Back in the day when I felt sure being a published author meant scads of people calling my house at all hours of the night and the need for ten foot wrought iron fencing to protect my children's privacy, I decided that I needed a pen name.
It had to be something mysterious and easy to pronounce. I wanted it to sound smart and yet sassy, yet just like naming my children I wanted it to have meaning. Deep, sacred meaning. So, I thought and thought and decided that I wanted the name June Snow. This is actually my grandmother's name, it's one I was familiar with and since this woman died when my mother was still a teenager, it was very mysterious to me. I told my husband. "You don't want to use my name?" he said. I tried to console him by explaining how miserable the paparazzi would make our lives if I dared use my real name. He finally patted my shoulder and said he was okay. Then I told my father, "You won't use your husband's name but you won't even use my name?" I tried to explain my reasons to him as well but later that day I found him and my husband snickering. I asked what was so funny and they acted like they didn't know what I was talking about. Weird.
Fast forward a few months to when my book HAD been accepted and I told my publisher that I wanted a pen name. He said "Uh, why?" so I explained my romantic notions and he said. "Uh, not necessary. We want to sell books and the fact is that your real name will sell books when people recognize you as the lady they used to Visit Teach". Well, I hadn't thought about that and I didn't argue, but I did look into how to make my phone number an unlisted one should we get hounded.
Fast forward another seven years and I have no telephone call problems and no need for fencing. Now and then I get a "Hey, are you Josi Kilpack the author?" but that's usually in the small town I live in from people who saw the posters I put up myself. So why do some authors have pen names?
Janette Rallison writes YA for the national market. When she decided to write for the LDS market she didn't want to confuse her already established fans by having them run into religious stories. So she came up with a pen name to keep her books separate. It's not a secret--which is what I thought the whole point of a pen name was. She's very open about it and at the recent LDStorymaker conference she taught one class as Janette Rallison and one as Sierra St. James.
Dr. Suess was a pen name for Theodore Suess Giesel simply because Dr. Suess is much more fun and easier to say.
Mark Twain was really Samuel Longhorn Clemens--I don't know why, he just was.
Ninteenth century English Novelist George Eliot was really Mary Ann Evans--how many men would have read a woman's book back then?
My good friend writes under the name Carole Thayne, which is her maiden name. Her married name, Carole Warburton, was already taken by another LDS writer so she had to get creative.
Heather Moore writes the "Out of Jerusalem" series but her publisher suggested the pen name H.B. Moore, thinking it would broaden her audience and keep men from assuming her books were romances. And apparently it's worked since most people assume she's a man (including me until I was introduced to her). She is in fact very very female but people seem to stereotype women as not being scholarly enough for scriptural novels. Joke's on them.
Nora Roberts is known for her romance novels. When she decided to write futuristic suspense, she took on the pen name of J.D. Robb. Again, it's not a secret. But women that love Nora Roberts romances, won't pick up a futuristic suspense by mistake and feel let down. Similarly, forty two year old Blake Cartney hates romance novels and it's a cold day in Disneyland when he's gunna pick up a book by that blasted Nora Roberts. Now J.D. Robb, boy can he hanker on a good scheme.
And I bet you didn't know that Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki is really Natsume Kinnosuke--sly, very very sly.
So will I ever use a pen name? I might need one already. At a recent book signing a woman asked me what my books were about. I said "Well this one is a suspense, this one is more of a romance, and these ones are more family drama" and it gets me thinking, should I have different names for different books? Will Sue pick up a romance thinking it's a suspense and be disappointed? Will Lou-Lou be hungry for a romance and end up with a mystery? I don't know, and I guess it's too late anyway. In this market a 'brand name' is important. You want people to buy your book because they recognize your name, and I can only hope that they end up liking all the genres I write as much as I like writing them.
So, if you were going to have a pen name what would it be and why? I already told you mine, though lately I've thought Jezabell Pierce would have more of a kick.