I am not a sexist, although I’ve been a victim of it too many times in my life to be able to entirely overlook it, but there’s a reason why so many excellent women have taken men’s names in order to be published. Even today, there is J. K. Rowling, a name that is totally androgynous, and not easily identifiable as either sex. It also, of course, depends on what you’re writing. Again, a woman faces an enormous amount of criticism if she wants to write hard-boiled crime novels or really explicit erotica. If she happens to live in a small town, where everyone knows her and her family, she might be very wise to use a pen-name.
Just this week, here in Cleveland, an author who calls herself D.M. Pulley won the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for her mystery, The Dead Key. The author, an engineer and 38-year-old mother of two young children decided to remain anonymous to protect her family’s privacy. However, full-face photos of her have appeared in the newspaper, and I’m sure her family and friends know who she is, but I’m not sure anyone else really does. I’m also not sure anyone else really needs to!
When Secret Shores (my first book) was published in 1993, I thought it very sexy, but no one else thought so. I was asked, more than once “is this THAT kind of book?” nudge, nudge, wink, wink! And I had to say yes, because there were love scenes in it. But the h/h weren’t promiscuous, and were in love with each other. All the reviews called it a ‘sweet’ novel, which was the kiss of death, because it wasn’t sexy enough! And furthermore, there was a lot of history in it! Duh. It’s a ‘historical romance’. Same thing with Windsong.
At that time, in Romance Writers of America (to which I then belonged) the feeling was that if one wrote different kinds of romance novels, then perhaps a different name was in order. The idea being that a reader who likes one particular kind of book over all others, will go for the author’s name, and if it’s a totally different kind, and upsets the reader, it is always the author’s fault. So, when I sent out my Regency novel Bertie’s Golden Treasure to publishers in 2006, I created the pen name of Hetty St. James, which sounded British to me. I kept it entirely secret (only my publisher and a couple of friends knew the truth) until last year, when I finally ‘confessed’ on this blog.
A man wouldn’t usually face this kind of nonsense, although there was a man in RWA at that time, whose name was Harold something or other. He wrote wonderful romance novels, usually western-based, or southern. His pen name was the ambiguous Leigh Greenwood. If you didn’t know before reading any of his books that the author was male, nothing in the book would give you that notion, either. I know several other men who have written romances, using a pen name. I don’t blame them one bit, either. It’s very difficult to change the mind of the public.
If you intend to write in vastly different (from each other) genres, then maybe. Or there might be some other reason why a pen name might be useful. My current name is a great one for an author, I think. There are very few people in the world with my last name, thanks to my late husband’s forbears who came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s, and who didn’t speak English. Your name, on the other hand is probably not Ty Drago, for instance, which is another one of a kind. You might perhaps use at least a middle initial, or maybe put a y in the middle of James – to then be Jaymes.
One last thought. An editor friend read my first book before I submitted it. I had my name in the header as Ferjutz, Kelly and he really climbed all over me for it. “THAT is not your name!” he bellowed. (He was really good at that!) “That’s not how people speak to you! Your name is Kelly Ferjutz, and that’s the way it should always appear on any paperwork connected to your career. That’s your BRAND!” I decided he was right, and have never done it any other way since then.
After all, a rose by any other name still smells as sweet!
Comments or questions appreciated – write to me at bookmechanicATgmail.com