ATFMB's Writing JournalI was thinking about pen names the other day while editing an episode of ISBW.  Mur was talking about nom de plumes, and I am not a fan.

A pen name (or nom de plume) is when an author adopts a name other than their own for their published works.  There can be lots of reasons and thinking behind doing something like that.  For example, if you share a name with a famous author or celebrity, which can be confusing for some readers.  Imagine trying to get published as Tom Clancy, for example.

Another reason I’ve heard is to create distinct brands for your published works.  Kristine Kathryn Rusch is an excellent example of this.  She is an award-winning author who writes scifi under Kristine Kathryn Rusch, romance under Kristine Grayson and mysteries under the name Kris Nelscott.  When I spoke with her, she told me the thinking behind the different names is so the reader (or potential reader) knows what they are getting up front.  If it’s a KKR novel, you know you’re getting scifi – that sort of thing.

The last reason that comes to mind is when different authors combine to form – VOLTRON!  Uh, I mean – they combine to form a single pen name for a series of books.  Tie-ins do this.  The publisher / license holder want a ‘consistent brand’, and so a pen name is created, and all the books written for them, by multiple authors, actually have that pen name on the cover.  The Eureka books come to mind (Cris Ramsay).

And I get it, I do.  But I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

Just last week, I had a conversation with a published author about my own novels – the Sam Kane books, set in Denver, and featuring a first person POV from a female protag.  Suddenly, I found myself (sort of) defending the desire to have my own name on these books.  It was suggested that an editor or publisher might want a pen name – even a female name – on the books instead of my name.  Even going so far as to suggest that a female author’s name on the cover might sell more books.

How depressing for me.

I have never wanted anything other than my name on my books and stories.  I’ve always had this kookie desire to walk into a book store and see my name there on the shelves.  My name, not a pen name.

Maybe it’s silly, but I wish, instead of the normal categories we break books into, we could just have sections by author.  You walk in and there’s all the Tom Clancy, there’s Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Robert Jordan, Isaac Azimov, Kate Elliot, J.V. Jones, etc and so on.  Maybe that would open things up.  People who don’t like (or think they don’t like) genre stuff, will avoid those aisles like the plague.  If everything were listed under ‘fiction’, and then alpha by author?  Would that help or hinder?  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m wrong.

So then it’s suggested to me that maybe it’ll all work out in the end.  My Sam Kane books will have my name on them.  I’ll be happy.  Right?  But what if I follow them up with a scifi novel?  Or a sword and sorcery?  Then what?’  Will someone say, “Hey. Um.  So.  You’re known for the SK books.  How about putting a different name on this one?”

Blargh. (I will fight for my name!) (if it comes up) (if I get published)



  • Clarice Posted June 26, 2012 10:47 am

    I completely understand why writers decide to do the pen name thing, but honestly as a reader, I’ve found it more frustrating than helpful. Often if I like a particular author’s writing style, it doesn’t matter what genre they’re writing in as the voice comes through it all. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to know ahead of time whether a particular favorite author is publishing under multiple names, but if I don’t and I’m craving a fix of their voice and storytelling then I’m suffering withdrawal for no good reason!

  • Paul (@princejvstin) Posted June 26, 2012 11:46 am

    I’ve pondered tackling this subject for a mind meld–asking authors as well as readers how they feel about their use.

    • Vanades Posted June 26, 2012 6:04 pm

      That would be a very interesting approach.

  • Vanades Posted June 26, 2012 6:03 pm

    While I mostly read Fantasy and SF I sometimes also dip my feet into other genres and I think if a favourite writer decided to write in a different genre I would follow them because it’s not the genre I like about the writer but their style, their story-telling skills, the way the craft a story and everything else.

    I did this with Anne Rice and while I first read her Vampire Chronicles books, my personal favorite of her books is Cry to Heaven which is a completely different genre. If she’d published it under a pen-name I might not have dicovered it.

  • Matthew Sanborn Smith Posted June 26, 2012 8:24 pm

    No compromise, Patrick! If you’ve never wanted anything else, mentally prepare yourself now to walk away from that contract if you can’t have it.

    I’m totally serious.

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