John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith, no no ..the other one!

Dear Miss Snark,

Thanks so much for your terrific blog. I look forward to reading it first thing every morning. (Miss Snark-not just for breakfast anymore)

I have written a YA novel with another one on the way. I am starting to query agents. I'm wondering at what point I should consider using a pen name.

I have a unique and unusual last name. A close relative with the same unique and unusual last name writes a lot of fan fiction (science fiction and fantasy TV and movies) and self-publishes extensively on the web. I write realistic fiction and would never publish anything on the web. Do you think I should use a pen name, and, if so, at what point do I start using it?

My fear is that an agent is going to google me, see all the stuff posted by my close relative, and assume I write the same.

Thanks so much,

A devoted fan

You don't need a pen name on your query letters, you simply need to say "that other guy isn't me if you run a google on my name". I like people to query me with their correct name. It makes it less embarrassing if I call up and your kid says "never heard of her" when I ask for John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith.

There's time enough to get a pen name in the works when the tome is accepted for publication.

I have a client who has had three names in the time I've represented her. Her files here are A, her books say B, and her editor calls her C. It's a tad confusing, but we manage.


SAND STORM said...

An old friend of mine has three names also and his picture is in all the post offices:)

Anonymous said...

Ooh, this subject is close to home! I write kids' books under my real name and erotica under a totally made-up name. Obviously there would be a conflict if I were outed.

Elektra said...

I've always wondered about this--there must be aspiring authors named Dan Brown or Stephen King. How would they query without getting treated as some sort of prank or joke?

Inkwolf said...

They'd call themselves Stephen J. J. King or Daniel Xavier Brown and their books would be in a premium high-traffic area of the bookstore/library.

Is writing fanfiction considered shameful? I mean, I know this letter is more a matter of mistaken identity, but I have picked up a snide remark or two about fan-fic here before. I personally consider it a way to hone skills with no consequences, and it gives me something fun to do when I need a break from my original stuff or have a writer's block to break through. (Raving fans of your fan-fic give you a nice ego boost, too, when you're getting rejection letters for your real work.) And many young writers put their first real writing effort into the field. I know there's a lot of truly bad fan fiction out there, but that goes for any type of writing, doesn't it?

Maggie said...

Oh, thank heavens. I sent in a question along these lines myself, but this was shortly before the Big slush cleanout and thus it did not get read.

I think it's important to have a memorable name, and it's hard to do that when people are constantly mixing you up with someone else. My name is very similar to that of a prominent female science fiction author, and given that's the field I'm interested in I'd really rather stand out...

See, if you were actually called Stephen King it would be memorable just because people would be all "Stephen King, no, not that one, the other one" although the merits of that are debatable. But if you share a syllable in the first name and a syllable and a half in the last name people are just going to get confused.