Ramblings Of a Steampunk Writer

A blog about writing... occasionally mine. But, mostly just writing.

The Pen Name: Writing for a Different Genre & What It Means For Audience

Saturday, November 29, 2014

In 1968 James T. Tiptree wrote Birth of a Saleman for Analog Science Fiction. He corresponded with fans and others via letters, never once speaking on the phone or meeting with people at conventions. His life was private, and, many assumed his reasoning had everything to do with keeping his writing separate from his everyday. Considering many other writers of the time did the same, working another job on top of writing and not wanting either to become entangled, it was a sound explanation. But, in 1976 James was outed during a slip when he revealed in a letter that his mother had passed away."Inquiring fan-sleuths identified the obituary—and its reference to an only child, Alice Sheldon" (Techgnotic).

For female fan readers everywhere this meant the feminist themes in James’ stories made more sense. This also gave them reason to cheer when so many male fans of James’ writing, writers and simply readers alike, all felt there was no way such writing could come from a woman. Of the experience, Alice only had to say:

“I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” (Sheldon via Techgnotic).

Many writers like Alice have had similar reasons for choosing a pen name over the name they were given at birth (or, several days later if their parents had a case of indecision). For some, it really is a matter of keeping their identity hidden due to sexism. J.K. Rowling was also one of these women; her publisher, Barry Cunningham, thought that boys might be more likely to overlook the series if it was known a woman wrote it. Thus, her name—Joanne—was remade. (The K stands for Kathleen—her grandmother’s name.)

But it’s not just women.

In the romance genre it’s almost entirely unheard of for a man to write, so if one did write for it he too would likely choose a pen name that denoted him as female. Don’t believe me? I cite Leigh Greenwood; to meet her in person you would call him Harold Lowry. Much the same goes for Jennifer Wilde (Thomas Elmer Huff) and Jessica Blair (Bill Spence).

But a name we with write with—be it our name or one we’ve name up—isn’t just something that’s on the book. It does represent you, doesn’t it? For a writer this can be more than a matter of sexism, but also of genre. If you’ve established yourself an erotica novelist and suddenly want to write YA adventure books, it can become a problem. Do you take a different name, or take the chance of your established audience shying away from this new project—either out of fear of it being bad, or, because of disinterest in said genre?

It does pose other problems as well if you’re an indy writer, or, a writer who depends heavily on advertising via your own pocket. Do you make a new webpage for this personality? Or, remake your own page to suit both sides of yourself?

Unlike the question of sexism in writing and reading, the answer might not be so obvious. There isn’t an easy solution. It really comes down to what your capable of, and, how comfortable you are as a writer. If the genre you’ve established yourself in isn’t too different from the new one you want to write in as well, then why not use the same name instead of reinventing yourself? However, if you’re known as a children’s writer and are thinking about writing erotica… it might be best to pick a new name. (Or, if your a man writing in a female-predominated genre: a female name.) It does mean working from the ground up, but if it feels better for you then the chances might be better served rebuilding a little.



Perky Socks said...

Hi! Great post! Very interesting! :)

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