Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pen names, Pseudonyms, or Nom de Plumes.

Jenn McKinlay: There are probably as many reasons to have a pen name as there are pen names in use. So why do some authors write under different names?

     A quick study of famous authors and their pseudonyms reveals that Stephen King wrote under the name Richard Bachman so that he wasn’t constrained by the publishing belief at the time that an author was limited to one book per year. He also wanted to discover for himself if his success was due to talent or luck. Unfortunately, he was outed as Bachman fairly early on and never did satisfy that question to his liking, much like another famous author J.K. Rowling.

     Rowling used her initials instead of her first name Joanne, because her publisher felt that her reader demographic (tween boys) wouldn’t respond to a female author. In fact, Rowling didn’t have a middle name and had to borrow the K from her grandmother’s name Kathleen. After the success of Harry Potter, she wanted to try her hand at mysteries and wrote under the name Robert Galbraith to take the new work as far away from herself as possible. Like King, her true identity was revealed too soon for her to discover how her books would have fared had readers not discovered Galbraith’s true identity.

     Other authors have used pseudonyms to allow them to try out different genres. Dame Agatha Christie wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott. She said the mysteries were her day job but the romances were for fun! In a flip on this, romance author Nora Roberts writes futuristic police procedurals under the name J.D. Robb. Ann Rice, also used a penname when she wrote two erotic novels under the name Anne Rampling. Of course, Ann Rice is actually a nom de plume with her maiden name being Howard Allen Frances O’Brien. And then, there is Dean Koontz who is said to have as many as ten pen names, because like Stephen King, he wrote so many books that his publisher couldn’t keep up. Also, in an interview he said there was no way he could earn a livable wage writing just one book per year. Some of his names include David Axton, Richard Paige, Anthony North, and his gothic-romance pseudonym Deanna Dwyer.

     There are other reasons that authors use pen names, for me, it was because my first mystery was actually a writer for hire work. Having had FISH FOOD -- my dead strip club owner found being eaten by the fish in his saltwater tank mystery -- soundly rejected, I was willing to give it a go when a publisher asked my agent to ask me if I’d consider writing one of their in house ideas. Because while they weren’t keen on my book -- at all -- they did like my voice. Um…thanks?


     Turned out, they wanted a mystery series about decoupage. Decou-what? Yeah, whatever. Of course, I said yes! Suspecting this would be a short-lived series, I made up a pen name that consisted of my dog (Lucy) and my grandmother (Lawrence). And then an interesting thing happened, I discovered I liked writing under a pen name. It was liberating in ways I hadn’t expected so when the opportunity arose to take on another series while maintaining the two series I’d begun since the decoupage books tanked (shocker!), I took the job and wrote a bargain hunters series under the name Josie Belle (another grandmother name mash-up).

     Would I ever write under a pen name again? In a heartbeat. Truly, there was something very freeing about writing as someone else. Although, next time, I’m going to be a dude.

     How about you, Reds? Any nom de plumes in action out there? If not, what is the pen name you would write under if you had the chance?



For Fun:
 QUIZ: Match the author to the pen name 
(I scored 8 out of 10, if we’re sharing!)

61 comments:

  1. Interesting to see how many authors write under other names.
    Matching the author to the pen name . . . ten out of ten.

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    1. Joan - you're so good! I only managed 8. Darn it.

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  2. Jenn, I never knew about those pen names of yours. Or of King's or Christie's. My first two books with a small press were written as Tace Baker. Protagonist was a modern Quaker and Tace is a lovely old Quaker name. Now I write two series under my birth name and two as Maddie Day. I want readers to know I am the all the same gal, and my publishers never said I couldn't link them, so I do. Wonder what name I should use if I start writing erotica or thrillers, or maybe gay Scottish zombie porn? (Sorry, feeling punchy this morning...)

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    1. I'd read your gay Scottish zombie porn, just to see how you pulled it off.

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    2. I'd read it too. And I have a name you could use. This is a real person but not likely to show up here. A nurse. I actually hired her years ago, name and all.
      Misty Storm.
      No kidding

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    3. Maybe I will try it, Gigi. And that is a great name, Finta!

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    4. Edith, when Maddie Day gets letters, I wonder if anyone writes Madeleine instead of Maddie? Madeleine is the name of a member of the current Swedish family. When I visited Sweden several years ago, I sent a postcard with a photo of Princess Madeleine to a relative named Madeleine.

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    5. I'm in for the gay Scottish zombie porn - LOL! Thanks for the yucks first thing in the morning. Now I can't get the image of a zombie in a kilt out of my head.

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    6. Given that this is the Internet, I'm sure gay Scottish zombie porn is probably already been done somewhere. :D

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  4. Jenn, I have seen other mystery authors write under a pseudonym for "write for hire" books. Others have changed their names so that they are placed early in the alphabet (Surname starting with "A" instead of "W"). Do you know if there was a difference between "Josie Belle" and "Jenn McKinlay" books in terms of sales (at the beginning of your series)?

    As for me professionally, there was a clear advantage to publish my scientific work under my name. And having a unique name makes it easy to find my work in academic circles and research websites such as Academia.edu or Researchgate.com. I would be surprised to find another "Koshida, G." in the journal articles or scientific reports in my (climate change) field.

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    1. Hi, Grace, I didn't know you were in the climate change field. That fascinates me on so many levels. To answer your question, I didn't see a difference in sales in the beginning. I think for traditional mysteries so much depends on the hook. The Belle books fell away as we pulled out of the recession while the library and cupcake books increased. You just never know, I guess.

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    2. Jenn, it is a mix of timing and luck, I guess. And I did not know you were "Josie Belle"...I liked those books, too! Well, and Belle was a family name mash-up like you said unlike those authors I knew who said they chose names early in the alphabet. There was a greater chance for a new reader to see/pick up their books as an author with a surname starting with A or B, and that they wouldn't make it all the way down the shelves to the "W" authors!

      And yes, I was publishing in the climate change field since the early 1990s until my retirement from Environment Canada last year. Most of my technical reports are still in the Government of Canada library system and/or university libraries.

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  5. I scored 7/10, would have done worse if I wasn't such a good guesser.

    Pen names fascinate me, and I can see reason to have one, particularly if you are emptying out the family closet. I notice many of you either write under more than one name or under your maiden name, like Hallie does. So my question is why, other than not wanting your mother to see the family secrets in print.

    I get it if you change your name well into your writing career.

    If I could write, I would. And I would call myself Ann Patchett. heh

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  6. Eons ago, Warren and I talked about collaborating on some kind of sword and sorcery fantasy series, and decided we could combine our names into the pen name Gwendolyn Sherwood. I still think it might make a nice romance pseudonym. On the other hand, if I wanted to write in some male dominated genre (and didn't have Ingrid's courage to go into it as a woman) I might use the name I would have had, had I been born a boy: James Martin. Generally, though, I think I'd like my own name on my own stuff, although that can be risky, too, in the age of identity theft. At least one of Warren's fans apparently got out of a couple of parking tickets down around Texas A&M University with a fake ID for Warren Norwood. He got the parking spots. We got the calls from campus police.

    One of my favorite pseudonym stories, though, is about a brash young man who felt sure he was destined to write the Great American Novel. When he finally wrote that novel, he wanted to be able to publish it under his own name, without the taint of any prior work, so when he got what he thought of as a hack job, writing stories for comic books, he saved his real name, Stanley Lieber, and used a pseudonym, Stan Lee.

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    1. I love that story about Stan Lee. I live for his cameos during the Marvel movies. Always a hoot!

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  7. Jenn I didn't know you were a Lucy too! I was asked by my editor for the Key West series if I would use a new name. I chose Lucy Burdette which was my grandmother 's name. Now I find that I love being Lucy! Though I'd hate to add a third version of me...

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    1. I do think branding has to kick in at some point, so even if i switch genres (again) I am staying Jenn McKinlay.

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  8. The use of pen names is an established practice in the literary world--today I think it's especially common when an author wants to move between genres. I'm a great Madeleine Brent fan--and whoa! I discovered on JRW one day that she was a he!



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  9. Did someone leave the back door open last night?

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    1. There do seem to be some interesting visitors…

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    2. I've been deleting them - weird!

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  10. I have thought about this… So much. What would you think about Harriet Ryan? I keep thinking about using that name… But it sounds like a person who would write traditional mysteries, though, correct ? Not hip, but competent.
    I could use Annie Ryan' for young adult maybe? Or rom com?

    Jenn I had no idea you had a mysterious past! Are you using your real name now, or are there more surprises to come?

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    1. Hank,
      When I saw the last name Ryan, it reminded me of a story I learned about one of the ladies in waiting to Queen Elizabeth II when I was living in the UK. Her last name was Ryan. She was born in America to a Jewish mother and a Irish Catholic father. She married an Englishman and eventually became a lady in waiting to the Queen. I saw her sitting next to the Queen when their car drove out of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Scotland.

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    2. I think Harriet Ryan would be hip with the resurgence of classic first names. Nope, Jenn McKinlay is the real me. I never legally changed my name when Hub and I got married. He says it's because I've always been a flight risk (Ha!) but really the line was just too long.

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  11. Jenn,

    Tried the quiz and scored 7/10. Most of my guesses were correct. This post is great timing because the other day this week I had posted a question on Facebook to one of the Author's page. I asked if she and another author were the same person. I was confused because they both wrote the same series.

    Turned out they were two different authors. The author I wrote to used several pseudo (I cannot spell pseudonymn) names. The first author wrote the first three books in the series then another author wrote the next four books. The second author will be at Bouchercon in October.

    Interesting story about JK Rowling. I loved the Harry Potter series. For some reason, I am Not a fan of the Robert Galbraith series.

    I remember that Nora Roberts also wrote books under the Robb name.

    I was thinking about which names I would use if I was writing a novel. It depends on what I am writing about too. For example, I would use the name that would be mine IF I was born a boy for a book about military history. One of my college history professors encouraged me to write about military history. That could happen.

    If I was writing a mystery novel, perhaps a name that would be easy to remember. If I was writing a romance novel, perhaps I would pick one of the Greek Goddesses' names.

    When I was at Malice Domestic in 2016, I met a new to me author whose last name is actually two last names, so it was confusing for me to search for her books at the library. I did not know which last name to search under. She also has another series with one last name and that is easier for me to search.

    Another example: I am a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith novels. When I was at the bookstore, do I search through the Mc section or the S section?

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    1. The librarian in me thinks it should be Smith, because it's not a hyphenated last name. Hyphenated and it would be under McCall but Hub and both know some librarians who shelve him under McCall. It's maddening.
      I love that you would use the name that would have been yours had you been born a boy - I have to ask my mom if she had a boy name for me. Hmm.

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  12. My middle-grade series started as work-for-hire and I used M.E. Sutton because 1) I really don't think Mary Sutton is a great author name and 2) I also wondered if boys would be put off by a series written by a woman (it also has a girl protagonist, but hey).

    When I sold my first mystery story, I was going to go with M.E. Sutton, but then I thought about ten-year-olds picking up a story with dead bodies and profanity. Um, maybe not (I had a close-to-ten-year-old at the time). So Liz Milliron. Liz is from my middle name (Elizabeth), which is from my grandmother. "Milliron" was her maiden name.

    Jenn, like you, I find the pen name oddly freeing. Like donning a mask where I can do and say things "Mary" might not. But why are grandmothers such a fertile ground for pen names?

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Mary/Liz,

      So when I look for your books in the Young Readers section, do I look for M.E. Sutton or Liz Milliron?

      Thank you.

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    2. Look for M.E. Sutton. The series name is HERO'S SWORD.

      And thanks for looking!

      Mary/Liz

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    3. Exactly! I took a few more plot chances than I would have if I was writing under my own name.

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  13. Here's what I think, Jenn: You can disguise your name but you can't disguise your voice, Jenn. We'd recognize you under any monocle. I wrote a series with a co-author under the joint pen name G. H. Ephron. We used my maiden name because it's pretty recognizable. Crass. And we each got an initial. When it came time to write my own suspense novels, I used my maiden name. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't save the first edition of "Robert Galbraith's debut novel" when it came across my desk. It's worth something.

    I'm at California Crime Writers and meeting SO MANY writers who are writing under SO MANY NAMES! Daryl Wood Gerber/Avery Ames, Jeri Westerson/Haley Walsh, Kathy Aarons/Kathy Krevat, Elaine Ash/Anonymous-9... those sneaky California writers.

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    1. Hallie, enjoy your time at the California Crime Writers meeting.

      I remember when Anonymous-9's HARD BITE was published. It certainly is a unique, memorable nom de plume. I am sure Elaine Ash has a story behind choosing that one.

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    2. Enjoy Cali, Hallie! Yes, there are a lot of traditional/cozy pen names out there. With the implosion happening at Berkley, I think it'll only get crazier as everyone moves to Kensington, St. Martins, Henery, and Crooked Lane.

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  14. 8 out of 10's not bad, considering I guessed a few. I love Lady AGaGatha for a pseudonym. Any takers? I imagine there are pros and cons for writing under an alias. That would be freeing to have an alter ego.

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    1. Very freeing. I do think I may have to take one more pen name in my life and be a dude. Just for kicks.

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  15. I got 7 out of 10. I knew Emily Bronte was changed to Ellis Bell because no one wanted to read a book by a woman. It's a bummer that almost 200 years later, J.K. Rowling had to do the same thing when "Harry Potter" was published! I've never used a pen name, but I always fall back on my grandmother's "stage name" that she used when she was a radio actress in Boston, Constance D'Arcy.

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    2. That is a great name, Ingrid, but then so is your given name.

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  16. Well. I only got 6 out of 10 and a couple of those were only because you had mentioned them in the article. I feel so disappointed in myself. But on the upside--now I have a few "new" authors I need to go look for!

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  17. After a mention in one of your newsletters, Jenn, I searched down both the Lucy Lawrence and Josie Belle series and recognized your voice in both and had a great time reading them. Got 9/10 on the quiz (missed Sylvia Plath's and I own a copy of The Bell Jar. As to the Alexander McCall Smith novels I've always seen them in the Smith. I read Rowing's Galbraith novel when it first came out and loved it. I work in a bookstore and was recommending it to everyone looking for something new.

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    1. Oh, thank you. Haley is right. You can change the name but not the voice. At least, I've not found an author yet that could - interesting quest to go on!

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  18. Fascinating. I've wondered about your pen names. I understand a lot of the logic (different genres, reader expectations, etc.).
    It's great to get an insight into where your alternative names come from.
    Libby Dodd

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    1. Thanks, Libby. There are a lot reasons to use a different name. As Ingrid points out, it is a bummer that JK had to do it. I believe she would have been equally as successful if she'd used the name Joanne. Certainly, Suzanne Collins had no issues using her name. Gregor the Overlander is still one of the hooligans most favorite series.

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  19. Got 8 out of 10 authors correct. But you had just mentioned several so mine were mostly lucky guesses.

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  20. In my brief (but enjoyable) career writing erotic romance, I used a pen name. Not because it might interfere with my future as a rich and famous mystery writer (hah!) but because I have grandkids.

    (Susanna Stone, in case you're wondering)

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    1. That's fantastic! What a perfect nom de plume for erotica.

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  21. When I first started writing online, I did use fake names. Nothing outrageous or really worth mentioning.

    But I still do use fake names when I am at work and some bogus phone call trying to sell me something comes in. I always make up that the person on the other end of the phone would have to talk to "my boss" (I'm the boss). They ask for the name and I give them the secret identity of a comic book superhero or villain.

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    1. Barry West? Hal Jordan? Bruce Wayne? Genius!

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  22. I don't mind pen names at all. I also scored 8 out of 10--messed up on Charles Dickens (slaps forehead) and....uh, I forgot the other one by now. Cool topic, Jenn!

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  23. I love my own name, but as if I ever manage to get myself in gear and get my books finished (middle grade fiction and a mg mystery, and started plotting a cozy mystery. Derailed by surgery) I figured I would have to use a different name for the cozy. Perhaps. E. A. Hayes. Yuck, yuck. All my life I have heard Hey, Straw... do you get it? I just grin as they break into ribald laughter and ask them if they think they are original. Um, yep, heard it before. I have a couple of others up my sleeve including different variations of my grandparents' initials and last name. C. W. Minegar, perhaps, I haven't checked that one out. Recovering for a migraine, so I missed four and I knew the correct answer as soon as I hit the wrong name. I will blame it on the Migraine. That's my story and I am sticking to it.

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