Whether to write under a pen name or under one’s own real name is a choice authors make early in a career. That choice can have unforeseen consequences. When Facebook blocked his pen name, author Peter Rendell had to relaunch his author platform and reevaluate his marketing strategy. Let’s give him a hand, because what happened to him could happen to any of us.
To celebrate his new “self,” Peter Rendell has created a special offer. Until March 3, 2019, you can download his novel, Merlin Parnassus, from Smashwords. Grab it before it’s gone, and remember to leave him a review on Goodreads. And now, here’s Peter’s story.
How I Came to Writing
I started writing after I had been sacked from what proved to be my last permanent job. I asked my wife “What is a permanent job worth?” The cynical answer was “Four-weeks-notice, no training, and no control of my future.” I would take the next job that came through the door – permanent or contract.
I moved to Antwerp in Belgium, one of the finest cities I have ever visited, and my job took me to Herentals near the German border. It was a daily commute of an hour each way, totally outside my acceptable personal parameters, but it was a job. Suddenly, I found myself a commercial flight away from home in a country that spoke three foreign languages. My nemesis had always been French, a language where I had been tested five times and repeatedly failed. I felt alone.
It was then that I found BATS, the British American Theatre Society, the meeting place for many ex-pats in Belgium. I became the group’s photographer and began to learn about Amateur Dramatics. My closest friends were the Stage Manager and the Scene Constructor, valuable teachers for any writer.
Spare Time Opened New Opportunities
Even with BATS I had too much spare time, and I began to consider what else I might do. My first thought was “Can I write?” Maybe just something to entertain myself? Something to stimulate me? Where will I begin? At the end? Well no! I thought I would start at the beginning, create a few strong characters and let them do their own thing.
This was back in 1981 where all I had was pen and paper. I didn’t have a clue. I just wrote about anything that came into my head. Depression affects your writing; but if you try hard enough you can write your way out of it. Choose your main character and a highlight, and let ‘er rip.
A Pen Name and Author Identity
I officially launched my writing career in 2010 and decided to write in the fantasy-and-romance genre. My favourite theme is “What if real magic exists in today’s world of technology?” My first book Merlin Parnassus explored the role of the pioneer, the first man to find the way–learning without a teacher; learning real magic.
Paranoia said, “I need a pen name”. I am chronically shy, and so a pen name allowed me to hide. My stories challenge religion in a big way. I am the ultimate “Doubting Thomas,” and I don’t want bricks through my windows. At the time, having a pen name made a lot of sense.
Once you have chosen a pen name, with Social Media you need a physical representation, an avatar to go with it. It is very easy to go too far, too quickly, and I did that with enthusiasm. I chose the free DAZ 3D program to construct my avatar. I did the ultimate switch to add to my protection: I became female.
Back in the day when I started using DAZ 3D, the frame network models were still a bit blocky. The program produced an artificial end result. With the graphics advances in the last five years, however, users of the software could construct totally believable human beings, so much so, that my avatar was getting declarations of love and offers of modeling contracts. I had no idea how deep in the doo-doo I was getting.
As for Sales and Marketing, I was a complete beginner. Spending money on my own website or starting up my own mailing list looked like a needless expense. I thought I could use Facebook to perform these functions. At that time I saw my Facebook followers as my mailing list. However, in retrospect, I put too much trust in an unknown.
All that began to unravel shortly after Christmas. Here’s how the story unfolded and the measures I took to try to deal with the fallout.
The Beginning of the End
On December 26, 2019 Facebook blocked my “Honeysuckle Pear” Facebook account, stating it was a fake account. The first signs of trouble quickly evolved into a cascade of negative events.
In a Facebook chat an internet troll, Charlie Grainger, declared “You are a man – faggot, fegert, figert.” All separate entries.
I did not reply. If he had read the profile for my pen name, he would have known that the identity behind the pen name was a man. I wasn’t trying to hide my gender, merely do what is often done by authors as far back as George Elliot, George Sand, Isak Dinesen, Jane Austen, and all three of the Brontes.
My next login was followed by a form stating I must provide photo evidence of my identity. Facebook told me to rename my account. Foolishly, I did not rename the account. I sent a photocopy of my driving licence.
Facebook blocked my account. My future attempts to log in resulted in the same “blocked” screen. I searched Facebook and could find no place to enter an appeal or file a further incident report.
Subsequent searches of the FAQs on Facebook showed me that complaints by a single individual can block a person’s Facebook account. That can’t be right! I thought. There should be a tolerance limit with checks to ensure a single person cannot run up the count. But, yes, that, indeed, is the way Facebook works.
Facebook’s Terms & Conditions
I checked the current Facebook’s Terms & Conditions. The policy was clear. They don’t support the use of pen names. My account violated the current T&Cs. However, thinking that these might have changed, I checked the T&Cs that applied when I opened the account five years ago. The policy was the same. Had I spotted the “names policy” at that time, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time, effort, and advertising money on Facebook. This is all to say that authors using pen names need to review Facebook’s names policy very carefully.
Clearly, Facebook wouldn’t let me recover the “Honeysuckle Pear” account. My desire to do so waned.
A writing consultant I asked about my quandary said, “If I had doubts about my pen name then I should drop it.” When I began writing, I didn’t have any doubts. I thought “Honeysuckle” was a perfectly acceptable name. Honeysuckle Weeks is a well-known actress (Foyles War).
Now, I do have doubts.
A friend said that “Honeysuckle may be viewed as ‘honey, suckle’ and is, at least, suggestive, and, at worst, pornographic as a euphemism for breast-feeding.” Frankly, I am not that clever, but those who saw that association may well have been put off buying.
Using the surname “Pear” only made matters worse. Subconsciously, the word could be heard as “pair,” reinforcing the image of breasts.
So, yet more doubts.
What Were My Options?
I could drop the Facebook account completely and forget about advertising on Facebook. Facebook’s advertising text states “You can reach 10,000 relevant readers” if you pay a certain amount. Unfortunately, my campaign reports showed a hit rate of only 10 percent of what I thought I was paying for! And believe me, I spent ages setting up my target audience.
What were my options? I realized that I would have to create a new Facebook account that complied with the Terms & Conditions. How should I go about it?
Some people recommended setting up a Facebook PAGE, selecting “Community” and “Author” during setup. The industry standard seems to be to just add the word “Author” to my own name. That’s what I decided to do. I switched from using my pen name, “Honeysuckle Pear,” to using “Peter Rendell-Author.”
Facebook should know that my friends and family are not the same as my author friends, and vice versa. If I am doing a LIKE, it is my author page—”Peter Rendell-Author”—that is doing the liking, and not my personal profile, “Peter Rendell.” That’s something I’ll need to keep in mind for the future.
Also, I may need to adjust my privacy settings. I’ve noticed that some authors are highly selective about personal content posted on their Author pages. I plan to change my privacy settings so that I control who sees posts on my personal page, Peter Rendell.
Even with these changes, however, I’m having second thoughts about the money I spent on Facebook advertising. Facebook advertising has yielded pathetic returns. Trying to keep Facebook as a method of advertising looks pointless, but there are many authors who say they have had great success with it.
But, that wasn’t the end of the story. There’s more.
The Amazon Update
Changing my pen name meant I had to make changes on Amazon.com, Amazon.uk, KDP, and AuthorCentral.com. I needed to update my books on Goodreads, too. Luckily, all of these sites allowed me to easily edit my name and change out the pen name for my real one.
No so long ago, four to five years maybe, I created “Honeysuckle Pear” accounts on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and KDP Auth-Central. It was laborious work.
This time, I am delighted to say, I changed my account name and email address with the minimum of fuss. First, I made the name swap on Amazon.com, and then I found that Amazon automatically applied the changes to Amazon.co.uk.
“Honeysuckle Pear” disappeared. In her place I saw the new “Peter Rendell-Author” account. Behind the scenes Amazon keeps the accounts tightly coupled—linked, or whatever. It doesn’t matter; sanity at last. I had access to everything and could get on with the changes.
Within the hour I replaced my “Honeysuckle Pear” profile with my new author profile for “Peter Rendell-Author.” Next came the paperback. As I suspected, I had to have a new ISBN because of the change of the primary author name. I needed to unpublish the current title and then add the next edition as a new title. Of course, the new editions meant I had to upload new covers. That went off without a hitch.
Long story short, the Facebook ban caused a domino effect. Any author considering using a pen name would be well advised to consider the unexpected difficulties they might face.
Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, a short story collection, and THE RUG BAZAAR, a chapbook. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers’ Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.