Welcome to part 2 of why authors might use pseudonyms instead of their real names. Let’s not waste any time:
2. Whether we like it or not. Whether it’s fair or not. Some of our given names are going to work against selling our product, without having anything to do with the quality. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, (and sometimes even today), women who were writing SF used male names to publish under. Andre Norton and James Tiptree, Jr are two examples. I didn’t know Tiptree was a woman until I was in my 30s. Others just used initials so they wouldn’t clearly be identified as women, such as C. L. Moore or—more closely to the modern day—J. K. Rowling.
It wasn’t all one way. Robert Jordan, of Wheel of Time fame, wrote romantic fiction under a female name (Reagan O’Neal) because it seemed that women were less likely to buy romance by a male author, just as male readers of SF often wouldn’t take a chance on a female author. It made good sense for authors trying to sell in those markets to use names that would not bias potential readers against them. Of course, this isn’t fair. But it’s real.
And, just like actors have often changed their names to make them more easily pronounced (Rock Hudson) and to avoid prejudice, some writers with very long or foreign sounding names may use pseudonyms to help sales. This brings us back to Robert Jordan, whose real name was James Oliver Rigney Jr. Would he have been as successful under the Rigney Jr name? We’ll never know, but you have to admit that for most English speakers, Jordan rolls off the tongue easier than Rigney and is likely more memorable.
Name recognition is an incredibly important thing in writing and publishing. The British author known as Lee Child, of “Jack Reacher” fame, is actually James Dover Grant. Grant isn’t hard to pronounce or remember for English speakers, but “Lee Child” has a certain flair that James Grant lacks. The first letter of the last name is even important for how things get shelved. “Jordan” would be shelved before “Rigney” in the SF section of bookstores, “Child” before “Grant” in the thriller section. I’ve seen research that suggests that names beginning with “C” through about “L” seem to get the best positioning in bookstores, close to the eye height of most browsers and either toward the beginning of the display area or right in the center. I don’t personally know that to be true but consider some of our best-selling authors—Mary Higgins Clark, Harlan Coben, John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Charles Gramlich. Uh, wait, how did that last name get in there? Please ignore that typo! Unless, that is, you really want to read some Gramlich.
Please stay tuned for installment 3 of Why Authors Use Pseudonyms.