Pen Names

I love this post by PG from Passive Voice. Success is the best revenge.

Plenty of women use male or genderless pen names. More than a couple of men who write in genres dominated by women use female pen names. English author Bill Spence has written twenty-odd historical romances as Jessica Blair. Harold Lowry, who writes as Leigh Greenwood was RWA president. Other authors use different pen names and different genders for different genres.

Some authors are anxious to meet their readers face-to-face. Some are happier with email and blog posts. To PG’s knowledge, Amazon doesn’t check your author page for accuracy (here’s the author page of Jessica Blair AKA Bill Spence). Your gender secret can be as deep as you want it to be.

Your pseudonym is not undergoing a background check. Send your pen name to an Ivy League school if you like or make him/her an antiques dealer. Your pseudonym can be as eccentric and offbeat as you always wished you had the courage to be.

Pen names are just one of many marketing tools that authors have used for centuries. There is an ongoing debate about whether William Shakespeare is a pen name. Benjamin Franklin wrote under several pen names in the 1700’s.

The author known as Anne Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien, reportedly named after her father.

Stephen King wrote four novels under the pen name Richard Bachman, hoping to lure Bachman-Turner Overdrive fans.

Joanne Kathleen Rowling chose J.K. Rowling.

Lawrence Block wrote as Jill Emerson, Chip Harrison, Paul Kavanagh, and Sheldon Lord.

E.L. James is Erika Leonard, born Erika Mitchell.

Joyce Carol Oates wrote a mystery (Lives of the Twins) under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith because she wanted to “escape her own identity” – and because she could put out a novel every two weeks, her preferred pace. When her ruse was revealed, it was a surprise even for her publisher.

If your purpose is to reform society, push for quotas or years when publishers only choose manuscripts written by a particular oppressed group or whatever solution you feel will remedy the problem.

If you really want to be published and you believe your gender or race or national origin or religion, etc., is a barrier, quit messing around with those who are biased against you for irrational reasons and go indie. Success is the best revenge.


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