen name to conceal your identity

Hello! I was hoping you could address something in your blog. Cart before the horse, I know...but I've really been agonizing over it the closer I am to querying.

I am in law enforcement and have written a story that is set at my own department in a large, metropolitan city. Despite the size of the department, I am fairly well-known among the chain of command and am easily identifiable as an employee. The City is very concerned with how we promote ourselves privately, such as on social media, and some can't identify as members of the department while others are on national TV shows with their blessing. I expect The City would be very critical (or unsupportive) of a current employee writing even a fictional story set here, especially since it doesn't show city in the most favorable light (think: an apathetic response to uncovered corruption). I can't afford to quit my job, but this is my dream and I really believe in this story, so I am considering a pen name (which I don't want). My specific questions are:

Does the threat of having to use a pen name make a writer less appealing to an agent or publisher because she might not be able to promote the work as openly? 

How would one properly promote the work through a social media platform while trying to remain on the down low for job purposes? It seems like any decent amount of promotion would out the writer anyway.

A pen name isn't a problem.
For promotion, you create a new identity and use it to promote.
Lots of writer do this.

And this is a big however.
If you're using a pen name so people won't know who you are, trust me, someone will find out.
And they'll spill the beans.

Even one of the most closely held pen names I can think of (Robert Galbraith) was revealed due to someone whispering the secret to make themselves look like an insider.

I can't tell you the number of people who've sidled up to me to say they know Lee Child's "real name".

As if I cared at all.

But you DO care because your job is on the line.

You need to talk to an employment attorney first, and maybe your union if you're unionized.
Whether they can fire you from your job for writing this is one thing;
they can certainly make your life miserable if they choose.

AND if you haven't planned for this, it will happen at the Worst Possible Time, because that's the only time this kind of thing happens.

The last thing you want is to be blindsided AND unprepared.

It's not a problem on my end for you to use a pen name.
It's not a problem to promote.

Consider how much you're willing to risk on your end.


Kitty said...

Why would anyone wonder if a writer was using a pen name? I googled Inger Ash Wolfe, not because I thought she was using a pen name but because I wanted to know what else she had written. I was surprised to learn her real name is Michael Redhill.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

In general, no one fusses about pen names. They are used. OP, it sounds like you are in a tough situation. However, you are also in a situation to write a great procedural crime book (is that what you write?) with great credentials. And at the same time put your job on the line by doing it.

Makes me think of "Lethal Weapon" where the department thought Danny Glover's character was corrupt- turned out his wife was this real famous romance writer.

Good luck, OP. I hope you do write what you wish to and get an agent without getting in trouble at work. Do as the queen directs. Talk to an attorney, your union, all of that jazz. Good luck.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"...but this is my dream and I really believe in this story,..."

Take it from someone who has been on this earth a long time,
all dreams cost something.
Be it sacrifice, dedication and lose we all pay a price.
On the flip side achieving that dream can change one's life for the absolute positive. It is the difference between regret and at least I tried.

You will be outed. That's a given. If you lose your job, are sanctioned or punished in any way those ramifications can become a huge advantage regarding publicity.
Ask yourself, how far do you want to go?
Is the jeopardy worth it?

I once had to make this choice all because of 650 words I wanted to say. I had to say.
We had to unlist our phone number.
We had to hunker down and wait for the fallout. It came.
I have no regrets and thank my supportive husband and family for letting me do what I knew I had to do.

Think hard. Prepare. Never look back with regret.

Amy Johnson said...

Wishing you the best, OP. Just a thought, though I recognize that you know your story and I do not. I am wondering if your story must take place at your own department. Setting it there seems to almost invite trouble. Maybe setting your story at a different department would eliminate or reduce problems. Maybe go as far as setting it in a different city. Maybe set it in a fictional city. Or maybe, for reasons you know and I do not, those options wouldn't work. I hope it all works out for you.

Megan V said...

OP, you have other things to consider as well.

My guess is that you're going to have issues of confidentiality. What your agency wants the public to know and what it doesn't is going to matter. And they won't be happy if you start spilling the beans from the wrong can.

Plus, most government agencies have paperwork/rules precluding outside employment unless you have permission. Once you're getting paid for your writing, you are most assuredly self-employed.

What's unclear to me is why you won't fess up to your employer. If you really think that they'd consider nixing you for it...then sneaking around to get it pubbed isn't going to endear you to them. But if you go to them, you will have a definite answer as to whether your job is on the line. And then you'll have to decide if its worth it. And who know? They may stick their nose into your creative process instead (aka require a readthrough and approval on their end) and in the end they may even require that you use a penname so as to distance association with them.

Richelle Elberg said...

Michael Connelly's books don't exactly cast LAPD in a favorable light, including (maybe especially) his first novel The Black Echo. But he didn't work for LAPD. I think speaking in confidence with your direct supervisor might be the best first step--but of course that depends on your relationship with that person. Best of luck OP!

Kregger said...

I'm going to echo Amy Johnson's comments.
Different city, different coast and different department.
Call it Gotham City?
Unless what you've done is grind an ax.
In which case, you can run but you can't hide.
Good luck OP.

Liz Penney said...

I agree with those saying change the setting. In addition to losing your job, you might get sued if someone thinks you're writing about them. In any event, it will invite unwelcome scrutiny and perhaps worse. I'd do pen name and fictional place.

John Davis Frain said...

Look up John Le Carre. He was a spy with the British Foreign Service (or a reasonable facsimile) when he started writing under similar circumstances as you, so he took up a pen name. He was outed, of course, but I think it took a few books and by then he was brilliant and the rest is history.

Okay, I've shortened his biography a tad here, but you might want to check him out and see how he handled things. Good luck to you.

Fearless Reider said...

Not to play fast and loose with the OP’s life, but a memoir or thinly disguised novel by an ex-officer whose life (temporarily) falls apart after she or he is outed as the author of a series of bestselling novels would always find a place on my bookshelf. But I’m ghoulish that way. Lemonade for everyone, with just a touch of absinthe!

Janet Reid said...

John LeCarre was also initially published in a world without Google and Twitter. Info travelled much more slowly. Now, one person in their mom's basement, or one solicitor's wife at a cozy dinner party, and a phone with the Twitter app is all it takes.

Craig F said...

Yep, a Wiki will be your doom. If you are a good enough cop to have convicts pissed at you, it is guaranteed. They do have computers in jail and convicts live for this kind of thing.

Try taking this up that chain of command first.