ALSO KNOWN AS…

These pen names are fairly self-explanatory.

Is there anyone out there who didn’t know that Vivian Lawry is the pen name of Vivian Makosky? Well, now you do. 

There are many reasons why an author might choose to use a pen name. Particularly fancy authors might even use a nom de plume.

To Share Credit

Lawry Gulick,
in his natural habitat

My first attempt at writing fiction was the Chesapeake Bay Mystery Dark Harbor.  The plot required a lot more knowledge of sailing than I possessed, and so I started working with a coauthor, Lawry Gulick. Most fiction books are not (obviously) coauthored, so we took the pen name Vivian Lawry.

When I started submitting short stories, I asked Lawry whether it was okay for me to use that pen name. He said, “Sure. This is the only fiction I’ll ever write.”

People more often than not mispronounce and/or misspell Makosky anyway. My professional (psychological) publications are by Vivian Makosky, and using a pen name for fiction allows me to separate the genres.

By the time Dark Harbor saw the light of day, I’d published numerous short stories as Vivian Lawry. Publishing the novel as Vivian Lawry would feel like plagiarism, as if I was claiming to be the sole author of the mystery. Hence, it ended up being coauthored after all, by Vivian Lawry and W. Lawrence Gulick.

The Real Michael Field

Little did we know that shared pen names have been around for awhile. 

  • Katherine Harris Bradley and her niece, Edith Emma Cooper, shared the pen name Michael Field, as well as what appeared to be a lesbian relationship for more than forty years. 
  • Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch shared the pen name Magnus Flyte.

Perhaps they chose male pen names for marketing reasons as well.

To Bypass Gender Stereotypes

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë as painted by their brother Branwell

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë wrote as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell because, according to Charlotte, “…we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” 

Many other women have written under men’s names in order to get published and/or to be taken seriously.

To Jump Genres

Yet another reason to adopt a pen name is to publish in very different genres.

  • Joanne Rowling has used pennames to confront both of these issues in the publishing world.
    • Her editor suggested that a fantasy series published by a woman would only appeal to a female audience, so JK Rowling published the Harry Potter series and all the other books in the “Potterverse
    • She switched to Robert Galbraith for her 2013 crime mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Louisa May Alcott published Little Women under her given name
    • She used the name AM Barnard to write gothic thrillers with unladylike subject matter
  • Nora Roberts a.k.a. JD Robb
    • When writing romance, she’s Nora Roberts
    • When writing futuristic suspense, she becomes JD Robb 
  • Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) also used many pen names
    • Isak Dinesen published Seven Gothic Tales 
    • Pierre AndrézelThe Angelic Avengers
    • In German-speaking countries, she is sometimes published as Tania Blixen
Fantasy and science fiction are still heavily male-dominated genres.

Indeed, many publishers advise writers established in one genre to take a different name for a different genre so as not to confuse or frustrate loyal readers.

To Improve Marketing

PD James, aka
Phyllis Dorothy James White,
Baroness James of Holland Park

And not to be overlooked, some authors choose a pen name or use only initials purely for marketing purposes. Besides JK Rowling and PD James, consider these three:

For more on this topic, pick up Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Psuedonyms  by Carmela Ciuraru. That’s not a pen name – the author really is named Carmela Ciuraru.

Downside of Pen Names 

Ghostwriting is not quite the same as using a pen name.

Yes, there is a downside. If one chooses to keep two (or more) writing names, and to keep them separate, it multiplies the workload: separate blogs, separate websites, separate social media accounts…  

And one can’t handily promote the other!

For those of us who have a “private” name and a pen name, visibility is often lost: people know me as one or the other. In spite of leakage over time, personal friends and family members sometimes forget my pen name, and often haven’t “liked” Vivian Lawry’s Facebook page. Thus, they don’t keep up with publications, talks, etc., even though they might be some of the best word-of-mouth advertising.

Bottom line: Think carefully before taking a pen name.

What I’ve Been Up To

In the past few years, I’ve been writing a lot more than I realized. Without realizing it, I’ve managed to publish more than a dozen new short stories! Some of these have come out of various writing classes and workshops, but others have just popped out of my head onto the page.

All of these new pieces are listed on my Publications page now. Feel free to stop by and read some of my work for inspiration!

Things in the world are pretty chaotic at the moment. It’s easy to be pulled into a world of grey hopelessness. A reminder that anyone can still create something beautiful can be good for the soul.

Giving First Rights

Sometimes life gets on top of you. You aren’t dead, just buried. And accidents happen. Such was the case for me once upon a time. When two on-line journals went live nearly simultaneously, I realized that I had granted first rights to both of them. My attempt to set things right follows.

To the OxMag Editorial Staff:

I am embarrassed and extremely regretful to have to tell you that I inadvertently granted publication rights to two literary journals. On May 8, 2015, when I granted OxMag rights to my short story “Trust,” I did not recall that I had previously (on March 27) granted publication to Diverse Arts Project Journal. All I can say in my defense is that over the last several months I’ve been distracted by two surgeries, daily hospital care for a persistent non-healing wound, various other health complications, family issues, and a flurry of short story acceptances. Once I discovered my error, notifying you seemed the only honorable thing to do.

As an on-line publication, I suppose that you can—and may wish to—remove my story from this issue. Alternatively, should you choose to allow the double publication to stand, please add an appropriate footnote acknowledging the Diverse Arts Project Journal.

Again, my apologies for the error. Please let me know how you decide to handle this. And thank you for your time and efforts on my behalf.

A little more than three weeks later, I received the following response:

Thank you so much for coming forward with this issue, we appreciate it.

Because it is our policy generally to only publish previously unpublished work, we will remove your story “Trust” from our Spring 2015 issue. We did enjoy your story, and re-reading it gives us time to again appreciate why we chose to publish it initially. We encourage you to continue submitting work to OxMag, but also remind you to in the future keep us informed of the status of any simultaneous submissions. (Submittable actually has an option to withddraw stories from consideration once they’ve been accepted without you having to notify everyone.)

We wish you good health, and also congratulations on the other short story acceptances—that’s very exciting!

Avoid First Rights Blunders

There are several take-aways for writers. One, with e-publishing, this sort of error can be corrected. Unlike a print journal, where making changes of this sort would be prohibitively expensive, it’s a relatively easy fix. Two, if you screw-up—regardless of the medium—admit it. Besides easing your conscience, doing so reflects well on you. In this case, OxMag thanked me and invited future submissions. And, three, take care of the paperwork (either yourself, or through a third party). It’s much better to avoid this sort of situation than to try to repair it!


You can read “Trust” at The Diverse Arts Project