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.