PART 4: To Pseudonym or not

Why should you worry if your own name…

is hard to spell, pronounce or remember?
A writer sells a product, but that product keeps on changing names. Your books or short stories have different titles. What doesn’t change is your name. That’s your branding. And we tend to buy products of a brand we trust, right? If Sally Sullymunder wrote a great book, you’ll buy her again.

So you want a brand name people will remember, and be able to pronounce when they’re talking to the bookseller or telling their sister what they want for Christmas, and spell if they’re looking you up on Amazon or Google.

You might immediately say, yes, but what about Ondaatje? Didn’t stop him from being successful did it? I don’t know how to pronounce Cherryh, either, and I have trouble remembering if it’s Fiona McIntosh or Macintosh. None of those things have stopped those writers. (Larke, btw, can easily be spelled Lark.)

And what if your name is Ann Smith. Is it too common to be distinctive? Maybe the Cherryh was a plus, because people didn’t forget it?
Let me say here I would rather be Ondaatje than have something too common. My French publisher is Pygmalion. Recently I wanted to find their webpage. Have you any idea how many “Pygmalion” hits you have to sift through to find a French publishing imprint? When someone googles you, you want your name to be up there, not someone else’s, or worse still, lots of someones. There are very few Glenda Larkes in this world.

(Here’s an irony for you: Google “Noramly” and you get over 25,000 hits, and every one belongs to either me, my husband, or one of my daughters…and all the people who spelled normally incorrectly.)

Is your name appropriate?
What do I mean by that?
Well, if your name is Candy Truelove and you want to write hardnosed political thrillers or police procedurals, you might think about a pseudonym. Remember it’s about the branding. I suppose you could also argue that the combination of Candy Truelove and the title “Macabre Murders in Manhattan” might be memorable…

And then there’s the whole gender question…
Unhappily, there is a lot of evidence out there – some, but not all of it, anecdotal – that a lot of men will not read books by women. For example, see here. There’s a lot less evidence for the opposite. If you don’t believe me, google “men won’t read women writers” and see what you come up with.

I didn’t know this was the case when I started out. It would never have occurred to me that it was true! I had much more faith in men than was actually justified…
Quite frankly, if I was looking for a pseudonym now, I would go for a gender neutral name: Morgan, Kelly, Terry, Kerry, Robin or something like that.

Of course, as a feminist, you might want to say you will stick with a female name, dammit, and show them what they’re missing! If so, I salute you.

Men don’t have to worry about this, unless they want to write straight romance. Then I’d say they might need to worry about their sales too if they keep the masculine name (and found a publisher who let them do that).

Women do have one thing going for them: more women buy books than men, and they read more too, at least in some parts of the world. (Google “more women buy books than men” if you want to browse for evidence for that statement.)

The other reasons I gave for using a pseudonym were fairly self-explanatory:
You would rather be anonymous because your books may upset people close to you
You are a very private person and want to keep your private life separate.
You intend to write in different genres and use a different name for each genre
And for not using a pseudonym:
You want everyone to know you write books
You have a real public persona already and that will help sell books

Of course you can still have a pseudonym, and not keep your real identity a secret. Anyone with the slightest curiosity can find out that Glenda Larke and Glenda Noramly are one and the same person. All my friends know I am a published writer under another name.

From the above, you can deduce that there are no hard and fast rules about whether to use a pen name or not. You have to weigh up the pros and cons and decide for yourself.

There is still one more post on pseudonyms to come: how to go about using the pseudonym once you have chosen it, copyright issues, etc.


PART 4: To Pseudonym or not — 9 Comments

  1. If Noramly's name is just Noramly, is your married name really Glenda Noramly (or Glenyce)? I discovered a year or two ago that Spanish wives don't take their husband's names under normal circumstances and your husband's name is just the one name as I undersstand it?

  2. Until I was about 30, I would have fitted your gender description, although I'd have to do some searching to check which female authors were writing back then. Now, I find I read almost exclusively female authors, so as I am approaching 70, that means more than half my life.

  3. That is fascinating, RobB. I'd love to know what brought about the change.

    Do you think that kind of a change is common? You know, boys will be boys, girls will be girls into girly stuff, but most adult readers are more balanced?

  4. I know I used to read boys books when I was a kid, girls books too of course, but Biggles (if you have heard of them) was one of my favourites back then.

  5. I think I had this crazy idea that if I read enough of what women wrote, I would somehow get into the way women think, which would give me an advantage in chatting up. I quickly realised how silly this was, but this was also an era when female authors started coming to the fore, and I had become bored with Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum and I really hated the much lauded Heinlein. In fact, I discovered that I was already stacking my bookshelves with Ursula Leguin and the like. I've just checked my "Authors" folder of bookmarks: out of about 50, only 6 are male and I don't think Chalker and Farmer are still alive.

  6. The gender one bothers me. That and the privacy issue are the only reasons I'd consider using a pseudonym. Though probably any male fooled into picking up my book by a non-gender-specific name wouldn't find the story described in the blurb to his taste anyway. I guess my stories are "female" stories, if female means more about characters and less about car chases.

    Then there's the other side of me that wants everyone to know if I ever get published, so caution will probably be thrown to the winds anyway.

  7. I can't see why it would be a worry. I suppose 150 years ago, it was necessary for Georges Sands not to use her real name (though I think it was an open secret). Almost every writer who used names like A. B. Cee was assumed to be a woman even when it was not the case.

    If it's a case of keeping your identity secret from your friends and family, I can't see that disguising your sex is important. I rather like pseudonyms that aren't names at all like "Seeker" or "Phoenix", although one wouldn't want to go overboard with long, pretentious names.

  8. Jo, I used Noramly as a surname. Incorrect really, because Malaysian names don't work that way, but I was married in Oz in the 60s and I was stupid enough to think you had to change your name when you married.

  9. Well, of course, in those days, we always did change our names, that's kind of what getting married was about. Its actually a damned nuisance when you have to change passports and all other legal documents.

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