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Monday, April 09, 2007

Pen Names

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.


Whitney Awards Admin said...

Yesterday I was at Barnes and Noble, and saw a book on their New Fiction shelf. It said, in huge letters: "NORA ROBERTS writing as J.D. ROBB". It seems like that kinda defeats the purpose.

C.J. said...

Well you already told my pen name (Carole Thayne,) but if I was to actually think about it, I would choose something like Carby Stick--that was my nickname in a club in Orem. I chose Thayne because some people actually know me by that name and others would pay attention to my name because of my aunt Emma Lou Thayne--at least I hoped so.

Darvell Hunt said...

> "NORA ROBERTS writing as J.D. ROBB".

Wow, that's funny. What's the point of that? Maybe to separate her sales in the computers or perhaps they are in different genres?

I've had two "big-time" published authors tell me I already had a great pen name with my real name (That was Dave Wolverton/David Farland and Brandon Sanderson). Guess I won't need a pen name unless I publish in two very different genres.

Darvell Hunt

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

Love the post. I am going to add you to my blogroll. I am on blogspot too.

Oh, In case you don't think you know me, I met you this morning at dance. I talked to you about writing and getting a book published. How fun that you blog!

So, I started a new book and will leave the other I had started for another time.

I had thought about pen names because mine is long. My last name would have to wrap around to the back of the book! We'll see.

Josi said...

Melissa--You are motivated, that's awesome. I'll have to check out your blog as well.

I had a friend who's name was pronounced Kray-Poe but spelled Crapo, she was absolutely going to use a pen name.

Good luck with the new book, I just started a book over...after 350 pages. What is wrong with me?

Janette Rallison said...

I'm still waiting for the paparazzi to show up . . . okay, I'm actually still waiting for anyone, anywhere to recognize me. I always thought I'd be out at a store somewhere, hand the cashier my credit card and she'd look at it and say, "Are you THE Janette Rallison?"

That has only happened to me once, and it was at a Deseret Book Store, so I don't think it counts. (Especially when you consider all of the times I've been in DB and they haven't known who I was . . .)

Heather Moore said...

Great blog, Josi. It's interesting to know why some author's use pen names. My husband's whole family calls me "H.B." now. So I can thank my publisher for my new nickname. But it worked out all right because the .com for my full name was taken, but was available. I guess it was meant to be.

Julie Wright said...

fabulous Blog Josi! With any of my national books I plan on using a penname for the same reason Janette does. I don't want to confuse my readers. But there is a deeper reason too. I am sooooo sick and tired of finding my books on the bottom shelf where even a toddler would have to bend over to see. How many people look on the bottom shelf? NO ONE!!! My pen name is Jules Hartmen. Jules because that's what everyone calls me anyway, and Hartman because that is my grandfather's real name before he was adopted. H is almost always at eye level. How is that for a shameless gimmick?

Annette Lyon said...

I think the "writing as" thing IS the whole point--they're trying to attract any readers that might be interested in both sides of the author. Like Josi said, it's no secret that the writer is both alter-egos. It's just to cue the reader in as to which type of book they're writing at any given time. I've picked out a pen name if I ever need one, too. :)

Karlene said...

Great post on pen names. And I agree that most of the time it's best for people to publish under their own (ie: recognizable) name. At least then we know their friends will buy their books.

Plus some of the pen names authors want to use are (how do I put this tactfully?) not well thought out.

Genre change is one of the better reasons for a pen name. Anne McCaffrey writes sci-fi and romance. Love her sci-fi; can't force myself past the first 3 pages of her romances. If I'd read the romance first, I never would have tried her sci-fi.

Tristi Pinkston said...

My biggest issue with the whole pen name thing was -- should it be:

Tristin Paige Norton Pinkston
Tristin Norton Pinkston
Tristin Norton
Tristi Norton
Tristin Pinkston
or . . . drumroll -- Tristi Pinkston?

I did consider Paige Norton for a little while, but then decided to save that for when I start writing edgy national thrillers. (Yeah, as if)

I went with Tristi Pinkston because:

Tristi is me. My full name is Tristin but Tristi sounds more friendly and approachable. Besides, it's what I get called every day of my life -- it's my name.

I didn't add a "Norton" in there because I wanted short, sweet and to the point. I thought of having it in there so that all the guys who were too shy to ask me out when I was a teenager would know that was me and feel very ashamed, but then I thought, how many girls named Tristi did they know? If they're curious, they'll flip the book over and see my picture.

Oh, wait, they'll see my picture, looking fat. Hmmmm. Maybe that was a mistake.

Heather Justesen said...

Great blog, I'm playing catchup with reading these things today. I picked out a pen name in case I ever go national that is a mix of my grandmothers' names. Part of me, but not.

I have to actually *sell* something before I have to decide whether or not to use my maiden name or middle initial though.