Aren't you whatshisname??...pen names

Dear Miss Snark,

What is the protocal for submitting to agents if you're writing under a pseudonym? You have to have your own name on your mailing address for the SASE and so forth to get back to you, but the manuscript should have the pseudonym on it, because that's how it should be published, right? Or do you submit everything using your real name and then explain about the pseudonym after you've secured representation?

If you're JT Leroy, you just never tell anyone that you're really someone else.

On the other hand if you're Nora Roberts, you just put the new name in bigger letters on the cover of the book.

If you're using a pseudonym for non-elusive reasons, you just put Yours Truly, Brad Pitt (writing as Angelina Jolie) on your cover letter. You put Jolie/Sha Na Na Namibia as the header on your manuscript pages.

You will also need a one or two line explanation for why you are doing this. It can be as simple as "Google associates me with a bad crowd under my real name: Nicole Ritchie" of "I don't want my ex-spouse to know I didn't die in that yachting accident" or "no particular reason, I just like this name better than Sixxiou Queue". Pseudonyms are not a deal breaker but I will want to know your real name and why we're doing this in case you think you are Angelina Jolie or you are JT Leroy.


Anonymous said...

What if you are related to a famous author, who passed away, and your maiden name (pen name) is the same? I thought saying “I am using this name because it’s mine and also because I am related to whatshisname” was considered inappropriate. This author is still known to this day because of his amazing works (he was huge in the 50s and 60s). That being said, stating such a fact as “relation” seems almost bragging and assuming I would be equally as great. I can only aspire to be as wonderful.

BertGrrrl said...

Re: Pen names . . . I have a nearly-completed novel which includes a great deal of graphic sexual content (I used to write erotica, this thing is commercial fiction but still packs a serious wallop, libido-stimulation-wise). Some of that "content" is also homoerotic in nature.

Now, I love my book and am *very* proud of what I have written. And yet . . . unless this thing takes off somehow I *will* be keeping my day job, plus I live among redneck yahoos in the bowels of outer suburbia.

Do any of you have experience with using pen names, or wish you had done so? What would you do in my situation? My strong preferance is to use my own name (and dare my neighbors to come after me with pitchforks and torches), but several people have assumed (having read my book) that I will be using a pen name. I used several pen names for my erotica and it never made me happy. I also used to be an exotic dancer, so I *do* have a few past a.k.a.'s I could draw upon . . .

Sign me, "Ceemone Kummer"

Anonymous said...

Is it really necessary to decide up front if you are going to use a pen name? Could this decision be made after a book is accepted for publication?


Anonymous said...

What if you just want to change your last name because its hard to spell, pronounce, and is certainly forgettable?

Oh, and getting married is not an option.

BertGrrrl said...

The comments above reflect 2 other cases where a pen name would be useful: relation to a famous author & a tongue twister or generic real name. I'd say Johnwrt1 makes a great point. Possibly *all* of these issues--including my own situation, where my co-workers and neighbors will probably find my stuff distasteful if not scandalous--are things we should discuss with our agents once we have found one. I would imagine that they will have encountered all these situations before and have good advice for us.

So my decision is to query without even mentioning the pen name idea and go from there. Once I'm signed with an agncy, I'll ask for guidance.

Let me know if you need help choosing a pen name, by rhe way, I have a *ton* of now-sadly-unused stripper names you could mine . . .

sign me, "Tawny Titer"

Anonymous said...

That's encouraging news. I'm planning to publish my "narrative non-fiction" under a pseudonym, and was wondering how the hell I was going to get an agent (much less a publisher) to understand, "Um, no, I can't publish this under my real name because some of the people I wrote about might be out of prison by now, and I really don't want to end up at the bottom of a mine shaft."

CEP said...

One thing that can really help you in the long run, at least in terms of keeping the tax people happy: Once you have a contract in hand, add your pseudonym to the account into which you deposit your checks as a d/b/a ("doing business as"). The rules for doing so vary from state to state, but in the vast majority of states you'll just have to sign an affidavit that you're not using that d/b/a for unlawful purposes.

Also, if privacy is truly an issue, get a lawyer to help you establish a literary holding corporation and have the copyright put in the name of the literary holding corporation. Contrary to popular belief, there are ways to hide the "real" owner of a closely held corporation from ordinary public records… although your tax returns aren't public records, so you have to be honest there!

Of course, none of this should ever—except in truly wierd circumstances, and if you have to ask what they are you're not in them—be kept from your agent. In order to ensure that taxes, copyrights, attributions, subsidiary and derivative rights, etc. get handled properly, you're going to have to bring your agent inside your privacy shield.

Anonymous said...

What if my reason is that none of my 12 previous books earned back their (pitiful) advances--and I'd been told it's easier to sell a first time author than a terminal midlist veteran?

Wouldn't telling the agent that upfront be just the excuse she needs to reject me?

Anonymous said...

midlist, yes, but not telling her would be lying to your agent. This is not only unethical but counterproductive.

Sometimes being ethical means you can't get what you want.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark says: "You will also need a one or two line explanation for why you are doing this."

Where is most appropriate? In the query? On the front page of the manuscript?

For those of us who simply wish to maintain separate identities, (day job vs. aspirational job), would it hurt to simply bring up the pen name AFTER the agent has expressed interest?