Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pen Names & Industry Reality

I've thought a lot about pen names ever since I wrote my first male main character. Because tradition says boys don't read books by girls even if they have male main characters. It's really a silly notion if you think about it, but then you look at how everyone tends to buy into it. 

How many female writers go by their initials either at their own choice or their publisher's? Well, a lot. Because then a woman can hide behind a name that doesn't give her away. To keep those boys happy and all that. 

I think most women agree this sucks and isn't fair. But then the truth of the matter is, they WILL sell better to a male audience if their name is not obviously female. 

So if you're a girl who wrote a "boy book" and you want to sell it and sell it well…what do you do?

When RELAX, I'M A NINJA was on sub way back in 2009-2010, this weighed on me. Do I go with N.M. Whipple? But I kinda hate my initials. They're really pointy. NMW. Seriously. What about Nat Whipple? People might assume "Nathaniel." Except I hated being called Nat as a kid and can I really accept that as the name people will call me as an author? What about an entirely different name altogether? But that felt weird to me because I suck a keeping up pretenses.

Really I just wanted my name on my books. Though I knew my name could be a liability because I'm a woman. I wish it wasn't like that, but well, it is in a lot of genres still. I like to hope and think it's getting better, but sometimes you hear stuff that makes you think no matter how hard we fight it won't ever change.

Anyway, when it came to going indie with RELAX, this idea came up again. Should I go with a pen name? Or do I stick with my own name and hope my audience from previous novels follows? Or hope that maybe the boys of this generation can buy into a girl's name on the cover if the title is as awesome as mine (It's really the coolest title I've ever come up with.)? 

Ultimately, yeah, I chose to keep my own name. It's a really personal choice (unless your publisher is making it for you), and I'm not sure either is wrong, you know? For me, it was more important to keep my name recognizable across my novels, because though my published work is all different I think it all has my stamp of off-beat humor and unique (or really just weird) world-building. Starting with a new pen name to build up and promote seemed like a bad move when it's already hard enough to get my current name out there.

Maybe my decision would have been different if RELAX had been my first novel like I thought it would be. And I would have kept it for my books with female protagonists. Who knows?

Disclaimer: Of course there are other reasons to pick pen names, but this is my own personal story and it circles around gender. This is not intended to make anyone feel bad for going with a pen name—they are good tools and something to be considered when writing in any genre. It is a personal choice, as I mentioned, and one that everyone has to face in some measure.


  1. That's a tough choice. I think you're work will have enough crossover appeal that your name will be fine, but that's my opinion on something I know very little about:). Good luck on your adventure, and congratulations for choosing to stay true to yourself.

  2. I remember talking with my dad about J.K. Rowling back in...let's see...2004 maybe. We were trying to guess what her name was. We knew she was a woman but I don't remember where I heard it. If an author becomes popular initials don't do anything.
    I never paid attention to author's name. I just wanted to read what was inside. That's changed now because I keep up with my favorite authors online. But still, when I look at an author's name, my only thought is, "Have I read anything by them before?"

    1. I know, that's how I am, too, Eliza. But we are female. I have actually heard stories and seen men put down books when they see it's written by a woman. It's sad, but true. I believe it's changing, but not fast enough.

  3. I'm a guy, and I never think twice about the gender of an author. Just my humble opinion, but be true to yourself, don't hide behind a mask. Write proudly as who you are. Write a great book, and wear it proudly. Never trick readers for fear of not selling more copies. Be a writer, not a bookseller.

  4. I figure, if we don't put our "girly names" on our books, nothing will ever change.

    That's one reason I decided what the heck, I was going to use my full name on my own books, even though the first two had male narrators.
    That doesn't mean I expect everyone to do so, though--it's a personal choice and I won't judge what others choose to do.
    I have to laugh about people who only read books by authors with male names, though, because hasn't it occurred to them that the author could be a woman writing under a male name?
    Also, I have heard some talk about men writing romance under female names because they were afraid readers in that genre expected female authors--don't know how true that is.

  5. I dislike my real name, so I decided very early on to go with a penname.

  6. I gave this some thought some months back when a friend of mine was asking around about whether to go by initials or not. The way I view it, if you feel more comfortable using gender-ambiguous initials as your writer name, go for it! If you're proud to use your full name, go for that!

    For me, Danielle is just who I am; people have shortened it to Dani or called me Daniella (in error or because they knew some other Danielle who ruined the name for them XP), and I may or may not let it slide, but it's not /me/. And since I'm never more /me/ than I am in the making of my books, it matters to me that Danielle [E. Shipley] be the name on my books. If boys don't wanna give my stories a shot because a girl wrote them, *shrug*, sorry they feel that way; it's a shame and their loss.

    Heaven knows what I'll do if a publisher ever asks me to choose a pen name for some future project. Assuming for the sake of argument I'm willing to roll with that, I still wouldn't know where to begin. I can name characters all day long, but myself? Whew, I'd have to appeal to the masses for aid and inspiration!

  7. I'm in kind of a reversal of that situation - I'm a guy, and the main characters of my book are both young women, so it'll be aimed at a female audience. But I'm using my real name on it because it's *my book*. ^_^ Granted, I tend to think anyone who's closed-minded enough to not read a book because of the author's gender probably wouldn't want to read this book anyway, so... yeah.

  8. Oh the PAIN!
    And look at my name! Look at it I tell you! And that's someone who writes sci fi/fantasy from mainly male POV's.
    Sorry name, but it has to go. I'm changing it at the end of the month...

  9. My real name's a snooze fest, so I picked a pen. lol

  10. I write under my maiden name, because that's the name I worked as a journalist. SD