Thursday, July 19, 2007

Using Pseudonyms

I got a lot of questions from authors wanting to use a pseudonym. When should it be used and how? Is it something the author decides or the publisher? And the answer is . . . it depends.

Often authors make the decision to use a pseudonym because they don’t like their own names, they write something they don’t want colleagues or even family members to find out about, or they just think the pseudonym is cooler. And often publishers will decide that an author should use a pseudonym for some of the same reasons, but usually for sales. If an author was previously published and the numbers aren’t good, they’ll want that author to use a new name to help up her orders when it comes time for bookstores to place them.

Whatever you decide to do, here’s a little advice: The minute, the second, you decide to use that pseudonym, you need to become that person. That means that you stop signing your name Jessica Faust writing as Fessica Jaust. Nope. If I’m writing as Fessica Jaust, then I better become Fessica in all of my correspondence, in every nametag I write and in every introduction that’s made. Why confuse people? If you want to sell books under a pseudonym, then why even bother telling them your real name? It’s not going to sell books. That means when you’re submitting to an agent you submit as Fessica Jaust. When you’re talking to your editor, you call and say this is Fessica.

Here’s the deal. I can barely remember one name, so why are you going to try to ask me to remember two? And please don’t make me remember an awful name like Fessica. Can you imagine?



Kate Douglas said...

This one is close to my heart--I can't be the real me because another author owns the name, so I'm Kate Douglas...all the time. I even got a credit card in my Kate Douglas name and that allows me to register at conferences w/o giving out my "other" name. The best part is that the author me is a lot more fun and outlandish than the real me. I've discovered I can do things in "Author mode" I'd never dream of in real life. It's like an invitation to role play.

Laura Kramarsky said...

You are a mind reader! I was just going to ask a question about how to address the nom de plume (French is always sexier and I hate the idea of being a pseudo anything) because I'm currently in the middle of writing a romance and although "Laura Kramarsky" is fine for a mystery writer, it's just not very romantic.

Anonymous said...

What if you've established yourself as in author in one genre but you want to write fun and sexy romance novels under a different name on the side and not reveal your mainstream identity???

Is that okay/acceptable?

BookEnds, LLC said...


In fact I have more than one author who ask that they never have to reveal their real or other names. That is perfectly acceptable. You will probably have to reveal that to your agent though, assuming she doesn't already know. She may or may not want your publisher to know, but it never has to go beyond that.


Josephine Damian said...

Question for Kate Douglas: How did you get a credit card in that name? Did you file DBA papers in your state?

Question for Jessica/Fessica:
Would you sign a contract for a million dollar book deal :-) as Jessica or Fessica? How about your contract with your agent?

Isn't that how JT Ellroy got into trouble? By signing her pen name to a contract?

Kate said...

Josephine - love those questions. I'm looking forward to hearing the answers. They ran pretty much what I was going to ask.

Lori S said...

I've been thinking of a pseudonym and am having a difficult time deciding. For those who have one, how did you decide what to use?

Everytime I think of one it ends up sounding like a porn name. lol

Diana Peterfreund said...

I think JT Leroy got in trouble because the author using that pseudonym pretended Leroy was a real person writing a memoir, and the author had taken this person under their wing, and made up elaborate biography for that person, who didn't exist.

Regarding the early adoption of pseudonyms: I actually disagree with Jessica here. I've seen plenty of authors go to great length to adopt a pseudonym so wretched ("porn star name," as Lori said) that their agent or publisher has refused to let them use it, and all their effort has been wasted. I say wait to adopt a pseudonym until there is a deal on the table and all parties involved can agree on one.

Curious Writer said...

Well, this is just another thing that leads to confusion like agents saying they don't take short stories but won't consider a query on a novella with more publishing companies opting for novellas. Because to me a short story and novella are completely different.

But that's another topic - about pen names/pseudonyms - I agree with Jessica.

People talk about building a brand or name recognition. And that unpubbed authors and writers need websites and blogs as marketing. It makes sense to adopt a pseudonym, if you feel you need one, and build your website and blog using that. Same with message boards and forums when you comment. So I guess it is a catch 22.

Liz Wolfe said...

When I decided to use a pen name, I used it on everything. Then I started reading that I should sign my real name with "writing as" under it. I did that a few times, but it just didn't feel right, so I went back to just the pen name. But, of course, my publisher uses my real name on the contracts. And on the checks.
I've considered having my name legally changed to the pen name because I have no attachment to my real last name.

Chumplet said...

Well, that's a relief. I'm using my maiden name anyway so it's easy to autograph stuff!

--Chumplet writing as Sandra Cormier but I'm really Sandra Turnsek...

Michele Dunaway said...

The fun thing about being a writer is that you get to have all these multiple personalities--not only do you create your own fiction, but you get to create your persona.

I'm Michele Dunaway the mother, the full time teacher, the nationally recognized educator, and the author. For each one there's a different dress and another pair of shoes. (PS--I am not Michele Dunaway the painter, or the news broadcaster in Michigan.)

I took eight pairs to RWA and wore all but one. I was in dresses I'll only wear once all year. At the national journalism conventions I present at, I don't need those things. One pair of nice black pumps and I'm done. RWA had a shoe and jewelry for every outfit. In my classroom, the same two pairs of comfortable shoes every other day, same few outfits in rotation. As I get up at 5:30 AM, I will not be a high end fashion plate at work, but would dare not be otherwise at RWA.

At home, shorts, sweats, t-shirts that would never see the light of day outside my house.

The joy of a pen name is that you can play that person, go home, and take off the mask you have to present. Writing with your own name means you are "on" every time you're in public--although how much you want to disclose is up to you. It's playing dress up all the time--depending on what role mode you are in. The way I sign my name also varies as well.

As for being Michele Dunaway (which is my former married name), my best friends and my family rarely blink at "the author." They simply aren't awed, since to them, you're just you no matter what since they've known you forever. That's a nice fact--it grounds you if ever your head gets too big.

Kate Douglas said...

Re: credit card question. I merely applied for a "small business" account which did not require a DBA application and got it in my author's name (as business) and my real name is listed below, which is good if I have to show ID, since my driver's license is in my real name.

Re: question on how I chose my nom de plume (Gee, Laura, I like the sound of that!)I wanted to keep my first name because I'm too dense to remember to answer to another name, and I took my husband's name, Douglas, because he has been so supportive of my writing career and it seemed like a good way to include him.

As far as name branding goes, I've been really lucky writing a series with the same title for each book. It's made it easy to make Kate Douglas synonymous with Wolf Tales.

KateS said...

Kate, if I chose my pen name the way you did, I would be: Kate Douglas, lmao.

I chose Kate because I also wanted to keep my first name, but Scott was just a random choice, though I love all things Scottish, lol.

Petrina said...

As I'm unpublished as yet it's a moot point, but I chose my pen name, Lucie Charles, from relatives that meant a lot to me. Lucie is to honor my mother and step-mother since they were both named Lucille. Charles was the name of a favorite uncle.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jessica! You alluded to this issue when you were doing query critiques so it's nice to see the full story.

I'm a rank beginner but I feel I have to have a pen name because I teach high school in a conservative city at an even more conservative religious school. What with substitute teachers being fired and prosecuted for ACCIDENTALLY showing 2 seconds of a porno in class, what kind of fit teacher can I possibly be writing erotic love scenes for a living (some day, I hope)!?!??!!?!?

I chose my last name because it's my maternal great-aunt's maiden name and she introduced me to romances. It's also Scottish and I'm proud of that history. I chose my first name from a name book that I won in the raffle on the very first day I attended my local RWA chapter meeting. I thought it sounded romantic. My real name begins with a "C" too so I hope I won't get confused if I ever "make it".

Camille Kirkland

Cindy Procter-King said...

I write under my own name and a pseudonym. This year, at RWA, I had both names on my badge, because (1) I was a GH finalist under my real name and also just had a book released under my real name; and (2) because I wanted to spark interest in my pseudonym, as my first release as Kate St. James is coming out in December. It seemed to work, and no one I met was confused.

Next year, in SF, unless something changes with my real name's writing and I miraculously have an unplanned release come out before then, I plan on just putting my pseud on my name badge, because I'll be signing at the Lit Autographing under that name and of course will want to promote that release. I figure, from this point forward, whichever name is up for an award or whichever name is the one that just had a book come out or about to come out, etc., is the one I'll use.

Alexis Fleming said...

I decided to use a pen name because my father-in-law was a minister of religion with a rather narrow outlook on life. No way would he have ever spoken to me again if he'd known I was writing romance, let alone erotic romance. So I used my maiden name plus a corruption of my real name for my first name. I was called Alex as a kid so answering to it now is easy. My biggest fear was someone would call my name and I wouldn't answer to it.
Now I constantly dodge questions from my mother-in-law as to when she's going to get a copy of one of my books to read. Not likely! The poor woman would have a heart attack.

Anonymous said...

One hint from me: Try to use your name first name, if possible. I have a radically different "real" first name (which is also so unique, it would pretty much negate using a pseudonym if I went with it) from Bella, and it took a good year or so to figure out how to answer the phone calls for Bella or meet industry people as Bella.
~ Bella Andre

Chumplet said...

Colleagues at work knew me in high school, so I still turn my head when they call out, "Hey, Cormier!" Even after twenty-plus years of marriage.

I also have a large extended family spread all over the world, and it'll be easy for them to remember my pseudonym.

Works for me.

~~Olivia said...

My first name is extremely common for a romance writer. I didn't want to be just another ______, so I decided to get a pseudonym. I chose a romantic first name and an easy-to-remember-and-spell last name (which also happens to be my son's name). Then I googled it to be sure it was acceptable. Next I bought the website and reserved all the e-mail accounts I could.

And, I have become Olivia Charles.

Xakara said...

Two people writing under the last name Charles. That happens to be my real last name and the one my novella is coming out under. My first name is unique enough to stand out and despite being books they'll never read I know my family will be happy to have my name on the cover.

Interestingly enough using my given name feels like using a pen name because I have an entirely different online identity that feels like my "real name" and the "real" me.

I keep wondering if I should have gone with it since my entire web identity is under it, but using my given name allows for a certain anonymous quality to things.

How incredibly odd, huh?


Deanna Lee said...

I'll admit that I answer to Deanna.... even when people aren't talking to me. It's happened once or twice in a store, there is this "darling" little girl named Deanna that I see all the time in the grocery store. The first time I ever say her-- her mother was screaming "De-ANNA!" and I turned around and asked 'What?'.

So- funny.

Teresa D'Amario said...

I'm curious though. For contractual issues you have to sign your legal name. So therefore, wouldn't you use your real name at this point and not a pen name?

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