A rose is arose is a rows

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a novel in revision that I hope will be ready for querying in about a year. I've also written some short stories, which I plan to start submitting to markets. My hope is that when I'm ready to query agents about the novel, I'll have some publication credits to include in the query letter. I also want to establish a website.

My problem is my awkward, difficult-to-spell last name. If I find an agent, I imagine he or she can advise me on whether I should write under a different name that's easier for readers to remember and spell. But what about in the meantime? I'm concerned that if I publish short stories under my real name, and start a website under my real name, any visibility I'll have built up before I start querying will be lost if the novel is published under a different name. I wonder if it might make more sense to send out the short stories under my maiden name. It's an odd name, but since it's only 4 letters long, it's easier to remember and spell. Am I a nitwit for thinking about such things at this stage?

Well it didn't hurt: Mary Kay Zuravleff (I know and love her work, and I still had to look up the correct spelling of her name)

or Chuck Palahniuk

or Elfried Jelinek

or Michael Ondaatje (which I got from Kristin Nelson's blog post here, and she's of another mind on this subject)

If you've got a name thats hard to say, or easily misspelled one of the first things you want to do is put in keywords for your site that are the WRONG things people will type in trying to find you.

So if you are Killer Yapp, you also want "Killer Yap" as a keyword cause a lot of people spell it that way. Same with "Ms Snark" (sound of cocking clue gun as optional audio would be good here too).

People come in every variety of cluelessness about author names and titles. An easy to say or spell name is no guarantee they won't get it wrong.


Crabby McSlacker said...

This is an inane comment, but I just have to agree that Mary Kay Zuravleff is an extraordinary writer. I'm eagerly awaiting her next novel, though by then I will have forgotten her name again.

I'll probably just google "The Bowl is Already Broken" and hope to track her down again.

Bill said...

How about Duane Swierczynski?

His two noir books from St. Martin's has gotten good reviews.

(And, no, I'm not a friend of his. Just a fan.)

janeyolen said...

I have what should be an easy to spell and pronounce name--Jane Yolen--and 280+ books out. And you should see how it has been slaughtered and mis-handled, even by my own publishers, on occasion!

Stick with your own name.


Anonymous said...

My husband is a singer/songwriter. He had a difficult last name, but he went with it. I am pretty sure he feels like it was a HUGE mistake. DJ's got it wrong, a pronunciation guide was put on the CD, but it didn't really help, fans can never remember it, and no one can say it. No one could ever google it and find him, regardless of trying to hedge your bets. When we got married, he took my simple last name (3 years ago) and LOVES it. He is now recording under his new name, but you're right, it's confusing to his old fans. I would say you should decide now and make the change now. And it's all well and good to say it didn't hurt those other famous authors, but you don't really know that (sorry Miss Snark). And even if it didn't "hurt" them, I'm willing to bet it was a pain in the ass.

lorem ipsum said...

Another concern--larger than the one you cited--is querying over e-mail (to agents who allow it, of course). I too have a rather difficult last name that invariably makes my mails wind up in spam filters. So if you must e-query, try using 'Alex S.' rather than 'Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.'

Really, though, your nom de plume is the least of your problems in this whole business. Use whatever name you're comfortable with in real life, trust Miss Snark, and be true to yourself, blah blah blah.

Anonymous said...

I've already started using a pseudonym. My real name is consistently misheard to start with a different letter (it rhymes with a common word, and the first consonant is similar), so if someone heads to a bookshelf to look for me I'm toast.

It's taken a year to train my pharmacist. I don't think I have that long with a reader.

jamiehall said...

I'm not a real author yet, but I already made that decision. I've got a pen name because I've yet to see anyone other than a close friend or family member spell it right.

I figured that a last name like that would just be another stumbling block, and the road to publication is hard enough already.

My advice: try out your prospective pen name as an Internet screen name for at least a couple of weeks first. If there are any problems in it, you can only find out by using it. I ended up discarding my first choice after testing it that way.

Kanani said...

I vote no on homogenization.

It's still being done in Hollywood...Tom Cruise dropped Mapother, Winona became a Ryder after ditching Horowitz.

Stick with your own name.
But just out of curiosity, what names were you pondering?

Samuel Tinianow said...

I used to worry about my ridiculous last name until I noticed that, in most bookstores, it would directly precede Tolkien. Maybe not such a bad thing.

Elektra said...

I've got the opposite problem--if ever published, I plan to spruce my name up a bit (it's the third most common name in the US--plus, the first hits that comes up on Google when you search my name are a rather inventice stripper and an extensive pedigree for a show dog).

Deschanel said...

I see (wonderful) Kristen Nelson has a horror of middle initials.

But my middle initial is "V", the coolest letter in the alphabet. Think of words that start with "v"- they're usually sexy , or sexily unpleasant in an interesting way. V is never boring.

Vulpine. Vindictive. Voracious, Va-jay-jay.
"V" has sex & drama built-in.

I like the way it looks when V divides my name, purely as an ideogram:

John Smith

versus (another powerful v-word):

John V. Smith

If my middle initial were a pedestrian vowel or a lackluster consonant like "F", I'd refrain.
But the letter V rules the world.

Unless you're U Thant. But even he secretly wished his U was a V.
As consolation, I'd love to take him shopping at Bvlgari.

vespa riding thugs said...

U Thant has been dead for 32 years. His grandson is alive and well however, and the author of a wonderful book called The River of Lost Footsteps.

Maybe Thant Myint-U wants to go shopping at Bvlgari.

Hell, I do.

choppersmom said...

Miss Snark said, "An easy to say or spell name is no guarantee they won't get it wrong."

My last name is Brady. Who the %$@#*&$%#@ hasn't heard of the Brady Bunch? You'd be surprised how many people still butcher this simplest of names.

I'm not using Brady as my publishing name. I'm using the name it will shortly be changing to, if I can ever light a fire under someone's butt. And I'm sure that name will be butchered too. It's a crapshoot, so I'd go with my gut. Use your real name, or invent a whole new persona. Best of luck!

Cynthia Bronco said...

After 5 years, I still can't pronounce my dentist's name, but I still go back to him anyway. He's a good Yankees fan.
Can you say Kalavrouzoitis? I can't.

Mallika said...

Heh, my last name contains 17 letters in it ... so I understand the letter-writer's problem. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the responses! Wow, there are so many different opinions on this. I guess it's hard to know how much a person's name influences their success or lack of it. There are so many other factors involved.

The name in question is "Burzynski." It's not as difficult as some of the other names listed here. All the same, in the 10 years I've used it, never has the question, "Last name?" not been followed by "Can you spell that for me?" My maiden name is "Raby." It's kind of an unfortunate name, given its similarity to "rabies," but it's a lot easier to spell and remember.

Heather said...

Honey, I'd rather a name that everyone asks how to spell than one everyone assumes they know how and then proceed to spell it wrong...

My maiden name was Umphrey... and no one EVER spelled it right... nor did they ask ME how to spell it, because they assumed it was Humphrey!

Word verification: zpwuozkr

It's like it KNOWS what we're talking about!

Elektra said...

*scans commentors for Dave Kuz...Kuzmin...Dave from P&E*

Southern Writer said...

Deschanel said...

But my middle initial is "V", the coolest letter in the alphabet. Think of words that start with "v"- they're usually sexy, or sexily unpleasant in an interesting way. V is never boring.

Vulpine. Vindictive. Voracious, Va-jay-jay.

"V" has sex & drama built-in.

Woo hoo! I'll buy that. My last name is Valentine, and I rather like it. Unfortunately, it's paired with a first name no one can spell (including my poor late mother, bless her heart). I just did a blog post on this (uncanny timing) because so many people had Googled it, looking for a pronunciation. Miss Snark's suggestion to put it in your site in all the ways someone might misspell it is a good one. I'm going to do that, although it might reach the bottom of the page.

***Mom, why didn't you name me Lacy?***

Anonymous said...

My favorite mystery writer when I was in my teens: Ngaio Marsh.

Still don't know how to pronounce it. My best guess is Ni-oh. But I bought everything she wrote.

Another side to it: I know someone who worried and fretted over this issue so much that he changed his name legally and used the new name for his new family. Problem? Never published so much as an essay with that beautiful, memorable name.

My take: readers are literate, and we'll follow your oddly-spelled name wherever it takes us, if you write what we love to read.