Pseudonyms: Who (and, Maybe, What) is That Author?

PseudonymsFirst off, I must make it clear that I have no problem with authors writing under pseudonyms. Pen names can be advantageous in a number of ways, including to help an author maintain a level of privacy, to increase a book’s marketability, or to make a distinction between books by an author who writes in more than one genre, particularly when those genres are quite different.

Something new I did this year got me to thinking, though. I knowingly read a romance by a male author who wrote it under a woman’s name. If there’s any other romance I’ve read before by a man who used a female pen name, I wasn’t aware of it, though I hear the practice is quite common for some men who write romances and cozy mysteries.

Now, there are a number of authors, male and female, behind the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene for the Nancy Drew books I read as an adolescent, but those aren’t romance novels, of course. Still, at the time when I was all into Nancy Drew books, while I was sure there wasn’t only one “Carolyn Keene” behind all of them, it didn’t cross my mind then that some of the authors might be men.

The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1)Captive Witness (Nancy Drew, #64)Rich and Dangerous (Nancy Drew: Files, #25)Counterfeit Christmas (Nancy Drew: Files, #102)

Granted, I’ve been familiar with the practice of women writing under male names for about as long as I’ve been familiar with the concept of pseudonyms. It’s only the idea of the genders being reversed that is newer to me.

Nevertheless, my biggest thought in all of this is, currently: will it ever become more socially acceptable–and sufficiently marketable–for authors to write under their own gender no matter the genre, even if some of those authors still choose to use pseudonyms for other reasons?

I mean, as visible as I personally make myself behind my own books, I can’t help wondering sometimes how that visibility might affect some readers’ thoughts or assumptions about the books I’ve written with main characters on the covers whose race/ethnicity differs from mine. And I wonder how similar that kind of effect might be if I wrote gritty crime thrillers or something and folks found out that the author behind all of that grit was a woman–a frequently-smiling-and-laughing one at that.

Will there come a time when readers, no matter their gender, will generally be more okay with picking up, say, action-packed espionage novels with political intrigue published under their female authors’ names or tender romantic comedies published under their male authors’ names? (And I don’t mean with their last names accompanied by their first and/or middle initials only, in cases when it’s for the express purpose of keeping the author’s gender ambiguous.)

Will using pseudonyms as a gender cover, more or less, for the sake of acceptability and marketability become a practice of the past?


Note: the sampling of books I have pictured from the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories and The Nancy Drew Files aren’t all by male authors. 🙂


4 thoughts on “Pseudonyms: Who (and, Maybe, What) is That Author?

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      It’s funny. I didn’t really think about it ’til this week, but now it strikes me as a bit strange, that a book may not get the respect or the attention it should if it’s not published under the “right” gender for its genre. As gender roles and perceptions continue to shift in society, I suspect that the world of publishing will eventually follow suit. To what extent and how quickly, I’m not sure…


  1. Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) says:

    Hallo, Hallo! 🙂

    I’m coming through the #MondayBlogs feeds on Twitter today – as I selected three posts I wanted to get a bit more bloglove whilst scouting the feeds to find at least three posts that caught my eye if not more. I wasn’t expecting to find a post from last year, as I am never sure how long a gap can go between #MondayBlogs – but quite champion you’d highlight a topic I am struggling to understand myself!?

    There is a lot of gender inequality in literature – not just representative of how a writer’s name is spelt on the cover and inside title page, but also, there are variant impressions about reading predominately one gender or the other depending on which gender you are yourself. I believe in full equality and the right of choice to read as diversely as your readerly heart desires without limiting ourselves across gender divides.

    Similarly, on par your topic here – why we still live in a century where gender has to become obscured by initials or gender neutral names is beyond me! Even a step further, for authors who are transgender, I think we need to embrace them wherever they are on their own journey; some change their names after they’re known by another name or sometimes they affirm who they are lateron.

    I am unsure why the market feels we (as women) would not read a Rom writ by a bloke? Did no one ever watch the brilliance of Ally McBeal? (David E. Kelly ring a bell?) Some men truly understand how to write wicked brilliant female leads – goodness – must be a topic of curiosity if even Hallmark Channel wrote a teleplay about this very thing! A male Romance novelist had a female stand-in who represented his female pen-name! He was ‘ghosting’ his own novels for fear of women’s reactions. Now to me that’s just over the top silly!

    I hear you on the ethnicity concerns of gauging reader reactions! I write stories similar to how I’ve experienced life. I grew up in a metropolis which was a melting pot of cultures, traditions, religions and ethnicities, yet I gather the vibe when I go to talk about writing stories which represent the world I live in, I’m meeting with criticism because of the fact I write multicultural stories even though I’m of European & Scandinavian descent.

    Talk about being closed-minded?! These are people who question why I read African-American Lit for instance or why I appreciate the Literature of India (or insert any other branch of literature I personally love to read). If literature is meant to be open for all and accessible to everyone, why is everyone so ghungho to place us in a box?!

    I do agree with you about pen-names and the merit of allowing all writers choose why they use them but not for gender identity issues as far as making their stories more marketable to the general public. I think as far as that’s concerned, we need to represent authentic selves – if a pen-name is used, let it reflect the person using it but not hiding who they are in the process.

    What a brilliant essay!

    Happy #MondayBlogs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response!

      “If literature is meant to be open for all and accessible to everyone, why is everyone so ghungho to place us in a box?!” Good question. 😀

      As book blogging started to give me a better picture of my reading habits, I’ve been trying to break out of some of my own little “boxes” lately: trying to read a wider mix of authors, checking out some genres I used to ignore, reading a romance I knew was written by a man (as I mentioned), reading an espionage thriller written by a woman, etc.

      It’d be interesting to see if, eventually, there’ll no longer be a “right” gender for a genre. Time will tell… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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