Pub Rants

Esoteric Rant on Writer Names

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STATUS: Doing okay. I wish I had gotten a few more things completed today but… that’s life. Off to San Fran tomorrow for the Silicon Valley Conference. I will try and blog whilst traveling but Friday might be iffy.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? GOLD FEVER by Clint Eastwood (yes, he does sing—or should I say did at one time.) This is from the PAINT YOUR WAGON soundtrack. I’m in a musical kind of mood. I’ve got tickets for LES MISERABLES tonight!

I have to admit that this is a purely esoteric rant because ultimately, what author name you use isn’t that big of a deal. This is purely something that annoys me and really isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things.

I want to talk about author names because ultimately, promoting your work and getting published is all part of one big package of professionalism.

And, I think writers are potentially too hung up on their formal names (as in using first, middle, maiden, and last name).

I wouldn’t blame you if you are scratching your head at this moment, so let me explain.

If you write literary fiction, I think using three names is fine as long as there is a memorable rhythm to it (Jonathan Safran Foer pops to mind).

Otherwise, three names is overkill and potentially not in your best interest (in terms of name recognition, ease of finding you in the bookstore, etc.) It can sound pretentious and if you are writing a big, bad thriller, it’s potentially defeatist. It’s James Patterson, Lisa Scottoline, Iris Johansen, John Grisham, Robert Crais, Lee Child. Boom, boom, boom.

Of course there is also Mary Higgins Clark… (always exceptions to the rules). I also love Orson Scott Card as a name and that’s SF. But notice, it’s got memorable rhythm. It works. The name itself mesmerizes.

And notice something else about these names. There are no middle initials used. I see a lot of signed queries/partials with “Jane P. Smith” or whatever. Personally, I don’t think that translates well to a front cover.

When BACHELORETTE #1 was getting published, my author originally wanted her name on the cover to read Jennifer L. O’Connell, and I talked her out of it. Why? Because Jennifer L. O’Connell doesn’t really roll off the tongue as well as just plain Jennifer O’Connell. The “L” just visually interrupts and looks out of place. Not as memorable. Discord in what could have rhythm.

I do like just first initials and a last name—especially for genre fiction. RL Stine, JK Rowling, JD Robb. It’s got a nice feel.

I know what you are thinking. Who cares? I’m not even published yet. My name is the last thing I’m worried about. I understand. Still, it’s all a part of showing a polished package in the business that is writing. Think like a professional writer and you’ll become one (well, as long as you have talent too). Now, I don’t want y’all getting hung up on all these silly details and neglect what is most important—your writing—but it’s still worth thinking about.

I’ve got more to rant on this subject so until tomorrow…

32 Responses

  1. Elektra said:

    So it this why you rejected my query? 🙂

    Remember, though, that some of us just always use our full names (as I’ve said before, my name’s so common that I’ve had to use the full–first, middle, last–since elementary school. It’s a habit, and I’ve gotten used to it).

  2. Cheryl Mills said:

    Name has been on my mind lately, mainly because when you google “Cheryl Mills” there are pages and pages about the Clinton administration lawyer before you get even a single reference to me. So, narcissist that I am, I googled my maiden name, and I got…porn.

    Initials? CS Mills, which I almost used as an email addy, until I realized it read as c-smills, too close to ‘smells’ for me. Sigh. My husband’s first name works well as a last name, so maybe I’ll use that. I’ll google it and see what I find. Probably more porn!

  3. I. Myte said:

    Nice rant. A smile and a laugh and some good thoughts to chew on add to any day.
    How about ‘Philip K. Diok?
    Also, I was procrastinating with music on Rhapsody and, lol, Clint’s singing career goes back even further. I found a song from his Rawhide days! Not sure though whether I’m gonna burn ‘Rowdy’ on to my next anthology.

  4. lottery ticket said:

    I’m with elektra on this one. My rejection from you arrived today. And I’m one of those people with two last names.
    So here’s the thing…are you saying that female authors need to choose to publish under either their maiden name or their husband’s name? And isn’t that hopelessly retro given the vast number of women who have been living and working under a double last name for years?
    I’ll assume that my rejection was for one of the many usual reasons and not as a result of an insufficiently sonorous name. I’m guessing that if you read a query for something that sounded like the next DaVinci Code, submitted by a Susan Snodgrass Saberhaven, you’d probably ask to see a partial and deal with the name later.
    At least, I hope that’s what you’d do.

  5. Anonymous said:

    I have the same problem as elektra, I have a name that is so common I’ve even worked with a guy with the same name. I use my middle initial more to distinguish myself from all the other Smiths than anything else. Hopefully this was not the reason my partial was rejected.

  6. 2readornot said:

    Another tangent: I love ‘Les Mis’…I’m envious, sigh. I saw it in London 11 years ago on the West End. Enjoy!

    As for names, i’ve thought about initials and last name — I’m assuming that if you, as the agent, find it a problem you’ll suggest changes? (obviously, as you did with Jennifer — whose book I enjoyed, btw…I’m not a big chick-lit reader, but hers was very funny and had some good thoughts.)

  7. Elektra said:

    Yes, but TOO common a name just makes you difficult to find. And Cheryl, the same thing happens to me–if I Google my name, the first twenty pages or so are porn

  8. Bill Peschel said:

    That’s why I envy writers with easy-to-remember names like King, Patterson or Dick.

    After a lifetime of seeing my name spelled Pascal, Paschal and Peschell — and hearing it pronounced just as many different ways — I’m already resigned to using a pseudonym.

    I’m thinking of “Teri Pratchett.”

  9. LA Burton said:

    I had to go to LA Burton because there was an author already published under my full name. Go figure. Have a fun trip

  10. Cindy Procter-King said:

    Hmm. I have a hyphenated last name. That’s my legal name–I didn’t just make it up. I wouldn’t dream of NOT putting my legal name on a query or submission. That’s a problem to worry about when/if I sell to a house that doesn’t like hyphenated surnames.


  11. Patrice Michelle said:

    Googling the name you think you want for a pen name is also a good idea. That way you won’t pick a name that is already published in the same genre you’re trying to get published in.

    It is interesting how certain names just flow off the tongue better than others.

    Great subject!

  12. joanr16 said:

    In Britain, the actors’ guild won’t accept two actors with the same name, and adding a middle initial doesn’t cut it. The second actor is required to perform using a pseudonym. Hence, bizarre situations arise like the discovery that an actor, hired to play John Lennon, offstage had the same name as Lennon’s assassin (Mark Chapman). In the U.S., things are simpler. There can be an older actor named Bill Macy and a younger one named William H. Macy.

    (Uber-tangent: before the Oscars, Steven Colbert quipped, “There’s Bennifer I, Bennifer II and Brangelina, so how about Filliam H. Muffman?)

    Pen names are a tricky thing. There are loads of reasons for choosing one, from “Esther Blodgett” syndrome (what were the ‘rents thinking?!) to a writer famous in one genre deciding to publish in a very different one.

    My own Google-yourself experience yielded an attorney and a Christian fundamentalist. If Kristin gets my current novel published, it’ll be fun imagining one or the other of those two women reading it.

  13. McKoala said:

    If I google me, I get me and a schoolgirl from South Africa. If I google my maiden name I get someone from my home country, doing something that I could potentially have done (not porn, honest) and I often wonder if anyone from school/uni googles me to see what I’m up to and then just assumes that that is me.

    Did that make sense?

  14. adownum said:

    My maiden name was Van Metre-Oestman. 😛 Imagine my life-long delight. Thankfully, I like my husband’s name.

  15. Simon Haynes said:

    And there I was, poised to write a romance under the nom de plume ‘Ransom J. Snogweiler’

    Rolls off the tongue – check
    Memorable – check
    Androgynous – check

    Good idea? Let me … check.

  16. Sue said:

    I think she’s advising authors to consider the rhythm of the name. Rhythm is what makes writing sing, likewise it helps readers remember author’s names when heading to the bookstore for that book they vaguely remember reading about somewhere. (How many of us still sing the alphabet song when trying to place a letter in order?)

  17. Anonymous said:

    I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t reject a query based on your name. I think she was just saying, take a look at your name and see if you can get something catchy and memorable out of it. For your own good. -JTC

  18. Anonymous said:

    Just a note on traveling to San Francisco: Do not call it ‘San Fran.’ Do not call it ‘Frisco.’ If at all possible, do not call it ‘San Francisco.’ I was informed of this when I lived in an outlying suburb of The City some years ago. The only acceptable names are ‘The City’ and ‘Not Oakland.’ Anything else will get you dirty looks from the hotel cleaning service.

    -C. W. Flapdoodle

  19. Ig said:

    Ahh, the joys of being an Ignatow. It’s original, Googlable, and nigh unpronouncable.

  20. Roz said:

    My last name is a tongue twister. I’d hate to think a publisher would toss my work aside because the public can’t pronounce my last name. Just to be certain that doesn’t happen, I’m using a pen name. It’s nice to know at least a few people agree with that decision.

  21. Shanna Swendson said:

    I am now grateful to my Norwegian ancestors, the immigration official who got creative with spellings, and my parents who were about a decade ahead of the curve on my first name, for if you Google my name, you get me and only me. 🙂 Plus, not a bad rhythm, though it does get misspelled a lot.

    Enjoy Les Mis. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen that show (one more time coming up this summer).

  22. Cindy Procter-King said:

    Sue, I think you’re right about rhythm. What can also make a name sound clunky is too many darn syllables! When you think about the examples Kristin gave–Jennifer O’Connell–the name already has 6 syllables (and sounds great b/c each name is 3 syllables apiece). Adding a middle initial would make it 7 syllables and the initial L. is one of those that just happens to “sound” a lot longer than it is (ellllllllllll). And maybe it’s just me, but names like O’Connell and MacKenzie and Van Gameren already look and sound like they have something extra, so I can see how adding even more onto it could make it sound clunky.

    In comparison, my hyphenated surname only has 5 syllables, which, to ME, isn’t too much.

    That’s my rationale, and I’m sticking to it!


  23. Anonymous said:

    My maiden name is probably the most common Hispanic name out there. My married name is Jewish. When I queried I included both names, and when my agent submitted to publishers she included both names.

    Now if the book ever makes it to print (fingers crossed) I have no objection to the publishing under “first name, last name.” BUT (and this is slightly embarrassing to admit) I include both names because it places me squarely in two large minority groups. If the book sells, I could pitch the general media as well as Latino and Jewish papers/magazines. And this is a business; I feel I need to use any possible ‘edge’ at my disposal.

  24. Anonymous said:

    Color me newbie, but I thought queries were signed with real names and your byline would be established as your pen name later?

  25. Simon Haynes said:

    I thought that was what the original blog post was about – use your real name on your query, and don’t bother dressing it up with extra initials or cute spellings. If your name is Fred Bloggs, so be it. You can make up a pen name but you don’t have to share it with the agent at this early, early stage.

    If/when the query ever gets to the stage where it’ll be pitched to editors you can be sure your agent will raise the subject of special authory names.

    I wouldn’t get too hung up on it. Better to be writing.

  26. Lisa Hunter said:

    One thing you didn’t mention is that your name often tells your age. You can guess from my name, Lisa, that I was born in the 1960s (and growing up, fully half of my friends’ mothers were named Barbara). Amber and Tiffany are 30, Emma is a teenager.

    (BTW, I notice that romance book heroines often have the current “hot” baby name. It’s really hard to read these books when you associate the name with someone in diapers. No Madisons for at least 20 years, please.)

  27. Anonymous said:

    Ooooo, this is an awfully interesting topic. I actually think about this too much because everything I’ve published had my nickname on it. I didn’t mean to be establishing it; it just happened.

    Now if I ever get a whole book published, I’ll have to decide whether my nickname is suitable to the genre or if I should go with the heinous legal name or just make up a pen name or, hey, can’t I just say my cat wrote my book? He’s got a *great* name.


  28. Patrick McNamara said:

    I have a problem with my name because there’s another writer with the same name. I could try using my first two initials, but somehow P.J. just doesn’t work, espcially for middle grade fiction.