3.25.2006

More on pen names

Dear Miss Snark,

Your archives are like a box of Godiva chocolates someone gives you for Christmas; you are torn between gorging yourself and gobbling them down in one sitting or pacing yourself so the pleasure lasts for as long as possible. Sadly, I'm almost through reading the archives and I'm at a loss what I'll do with myself after that. Your blog is so darned addictive!

But enough of wallowing in my own self-pity. My question relates to pennames. All of us, I am sure, can think of myriad reasons to use them: avoiding detection by Jihadist death squads, irate mother-in-laws and deviants.

My confusion arises from a thriller I am currently reading. The name after the copyright (which I assume is the author's real name) is different from her penname. Seems to me if the "copyright" name is the real one, she hasn't accomplished much in terms of anonymity. Am I missing something?




Most people don't take pen names for anonymity. They do it for marketing reasons. You can register a copyright to something other than your own name if you want. Take a look at who owns the copyright to Michael Connelly's books. You can also register a corporation that can own copyright as well if you are determined to hide. That has tax implications; don't try this without good accounting advice.

25 comments:

SAND STORM said...

"I guess non de plumes have their purpose" Samuel Clemens

Anonymous said...

mothers-in-law

Anonymous said...

Some more prolific authors appear to take on pen names to avoid glutting the market with too many books with the same "brand." Joyce Carol Oates routinely publishes under Lauren Kelly and Rosamond Smith. The copyright on those books simply say The Ontario Review, Inc, which I guess she helped found. But on the cover it often says Joyce Carol Oates Writing As Rosmaond Smith, or it makes this clear in the author bio. Who knows, but there could also be legal reasons to use pen names as a loophole around a multi-book deal.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

Yep...the marketing department made me take a pen name for my second series, because it's in the same imprint as my first series. It's called compromise--I took a pen name or I wouldn't get the contract. I agreed to do it on the stipulation that *I* could choose the name. They agreed. Hence, I write under two names. Didn't want to, but it is business and it did further my career.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I peeked. Michael Connelly's copyright says Hieronymous. Like that's his actual name or is that a publishing company? Hmm. I'll dwell on the significance a little longer.

Poohba said...

I've often thought I'll probably wind up using a pen name. Not because I don't want anyone to know I'm the author, but because my last name is German and no one ever has a clue how to spell or pronounce it.

Anonymous said...

I read one of Connelly's books recently, and I think Hieronymous was the name of his protagonist.

Chevy Stevens said...

It's his main character's full name. In the books he goes by Harry Bosch.

Anonymous said...

So, what if you want anonymity and don't have a corporation?

solGreer said...

If you want anonymity & want to be inline with IRS requirements, all you have to do is trot down to your county's business office (usually at the court house) and fill out a DBA (doing-business-as) registration. They'll give you a piece of paper that says your DBA name is legit, and with that you can open a bank account. Then you tell the agent to send checks to your DBA name, you deposit them, everyone's happy.

Granted, if someone *really* wanted to find you, they could, but they'd need to know which county you're in, in which state, to go look up the DBAs to see which one is yours & the person who registered.

Btw, your printed checks for that bank account would probably say: Real Name d/b/a Pen Name.

NL Gassert said...

I’m skeptical where pen names are concerned. A day doesn’t go by, we – the authors – aren’t told that we’ll have to shoulder the majority of marketing and publicity, that we need a platform and charm enough to sell our books with our smile. All this necessary self-promotion becomes very complicated if you need a pen name for privacy issues or anonymity (it’s not an issue if marketing is behind the pen name).

Imagine your wildest dream comes true and your book becomes an overnight success, an NYT and USA Today bestseller. Imagine Oprah calls. Will you tell her you can’t come on the show, because you can’t out yourself to your mother-in-law or co-workers?

PS. My name's Russian-German-French and no one knows how to pronounce it either.

Lady M said...

"like a box of Godiva chocolates"

I'm so sorry in advance... But all I can think of when I see this is:

Run Forrest, Run!

Sigh... to be trapped in my mind.

aruna said...

I also have an unpronouncable German name, I can't even pronounce it myself! But I wouldn't have used that name anyway, as it's my husband's.
I wanted to use my maiden name as a pen name but the marketing folk suggested I find something else as it begins with W, which, they said, gets placed on the bottom shelves.
So I cut that name in half and used the second half, which begins with M, and is shelved at eye-level. Last time I was in the bookshop W authors were shelved at eye-level and M authors at the bottom.

J. Carson Black said...

The reason a lot of authors use pen names is to avoid the numbers that follow us around like the dogs of hell. (Not Killer Yap, certainly.)

It's amazing the lengths people will go to keep their original name secret (the one they wrote a bunch of midlist books with) when they hit the big time. When I read P.J. Tracy, I knew she (they) had to have some kind of track record to write a book like that right out of the box. There had to be twenty years in the newspaper biz in their past, or something even more nefarious--previous books! I finally found the answer in her (their) local paper. The mother had written eleven Harlequins and the mother and daughter together had written two books.

Publishers want a new name for someone who is good but didn't quite make it over the numbers hump with the old name. The distributors can't find any numbers, so they get excited about the "debut" novel and they order more books first time around, which defines the print run.

I had no idea Connelly copywrited under Harry's name (I'm not even going to try to spell the painter's name).

Bernita said...

I believe Kathy Reichs copyrited at least one in the series under Temperance Brennan.

bookfraud said...

pen names are good to avoid nasty critics, first and foremost. that's not why authors use them, but at least you don't have to face up to your friends who would otherwise ask "boy, the times really slammed your ass." (to be so fortunate to be in the times...). that's my paranoia.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why authors would want to stay anonymous. If you're not confident to go out there and promote your book, then how is it going to sell anyway? Craving anonimity implies you're not behind what you wrote in your own book, because you don't want to openly attach yourself to its message.

Of course, there's some good reasons to take a pen name. If you reveal the darkest secrets of an existing crime syndicate in your book, a alias is a good idea, but I'd doubt it would deter the criminals from finding you.

Anonymous said...

There are some excellent reasons to use a pen name for anonymity. My husband works in education in a very conservative town; I write spicy romance. My career choice shouldn't negatively impact his career.

Believe me, I'll be promoting the h#ll out of my books, but that doesn't mean I have to take an ad out in the local paper. The minimal benefit of "outing" myself to acquaintances for a few sales is negligible balanced against the privacy a pen name provides in my *personal* life.

Anonymous said...

"Craving anonymity implies you're not behind what you wrote in your own book..."

Stuff and nonsense. For one thing, you can go out there and promote your book to death while using your pen name. For another, some of us crave privacy, because that's the kind of people we are. We do not seek fame. [Fortune is another matter altogether.]

Strange as that might seem in a culture where voyeurism is the national pastime, and where high entertainment is watching every boring detail of the life of a busty waitress whose sole claim to fame is that she married a rich old geezer, some people want to live their lives quietly, anonymously and unobtrusively.

Marjorie Jones said...

Not me. I want to be famous! *hearing the theme song "FAME" in the back of my head* But I still use pens. I write moderately sensual romance in mass market paperback. Stuff my father-in-law reads and likes. I also write moderately sensual paranormal romance under another name, and spicier paranormal/historical cross genre romance under a third. I don't want someone who likes my historicals to flip open my latest release and find a vampire or a shapeshifter. And I don't want someone who likes moderately sensual to pick up one of my books and find a little more under the covers than they'd planned. But the names are linked, not secreted away or anything. It's just a genre identity thing.

Delilah said...

You keep forgetting about the Jihadist death squards. I like my head right where it is!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote: "Craving anonymity implies you're not behind what you wrote..."

Oh, the irony...

;-)

Anonymous said...

Talking about gorging on the Snarkives . . . can anyone tell me how to find the posts from the very start of the blog?

I've very nearly read all the rest and I'm still hungry . . .

Elektra said...

Someone or another said that an author's fame is perfect: enough to get a good seat at a restaurant, but not enough to be bothered while you eat.

Elayna said...

When it comes to Oprah, just go on as your pen name. Wear different clothes and makeup than you usually do or a wig. If anyone you know asks, act puzzled and say you want them to find that episode so you can see this person who must be your twin.