Pub Rants

Writer Name Rant (cont.)

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STATUS: Giddy. Got my Brilliance audio copy of LOVE YOU KILL YOU today. It’s the agency’s first bona fide audio book.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? CRUEL TO BE KIND by Letters To Cleo

Methinks that sometimes the readers of this blog take me too seriously. Unless your name is Charles Manson or something equally creepy, I’m certainly not going to nix somebody’s query or partial based on their name alone or how they sign it.

A name can be changed. Story in a moment.

But let’s talk about this some more.

I think an author’s name should fit the genre they write. A nice hyphenated last name might work well for a literary work but would be too cumbersome for romance, mystery, and thriller. SF and Fantasy can swing either way I think.

Middle initials are just the bane of my existence. Drop ‘em. If your name is super common (as is Kristin Nelson), I’d seriously consider a pseudonym for your writing career. And, no need to provide that middle initial for your query either. Trust me, that single letter isn’t going to distinguish you enough if your name is Jane Smith.

When we respond to partials and actually do put the writers name in the heading, we leave off any titles (Mr., Ms., or Dr.) and initials. First and last name only. We don’t have time for anything else.

Not to mention, long or difficult names are not easy to remember. Let’s do a quick quiz.

Name five literary writers. Go….

Okay, off the top of my head without even thinking, these writers pop to mind:
Salman Rushdie
Toni Morrison
Marilynne Robinson
Alice Munro
John Fowles

Easily remembered names.

As much as I would like them to, folks like Michael Ondaatje and Chuck Palahnuik (and Annie Proulx for that matter) don’t leap to mind easily.

Is it hurting their sales? Probably not. I will venture a guess that book buyers probably don’t ask for them by name (if they are like me, pronunciation is slippery) but by title.

Gets the job done. Still…

Off to the airport. Will have to share my good author name story tomorrow.

25 Responses

  1. joanr16 said:

    I once saw a cartoon in The New Yorker: Woman walks into a bookstore and asks the clerk, “Do you have the new book by T. What’s-his-face Boyle?”

    Five more literary authors:
    Margaret Atwood
    Barbara Kingsolver
    Roddy Doyle
    Zadie Smith
    Gregory Maguire

    (OK, that took way longer than it should have!)

    Great conclusion to the topic! Safe travels, Kristin.

  2. Ally Carter said:

    This is why I think Janet Evanovich was *brilliant* to brand herself as the writer of the “number” books. I don’t know how many people (especially early on) to whom I recommended Evanovich, only to have to explain or spell the name–only to give up and say, “Ask someone at the bookstore for the funny one-two-three books.”

    Also, on pseudonyms–they’re not a bad thing. It’s not something authors do because they’re ashamed and hiding their work. Sometimes it’s a pure marketing decision–and that’s okay.

    If it means giving your work a name that will be
    –positioned well on the shelves (ie. near other popular writers in your genre)
    –easily spelled, pronounced, remembered
    –available to have the dot-com domain name registered to you and not some random person in Fiji or someplace

    then I think it’s something to consider, at least.

    my two cents,

  3. solGreer said:

    I realized a while ago that I’ll have to use a pen name instead of my original idea of initial+initial+surname, which is how I’ve been signing/using my name for years. There’s already a published author with the exact same, and I really don’t want to be mistaken for her. So I ended up with what I’ve got now, with Greer as the surname.

    (what, me snark? naw.)

  4. leann said:

    Hmmm…this is actually something I’ve thought a lot about. Which name to use when submitting? I started writing my novel when I was single, but now am married – maiden name thrown to the wind. Hey, you would lose it too if you were stuck with the evil thing for 25 years! But part of me wants to publish under that name…if only for this first novel. I may dislike that name intensely, but it is so closely associated with many things that inspired me to write this novel. Dilemmas, dilemmas!

  5. 2readornot said:

    I have to admit I’m very curious…I obviously don’t have a marketer’s mind, because I never thought about names one way or the other…is it really that big of a deal? I mean, obviously if you have the hardest name in the world to pronounce (or it’s missing too many vowels), but for the rest of us…? I have googled my name, and other than some famous German woman, no one else has it — yea!

  6. December Quinn said:

    To pseudonym or not was a pretty easy decision for me, since my real name has several distinct disadvantages:

    1. My first name. I just plain never liked it, and there are about four ways to spell it and no one ever gets it right.

    2. My last name is not only hard to say, it’s hard to spell (I don’t know why, as it isn’t overly long or anything, but again, nobody ever gets it right).

    3. Also, and this is the big one, the first part of my last name is only one vowel away from being a euphemism for sex. Considering what I write, this was either obvious, twee, or distasteful, or any combination.

    Plus, how often do you get to pick your own name? 🙂

  7. Ig said:

    I got to pick my own name for my adult kickball league. That’s why I’m called Cleats McShindestructor. I’m on the fence as to whether or not to use this as a pen name as well.

  8. ilona said:

    I write with my husband and the publisher prefered a female byline. So I an now Ilona Andrews. Not sure if I like it or not, but since I took my husband’s last name, I might just as well steal the first.

    The best ever pseudonim was given to me by a British registrar in a course of my day job. She misheard my name on the andwering machine, tangled it with the company’s name, and ended up adressing me as Lorna Sterling. If I ever start writing mysteries, I am so using that. That’s almost a Bond girl name 🙂

  9. Cindy Procter-King said:

    Salman Rushdie is easy to remember? Yikes, I need to do some brain exercises!

    Ally, you make very good points about branding. For personal reasons, I would feel uncomfortable writing under Cindy King (plus, I’m married to a Steven King…) Cindy Procter I could live with, because I’m on a life mission to see it spelled correctly. Thank God the actress Emily Procter came along and started helping with the mission, because NO ONE REALIZES Procter & Gamble is spelled “the right way” despite that their name is plastered all over
    products in households across the nation.

    (I promote the selling of toothpaste, not toasters)

  10. Pat Kaye said:

    A writer’s name should be genre-compatible? Hmmm… my writer’s program should ratchet up its emphasis on marketing. Should I use one name for my Chick Lit novels and another for my children’s books? Invent a protean middle-ground name for use in both genres? And what about my poetry readings? Never mind, these are largely attanded by other poets who have trouble remembering their own names. OK, Kristin, I will take your advice before you give it: FOCUS!

  11. nessili said:

    Ummm…my last name is Wedding 😀 I mainly write romances. Do you think anyone will believe that is my real name?

    tho’ V.V. Wedding doesn’t sound too bad (that’s what I would shoot for if I can ever get my fantasy finished 😛 )

  12. Jeff Smith said:

    This is so subjective and is really a discussion for those who are signed. It just gives those of us in the query stage one more thing to be self-concious of. Besides my favorite sci-fi author is Iain M. Banks, the middle initial does not take away from his excellent writing.

  13. down_not_out said:

    My name is an important part of me and I’ll be damned if I change it to suit a package. If it means the difference between a writing career and none then I’ll continue writing for myself alone.

    Life is too short to compromise so easily for the hint of success.

    Rhiannon Kelly Fionn

  14. Elektra said:

    Hmm–perhaps it’s because my name is so common, but I’ll change it to Betty Rubble if it means getting a book published.

    And Sha’el, you crack me up–come by the Crapometer mor often!!!

  15. Simon Haynes said:

    You really think Victoria Louisa Gabriella Henriette Rachael Michelle Elizabeth d’Orléans – de Vienne is too long?

    You ever see a trade paperback eight feet wide?

  16. Tracie said:

    I’ve always wanted to publish under my full name because — I’m not going to lie — I want people who know me to know that’s MY book, whether they met me a few years ago or in third grade. After reading this discussion, however…

    My middle/maiden name is pretty much always mispronounced. So much for that one.

    My last/married name is Portuegese. It’s a beautiful name that I’m happy to use, but I will cynically predict that publishing houses might find it too ethnic to put on books about WASPy teens growing up in the

    I guess I can only hope that my bland first name with the unusual “ie” spelling would pass muster…

  17. Simon Haynes said:

    I measured it as it appears in your comment. I believe you need to practice spacial estimating. My name doesn’t use near the space you estimated.

    Dang those imperial to metric conversions. I also assumed you meant a DAN BROWN size cover font.

    And an eight-foot-wide paperback would certainly stand out from the shelf. And most shops.

  18. Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said:

    Dear Simon,

    Pixies are small. An eight foot wide book would be hard to hold, and I’d have to take wing to read it.

    I’m seriously considering using one of my titles, probably “Queen of Goats,” or maybe “Sha’el, Princess of the Royal Blood, True Daughter of Tanath, Keeper of the Sha Nesting Grounds, Irritant Royal to Princesses Everywhere, Friend of Dragons.” The latter would require fine print. But my publisher could package it as a boxed edition with a magnifying glass in a special drawer.

  19. Termagant 2 said:

    Sha’el, you crack me up. You have more names than Ayla of the Zelandonii.

    T2, who has one street name & the same one on her books, & likes it that way

  20. Anonymous said:

    can someone tell me the name of a famous writer who suggested to another budding writer to use only his initials as his name was too long …

  21. Anonymous said:

    Pen names can’t be protected under trademark (at least north of the border) so what’s to prevent someone else from writing under your pen name?