Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What's in a name?

All right... Still not a review, but this is a post I've been meaning to write for a while. The subject? Authors' names and pen names. But first, a little disclaimer: I didn't do any thorough research or anything. This is a feeling/opinion I've had for a while and wanted to voice. Just wondered if it was just me who had this feeling or if it was shared.

Who here checks the copyright page of their books and the name next to "Copyright @"? I don't systematically do it, but from time to time, I'll stumble across it... and it's always fun to find out the true name of authors :) It's also surprisingly easy when you think about it!

Just for fun, try to guess who are the following authors: Linda Howington, Loretta Chekani, Susan Macias Redmond, Julie Koca, Jodi Koumalats, P.F. Besley, Cheryl Griffin and Katherine Smith.

It's no secret that many authors choose to go with a pen name and there are many reasons to do so. On top of my head, there's privacy... but also clearly, marketing. Making your name sound more American/generic, choosing a pen name to fit a genre specifically, hiding your gender... Also, how many authors we've heard of who write multiple fiction genres or sub-genres and therefore need different pen names: Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb, J.R. Ward and Jessica Bird, Sylvia Day and S.J. Day and Livia Dare. Or authors who need a start fresh?

For whatever reasons the authors do it, it's valid and all very interesting :) And I bet a lot of thoughts go into it choosing a pen name... So what's my issue? Why am I writing this post? Well... Is it me or recently, there's been a lot of similar names popping up? It's as if new authors are purposely choosing pen names that are similar to established authors to confuse the readers :( I'll see posts on blogs and forums and be like: "Oh, I didn't know this author had a new book out" and turns out I read the author's names too quickly. I'm sure that for some authors, they want to use as close as their real name as possible... so I'm not ranting at all the Jennifers or Susans since I know they are popular names. But in some case, I wonder. For example, this morning, I came across Holly Kinsella. Of course, it reminded me of Sophie Kinsella. Was that the purpose? If you had the chance to choose your pen name, wouldn't you try to pick something as unique as possible? It's already hard to keep titles and covers straight, but now, authors' names too?! And it seems more prominent because of all the self-publishing going on...

Perhaps I'm making a big deal out of nothing, but it's something I noticed lately and it's been on my mind. So I thought I'd share and see what were your thoughts :) Agree, disagree, no opinion? How do you feel about that?


  1. I've never thought about this to be honest, but I do check the real name and sometimes it's funny to see the real names.
    To me it has always been a matter of marketing...authors pick names to suit the genre they write and to be on the readers radar easily. Do I agree? I don't know, I guess they must have more professional opinions advising them if it's a route they should follow. To me it doesn't matter, as long as their books are good to me.
    As for picking names closer to established ones...that I think it's a wrong move because I always think cynical and wonder if its on purpose and if so, are they trying to get a name for their art or to sell? Either way, you should focus on being professional above all, I think.

  2. Oh, I have thought of this too, Nath! I've ALMOST purchased books by the wrong author a few times in the past year because they are so similar to the ones I'm looking for, and I think that it's a new book. It's frustrating!

    As far as pen names for already known authors, I'm clueless most of the time. I know some of them like Linda Howington (Linda Howard), and NR, and Jessica Bird (JRW), but I rarely look them up. And worse than that, sometimes if other readers don't point it out, I don't know if certain books are by the same author under a different name because I don't routinely visit authors' websites. :(

    Example: Rachel Bach / Rachel Aaron. I heard about this a while back but totally forgot and dismissed it from my mind! I bought her recent release under Rachel Aaron ONLY because Li mentioned in her blog that she IS Rachel Bach whose sci-fi books I loved. LOL!

  3. Interesting post, Nath.

    I was at LonCon3 and attended a panel on Diversity in YA SF - they touched upon the topic of having pen-names that are ethnic/gender-neutral, so I don't think this is a solely a romance thing. In fact, you could argue gender-neutral pen-names are not very useful in the romance genre!

    I hadn't noticed the trend of similar pen-names though I remember a post some time back around one of Janet Evanovich's relatives-by-marriage using the Evanovich last name, I think, and a discussion around whether she was trying to cash in. Kinsella is an unusual last name...


    PS Do tell - who is P.F. Besley, Cheryl Griffin and Katherine Smith? I could guess the rest based on their first names/similar last names, but these stumped me!

  4. Sonia - It is! LOL. Sometimes, I understand why... but other times, I wonder why go so completely different? For example, Cheryl Griffin = Victoria Alexander... Wonder if the names they choose also have a meaning for them. Probably :)

    I do think that a lot of authors choose pen names for marketing reasons and well, it's been proven to work :) I don't think I have to agree or not, that's the business, the industry. What I don't like is what I've mentioned, people choosing names similar to established ones. Like you, I do wonder if it was done on purpose. I mean, logic would dictate that you choose something unique and different to stand out no? No something similar that people could mix you up with someone else... And if it's done on purpose, then it's as if the author is tricking the readers and that's what bothers me :(

    Hilcia - Phew, I'm not the only one feeling this way!! I was wondering if I was making a big deal out of nothing, but glad I ain't!

    I don't either. I mostly find out through blogs or goodreads. When you visit two authors pages and realize that it's the same pictures LOL. That's what happened to me for Jessica Sims and Jill Myles!

    And you know, you hear about choosing pen names for their different genres/sub-genres... but it's not as if the authors keep it secret. Most authors put it on their websites... I also remember a few years back, the whole thing with Anne Stuart. So to a certain extent, you do wonder if it's warranted...

    Li - Oh, I didn't think it was solely a romance thing, Li :) I mean, when it comes to pen names, that's across the publishing industry I think. And to a certain extent, it makes sense. Although I do wonder... I mean, I'd like to see perhaps see more American-Born Chinese (or Asians) authors... or if I saw their names, I'd at least think of picking up their books.

    The similar pen names trend though, that was more of a romance thing. And yes, you do wonder if it's to attract readers... but seriously, is it a good way to do so? Actually, when you think about it, it's the same things about mother-daughter, mother-son, author-author's duos... For aspiring authors who already have an established author as a relative, is that the best way to become established? Writing as a duo? Anyway...

    LOL, I will let you know about the rest of the authors :P I'm just waiting to see if there'll be more comments... I'll give you this one though since I already told Sonia, Cheryl Griffin = Victoria Alexander. It's interesting because Cheryl Griffin sounds like a good romance author's name. I actually had to check on Goodreads to see whether there wasn't an author with that name.

    By the way, I'm curious. Who do you think Julie Koca is? :P

  5. I would not have guessed Victoria Alexander at all! Julie Koca = Julie James :) Can't take credit for guessing that though - I think I'd read that somewhere?

  6. So here are the answers:

    Linda Howington = Linda Howard
    Loretta Chekani = Loretta Chase
    Susan Macias Redmond = Susan Mallery
    Julie Koca = Julie James
    Jodi Koumalats = Jodi Thomas
    P.F. Besley = Caroline Linden
    Cheryl Griffin = Victoria Alexander
    Katherine Smith = Emma Wildes

    Any surprises?