I’ve really been looking forward to this post. I’m hoping to get some opinions/insight from you guys, so please, the more advice, the better.
For those who didn’t know, Tobi Summers is a pen name. I made the decision early on that I wasn’t going to publish under my real name. I have an unusual name, the kind of name that there’s only one of when you run a Google search. So every result that pops up is me. That can be kind of cool (I actually really love my name), but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. I have to be extra-careful what goes online, not just because I’m terrified someone will find me and kill me (and, oh, there’ll be more on that later), but also because any future employers who choose to perform even the most basic internet search will receive all that information about me.
So I have an almost obsessive fear of putting personal things online. Or rather, identifying information online (because clearly I have no problem writing down my personal thoughts and feelings). Writing the other day that I live in New Jersey made me break out into a cold sweat. I combed through that post to make sure even that information was a vague as possible. See, we got the internet when I was in middle school, and I was conditioned from a pretty young age to NEVER GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION ONLINE. People would find where you live and stalk you and kill you. Obviously, keeping my information offline is no longer even remotely a possibility, but every time I put my real name or address into some website, I can hear the voices of every adult I’ve ever known yelling at me.
This has led to some interesting results. At this point, I actually have three personalities online. There’s my real one, which I try to use as little as possible. There’s Tobi Summers, which I’ve started using just in the last few months and which will only be used for writing purposes. And then I have a third identity.
I set up my super-fake alias in high school, back when it was still VERY WRONG to give out personal information online. Originally she just had an email address (Hotmail, because that was the cool thing to have). Then eventually she needed an address. And a phone number (the Pizza Hut in Beverly Hills). And a birthday. And a photo (which I pulled off Google images and probably needs to be updated). In the decade or so since her inception, she’s almost become a full-fledged person. Which is equal parts funny and creepy as hell.
So, right, bringing this back around to the pen name. Because I’m so focused on protecting my identity and my privacy, I have to wonder if there’s ever a point where my real name will become part of my writing life. Like, if I go to a conference, will I introduce myself as Tobi? I mean, that’s the only name almost everyone on here knows. Do I put it on my business cards? If I started talking to other writers in private, at what point should I tell them my real name? Does Emily Post have a guide for this?
Most of the other writers I know don’t use pen names, or they do the J.K. Rowling/E.B. White initials thing. There are probably websites devoted to this topic, but I haven’t looked hard enough yet. Just figuring out how to submit to magazines under a pen name was difficult enough. I’m half-tempted to see about getting Tobi a social security card and a driver’s license.
I have a feeling a lot of the advice will be things like, “Do what feels comfortable,” and that’s cool, but if there are other people who use pen names, what do you do? Or what have you heard about others doing? Like I said before, the more advice, the better.