By Jennifer S. Wilkov, host of the “Your Book Is Your Hook!” Show on WomensRadio
The Literary Agent Matchmaker™
As authors and writers, we’re always learning about resources and industry tools that we can use to improve our book project performance and the enjoyment of our writing and marketing experiences. Today let’s talk about why some writers use pen names.
A pen name or “nom de plume” is a pseudonym adopted by an author for their written work. As Wikipedia explains, “A pen name may be used to make the author’s name more distinctive, to disguise his or her gender, to distance an author from some or all of his or her works, to protect the author from retribution for his or her writings, or for any of a number of reasons related to the marketing or aesthetic presentation of the work. The author’s name may be known only to the publisher, or may come to be common knowledge.”
Sometimes authors use a pen name to avoid being confused with another writer with the same name. Other writers may write in more than one genre and may choose to use a pen name for each type of story or book.
Some pen names you may know and recognize include:
Samuel Langhorne Clemens – who wrote under the aliases “Mark Twain” and “Sieur Louis de Conte.”
Charles Dodgson – the mathematician and fantasy writer who wrote nonfiction under his own name and who wrote fiction with the alias “Lewis Carroll.”
Stephen King – published four novels under the name “Richard Bachman” because publishers didn’t feel the public would buy more than one novel per year from a single author.
C.S. Lewis – the famous author of The Chronicles of Narnia used two different pseudonyms: “Clive Hamilton” for his poems and “N. W. Clerk” for his book about grief and bereavement.
Eric Blair – used the pseudonym “George Orwell” for most of his books because he felt he wasn’t established enough in his writing career to publish under his real name.
Some famous female writers have used pen names for a variety of reasons too:
Mary Ann Evans – wrote as “George Eliot” in the 19th century to be perceived as a male writer to ensure that her work would be accepted by publishers and/or the public.
Charlotte Bronte – published Jane Eyre under the pseudonym “Currer Bell.”
Emily Bronte – published Wuthering Heights under the pseudonym “Ellis Bell.”
Jane Austen – used the pseudonym “A Lady” as the author of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility.
Karen Blixen – Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke originally published the popular story of Out of Africa under the pseudonym “Isak Dinesen.”
Nora Roberts – who writes romance under her own name writes erotic thrillers using the alias “J.D. Robb.”
There are also series of books that you may have grown up with that are published using a pseudonym to represent several authors such as:
Nancy Drew – these mystery books are published as though they were written by Carolyn Keene
The Hardy Boys – these books are published as the work of Franklin W. Dixon
The Bobbsey Twins – this series is credited to Laura Lee Hope
Even the moniker “nom de plume,” while appearing as French, did not originate in France. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, in The King’s English state that the term nom de plume “evolved” in Britain, where people wanting a “literary” phrase, failed to understand the term nom de guerre, which already existed in French. Since guerre means war in French, nom de guerre did not make sense to the British, who did not understand the French metaphor. The term “nom de plume” was later exported to France.
Some authors like this week’s author guest, C.E. Lawrence, choose to use initials in their pen names for their work. Others use initials to abbreviate and disguise their real names (which are not considered pseudonyms) such as:
S. E. Hinton – Susan Eloise Hinton, the author of The Outsiders
J. K. Rowling – Joanne “Jo” Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, who incidentally had no middle name. She chose the “K” as the second initial of her pen name from her paternal grandmother Kathleen Ada Bulgen Rowling. She used the two initials because her publishers demanded it, fearing that the target audience of young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman,
Other authors have used pen names for other reasons such as:
Joseph Conrad – the British author of Heart of Darkness whose given Polish name was Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, too hard to pronounce, spell or remember and too long to print.
Silence DoGood – the pseudonym of Benjamin Franklin that he used to write letters to The New England Courant newspaper owned by his brother. Franklin created Silence DoGood as the persona of a middle-aged widow and the letters he wrote poked fun at the various aspects of life in colonial America.
O. Henry – William Sydney Porter’s pseudonym under which he wrote famous short stories like The Gift of the Magi. His moniker was applied to other writers’ works and became referred to as an “O. Henry ending,” pointing to his gift for the surprise endings to his stories.
Pseudonyms extend to children’s books and the comic book world too through:
Stan Lee – Stanley Martin Lieber, the comic book pioneer. He was the former president and chairman of Marvel Comics. In collaboration with several artists, he created Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-men, the Avengers, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, Doctor Strange and many others.
Dr. Seuss – Theodor Seuss Geisel, the beloved writer and cartoonist who published 46 children’s books which were often characterized by imaginative characters and rhymes. He began using his pen name long before his books though when an incident in college had the dean force him to resign from all extracurricular activities including writing for the college humor magazine. At that time, he continued writing for the magazine and signed his work under his first pen name, “Seuss.”
There are many reasons why you may want to use a pen name for your work. As you can see, you won’t be the first, and you certainly won’t be the last.
As history has shown, even with a pen name, you can still use your book as your hook – and become a beloved writer.
Jennifer’s show can be heard every week on Tuesday mornings at 9am when it is broadcast on WomensRadio.com and syndicated on Google News and Live365.com. Each show is archived for replay listeners in different time zones and countries.
For more information on this Education Corner topic and others, please refer to www.YourBookIsYourHook.com/blog for more articles and resources to help you with your books.