Thursday, May 31, 2018

Questions from a Brave and Stupid Man to a Panel of Women Writers #2: Pseudonyms

Being a white man, I willingly acknowledge I have blind spots, things that while they don't register to me like they perhaps should are things well worth my time and thought and important for me to know and understand in order to a member of a community of diverse writers.

That said, I've assembled an all-female panel of writers to be my teachers.

In the previous discussion someone brought up the issue of using a pen name. I figured we could go deeper into that issue this time.

This is #2 in a series of articles. The first can be found here, and the third here

So, today's discussion is this:

Do you find using a pseudonym helpful or a waste of time? Does it matter if you choose one that can be vague as to the gender or can a male one still open doors better than a female name? Or is it a genre specific issue?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I wrote it. I want my name on it. But that's my decision. I know people who use a pen name because they don't want their families to know about their work or they have a professional reputation to safeguard. I'm lucky that I don't have anything like that to hide from. I wrote it. That's my name. Deal with it.

Alexandra Christian: I started using a pen name because I was writing steamy romance while teaching 2nd grade. Apparently women are still supposed to be sexless schoolmarms. I write across a few genres, but I haven’t felt the need to come up with new pen names just yet. Or maybe all my writing is inherently sexual.

Ellie Raine: I've heard a lot of women use male pen names to get more sales in certain genres (and men using female pen names for romance) and it sucks that it continually gets them results. I choose to use my female name despite the genre I write because I would rather help break society's expectations of which genders "writer better (you name it) books". I don't know if anything will change from it, but I'd rather not feed the poison and keep the cycle of these assumptions going. The only way minds will be changed is if they consistently SEE that any gender can write any genre well.

Alexandra Christian: I’ve never gotten an agent, but I queried one book a lot and was pretty much told that my book was too sexy for sci-fi and too sci-fi for romance. I often wonder if I’d queried as a nonspecific pen name if I’d have had more success.

Ellie Raine: I had one agent tell me mine was too paranormal and not epic fantasy enough, and another tell me it was too epic fantasy and not paranormal enough. Funny how no one can seem to place these things... I never considered it may be because of the female/male dynamic, but it would be interesting to know if that was a factor.

Lucy Blue: My first publication was a collaboration with another writer, so we came up with a pen name together -- Anne Hathaway-Nayne. (And yes, it was a joke, sort of - we were writing a tie-in for Forever Knight, and Shakespeare was a character.) Then for my first solo publication with Pocket Books, I used a version of my real name, Jayel Wylie (my actual birth name is Jessica Leslie Wylie, which got shortened to JL, which my mother spelled out as Jayel), and I did three book with them under that name. Then my editor asked me to go in a slightly steamier and more fang-y direction with my next book and told me going in I was looking at one of those oh-so-popular torso covers. Because I wanted to write that book but I didn't necessarily want to always write that kind of book forever, I started using Lucy Blue. And that has since become a brand for me as a romance writer. But I'm still not sure if I'll use Lucy Blue or my real name if I do a non-romance book - it's an issue that I'm hoping is going to come up sometime in the next year, and I'll be open to input from my publisher about it then. And yeah, the idea has crossed my mind of being "J.L. Glanville" instead of "Jessica Glanville" because it's gender-neutral. But my writing, romantic or not, is so very woman-centric, I don't think I'd be fooling anybody.

Stephanie Osborn: I wrote one pure romance novel under a pen name, years ago. It didn't sell to a traditional publisher (mostly because said publisher lost it), so I threw it up indie, and occasionally it sells a copy or two.

For my SF, mystery, and popular science, I use my own name. Sometimes I kinda wish I'd used initials or something, 'cause then the SF might sell better, I sometimes think. But hey, it is what it is. I might try initials one of these days with a new series or something, just to see what happens.

Anna Grace Carpenter: I originally started using my initials because folks in real life seemed to have so much trouble remembering my given name and I was genuinely worried that folks would not be able to find my books on the shelf because they would be looking for Mary Grace or Sarah Jane instead of Anna Grace. (Of course, a couple years after I'd started selling short stories, I asked someone to look at a story that kept getting to the final round on the editors desks and then rejected. I sent him the submission formatted copy which had my real name and contact info on the first page. In his return comments the first thing he said was "I think you shouldn't use your real name because it's really too sweet for someone writing zombie stories." So the bias is definitely real.) I do introduce myself by my actual name and not my author name because my intention is not to hide anything, but I'm not rebranding my work at this point unless it's in a drastically different genre.

Nancy Hansen: I've always written under my own name because I'm proud of what I do, and so is my very supportive family. I figure an entire legion of women labored in obscurity before me, having to hide their identity to get recognized for their outstanding work in speculative and genre fiction, and I owe it to them to celebrate the freedom to be myself.

Herika Raymer: To be truthful, I am most likely still considered new to the field. Mostly because, as yet, I have not encountered any preconceptions about my name -- possibly because of how it is spelled. No one wants to 'offend' me (LOL).But I have to agree, if I wrote it I would prefer my name on it. Then again, there are times when I have considered a pen name simply because of my mundane life. Sometimes what you write should not cross over with your mundane identity. (wink wink)

Elizabeth Donald: People were always surprised that I wrote fiction under my own name, which is the same name I use for my 21 years of journalism. They acted like it would negatively impact my reputation as a journalist, but I didn't write anything I would be ashamed of, and quite frankly, most of my day-job colleagues and sources were supportive or amused. I got a little light teasing for writing romance, but nothing like the negative reactions I saw in the horror/SF world for writing romance and ebooks.

Yes, ebooks. I'm old, so my first couple of books came out in the infancy of ebooks, even pre-Kindle. People said, "I'll wait for the real book," and I couldn't use the ebooks as credits. One con even rewrote my submitted bio to call me an aspiring author. And I've spoken before about the negative reaction to paranormal romance encroaching in horror and SF, being dismissed as "vamporn," difficulty getting on horror panels and being stuck on the midnight sex panel - and the eternal, "So why are vampires so sexy?" panel. (I've started requesting NOT to be on those panels, because it was so tedious to say the same things at the same panels every single time.)

Eventually I vowed that if I would ever write more romance, it would be under a pen name and it would not be open. I found it sadly ironic that while the expectation was "romance will hurt your journalism career," it was really "writing romance means no one will take you seriously as a horror writer." It was not what I expected. Cynical colleagues said it was purely a gender thing: romance is a "woman's genre," and thus it was acceptable as long as I didn't venture into the boys' club - that the negative response of horror/SF to romance was really a negative response to women authors. I like to think that they're wrong, but I haven't found solid evidence yet.

I liked writing romance. It made me a better writer in ways that I could detail if I wasn't already far afield of Sean's question. I didn't like some of the genre's "rules," and I didn't fit in very well to readers' expectations. But in the end, I needed to jettison it from my own name in order to rebuild my brand - and to this day, 11 years after writing my last romance under my name, people who are even good friends and longtime readers will introduce me as, "This is Elizabeth Donald, she writes vampire smut." Sigh...

Amanda Niehaus-Hard: I wrote under diferent names for accounting purposes and to separate out some sections of my life from others. When I started out, I was told that sometimes a romance or women's fic publishing house will want to keep your romance "name" separate from other fiction you might write, but I'm not sure that's accurate these days. Someone recently pointed out to me that tenure-track teaching positions usually require some kind of regular publishing credentials and using a different name might complicate things. Again, no idea if that's true but I'm rolling out all new work under one of two iterations of my legal name, which is associated with my university and hopefully any future teaching I might do.

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