QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pen Names - Should You Have One?

Pen name, nom de plume, pseudonym, literary double, alias. Some authors have them. Other authors don’t. In some instances, having a pen name can increase your marketability. In other instances, the opposite is true.

Some reasons for considering a pen name:
  • Your name is too common, strange, or hard to spell.
  • Someone else has an online presence with the same name.
  • Your name is not a match for the genre you write.
  • For whatever reason, you would like to remain anonymous
  • Reasons of gender; using a pen name allows females to write as males and vice versa.
  • You write in more than one genre, as discussed last week.
  • For your protection, when your subject matter is inflammatory or controversial.

Author Jessica Verday shares her reasons for choosing a nom de plume:

I have a very, very, very common last name, so I kept my first name but based my last name (Verday) on a variation of my middle name. There hasn't been any problem whatsoever with my agent or my editor about it. The key is to be consistent in whatever you do. When I address my agent or my editor, I always use my pen name.

Even among agents, there are differences in opinion.

Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency has a sneaky tip on how to use a pen name to sandwich your book between bestsellers.

Jessica Faust of BookEnds advises using your new name immediately and exclusively from the moment you settle on one.

The Rejecter thinks pseudonyms are "a case of 'thinking too far ahead' syndrome, along with sending in your cover ideas and your pre-written book jacket."

Miss Snark suggests listing both your real and pen names on the header of your manuscript.

Choosing to use a pen name is a decision not made lightly, which is why so many authors struggle with it. Next week I'll be posting exclusive interviews with several writers, including bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, regarding their pen name preferences. I'll also answer questions from our blog readers, so be sure to email me (suzettesaxton@querytracker.net) or leave your questions in the comments.

And now, just for fun...

There are multitudinous pen name generators online. Below is a quick list of pseudonyms these sites suggested for me, along with links to the sites for your amusement:

Emely Rainbolt -- from Chucklehound

S. N. Loafer -- from TestCafe

Citronella Canteloupe Onassis and (I couldn't resist listing this as well) Frau Froo-Froo Buntcake -- from The Preposterous Pen Name Generator

And if you'd like some help from the U.S. Census Bureau, check out the name generator at Critique Circle.

Have a fantastic last day of March!

Suzette Saxton's idea of a perfect day includes a picnic lunch, laughing children, and her laptop. When she's not writing books for kids, Suzette can be found gardening, doing finish carpentry in her home, or walking in the canyon in which she lives.


Stina said...

I thought you were supposed to use your legal name when you query an agent. Stina isn't my legal name. It's an abbreviation of mine. It's on my query though because It's part of my email address. But I always sign my e-query with my formal name (my handwritten signature is actually Stina. I know, confusing). I get amused, though, when some agents have addressed their form rejection letters to Dear Stina. I guess they felt that would soften the blow. :0)

Great info!

Suzette Saxton said...

Good point, Stina. Even this is a gray area. Some agents say use your pen name for everything but your royalty checks. Other say to sign your letters "Suzette Saxton, writing as Frau Froo-Froo Buntcake." Like so many areas of writing, this one comes down to personal choice.

Thanks for your comments on our blog, Stina. I always appreciate your insight.

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great setup for an interesting piece Suzette! With a last name like Bonilla, I get a lot of confused pronunciations and spellings. I can picture the book jacket now: Amanda Bonilla (pronounced like tortilla) haha! Thanks for addressing what a lot of writers mull over for endless hours. Keep up the good work!

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

"Suzette Saxton, writing as Frau Froo-Froo Buntcake."

Ha ha ha ha! Great pen name!

Patrick said...

But which one is her pen name?

Unknown said...

Laughing and loving this post.

ALS said...

I like the Idea.

good job.

ALS said...

It said my penname is "Father Benjamin Horsehaven"

Suzette Saxton said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! This was a fun post to do, most especially because I got to correspond with my favorite author - Tess Gerritsen.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

This is a good post. Thank you! Exactly what I needed to answer my questions. I'm sticking with my full name. I really should put it on my blog. :)

Suzette Saxton said...

Muchas gracias, Lady G!!!

Bethany Wiggins said...

Loved this! The name one picked for me was B. N. Old Coventry Circle *snicker*. Another was Nicole Smith, while yet another was something like Beatrice Bigsby Pantiebottom. How'd that sight know??? *wink, wink*