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Friday, February 9, 2018

The Name Game by Jacqueline Seewald

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has Juliet ask: “what’s in a name?” Well, apparently a whole lot! For instance, choosing the right name for a character is a key element in reader conceptualization of a character. Hollywood understood this a long time ago, and that’s why so many actors and actresses were told they had to change their names to conform to their motion picture images. It’s the same way people choose their pets’ names. If you have a toy poodle, for example, you might name it something like Fluffy, while if you own a pit bull you might select a more aggressive moniker like Killer.

What about author names? Should authors use their real names on their writing or should they use pseudonyms? Is branding a help or hindrance to writers? There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing.The premise? This is the best way to build a readership. For instance, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense. “Nora Roberts,” real name Eleanor Marie Robertson, also writes under “J.D. Robb” for her mystery series. The name Stephen King is immediately associated with horror, but he has chosen to write under other pseudonyms as well. Jayne Ann Krentz writes her contemporary romances under that name, her sci-fi/fantasy under Jayne Castle, and her historical romances under Amanda Quick. The advantage is that fans know what to expect.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format. Harlequin was famous for insisting that writers have romantic sounding nom de plumes.


But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t have the answer to this question. I can only admit that I don’t limit myself to one particular format in my writing. My books are not “in the box.” I have written romantic mysteries, historical romances, YA mysteries and romances, as well as children’s books and stories. All of these appear under my own name.

However, there is an exception. When I write short stories from a masculine viewpoint, I use my initials. So, for example, my novella for SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE (Issue #19) entitled “Letter of the Law” is credited to “J.P. Seewald” rather than Jacqueline Seewald. A lot of female writers do this because men seem to prefer reading stories and novels ostensibly written by other men, especially when presented from a masculine viewpoint.

Personally, I am very comfortable writing from a male viewpoint and I also enjoy reading books written by members of the opposite sex as well as other women. My husband and I had two sons to raise which made me accustomed to the male perspective. However, male readers may not find a female author writing from a male perspective acceptable or credible. For this reason I chose to write THE BURNING, written entirely from a male point of view, under the author name J. P. Seewald. This was not to fool readers but merely to make clear that the novella was appropriate reading for both men and women. It is not a romance or a mystery but a serious literary work.


                             http://annorlundaenterprises.com/books/the-burning/

There are also a number of male authors who write women’s romances as well as mysteries under female pseudonyms. I know of several, and their novels are very popular.

What is your opinion? Does branding by name recognition benefit writers or is it not really important? Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

14 comments:

Susan Oleksiw said...

Interesting discussion, Jacquie. The question of what name to use bedevils every writer when she (or he) begins writing for publication. I decided at the outset that I would stick with my legal name, Susan Oleksiw, knowing it could be a problem for some but not everyone. If nothing else, it is memorable.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Susan,

True, your name stands out because it is unique. That can be helpful to authors.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Wonderful post Jacquie and you are so right on!
I use my real name but have toyed with a pen name should I venture away from Inspirational/Christian work
Good luck and God's blessings
PamT

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Pam,

Since you write in a particular genre, your followers will appreciate this. Yours is an excellent example of how "branding" is beneficial.

Betty Gordon said...

I think name recognition is important for so many reasons I made one mistake early on which I took action on in later reprints...my family and many close friends call me Tima instead of Betty and when I published I didn't use Tima in any way A fairly recent imprint made it possible to use both names...Betty Tima Gordon.
Re writing as a man, some years ago I had a friend say in criticism "You write like a man" and even though I was taken aback at the time, I soon realized that was a good thing in many instances.
We keep learning, don't we?
Thanks for the great post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Betty,

I think it is a compliment when readers feel a female writer gets the male cadence and point of view right.

Carole Price said...

I've thought a lot about names. I plan on using my name on all that I write (unless something weird happens). Readers don't always know the other names authors use for which series, mainly me. I do like using initials in place of the full name like you did, and considered doing that when I began writing.

I'm not comfortable with my story unless character names fit. My new series still doesn't work without names I can connect with. Seventeen chapters in and I'm still struggling with them. Sigh....

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Carole,

I often struggle with character names and sometimes change them midway through a novel. It's not an easy task. I think your own name is perfect for mystery fiction.

Patricia Gligor said...

Good question, Jacquie. I think each author has to decide for themselves because each situation is different. One reason I write under my real name - I'm divorced and Gligor is my maiden name - is because,in a complicated world, I constantly strive to keep things simple. :)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Pat,

I agree about keeping things simple. Your name is now branded for mystery fiction. It seems to be working well.

Susan Coryell said...

I solve the author name problem by using my FULL first name rather than the nickname most folks call me by. So, I have a "professional" name and a "pet" name without really changing anything. Now, when it comes to character names....a whole new game! Nice post.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Susan,

Good way to deal with the problem of author naming.

Bonnie Tharp said...

Great blog and discussion. I've used the Writer's Digest Character Name Sourcebook occasionally when I'm stumped for a name.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Writer's Digest publishes numerous helpful books. In the past, I purchased and used a number of them.