Steenie’s Dirty Little Secret
Can you write under a pen name and if so, how do you get paid?
Steenie Harvey’s answer … her run-in with lunatics… and a confession… below…
Director, Great Escape Publishing
STEENIE HARVEY’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET: DEALING WITH LUNATICS… AND HOW TO GET PAID IF YOU’RE USING A PEN NAME
One question that surfaces a lot during our workshops is about pen-names. I guess, I’d better ‘fess up: Steenie Harvey is not my real name. It’s a figment of my imagination.
My real first name is boringly ordinary. (Not that you’ll learn it here – see my notes about lunatics below.) But when I started freelancing 16 years ago, I was thoroughly pretentious. To me, “Steenie” seemed more likely to catch an editor’s eye than my own name.
I soon realized that it’s your work editors’ buy — not the name you put on a cover sheet.
Even so, having a pen-name suits me. Here’s why…
COURTING CONTROVERSY… AND TROUBLE
You see, if you write anything controversial, you’re almost begging for trouble.
Of course, if you can justify the claims you’ve made, no writer should be concerned about criticism. But unfortunately there’s normal criticism — and abnormal criticism.
Of the zillions of lunatics roaming the world, a fair few read “International Living” and the other publications I write for. As you may know, I write for its print issue and website — and I’m forwarded all the psychotic rants. (Note: When Jennifer Stevens says “try to imagine your reader and write to that person,” I imagine Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”)
A postcard about Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel carvings convinced one crank that I’m the “Whore of Babylon.”
Another snippet about the disgusting bus station toilets in Athens resulted in an abusive spiel about my pampered ways. (It would have been helpful if he’d explained how women can use squat toilets without peeing over their trouser hems — but he never did.)
Set out to deliberately provoke, and things get worse. I knew writing about my bullfight lust was probably a mistake — but the chance to get IL’s more politically-correct subscribers agitated was irresistible.
My “Los Toros” postcard from Madrid brought tons of feedback. Many readers loved it — nobody dares mention bullfighting any more — but there were just as many squeals from infuriated animal lovers. Apparently bullfighting is staged “only for the pleasure of warped minds.” Warped minds, huh? I adore causing outrage!
NOM DE PLUME: USEFUL IF YOUR READERS ARE AFTER YOU
Usually, if emails are in any way sensible, I reply via the publication — not my own address. Raving nutters always get ignored. My advice is: Do the same — and never make yourself too available to readers. Before I got an unlisted number, one American woman tracked me down by phone. It was creepy to think how much digging she must have done. The original number — in Ireland — was actually listed under my husband’s name.
What next? I had a vision of animal activist maniacs arriving on the doorstep, gleefully intent on chopping me into pieces. I know it sounds paranoid, but if you’re also a bull-fight enthusiast — and intend writing about it — using a pen-name might be wise.
HOW TO GET PAID IF YOU USE A PEN NAME
Regarding pen-name practicalities, changing your name legally isn’t necessary. Your byline — the name an article appears under — can be whatever you choose.
The bad news is that setting up a bank account in a nom de plume is now quite difficult in most countries. (Things were far easier in Ireland in 1988.)
What you should do is inform the editor that although checks must be made payable to your real name, you wish articles to appear under a pen-name. Some contracts even make provision for this.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]