By Patricia Stoltey
A couple of weeks ago, a reader of this blog contacted us to ask how she could go about selecting a pseudonym—one she could live with forever without regrets.
We thought that was a pretty good question, so I asked three writers in different genres how they chose their pen names.
Wendy Howard, our website goddess, has a plan.
“I’ll be publishing under 3 names eventually: W.J. Howard for a mix of YA and adult, Wendy Spurlin for kids and Ruby Blythe for naughty sci fi.
I started with W. J. Howard years ago when I was mainly writing horror. Reason being, back then, women weren’t taken seriously as horror writers. That’s certainly changing. I think we’re more gruesome than men and don’t hold back.
Wendy Spurlin is my maiden name so that was easy to settle on, and Ruby Blythe took me forever to think up because you have to come up with something sexy and mysterious and consider domain names and competition on internet searches. Yeah, it’s not so easy a thing to settle on.”
Romance writer Thea Hutcheson also writes sexy adult romance as Theda Hudson, so she wanted to help readers easily distinguish between the two genres.
“In the mid-eighties, I found myself unemployed, and in the course of scouring the want ads for jobs, I found an interesting ad under a general office category. The ad wanted someone for general office work — answering phones and performing paperwork, but was worded in an intriguing way. I called the number listed and it turned out it was for the Rocky Mountain Oyster, a local singles rag that was famous for personal ads. I applied and got the job.
We all used a pseudonym to work under to protect our identities. I chose Theda because I had a friend by that name so I would recognize it easily and it’s similar to Thea, and Hudson because it is enough like Hutcheson to sound familiar. I had lots of fun adventures working for that company, and, when it came time to brand my erotica, Theda was ready and willing to jump into the fun.”
Mystery writer Cricket McRae has several series going under different pseudonyms plus a standalone novel. I knew her for quite awhile before I figured out she had a real name, too. She writes the home crafting mysteries as Cricket McRae, the magical bakery mysteries as Bailey Cates, her standalone as K.C. McRae
“Pen names should be memorable. A reader might not recall a particular book title, but if they can remember the author they can easily access all the books published under that name. However, memorable doesn’t necessarily mean odd. I personally tend to gravitate toward androgynous names. Someone who writes frothy romances might opt for a frothy, romantic name. A writer of hardboiled street stories might choose a pseudonym to reflect that particular sensibility.
Whatever you decide on, it’s important that the name feels like it really could be yours, that it’s something you identify with. Other people are going to expect you to answer to it, after all. Bailey is my grandmother’s maiden name, my father’s middle name, and I know two people who are named Bailey – one man and one woman. Cates is a play on another family name and rolls easily off the tongue after “Bailey.”
My final tests? Say the name fast twenty-five times. It should be relatively easy. Then write it on a piece of paper like a teenaged girl experimenting with the last name of her current crush. It should feel good to write as well. After all, you could be signing an awful lot of title pages with that name!”
If you’re a writer, do you use a pen name? If so, how did you choose it (or them)?
If you’re a reader, do you prefer a writer use pen names for different genres?