QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pen Names - The Inside Scoop

Tess Gerritsen, bestselling author of over 20 million books, granted an exclusive interview to the QueryTracker Blog, revealing the story behind the name under which she publishes. Is it her real name? Read on to find out! Cole Gibsen, who recently signed with Chris Richman of Firebrand Literary Agency, shares why using her real name was not an option. And our very own Dr. Carolyn Kaufman, whose nonfiction book was recently sold to Quill Driver Press, reveals why using her real name has jump-started her career. This is Part II of our series on pen names. To read Part I, click here. And now, on to the interviews!

Do you use a pen name? Why or why not?

TESS -- Yes. Sort of. My legal first name is "Terry". My first books were romantic suspense, and I wanted there to be no question that I was female. So I feminized my name a bit. When I moved over into thrillers, I just kept the name.

COLE -- I do use a pen name for a couple of reasons. First, I first decided to start using a pen name when I began the querying process. Before the economy devoured my poor little small business, I trained dogs professionally for over eight years. I developed a little notoriety appearing on the local news, in the local papers, and even on Animal Planet and ESPN 2 for agility trials. Because of this, I was afraid that as a “Professional Dog Trainer” (a skill and career that I worked very hard to excel in and am very proud of) I might not be taken seriously as a writer – especially since my genre of choice is YA fantasy. I wanted to create a person who would be untraceable on the internet. Thus, Cole Gibsen was born.

My second reason for creating a nom de plume was privacy. Now, I’m not concerned about having to dodge paparazzi while I pick up my dry cleaning – but I do have a nineteen-month-old baby. When you put yourself out in the public, you will encounter some wonderful amazing people. I have some fantastic friends through the internet – some that I’ve never met face-to-face. However, I have also met some creepies, very few, but I imagine the more one is spotlighted in the public, your odds of encountering more creepies goes up considerably. Maybe it’s the mother in me. Maybe I’m oversensitive. Either way, I wanted to give my family what protection I could afford.

CAROLYN -- So far my big sale has been in the nonfiction arena, and my education and accomplishments were important to that sale, so I needed to use my real name. So in nonfiction, I definitely use my real name.

In fiction, I'd really like to publish under my initials and last name. Kind of like P.N. Elrod, the vampire fiction writer. I like the idea of someone not being able to tell from my name whether I'm male or female, especially because I write science fiction and fantasy. I've always had this idea (don't ask me where I got it) that I might attract more male readers if they had no idea I'm a woman. (I say that like any such illusion could last in a world that has an Internet.)

If I took the plunge into writing something that was clearly romance, I'd probably use a penname to differentiate it from my sf/f.

Overall I balk at the idea of writing under a name that isn't mine because I've worked so hard to get published -- I really wanna see MY name on the book cover!

How do you think this has helped or hurt you?

TESS -- I think it's helped me. Although I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't have changed my last name as well. Gerritsen is a bear to spell right!

COLE -- They’ll always be that part of me that will be bummed to never see my actual name on the spine of a book. However, I am right in the middle of the alphabet now. I read somewhere once that the odds of your book being selected by a potential buyer are greater the higher up in the alphabet you are. Now I know this is a stretch, but the theory behind it is that a shelf browser will usually browse a shelf in alphabetical order, and will rarely reach the end the later part of the alphabet without already choosing a book.

CAROLYN -- Using my real name has been important, at least as far as nonfiction goes, as I've mentioned.

For fun, if you could choose a new name for yourself, what would it be?

TESS -- I have a hard enough time coming up with book titles. It would be a nightmare coming up with a new pen name!

COLE -- A new name? Hmmmm…Perhaps this: Bithisbuk P. Pleez. It’s catchy, right?

CAROLYN -- If I had to choose one right now, probably Eva Michaels.

I’ll now answer questions that our readers posted in the comments and emailed to me last week.

Stina Lindenblatt asked, "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."

Good point, Stina. Even this is a gray area. Author Jessica Verday uses her pen name for everything but official documents requiring her legal name and has not had a problem. Other agents say to sign all correspondences with both your legal and pen names, like this: Suzette Saxton, writing as Frau Froo-Froo Buntcake. Like so many areas of writing, this one comes down to personal choice.

Amanda Bonilla
said, "When I was mashing it around, I wondered if I should look at this from a marketing POV. I thought about Mandy Malone at one point, which is a little cheesy, but it rings and 'M' is about eye level on a book shelf. Also, is it maybe a better idea to wait for your agent to make the suggestion? Maybe your real name is totally marketable and you just don't know it."
Mandy Malone is certainly catchy! I like your real name, too. Agents would certainly know what’s best when it comes to marketability. This is a great question, and I think we should pose it to an agent in a future inteview. Thanks, Amanda!

J. N. Future Author asked, “Suzette, do you use a pen name?”
Nope, though sometimes I wish I had. I write fiction for children, but have often been told that my name, Suzette Saxton, would be perfect for writing romance. Go figure!

We want to interview YOU! This is your chance to submit questions for future interviews with professionals in the publishing industry. Click here to find out how. Tomorrow in the Publishing Pulse, we’ll have more details about the QTblog's agent- judged contest which opens on Monday!

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.


Amanda Bonilla said...

Your name would be perfect for Romance ;) I can see it scrawled across a cover in sweeping calligraphy!

Stina said...

Cole had a very good point about protecting her child by using a different name. It's harder to track you down if you use a pen name, but you have to make sure you never reveal your real one otherwise your die hard fans will ultimately discover it. Stephenie Meyer had an unlisted cell phone number and some enterprising teens somehow managed to track it down.

On the otherside. YA paranormal author Amy Vincent chose the pen name Claudia Gray because of the alphabet issue. But she does list her real name on the inside cover. So she still gets to see her name associated with her books.

And Suzette, historic romances are definitely in your future. :D

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

Heh heh--

I was rejected twice by the same agent on the same e-query. Once with my pen name and once with my human name. As if the first NO wasn't enough!

Suzette Saxton said...

Thanks, Mandy! :) I guess I'd better start reading romance so I'll know better how to write it.

Very interesting, Stina. I didn't know that about Claudia Gray. And look out historical romance, here I come!

Ash, you brave soul! Thanks for admitting to your sneaky ways. ;) Wouldn't it have been funny if you had signed with the agent. I guess eventually you would have had to fess up; like when it came time to sign your contract.

M. Dunham said...

I use my maiden name because my married name is too long. And I'm okay with that.

I hope my publishers never ask me to put my full first name on, though, because it's weird and people would probably pass me by because it's Spanish.

Chas Hathaway said...

I always thought it would be funny to come up with some completely off-the-wall pen name that would draw people's attention just because it is so ridiculous. Maybe something like Tugath Zangweaver.

I even wrote a blog post about this idea:

Of course, there are some like Obert Skye that pull it off fantastically! It doesn't sound ridiculous, but it sure catches the eye.

- Chas

Suzette Saxton said...

Good point, Chas. Another one that comes to mind is Lemony Snicket. It makes me wonder who decided the names - author? agent? editor? It would be fun to find out.

Is M. Dunham the name you plan on using? Because I really like it! You've made a great choice, and good for your for thinking it through.

J.N. Future Author said...