Writers' Newsletter

Issue #193
April 2019

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Pen Names: Don’t worry, you can deposit the check

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Monday April 1, 2019

One of the topics I see some jawboning about is whether and why to use/not use a pen name (aka a nom de plume). Since the topic seems to fascinate, and many folks before they’ve even written the book seek out a name to write it under, I thought the subject was worth some air time.

I write under my own name—almost. I changed my name just a little bit when I sold my first book, Pacific Empire, and then sold foreign rights to Japan. But I knew before I made either sale, that the book was perfect for the Japanese market. So I found a Japanese style name that dovetailed nearly completely with my own. That’s the name I use for most of my writing—mystery, science fiction, and nonfiction writing about writing. My business writing I do under my original name.

Many authors write in a number of genres under a single name, perhaps their own. Many other authors use several names and have more than one website to promote their writing. For instance, those who write for both adults and young adults may split their websites and their names because they don’t want the kids reading their adult novels. But other writers also write for these same markets and deliberately seek out crossover readers. They want the adults to read their young adult books and the kids to read their books for grownups. As you can see, the practices regarding which name authors write under can be varied.

I have more than 50 pages of comments on pen names here in front of me, which is way too much material for the triviality of the topic. Let me summarize these authors’ thoughts here, however.

Pen names can be used when writing from the point of view of the opposite gender so readers aren’t disturbed by a viewpoint other than the one they expect. 

Similarly, authors may use pen names for different genres so as not to confuse readers who expect historical romance and get a science fiction thriller instead.

Professionals often use pen names so they aren’t embarrassed in the middle of a court case they’re prosecuting or belittled by narrow-minded fellow academics. Certainly some professors and some attorneys write under their own names and aren’t bothered when comments are made. In fact, they’re glad for the publicity once a book comes out and they see an article about them in their subject-oriented newsletters.

Romance writers worried about being stalked by men in jail (who do read romances) will use pen names.

What Name?

Choosing a pen name can be as difficult as choosing a title for your book. Often people use names similar to their own, a maiden name, or an ancestor’s name. Or some people choose a name that they think will wind up at eye level in the book store. Bear in mind, too, that the longer the name, the smaller the type when it appears on the book jacket.

Check out the potential pen name using a search engine such as, well, Yahoo (okay, Google, if you must) to see who out there has the same name and if you want to be associated with that person. One reason why many authors change their names, actually, is that other writers are already publishing under their own legal names. This happens more than you might expect it to.

Certainly in deciding whether to use a pseudonym or not, you might consult with your editor and your agent to see what they think. Don’t immediately become too attached to the pen name you’ve chosen because your editor might tell you that it’s not a marketable moniker. In the past, editors would pick the pen name and then write into contracts that authors couldn’t take names with them to another publishing house. That’s the type of clause for which we read contracts.

If you’re famous for something under your legal/birth name, you might not want to change your name for writing at all. Remember, too, your pen name will be the name you use in promotion. You’ll want to strut the glory that you earned under your original name. People will often find out your real name, anyway, because the book will most likely be copyrighted in that name, and that name will often be on the copyright page (though the choice of name on the copyright is yours).

Do be sure to make your legal name known on the copyright form for a longer copyright that protects your estate.  Big name authors, of course, copyright their books in the name of their corporations.

And come to report, one author was reunited with her brother after many years because he saw her name on a book. So if you have long-lost relatives...

All your submissions should be in your legal name alongside the notation “writing as” with your pen name added. However, this needn’t apply if your pen name is simply a variant of your legal name, such as “George Alex Barnes” versus “G. A. Barnes.”

Can you retrieve your money when you receive a check made out to your pen name? Well, you can ask for checks to your “real” name or you can endorse with both your pen name and the name in which you maintain your account. However, that’s for the infrequent checks made out by someone buying a copy of the book from you, such as at an event. Checks from your publisher will go to your agent, who will make out her check to you using your legal name. In the case of split checks, the checks will still be issued to your legal name, as that will be the name used in your contract.

Come take a class with me at the Writer’s Digest online university. Next up is 12 Weeks to a First Draft, starting on 4/4. And buy a copy of my award-nominated Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional.

About the Author

G. Miki Hayden is the author of the award-winning guide for mystery writers, Writing the Mystery: A Start-to-Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional, available now from JP&A Dyson.

"Whatever your habitual errors are, punctuation, writing style, or even not understanding what the agents/editors are looking for, if you'd like to correct your flaws, take a class with me at Writer's Digest: Or for some less-expensive guidance, you might want to download The Naked Writer for your Kindle at Amazon. Yes, I work with clients privately. Find me on Facebook."

G. Miki Hayden always has a new class starting at Writer's Digest. The feedback she gives is personal, thorough, and actionable.


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Some of this month's news for writers from around the web.

S&S Forms New Nonfiction Imprint

S&S Forms New Nonfiction Imprint – Thursday April 18, 2019

Simon & Schuster has formed a nonfiction imprint that will publish books on wellness, self-expression, empathy, food and cooking, diet, parenting, home, workplace, play, creativity, travel, fan culture, and civic engagement. Tiller Press will release its first of 19 books set for publication this June.

To head the imprint, which is being overseen by Liz Perl, S&S executive v-p and chief marketing officer, the company has hired Theresa DiMasi as v-p and publisher. Most recently, she was v-p, head of content, and editor in chief at Weight Watchers International. She has also worked in various capacities at Condé Nast.

[Read the full article]

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Writers Who Fired Their Agents Aren’t Flocking To WGA-Approved Agencies

Writers Who Fired Their Agents Aren’t Flocking To WGA-Approved Agencies – Tuesday April 16, 2019

Talent agencies that signed the WGA’s new Code of Conduct aren’t being flooded with calls from writers seeking new representation now that they’ve been ordered by the guild to fire their agents who refused to sign. Deadline reached out to many of the 48 agencies that signed the Code and asked if they’ve been getting calls from writers who fired their agents on this the first business day since the Code went into effect.

[Read the full article]

Yorkshire to host one of best horror writing festivals on its first visit to UK

Yorkshire to host one of best horror writing festivals on its first visit to UK – Saturday April 13, 2019

One of the world's best horror writing events is coming to the UK for the first time - and it will be based in Yorkshire

StokerCon™ will be held at the Grand and Royal Hotels in Scarborough in April 2020.

For the first time, the Horror Writers' Association's annual gathering will be held outside of the US and will continue to incorporate such popular StokerCon programming as Horror University, the Final Frame Short Film Competition, the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference, and the presentation of the Bram Stoker Awards®.

[Read the full article]

Click here for the rest of this month's news >


A selection of the new listings added to this month.

New Literary Agency Listing

New Literary Agency Listing – Friday April 5, 2019

Handles: Fiction; Nonfiction

Areas: Adventure; Anthropology; Arts; Autobiography; Beauty and Fashion; Business; Crime; Culture; Current Affairs; Erotic; Gothic; Health; Historical; Hobbies; Horror; How-to; Humour; Lifestyle; Men's Interests; Military; Music; Nature; New Age; Philosophy; Psychology; Science; Self-Help; Spiritual; Sport; Suspense; Thrillers; Westerns; Women's Interests

Markets: Adult; Children's; Youth

Treatments: Commercial; Contemporary; Dark; Experimental; Literary; Mainstream; Niche; Popular; Positive; Progressive; Satirical

A talent management agency, with an extremely strong literary arm. The majority of the works handled by the agency fall into the category of celebrity nonfiction. However, also regularly work with journalists, entrepreneurs and influencers on projects, with a speciality in polemics, and speculative works on the future.

Occasionally take on exceptional fiction authors.

[See the full listing]

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New Magazine Listing

New Magazine Listing – Friday April 12, 2019

Publishes: Articles; Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry; 
Areas include: Arts; Beauty and Fashion; Crafts; Design; Fantasy; Nature; Travel; 
Markets: Adult

A quarterly print magazine that celebrates all things enchanted. Publishes photography, recipes, original fiction and poetry, travel pieces, artist profiles, home decor, otherworldly beauty tips, craft tutorials, and more. Send submissions by email. See website for specific email address for poetry.

[See the full listing]

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New Publisher Listing

New Publisher Listing – Wednesday April 10, 2019

Publishes: Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry; Scripts; 
Areas include: Autobiography; Biography; Criticism; Literature; 
Markets: Adult; 
Preferred styles: Experimental; Literary

Publishes primarily literary fiction, with an emphasis on fiction that belongs to the experimental tradition of Sterne, Joyce, Rabelais, Flann O’Brien, Beckett, Gertrude Stein, and Djuna Barnes. Occasionally publishes poetry or nonfiction. Send submissions by email. See website for full guidelines.

[See the full listing]

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Click here for more of this month's new listings >


Some of this month's articles for writers from around the web.

Embracing the void: a powerhouse writer turns to self-publishing

Embracing the void: a powerhouse writer turns to self-publishing – Monday April 15, 2019

Lily Woodhouse is a pseudonym for Stephanie Johnson, who has won the Montana Book Award, the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship and the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award; hell, she co-founded the Auckland Writers Festival. But could she get her latest novel published? Yeah, nah.

[Read the full article]

Best-selling author Harriet Evans reveals her technique for penning hit novels

Best-selling author Harriet Evans reveals her technique for penning hit novels – Thursday April 11, 2019

We ask Harriet Evans about her journey to becoming a best-selling author, find out why she proudly displays Golden Girls DVDs, and reveal tantalising details about her latest book...

Harriet Evans is no newbie to the world of writing. In fact, she’s written a whopping 12 books over the course of her career.

Writing it seems is in her blood. Her father was formally an editor at Hodder, the publishing house behind some of the most successful and prolific writers, such as Jodie Picoult and John Grisham.

[Read the full article]

Writing a first novel is like wandering out into an unclear, inhospitable landscape

Writing a first novel is like wandering out into an unclear, inhospitable landscape – Monday April 8, 2019

In September 2008, I left my job as a structural engineer to return to university to study fine art. I had also begun creative writing classes at the Irish Writers Centre under the Texan novelist, Greg Baxter, a then unpublished author and a complete unknown to me.

His classes consisted of reading and discussing the work of great writers. We’d submit writing and a week later we’d receive our text back, decimated with strikethroughs, edits, suggestions; and at the end of each exercise there was always a substantial note of criticism and encouragement. I ended up doing three 10-week classes in short form fiction and nonfiction. It exposed me to writers I’d not heard of before. My reading up till then consisted of some classics and whatever had been given good reviews in the broadsheets. I don’t remember Greg giving much by way of general advice throughout this time, other than that he insisted whatever we submitted was in no way to be planned out or plotted ahead. The openended-ness at the heart of this request at first sat uneasily with me. My habits of thought up till then had been, naturally enough, predominantly deductive.

[Read the full article]

Click here for the rest of this month's articles >


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