So I have two jobs, writing and, er, being Catwoman? Yeah, let’s go with that. The strange thing is in the world of writing I’m supposed to be myself, and in my day job I’m supposed to be stern.

Now, I use HootSuite to Tweet, Facebook, and whatever fucking verb we may decide to use for Google +…(Google+ing?). Anyway, I use it for both jobs because I can do a week of social media in one hour on a Sunday while doing my laundry. It’s a lifesaver.

However, I have noticed it’s almost 100% humor for my serious job, and very serious with a sliiiiiiight twinge of humor for writing. This is strange because, well, I’m a smartass. I try to crack jokes often, mix them with my serious rants, something my friends and family recognize. But why is it so hard to be funny when writing?

Answering that has led me to some thoughts on how a writer shows her face to the world. Take an upcoming Tweet for my serious job, it reads:

For Lent: The lord said unto John “Come forth unto me and receive eternal life,” but John came fifth and won a toaster.

Here’s the thing about my serious job: because I am expected to be serious, I have no fear of offending people, because being serious basically means being in opposition. But tweeting that joke as a writer? I do live in fear of pissing off my fans. 

This comes off the heels of my last date, with a man I’d met from the Internet. We did the customary mutual Googling and when we met he said “You’re famous!” I took that as the declarative statement it was and simply corrected him, that while I’m known in some circles with a strong Internet presence, I am by no means famous.

Had this been about my day job, I simply would have responded (with affection) “Gee, I thought you knew, your mom was my first groupie.”

See, with writing I have no mask, but in my day job I do have a mask of kinds thanks to a title and an organization behind me. It might also help that I am the boss/owner and perhaps my employees have to laugh, but the customers don’t have to, and yet they do.

So why do I make only halfhearted attempts at humor as Nora Quick? Keep in mind that’s my legal name. No one calls me that but my alumni association; my friends use my nickname, and in my day job everyone uses my title. But using my real name makes me feel vulnerable, a little exposed.

The irony is I got to be a fairly funny person because of insecurity, like many people. From the ages of 5-12 I kind of stuck out, for many reasons (I was always either the tallest kid in school or the tallest girl, and all too often the only white person in the building). I quickly learned you could control people and situations by making them laugh. 

Would I be bolder with a pen name? Hard to say. My aim today is to get writers thinking about if a pen name works for them, and to revisit how present ourselves to the world.

Granted, I have the luxury of not having my life documented on the internet before I was 28 and got a Facebook profile under my nickname. All the drinking in college, the wild parties, the midget strippers? No proof exists! Go ahead, Google me. Try to figure out what my exact college degrees are in. Can’t be done, you actually have to contact the school. It’s very freeing, seeing as my wild youth is well hidden. But if you do not have that luxury, you might want to think long and hard on this.

On Christmas, I was talking about something with my father, I forget what, but I poo-pooed people who hunger for fame. Sorry, still feel that way, it’s a giant sea of daddy issues. My father looked at me as if I was nuts and said “Aren’t you the one trying to be famous, writing books?”

“Au contraire, mon père!” I cried (we are a family of polyglots) and proceeded to ask him to describe to me the physical appearance of his top five favorite authors, or the name the cities they live(d) in. He couldn’t do it.

I thought I trumped him by explaining how being an author is awesome. You can touch people’s lives in very intimate ways across vast distances and time, but you generally do not get hounded or have your privacy invaded.

Then, mine papa smirked and pointed out in the 21st century you have to promote yourself as well your books, ergo, force your way into fame to gain success. This thinking is, of course, the reason my brother and I accept him as alpha of the family and have not yet staged a coup. Damn it, he was right.

As such, the sad truth is you cannot be yourself as a writer…somewhat. Do me a favor. Watch this heavily fictionalized movie about the life of Mae West:

First off, Mae is one of my heroes. The woman was a genius, funny, and boy did she know how to sell herself. Well, to get to the point, there is a scene where she meets the man who would be her lifetime manager and longtime main lover, who gives her the advice to be herself in her already moderately successful Vaudeville act. It works, she gets on Broadway, and then she got into Hollywood.

Now, the key phrase is ALREADY MODERATELY SUCCESSFUL. Remember that, it will be important.

I am also a student of Dale Carnegie, I really recommend reading his works. See, for those of us who were born and completed school before Wikipedia or YouTube ever existed, we had to do this thing called actual research. Often it meant researching a general book on a subject and from there reading many more mentioned within the first, something Mr. Carnegie did. He collected stories of the most successful people in the stratagem of each of his books’ points and often it included anecdotes of them doing the same thing.

So, using that method, I studied the careers of most authors. Pretty much, for most of publishing history, “overnight successes” were nothing of the sort. 

Google the highest paid book advances, go enjoy a pipe dream, then come back. Back yet? Okay, great. Did you notice a pattern? None were first-time authors. All had prior books or writing credits such as TV shows, magazines, or movies behind them. 


The key here is, just like Mae West, you want to know how you get to the top and stay there?

Step One: Steal Underpants Slowly build a moderately successful career

Step Two:----------- Take a big chance when opportunity comes along

Step Three: Profit Be yourself (as long as you’re interesting)

Step Four: Success!

Just so you know, in my blog I aim to help people achieve step one, which I am in the middle of. Once more, it bears repeating, this is writing between five and ten books (moderate success).

So let’s not talk about the last three steps. We’re in step one. So why can’t Nora Quick be herself? Because did you see anything in step one about being yourself?

Let’s break down step one:

A. Write a book

B. Get a website – choose what to share (be specific)

C. Get social media accounts – choose what to post (be specific)

D. Join a writer’s group or free writing website

E. Promote yourself

F. Edit your book

G. Publish your book

H. Market your book

I. Write another book

J. Network with other authors

K. Keep Promoting yourself

L. Take any chances that come along

M. Edit your second book

N. Repeat this until the time to publish big comes along

Now in B and C when I said be specific, remember that lesson?. When I did, I chose to show my love of reading, passion for writing, feminism, lust for libraries, and striving for grammar.

Notice, I didn’t pick funny. It might not be coming out here, because this is serious time, but when I was 13 a Star Search scout found me at a Mervyn’s Department Store in line explaining my black thumb to a friend and asked me to try out as a comedienne. My damn parents wouldn’t let me go, probably because they knew there was no way for a 13 year old to make a living as a comedienne when all comedy clubs serve liquor. Damn them and their logic!

So, did I pigeonhole myself? If I used a pen name, would it be different? Perhaps. When I was twenty I sold my first fiction novel to the publisher-who-shall-not-be-named. I used the pen name Isabella Quick then and I will admit did not take the process seriously, part of how it ended in a lawsuit (I won) and bitter feelings forever that kept me from publishing anything for ten straight years.

But I also know, had Isabella Quick lived, I’d be a very different author today, and probably miserable writing only bodice-ripper romances, albeit eating better. Alas, she died so I could live, whoop-de-doo.

But while the choice between a pen name and your real name is mostly about hiding youthful indiscretions, appreciating the gravity of things, or keeping your boss in the dark about your hobby/dream, showing your real personality holds inherent risk. Let’s take one now.

I am an Atheist. Did that piss you off? If so, fair enough, but if it truly pisses you off, please consult your religion’s handbook. The bearded and/or fat dude that stars in it should probably say to me “So what?” and I know your book encourages live and let live.

I bring this up because of Jeannine Frost. See, I resisted reading her for so long because every author’s note begins with thanking God like he’s Ed McMahon and just showed up with a check. See, there’s always a part of me who sees shit like that and sardonically thinks “Yeah, so he skipped over all the starving abused kids to give you a better career…that’s logical.”

And so, when in the same year three urban fantasy series I loved ended and I was bereft I finally took a chance on her works and was hooked. See, she was recommended to me in 2007 just before I moved from Portland, Oregon, and haunted Powell’s every day. God, I miss Powell’s, but not the fucking hipsters crawling all over the city. But I read the author’s note and refused, passing her over for some now-forgotten time travel novel.

Seven years later, I gave her a try when I felt there was nothing good to try that wasn’t more paranormal romance than urban fantasy and realized I was an idiot. But that is exactly why you have to be on guard in step one. She’s on step four, and if I didn’t buy her books, so what? Millions of others did. But here on the path to moderate success we cannot afford alienation.

So perhaps that is why my sick sense of humor is mainly guarded, and why you need to think long and hard about the face you present to the world. Just like your books, your projected personality should have a target group but not offend others. Repeat that as necessary. 

So, in that spirit, let me just add that I am an atheist whose best friends are Pagan, Satanist, Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish. Because my parents taught me to think for myself, and to judge others on the content of character, not by other factors. Even if it took me seven years to fully realize.