Thursday, April 16, 2015

What's in a Pen Name?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m new to romance writing. I started selling fiction around the turn of the century. Fantasy and science fiction mostly, with a bit of non-fiction tossed in for seasoning. The question of pennames is one most writers I know have at least thought about.

There are more reasons for pennames than there are writers who use them. Some day jobs might object. Sometimes families might have a problem with what a son or daughter or mother or father writes. Knowing my family as I do I know it would be less that they’d be horrified by what I write and more than everyone would decide they know best and I’d never have a moment’s peace. Sometimes a writer just wants the privacy of keeping her real name separate from her writing life.

The biggest reason for pen names is marketing. The first is very simple: how does your name look on a book cover? Some names are too long to fit in a readable font. Some feel jarring for a particular genre. For years, women have written under male names to get published in science fiction (James Tiptree anyone?). And yes, men have written under women’s names to get published in romance. Dean Knootz wrote gothic romance as Deanna Dwyer. Marketing can be to the reader…or to the publisher. For such a seemingly small thing, a pen name can make a huge difference.

For those of us who write in different genres, a pen name, or names, let readers know what they’re getting. The late Barbara Mertz wrote non-fiction books on Ancient Egypt under her real name, but most of us knew her best as either Elizabeth Peters or Barbara Michaels. Or both. In her case, her publisher made the decision for her to use pen names to keep her fiction and non-fiction separate. But in these Wild West days of indie writing, more and more authors are making that decision themselves.

Terry Rissen is my latest pen name and one I hope to be using for a long time. The story I have coming out in the upcoming Naughty Flings anthology (May 15, 2015) is more than just an urban fantasy story of a young man and young woman finding each other on a night in 1969, but it’s the debut of a universe I’ve been living with for close to a year now. Blue Plate Special introduces characters I created for my novel Phoenix. It still has a rewrite or two in its future, and I can’t guarantee the title won’t change (again) before I send it out into the world. While Phoenix is light on romance, it’s heavy on character with a little end of the world action tossed in for good measure.

I’m doing something very different with this pen name. I’m not limiting my genres. In addition to Blue Plate Special’s urban fantasy, I’ve got Lodestone, a male/male science fiction paranormal romance adventure story in space coming out in June from Dreamspinner. I keep thinking I should have had horses so I could add western to the mix. Rainmaker is currently being written in the Lodestone universe, but with completely different characters. I have no idea how long it’ll be, I just hope Dreamspinner likes it as much as I do. Then there’s The Glass Spinner’s Tale, which is in rewrites. It’s a male/male steampunkesque fantasy with an almost Regency sensibility which doesn’t have a home yet and might end up going out as an Indie title.

I always swore I’d never juggle universes like this, but it’s turning out to be more fun than I ever imagined. I hope you all enjoy reading my work as much as I enjoy writing it.

Keep calm and read!

For now, you can connect with me on Twitter @terryrissen. I hope to have my own blog up and running before too long. When it is, the link will be posted on Twitter and appended here to future posts.


  1. When I was in high school I used to tell my peers that I wanted to be a published author. I can still hear the derisive laughter from many of them. "Ain't gonna happen" was the primary comment to my admission.

    Years down the road after I got married and started working on my first novel, I'd tell people I wanted to get it published one day. I got the same kind of disbelieving and condescending looks from my grown up friends as I did from my high school acquaintances. "Nice to have a goal/dream" was what I usually got back then.

    So when I found a publisher for my first novel Keeper of the Wind and was asked how I wanted my name put on the cover, it didn't take me long to decide I wanted those kids in high school and those adults from later on to know I'd achieved what I wanted. Maiden name and married name went on that book.

    When I was first published at Ellora's Cave I was working as the church secretary and personal assistant to our priest. No one batted an eye that I write erotica but then this is the Midwest and not the rural South.

    I do, however, write under a pen name as well. I REALLY wanted to use Sioux D'Nym but my late husband gave me his Italian roll-the-eyes look and gave me an alternative. No one knows I write under that name and they ain't going to.

    Whichever you chose, it is YOUR choice. Do what makes you feel comfortable.

  2. Exactly! When I sold my first story, I used my first, birth and married names. Then, as time went on, I found my writing (not erotic at that time) was becoming a distraction at the day job. I now enjoy the privacy. Everyone's needs are different.

  3. I chose Suz deMello--as in "sue the mellow". It's an aspirational name LOL.