Why Pseudonyms?

By Mary Jo

Today's Ask A Wench was inspired by a question from regular reader Pamela DG, who wanted to know why authors use pseudonyms.  I said the answer was complicated and worthy of a blog. For asking the question, Pamela will get a book from me. 

Writing with a pseudonym, a name not one's own, can occur for any number or reasons.  The Wenches explain why:

From Nicola Harlequin-cz-chuda-snoubenka-105

I’ve never written under a pseudonym. This was not a conscious decision. I was literally so naïve when I was first published that it did not cross my mind to consider it. This seems remarkable to me now but I had had no experience of the publishing world other than a godmother who wrote religious books under her own name. I quickly came to regret my naivety. For a number of years I wrote historical romance for Mills & Boon alongside working as an academic registrar in a university. One day a mischievous colleague read out a passage from one of my books in a meeting, which was quite embarrassing. I wasn’t ashamed of the books or that I had written them but I didn’t want my writing and my other work life to cross over.

Once I started to write full time it didn’t matter at all and it’s never really given me any problems since. There has only been one odd occasion when a publisher kept referring to Nicola Cornick as my pseudonym and refused to accept that it wasn’t!  That said, if I was starting over again knowing what I do now, I’d probably use a pseudonym. I don’t dislike my name but it does give you the opportunity to call yourself something you’ve always wanted to be! One of the reasons I like my Czech editions is that I love being called Cornickova!  

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Ask A Wench–about pseudonyms

Devilsh low res In our monthly ask-a-wench blog:

Molly asks: I'd love to know whether or not you and your fellow Wenches use pen names? If so, why? Is it to keep your genres separate or some other reason? Also, how did you come up with your pen name? I'm amazed at how many copyrights are under a name other than the "author" of the book

Ah, Molly, a rose by any other name… You’ll be receiving my one and only available copy of THE DEVLISH MONTAGUE for your question!

Pen names have been around throughout the ages for many reasons. Charlotte Brontë used "Currer Bell," and her sisters used similar pseudonyms when they published their first novels. In Charlotte’s words:

"Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because—without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice;"

Today, we usually don’t have to disguise our gender, although some still do. Men writing romances will often write under an ambiguous name for marketing purposes, and women writing in a mostly male genre may do the same. But we no longer have the social stigma the Brontes expected to suffer.

Sometimes our decision to use a pseudonym is a legal matter. In the old days, some publishers owned all rights to the names their authors wrote under. If an author wanted to write for a different publisher, they had to take a new name. Many of today’s authors still publish under those pseudonyms because that’s how they’re known by their readers.

I started out using the name I’m known by at home, Pat Rice. When I sold to a different publisher very early in my career, they wanted the full Patricia, which I hate to this day. So now that I’m dipping my toe into fantasy, I’ve come up with my dream name. Not quite ready to reveal that yet…

As for the other wenches, I’ll let them speak for themselves:

Susan King writes: I've got three author names in play. Susan King is my married name. When I was first published in historical romance, I wanted to use a pseudonym, but my editor thought my name was perfect to use – easy to remember and spell, looks good in cover designs, and is smack in the middle of the alphabet for readers browsing bookstore shelves. Later, when I went to another publisher and Sking wanted to keep my Susan K. name for the mainstream historicals that I was beginning to write, my new name came about by editorial committee. The voting favorite was a combo of family names: Sarah Gabriel (easy to spell, easy to Google, shelved near big names, etc.). For my mainstream historicals, the publisher wanted a triple name so it would sound more academic for the bigger historical books. Well, my maiden name is Italian and not easy to spell or pronounce. Can't find that easily on Amazon, they said, what else do you have? So I used my Scottish grandmother's surname and became Susan Fraser King.

Jo Beverley: I don't use a pseudonym for a number of reasons, but the main one is that I  think I'd go Jobev dotty if people were suddenly calling me Susie, or Melanie, or  Seraphina. However, if I had a name I disliked, I might want to escape it, and  if my name would turn off romance readers I'd suffer in the cause. Bertha  Ramsbottom, for example.  The other reason I would probably use a pseudonym would be if I were published  in something completely different — violent thrillers, for example, or more  possibly, SF or fantasy. Then it would be to help readers distinguish between  my types of work.

Joanna Bourne: I could point out that I use 'Jo Bourne' just about everywhere in my life, but decided  Aaajapanese fb to use 'Joanna Bourne' for writing, because there was this bestselling Historical Romance writer directly next to me on the shelf who was 'Jo' something or other starting with a 'B'.  But that's about the only thing I can say since I'm using my real name for everything and lead a really dull life, pseudonym-wise.

Nicola Cornick: I don't have a lot to contribute to this topic either, simply Cornick because I have always written under my own name. I did think about taking a pseudonym when I started out and I think I was probably a little naive in not doing so as I can see it is useful. However it hasn't caused me any problems, even when I was working in a military college and everyone knew I was a romance writer in my spare time. As and when I start writing other things I will probably revisit the question.

Mary Jo Putney: Having a backstage sort of personality, I fully intended to take a pseudonym when I sold my first book.  I was leaning toward "Justine Kingsley" since Kingsley is a family name and Justine Kingsley struck  me as Very Regency.
However, my agent and editor talked me out of that, citing the advantages of using my own name, including the fact that legally, the name was mine and couldn't be taken away.  So Mary Jo Putney I was and remain.
Except when I'm M. J. Putney. <G>  That is what is considered an open pseudonym–close enough to my regular name that it's probably obvious that M. J. and Mary Jo are the same, but meant to signify that they're different kinds of books.  My first genre fantasy novel, STOLEN MAGIC, was done as M. J. Putney, but all the chain store book buyers put the book in romance instead of science fiction/fantasy anyhow, so we reverted to Mary Jo on the next book. 
Now that I've ventured into Young Adult fantasy novels, I'm using M. J. Putney again to make it clear that the books are different from my adult romances.  Besides, I still owned the mjputney.com domain name. <G> 

Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose: Since I think I hold the Wench record for pen names I 'm well-qualified to discuss this question! The answer is . . . there are a variety of reasons, and trust me I Celliot_ seem to have touched on them all. When I did my first Signet regency book, my editor was afraid that people wouldn't know how to pronounce my real last name, so we picked "Pickens" which had a nice English ring. That moved with me when I went into historicals . . . then my publisher decided to relaunch me as Cara Elliott (I won't bore you with details of the book buying business, but there were marketing strategies involved). Finally, when I branched into mystery, my other pub thought it was better to have a different name so readers would know what genre to expect. I confess, some days I don't know who I am. But in some ways, I'm not unhappy having pen names to use on FaceBook and my website. I feel I have a bit of privacy, and really don't have to deal with mixing my real life with my writing life.

And Sherrie adds: I have a writer friend who writes erotica and uses a pen name.  She does this to keep her identity secret, as she is the secretary at her church.  <g>
Do you mind that we play with different personalities? If you were a writer, what would you choose to do?