Jo suggested that this week I write about pseudonyms, being a psudonym-onous writer myself. “Pseudonym” has always had a faintly tainted sound to me, like some sort of grim medical condition, but then “pen name” isn’t much better, with its jolly, jaunty pen-pal quality. Personally I like to think of Miranda and Susan as my evil twins, two sides of my writing personality. For many years, Miranda did the work while Susan spent all the money, but lately things have been evening up. (For any late-comers, I’ve written for Pocket, Sonnet, and Harlequin Historicals as Miranda Jarrett, and now write for NAL/Dutton as Susan Holloway Scott.)
Of course, women in general have long been in the habit of having two names, taking their husband’s when they marry. (Ladies who marry younger titled sons get the rawest deal, becoming Lady HisFirstName, but then I suppose there are other compensations.)
But writers take extra names for other reasons. Samuel Clemens chose Mark Twain, a name drawn from riverboat jargon, to give instant credibility to his Mississippi stories. Benjamin Franklin became Poor Richard to lend his almanac a more folksy flavor to –– what else? –– increase sales. A famous eighteenth century landscape architect and writer dubbed himself “Capability” Brown to boost his reputation with potential noble clients (though his real name of Lancelot might have done that, too.) And sometimes the change is for convenience: a 19th century female reporter found the by-line Nellie Bly was much easier for her readers to remember than Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman.
Early in his career, Stephen King wrote books faster than his publisher thought wise to produce, and so also published as Richard Bachman. Nora Roberts uses J.D. Robb to signal her readers that this is a different kind of novel than her usual romance, just as WordWench Mary Jo Putney writes historicals with a fantasy element as M.J. Putney.
Because romance is mostly read by women, at least two male romance writers have taken female pseudonyms to boost their appeal. T. E. Huff was the gentleman behind Jennifer Wilde, and former RWA president Harold Lowry writes as Leigh Greenwood. But expectations can be misleading, too. While the wonderfully named Thea Devine and Merline Lovelace may sound like romance psudonyms, each is respectively married to Mr. Devine, and Mr. Lovelace.
Sales (or lack thereof) are another reason for a change of name. If a writer’s past been burdened with a bad sales record, a new name at new publishing house can offer a much-welcomed fresh start.
Sometimes, though, it’s not an author’s decision. Just as Anne Klein magically manages to design clothes from beyond the grave, there are writers’ names that become such a “franchise” that books continue to be produced after their deaths. The estate of V.C. Andrews hired Andrew Neiderman to continue to write the books that are now published under her name.
Another famous bestseller, Carolyn Keene, didn’t exist at all. The name is the psuedonym for a long list of authors who produced the hugely successful Nancy Drew mystries for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Each writer was paid $125.00 a book, and in turn gave up all their rights –– a practice that’s still unfortunately common for Young Adult series books today.
When I first sold to Harlequin/Silhouette in the early nineties, their corporate policy (which has since changed) required writers to use pseudonyms. Their reasoning was that if they built up your career –– your own “brand” –– then they should have the right to keep the name if you moved along to another house.
At the time, I didn’t mind taking another name. Because I was still working at a college and my children were small, I wanted to separate my writing life from my personal one. I chose family names that were in the running for my children, but didn’t get used: Miranda and Jarrett Shippey were 19th century ancestors of mine, a teenaged brother and sister who left the family farm back east to find excitement and new lives with the California Gold Rush. Jarrett traveled by wagon train with another sister, Melissa, while Miranda somehow went by sea around South America. They seemed like worthy inspiration for me, whose great adventures are limited to what comes from my keyboard.
So what do you think of writers with two names? Does it seem an unnecessary contrivance that makes book-hunting a challenge, or do you see it as a way of differentiating kinds of books? Or do you have a story of your own to share of a “mistaken identity”?
(And now a quick promotional note: for a limited time, Borders is offering my latest book DUCHESS: A Novel of Sarah Churchill as part of their “3 for 2” promotion: buy any two of a select group of trade paperbacks, and receive a third for free. Check it out!)