July 30, 2007 - Issue #273
From the Desk of Anne Marble:
What's In a (Pen) Name?
How many of us have mourned the loss of a favorite author, only to find out that she is writing under a pen name? Sometimes you need a
flow chart to keep track of the pen names.
Here are some examples: Jennifer Greene, has
written under Jeanne Grant and Jessica Massey . Claire
Delacroix sometimes writes as Claire Cross and has a book coming out as
Deborah Cooke. Eve Silver is about to be published as
Eve Kenin. Jennifer Ashley writes as Allyson James, Ashley
Gardner, and Laurien Gardner. Colette Gale
writes a paranormal historical series under another name. Each of these authors
gave me her views on the subject.
Why use a pen name? Romance pen names used to be mandatory. When Jennifer Greene first started out, publishers required them. Pen names can be advantageous to publishers. They can be less helpful to the authors, whose careers are advanced through reader recognition. Authors who change pen names every time they change publishers must start with readers from scratch. They receive fewer royalties than with the name that is known. Authors fought against this practice and nowadays publishers donít insist on pen names.
On the other hand, some name changes are advantageous to authors as that "clean slate" gives them a fresh start with the middlemen in the publishing industry who supply the bookstores. In Laurie's 1999 interview with Judith Ivory (aka Judy Cuevas), the author told her that Avon wanted to market her differently but feared that "a certain pattern had already been established" with the Judy Cuevas name. Instead of those supporters thinking they were "really, really supporting" her by "taking ten more books", Avon wanted help on a different scale..."they wanted to boost the numbers considerably."
When authors use pen names, there are practical reasons. Some authorsís names are obvious candidates for change. Jennifer Greene argues that, "Josie Bdkrenvidhonva, for instance, would be
tough for readers to remember. <g> Or...someone could have a name like
Nora Roberta. Or...like in my case, my real last name was Hart, but so
many authors had chosen Hart for a pen name that I couldn't use it.
Pen names can be useful in alerting readers to a certain writing style. Claire Delacroix uses her pen names for this reason, pointing out that pen names can build a stronger brand. But it can cut both ways; readers have complained when she published different work under the same name, and others were bothered when they couldn't find all of her books under one name. Because the first group is more vocal, Claire uses pen names to divide
her work into categories. She recognizes that this doesn't work
for all authors, as not all authors are prolific. "The author needs to be
able to write two books a year under any given name to build sales for that
name. Most print houses will want a new book every six months if they are
trying to build sales. So, an author should only write under two names if
that author can write four books a year. I write four to five books a year
so writing under several names makes sense. I also like to alternate
between types of work to refresh myself creatively, so it's a good solution
As with many authors, Eve Silver never meant to use a pen name. Her historical
Gothics (published by Zebra) were published under her real name, as were
the contemporaries she wrote for Grand Central Publishing (formerly Warner
Books). Then Eva wrote a book for Dorchester's new Shomi imprint (which
publishers speculative romance), and she decided a pen name - Eve Kenin -
would be a good idea. Her reasoning? While her Gothics and paranormals fall
under recognizable romance sub-genres, the Shomi line is something else
entirely. Itís romance with a strong thread of speculative fiction. By creating a new pen name, fans of her Gothics and paranormals wouldn't pick up a
Shomi book with, say, a post-apocalyptic plot, and then get frustrated
because it wasn't their type of story. She adds, "While I hope my 'Eve Silver'
readers will give my 'Eve Kenin' books a try, I felt it best to separate
the names and be as honest as possible about what the reader is getting.
(Now that I've seen the Manga-style covers of SHOMI, I realize
that it was never a danger, LOL! But at the time, who knew?)"
Like Eve, Jennifer Ashley never intended to use pen names. She had planned to publish
her books under Jennifer Ashley, her real name. However, when she was
finally published, several publishers bought her books at once,. The
books were in different genres, so she published romances with Dorchester
and mysteries with Berkley. She used Jennifer Ashley for the romances and
Ashley Gardner for the mysteries. Then Berkley chose the Laurien Gardner
name for the Wives of Henry VIII historical fiction series. Jennifer wrote only one
book under that name (the RITA award-winning A Lady Raised High). A more deliberate creation was "Allyson James", for Ashley's erotic romances published by Ellora's Cave. Jennifer wanted to find out if she could write erotic romance and
published with Ellora's Cave, She used the Allyson James name in case the
book flopped. This way the author could "quietly walk away and pretend it never happened."
She picked "Allyson" because she loved the name and "James" because "at the
time there weren't many 'J' authors at EC." Allyson James books sold
well at EC, and later, she sold as James to Berkley. Although her first for Berkley, Dragon Heat, earned a C grade from us, it did hit some national lists. The author doesn't plan to take any more pen names, "Not unless I
stop publishing under all names and then start over again with one. I am
not planning to do that any time soon!"
Both of Colette Galeís names are pen names. The name she
uses on her historical vampire series combines her real first name with
another last name - partly for privacy and partly because no one can spell
her last name correctly. In the case of her historical erotica, a new pen
name was necessary to keep the books separate. "Because those books are so
very different from my vampire books, my editor and I both agreed that a
pen name was a must. People who read my vampire books may not like the
level of sexual explicitness that are in my erotic novels, and by having a
different name on those books, I'm keeping those two markets separate. The
other reason is for privacy purposes. I didn't want it well-known that I
also write erotica." We wish Gale well, but her first erotic romance is now a shoo-in for Laurie as worst book of the year, and our review, which just went online today, indicates a similar level of dislike.
Publishers are still a major factor behind pen names.
Changing a publisher can become a
complication when one is used. When Jennifer Greene was first getting published, she was required to create a pen name for each publisher. She had four publishers, which meant that
she was known by four names...in addition to her real name, which meant she "always gave
big presents to [our] mail man." In comparison, Colette Gale
never had a publisher request that she use a pen name. The decision of what
names she would use was up to her. As for Jennifer Ashley, because she sold several books at once, publishers requested the use of pen names for competitive reasons. She points out, "Publishers
don't want to spend time building up an author's name to have another house
scoop the pot." When she sold the dragon stories (starting with Dragon
Heat) to Berkley, she had just sold the Immortals series to Dorchester,
so she had to use two names again. In that case, it wasn't a hardship
because she had already established a following with the Allyson James name
through Ellora's Cave.
The request to use a pen name doesn't always come from the publisher.
Sometimes it's the author's idea, as in the case of Claire Delacroix. She
came up with the idea of anglicizing "Claire Delacroix" to come up with
"Claire Cross" when writing paranormal romance for Berkley because so many
readers admitted they couldn't pronounce Delacroix. She still wrote
historicals as Delacroix (for Harlequin and Bantam/Dell). But when
sold her upcoming Dragonfire paranormal series to NAL, things changed. She
thought she would publish the series under the Delacroix name, but
her editor - who was familiar with some of her Delacroix books - pointed out
that the series was too different from her previous Delacroix books. "This
is an urban fantasy series, with dragon shapeshifter heroes in a
contemporary setting, so it is a bit different from my
Medieval romances!" According to Claire, when the publisher says, "we
should think about this," she listens. Thus the new series series will be
published under the name Deborah Cooke.
So how does a writer go about picking a pen name? For Jennifer Greene wanted a name that would be easy for readers to remember; a name with a personal
meaning to her and a name that wouldn't be associated with other authors or
be similar to the name of another author. Names that
started with "Z" were out because it would mean her books were always
stocked at the bottom in stores. Publishers had some input. Three out of four gave her first say, and she
had the right to argue if they had issues with the name she picked. One
publisher gave her a pen name without asking her. She wrote one book for them, and
doesn't think this could happen to a writer today.
In Eve Silver's case, the ultimate decision was hers, but she also asked both
her agent and her editor at Dorchester for help when choosing the Eve
Kensin pen name. She loved the input they gave and found it a big help. When it came to picking a name for her historicals and paranormal, Eve
used her real name. For her
speculative romance she opted for something short with
hard consonants. Kenin is based on her husband's name, only she
shortened it and gave it a hard "K". She admits, "I stuck with Eve as the
first name because I had visions of being at a booksigning or speaking
engagement and someone calling a name other than that one, and me not
Colette Gale started with a name that meant something
to her. She picked the name Colette because it "was the name of a famous
erotic novelist." "Gale" is the last name of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and she had just ďreceived a beautiful, leather-bound and embossed collection of erotic
adult comics about a grown-up Dorothy, Wendy (from Peter Pan), and
Alice from Wonderland .... so the name Gale just popped into my head
... and it went well with Colette."
Some names can sound pretty silly. During a publisher spotlight at RWA National, one editor warned against choosing a silly pen name. Some
writers try too hard to create something unique and to tie their pen name
into the stories they're writing. This can result in corny names, such as
Nightly Dreaming. On the other hand, it is a good idea to pick a pen name
that has some connection to what you write. So how can a writer pick
something interesting without going over the edge?
Jennifer Greene wouldn't recommend picking a name that reflects the genre,
but rather, picking a name that speaks to the target audience. For example,
Druscilla could be a fun paranormal name, and Zenna might sound like an SF
writer. If you pick up something by Druscilla, you suspect it's going to be
different than something by Zenna. Jennifer picked the name "Jennifer
Greene" both because of personal reasons and because she thought readers
would likely think "contemporary, an everyday kind of person, nothing
fancy, women's books." She hopes she got that image right, and if not, then
she "goofed up."
Claire Delacroix agrees that publishers want authors to have
easy-to-pronounce names, because those are easier to remember, as well as
names that sound like names real people might have. "Some of these new
'over the top' names sound more like corporations than like people, which
could make readers conclude that the books aren't all written by the same
author or that they're written by committee. As a reader, I wouldn't like
to have that feeling either, so a name like that might adversely affect
sales of the book."
Jennifer Ashley agrees that pen names can be overdone but
having a "romancey" name can be an advantage. She reminds writers to "Let common
sense prevail. You want a good, easy-to-remember name, but not one people
close their eyes and shake their heads over." A writer should pick a name
that's easy to say and easy to pronounce, but not too common. Of course,
they should also avoid picking a name that's similar to that of another
author, or their fans might buy the other person's books by mistake!
The Internet is the best way to alert fans to pen names. Claire Cross has different websites for the different names, but she links between the different websites, and also updates
readers on her blog and in her monthly electronic newsletter. She also sees
marketing as an important part of this equation. While an author who writes
only historicals probably wouldn't have to distinguish between different
periods they write under, authors who write in different subgenres might
want to use pen names to keep their historicals and paranormals separate,
or their contemporaries and historicals separate. After all, many people
read only historicals, while some love the "woowoo fact" and others hate
it. Whatever she does, she realizes that not everyone will make the
connection. "Ten years on, I still meet people who aren't aware that
Claire Cross is Claire Delacroix - and I thought that one was obvious!"
Eve Silver also uses the Internet to keep fans up-to-date on both her pen
names. She has an evesilver.net web page and an evekenin.com webpage, and
both URLs open a common entry page that lets readers pick which site they
want to visit. While both names have separate pages, they share all
the other pages, such as for news and contact information. Her promotional materials
mention both pen names, and some reviewers have made it a point to mention
the connection. On top of that, her publishers have helped in the
marketing. "My publishers have been amazing to me in regard to support of
my dual identity. My August 'Eve Silver' release from Zebra, Dark
Prince, has a teaser chapter for my September 'Eve Kenin' release
from Dorchester, Driven, (and vice versa). "
While other authors keep their pen names connected, Colette Gale keeps them separate. She has set up separate web sites for each personality,
and though both the personalities and the sites are very different, this isn't
as difficult as it might sound. Both authors blog, but when she blogs, she
does it as one personality and keeps the other out of the way. While she
does admit that "there is a benefit to letting readers know about your
other personalities," she prefers not to have the connection known as the
two authors are so different. While she does mention her friend Colette on
her blog or at signings, and does pass out bookmarks for both authors, she
never comes out and admits that she's the same person. "It's a decision I
made early on to try and keep them separate.
Pen names can be confusing for readers, and some may cry foul when one author mentions her pen name as a friend. Googling can help settle questions, although some authors do far better at keeping their separate identities a secret. That's
understandable when an author is writing two very different
sorts of work, such as paranormal historical vampire series and erotica. If
you haven't seen anything new by a favorite author for a while, ask around
on AARList or our Reader to Reader Forum. You
never know, you might find out that your favorite "Missing in Action"
writer is now writing romantic suspense, chick lit, paranormal historical
mysteries, or erotic Regency romances...
Questions To Consider
What do you think about pen names in general? Have you ever been frustrated trying to keep track of which name is which? If so, do you use pen name data bases, message boards, or other resources to find out who is using a pen name?
What are ways you've seen authors use to help fans keep track of their pen names (if they want to reveal the connection) - such as web sites, news letters, etc.? Also, what are ways you've seen authors keep the names themselves connected on the books themselves, such as revealing the truth in the bio or using names that start with the same letters?
What are your thoughts on the way companies used to treat pen names (as noted by Jennifer Greene) as opposed to the way pen names are treated today? Do you think it reflects on changes in the romance field as a whole?
Have you ever bought a book by an author you didn't like in the past because she was now writing under a pen name? Did you ever like her books under the new name more than those under the original name? Conversely, have you ever realized that you missed out on books by a favorite author because she was writing under a pen name?
Several years ago, Josie Litton was launched as a debut author, but it quickly turned out that she was a pen name for established author Maura Seger. Yet none of the authors interviewed for this piece had ever encountered a case where the publisher made them keep their pen name a secret. Do you think this practice is a thing of the past?
||Post to the Archives for this Column
(AAR uses BYRON for its romance reference needs)