We now scoff at the idea that the Bronte sisters had to use pseudonyms of male names in order to get published in England in the early eighteen hundreds. Female writers were not taken seriously. Their good work alone wasn’t sufficient to land a deal. But when Charlotte, Emily, and Anne began to send their work off as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, it suddenly had appeal.
It would be nice to think that this was something that only happened in England and not after the mid-nineteenth century. But many female mystery writers would disagree. Taking on just their initials – or those they made up – made their names sound gender neutral and therefore more attractive to male readers.
P. D. James, P. J. Parrish, L. C. Hayden, J. A. Nance, and even J. D. Robb – known as Nora Roberts to her romance novel fans – all used names that wouldn’t sound too feminine for the mystery/suspense/detective novels they were selling.
But men have gotten the same backlash when attempting to sell romance novels. Although some are coming clean from the start, many have used or continue to use female names. Harold Lowry cranks out romance novels as Leigh Greenwood. Tom Huff was the man behind Jennifer Wilde and Edwinna Malowe, Fran Vincent is actually Vince Brach, and Bill Spence – a World War II veteran – is Jessica Blair.
With women being the majority of the readers of the romance genre, men have felt the sting of having to use pseudonyms in order to satisfy the market.
Science fiction has belonged to men, and women writing in this genre often choose a gender neutral or male suggestive nom de plume. Author James Tiptree, Jr. was the pen name of Alice Sheldon. Others in the Sci-fi genre include Carolyn Cherry writing as C. J. Cherryh, Catherine Moore as C. L. Moore, and June Mills as Tarpe Mills.
Even non-fiction has felt the stereotype of gender. True crime’s Andy Stack was the pseudonym of Ann Rule for years in spite of her education and background in police procedures. She’s over that now – thankfully – and writes under her own name.
And what about the Queen of young adult fiction – the series about a boy wizard? You might have heard about him. His name is Harry Potter and the author, Joanne Rowling, was strongly recommended to use initials as the fact that she was not male was seen a possible detriment to marketing the book.
She became J. K. Rowling. That was in 1997, a mere sixteen years ago.
Does it matter to you if the author of a particular genre is male or female?
Do you think the market has ceased to attribute a genre to a gender?
Were you surprised to learn that an author you adored was actually someone quite different that you expected, especially if that difference involved gender?
Have you considered using a pseudonym, and if so, what would it be?
Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food. She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.