Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Alias or Not?

Recently an agent I know asked one of her clients to consider writing books outside her genre. Now, the author is a novelist and the agent wasn’t asking her to write non-fiction, just a different type of novel than the ones which had gained her reputation.


(For an established writer, that can feel more than disorienting. It can feel threatening or even provoke thoughts of “selling out,” or at the very least, take time away from one’s familiar genre. On the other hand, these are tough times. Many unpublished writers would jump at a chance like that, to prove themselves marketable. And from a biblical point of view, even the Apostle Paul stopped traveling for a while and made tents to support himself. But that’s an issue for another day, another column.)


One of the strategies that a publisher sometimes asks of an established author is to publish the “new” genre writings under a nom de plume. Pen names represent a time-honored practice—you didn’t think that Mark Twain, George Orwell, George Sand, Zane Grey and Lewis Carroll were the authors’ birth names, did you?


What other reasons do people have for choosing pen names? One reason is to create a type of distance from one’s own real name. I know that when I was an insecure teenager, having the birth name of Celeste Latayne Colvett had no advantages I could think of. So I really, really, really wanted to change my name to Jody Sue to prove that I was golly-gee-Molly-Mormon okay.


I myself published a children’s book, The Dream Quilt (Waterbrook Press) under a pen name, the first names of my two children, Celeste Ryan. There may be a reason to dust it off and use it again.


So, readers, what is your favorite pen name? Do you have or do you want to have a pen name; and if so, what is it?

27 comments:

BK said...

Yes, the name adjustment was wise on the part of Mr. Grey. I think it'd be kind of hard to sell westerns if Pearl Gray was the name on the cover. 8-)

I can't use Brenda Jackson because there is already an author named Brenda Jackson. So I figure on simply going with B.K. Jackson (even though there is also a jazz player that goes by this name). But I also want a gender-neutral name instead of my full name because I write more male-protag dominated stories than most folks.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

No pen name for now, but I'll be thinking of one today. I'm trapped under heaps of snow and my kids have been home for days. Heck, maybe I'll let them choose one for me.

~ Wendy

Nicole said...

In my seventh novel the heroine is a mystery novelist whose pen name is Cabin LuCaine.

Maybe if I write a mystery, I'll use that name. ;)

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I would probably incorporate some part of my mother's or father's names in there somewhere. Something I wouldn't have trouble remembering! :)

Marian said...

I used Minnie Beekman (a variation of my maiden name) for a family life column. An instructor at journalism school believed my parents had privileged me with extraordinary byline material...something to do with double consonants and double vowels.

Heather said...

I use my first two initials and last name for writing, so it's kind of a pen name. When I told my writing mentor back in 09 that I was going to marry a guy by the last name of Titus, she said, "Oh, H. A. Titus would be a wonderful name for a fantasy writer!" And it stuck! :0)

Ellen Staley said...

Not sure if I will use my real name or go with the pen name E. Patriarche. The pen name seems more masculine which might be advantageous.

At this point there appear to be no authors with either name, if I researched sufficiently.

Latayne C Scott said...

I am really glad you all are sharing your thoughts on this issue. It's funny how we decide what we want after the word "by" on our writing.

In my case, my first book was about why I left Mormonism. I had published under my maiden name, and so I wanted to make sure it was part of my byline. Thus my first book was published under Latayne Colvett Scott. Then with subsequent books I shortened it to Latayne C. Scott.

I'm loving this discussion!

Meg Moseley said...

I started going by a nickname a few years ago because there's already a published novelist by my name. She did me a favor. The nickname is short and can't be misspelled.

I've thought about using a pen name for a different genre. I've written a novel that my agent likes, but it's radically different from my other work. Developing just one brand is a lot of work, though, and I'm not sure I have the time and energy to develop two.

MandyB said...

An interesting subject. I am using a combination of my maiden name & married name because I want to carry my father's name with me. I think he would have got a kick out of it. If I was asked to use a pen name I would use Francesca Eve. A combination of my favorite name and my maiden name.
Thank you for the subject Latayne.

Bonnie Grove said...

If I were to use a pen name, it would be a chance to be ironicly transparent while hiding.
Something like:

I.M. Tiredhungryandpoor.

U. Shud Buythisbook

Kathleen Popa said...

Latayne, I always thought the middle initial added a certain gravitas to your image. It brought to mind names like Arthur C. Clarke, Edward R. Murrow, Edward G. Robinson. I.M. Tiredhungryandpoor.

We bloggers, for fun, tried building pseudonyms from our pets' names. It may be a bad idea to use a pet's name, unless you write romances of a certain type.

Megan Sayer said...

Just read Kathleen's comment...YES!! Every so often around here the game gets played "What's your Porn Name", which is the combination of your first pet's name and the name of the first street you lived on.

So, Hi there from Tammy Forth, and her loving husband Candy Lennox : )

(you're right Kathleen, you need to be writing a certain type of book for this to really work...).

I'm so sorry! I swear I'll stick to the subject next time...I do have a real thing to say...

Megan Sayer said...

BK and Ellen both commented the potential value of having gender-neutral or masculine names. BK writes male-protags, from the memory of Ellen's book edits, she does too.

Oooohh SORRY I'm being tangental again. This has just got me thinking.

I, for years, wrote from a male perspective, and wondered the same thing about my name vs a pseudonym. My WIP is female-based, although I still tend to create male characters much quicker than female ones. I thought for years that it was just me - obviously I'm wrong.

Has anyone got any thoughts on WHY we've tended to adopt masculine characters? I decided the other day that for me personally I needed to start walking round in female characters more, and it's kind of weird.

I think there have been many books that I've read where I don't identify with the women, and it's led to me seeking out male protagonists in books. Strangely enough (and this is the reason I decided to write females) I noticed that I was shying away from books written by women with a male protag! What's with that? Could it have been the reason JK Rowling started her career as JK?

There was an article in the paper a while back about how Disney prefers male protags, because they attract both male and female audiences, whereas female protags only attract girls.

Has anyone else ever thought about this?

Latayne C Scott said...

Funny how we make assumptions about people from their names. At ICRS (the trade convention for Christian booksellers) year before last, the publicists from both of my publishers set me up for several radio and television interviews, to be taped at the convention center and then aired later.

I was a little early for one of the interviews and went into the bathroom to check my makeup. (Good thing to do since I can go days without actually ever looking in a mirror.) I recognized who I thought was the show's host, a beautiful African American lady, who was putting on her makeup. I said hi and chatted about the heat outside but didn't introduce myself because I wasn't sure it was the host and wanted to give her some privacy. Then I went out, and waited in the "green room." When she came in, she looked at me with a question in her eyes. I said, "I'm Latayne," and she stepped back. "I thought with a name like Latayne you were a sistah!" she exclaimed. She was obviously disappointed but made the best of it. . .

I also discovered when I went to BYU how many Mormon men have names that begin with "La." LaGrand, LaMar, etc. So it was close to being gender-neutral there.

See, you didn't know such a weird name could foster so many misunderstandings, did you?

Steve G said...

My name would be Freckles Balmoral. I suppose I could shorten it to Freckles Amoral...

Then there was the Brown Spots on the Wall by Hoo Flung Poo...

Paul also said he became all things to people so that he might reach some. We are called to good stewardship, and part of that is good financial principles. Always being short of money is very draining and can tax your energy for ministry. For some, the answer is to write what sells, so you can write the deeper stuff. In writing what sells, you are actually working on your craft, which is better than pumping gas!

For others, they shouldn't, because they can't fit it into their understanding of their faith. Just don't judge the other side.

Latayne C Scott said...

You guys crack me up! I would absolutely hate to start from scratch and choose a pen name. I never thought about the fact that so many names are "taken" in this data-rich age. And that so many could have double entendres or could be so funny!

Karen Schravemade said...

LOL - Bonnie - U. Shud Buythisbook. That's it! I'm totally going to use it when I finally get published, and people won't even realise they're being subliminally programmed to purchase my book, which will then rocket to the top of all the bestseller charts. You really should have kept that one a secret.

And Megan, I'm also chuckling at the Porn Name game.

So any advice for me? (If I don't go for Monty Satinwood that is.) Should I be Karen Schrav, or Karen Schravemade? I have domains registered in both until I make up my mind. No-one knows how to spell or pronounce the full version (thanks hubby - I used to be a Kennedy), but then again I've been told it has more of a literary roll to it than the shortened version... any and all random thoughts welcome!!

BK said...

Megan said: “Has anyone got any thoughts on WHY we've tended to adopt masculine characters?”

Megan, I read historical fiction. I grew up reading westerns, which, while they had both male and female characters, the male was always the lead. To me, a male protag driven story is natural and expected. Conversely, in CBA, it’s nearly ALWAYS a female protag. I too, often do not identify with women in these books (male characters are usually more utilitarian in fiction than women, which is far more to my liking). And, at the risk of being raked over the coals by the writers and readers out there, I find men in stories (at least a good strong historical) are far more interesting than the women. And in a true male protag driven story, I am more likely to get the action and depth I want.

Please DON’T misunderstand me. This is not about women’s roles historically or presently. Obviously women, then and now, had to be very strong, very tough to survive and women have made great contributions to society. But what I am saying is that when it comes to women being translated to the pages of historical fiction, the scope tends to be narrow. So I'm a very hard sell on even trying out female protag driven fiction. Off the top of my head, the last female protag driven story I read and enjoyed goes back to 1999 with Nancy Turner’s “These Is My Words.” (general market fiction)

This subject could also veer off into a marketing post. I just heard announced the release of a western by Tyndale, “Journey to Riverbend”. I read the novel blurb and my first thought was “YAHOOOO!!!! A male protag driven story. Could it be? Could it really be?” When I went to Barnes & Noble last night to buy my copy, the most prominently featured figure on the cover was—yep, you guessed it, a WOMAN. ARGH!!!! I’ve only just started reading it so we’ll see if the male-protag blurb really represents the story. I hope so.

Steve G said...

The majority of fiction readers in the CBA are women, so the publishers market and buy for women.

sally apokedak said...

When I put my pet names together with the streets we lived on, I come up with Cocoa Morrison and Mia Lombardi. Those sound more like character names than pen names, I think.

I've always thought it would be fun to build a persona like Lemony Snicket. (Not to mention how much fun it would be to build a bank account like his!)

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Well, I posted yesterday but I don't see it so I'll try again. I don't think there was anything X rated in it.
My first pet's name was Bonzo. The street we lived on has always been referred to as 'Millibit' from my brother's toddler pronounciation.
Did anyone read "EAST" by Edith Pattou? It has a strong female lead. "Banner by the Wayside" by S.H.Adams also has a strong female with a co-protag male. He's almost equal to her in representation.
Perhaps we write from the male perspective because it is far too scary to truly delve into a female heart, we might get too close to our own. We read male leads because we will always be unsatisfied by female portrayal, no one could ever go deep enough, or hardly anyone.
Finally, my pen name would be Cenorentolla del Deo. God's Cinder Princess.

Latayne C Scott said...

Good input about the male/female protagonists. I guess I haven't been comfortable writing from a male perspective except with multiple POVs. I don't think I could write a whole first person from a male POV.

And Henrietta, we're always glad to have your input. I think the internet ate it because I never saw it.

Megan Sayer said...

Karen I'd go with the full name - it's memorable. Long works fine for Audrey Niffenegger (even if I did have to go check her spelling).

Susie M Finkbeiner said...

I love pen names! I think they're fun! I especially like George Eliot...who was a WOMAN! So cool to me!

I think that I would probably go with a less difficult last name. Finkbeiner tends to be a mouthful...even for me! However, I've been told, that it's memorable.

Megan Sayer said...

I have to say, and I think this every time I read it, is that Henrietta Frankensee has to be one of the coolest names on the planet. You've scored well with that one!

And in all honesty Susie M Finkbeiner must be running a close second : ).

Also, thanks heaps for everyone's answers on my male/female protag question. It surprised me how different everyone's motivations ended up being.

Susie M Finkbeiner said...

Megan, you are too sweet! I shall keep Susie M Finkbeiner just because you think it works :)