Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024
  • Alex Brown Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 9/9/2024
  • Leslie Zampetti Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 10/7/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Guest Blogger C.A. Marshall: A Writer By Any Other Name...

Please give a warm welcome to guest blogger C.A. Marshall! Cassandra is an intern for a literary agent as well as an aspiring author. Today she'll be talking about pen names, and I'll be featuring an interview with her in just a couple weeks, so please check back. Stop by Cassandra's website and blog to learn more about her.

A writer by any other name...
By C.A. Marshall

Pen names and Pseudonyms have been around for ages. Back when being a female with a pen was looked down on, Anne, Chalotte, and Emily Bronte chose to publish under the names Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell, respectively.

But it also goes the other way: Anne Rice was born Howard Allen O'Brien. 

(Anne Rice is a MAN?! No, she's a woman, her mother just has a sick sense of humor)

And we've all done those name game things, haven't we? Combine your and your grandfathers' first names to create your Nascar name (Fred James), or your mother’s and father’s middle names to create your Witness protection name (Ann Francis) or your pet's first name and the street you lived on as a child for your Porn Name (Mollie Longview, HA!)

Even Jane Austen (her sister was named Cassandra and that makes me happy) said in Northanger Abbey: "...[W]hat young lady of common gentility will reach the age of sixteen without altering her name as far as she can?" :) I have a hunch that this may be along the same lines as many girls hoping that their "real family" will show up one day and tell them that they are a princess or the daughter of a rockstar.

There are many reasons to use a pen name, here are a few:

1) Your real name is hard to remember and/or spell correctly.

Family Guy executive story editor/co-producer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong released two young adult novels, She's So Money and DupliKate using the name Cherry Cheva.

2) Your real name sounds silly, stupid or obscene.

Pearl Gray dropped his first name and changed the spelling of his last name to become Zane Grey, because he believed that his real name did not suit the Western genre. Romance novelist Angela Knight writes under that name instead of her actual name (Julie Woodcock) because of the double entendre of her surname.

On the other hand, Lemony Snicket sounds so much better than Daniel Handler for kids, doesn't it? Plus it's fun to say.

3) Your real name is the same as, or similar to, another author or a famous figure.

Stephanie Meiers, Stephen Kingsleys, and JP Rowling’s are not going to make it past the ed board.

4) To hide who you really are.

Romance writer Nora Roberts writes futuristic thrillers under the pen name J.D. Robb so as not to accost her readers who would expect the same kind of writing in the new genre.

C. S. Lewis used two different pseudonyms for different reasons. He published a collection of poems (Spirits in Bondage) and a narrative poem (Dymer) under the pen name "Clive Hamilton", to avoid harming his reputation as a don at Oxford University. His book entitled A Grief Observed, which describes his experience of bereavement, was originally released under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk".

The Histoire d'O (The Story of O), an erotic novel of sadomasochism and sexual slavery, was written by an editorial secretary with a reputation of near-prudery who used the pseudonym Pauline Réage.

Alice Bradley Sheldon wrote under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr. because she was a woman writing in the heavily male-dominated genre of science fiction and she was a career intelligence officer, first in the Army Air Corps and then in the early years of the CIA, for whom concealment was a way of life.

The identity of the enigmatic twentieth century novelist B. Traven has never been revealed, in spite of thorough research.

5) You want a gender neutral name.

J. K. Rowling used a gender neutral name to secure boy readers, many of whom will not read books written by women or authors with feminine names.

6) To avoid overexposure

Prolific authors for pulp magazines often had two and sometimes three short stories appearing in one issue of a magazine; the editor would create several fictitious author names to hide this from readers.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote stories under pseudonyms so that more of his works could be published in a single magazine.

Stephen King published four novels under the name Richard Bachman because publishers didn't feel the public would buy more than one novel per year from a single author.

What about you? If you're a writer/author, have you considered a pen name or are you gung-ho on using your real name? If you're not a writer, have you ever wanted to change your name to something else? If so, why?


JackiAnne said...

In #4, you say Nora Roberts writes erotic thrillers as J.D. Robb. Actually, she writes futuristic thrillers as J.D. Robb, not erotic.

Melissa Sarno said...

I've never thought about changing my name- it seems too much a part of me. Even if I marry, I think it's strange. Thanks for the #5 factoid. I did not know that about J.K. Rowling!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for being so detailed about all the reasons people use pen names. I'd think about using initials instead of my first name if it'd help with boy readers. Another reason a person might use a pen name is if he/she has another profession and wants to keep the identities and contact info separate.

Casey Something said...

Thanks again for all the fun facts about pen names, Cassandra! Do you want me to change that bit about Nora Roberts?

I'm thinking about using my maiden name as a pen name since that's what everyone knows me by. I took my husband's name when we married last Oct and really I wish wouldn't have. But, there is an advantage to my new last name in that it's a very unique name (and there is another McCormick YA writer), so it'll be something I discuss with my agent/editor team when the time comes.

Tessa said...

Another reason to choose a pen name is if you have a really common name.

I've googled my real name and come up with over a million hits, and none of them are me hehe.

Editor Cassandra said...

Yes, Casey, please change that bit. I must have got a wire crossed when doing my research.

Thank you to Melissa, Natalie, Peri1020, & TS for your comments!

I'm using my initials and my mothers maiden name as my pen name. I've given it a couple of years' thought and if I had the resources, i'd change my last name it Marshall in a heartbeat anyway.

Marshall is kind of common but i'm hard at work building a platform and name recognition so that if or when people google my name, I'm the first one that comes up and I don't even have an agent yet. Building platform now is vitally important.

kathrynjankowski said...

I've toyed with the idea of a pseudonym because my last name has been mangled so many times (and yet it's so easy: jan-kow-ski).
But I figure if people can learn Schwarzenegger's name, they can learn mine!
Even so, I do have some ideas for pen names should the need arise. Like Casey says, it's a matter to discuss with an agent.
My porn name: Blackie Dix! LOL

Delilah S. Dawson said...

I've been wondering if I would be asked to select a pen name, once publishing became a reality. I am not, in fact, the Delilah Dawson who writes the African-American erotica stories. May I have half her success!

Anne R. Allen said...

I always use my middle initial because I have one of the most common female names in WASP-dom. My witness protection name: "May Williams" and my Nascar name: "John Alexander" are pretty generic too. Maybe I should start looking at word verification names. Mine today is "Ali Dessa" Maybe that's better. This is fun stuff. Informative, too. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm writing under a pen name, because I live deep in the Bible belt and will be a high school English teacher - but I write romance. Not erotica, but still. It might not be looked too well upon around here for a teacher in a public school to be writing sex scenes at night.

Leigh Hutchens Burch said...

My maiden name is Tidd and I always loathed it -- until I got married and realized I wanted to semi-keep it.

Amber Leigh Tidd Murphy is a mouthful, but it's who I am, and I want to see that time in a byline or at the bottom of some awesome cover art in the perfect font.

I have considered using a pen name, but when it comes down to it -- I want the credit, should I ever be so blessed as to get published.

Lisa Nowak said...

I've wondered if initials would be a good idea since some of my books are for boys. I guess I'll see what potential editors have to say about it.

I have the odd misfortune of having an unusual name that I happen to share with a diaper-wearing astronaut. Don't know what to do about that. Laugh, I guess.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

I don't know what name I'd use if I were to publish. My name is a surprisingly complicated part of my life.

A friend and I once joked that to be a famous fantasy writer, you need to use your initials. J.R.R. Tolkein. J.K. Rowling. C.S. Lewis. So we tried that with ourselves. His sounded so good, I took to calling him by that name all the time. Mine just sounded bad. I guess I know one pen name I can rule out.

Anonymous said...

I have too many names. I hope to one day have the opportunity to solve the problem of what to publish under, but even though it's in no way at hand, I still think about it. I have my given name that's elegant and feminine, and my nickname that's boyish. I have my maiden name that's boyish, and my married name that's elegant and feminine. Who knows what's best.