It came to my attention a short time ago that writers are still using pen names. What is a pen name you ask? Well it’s the use of a fictional name other than than own in the publication of books. Yes it is still around which I thought was very peculiar.
This was a common trait found in writer’s during gender inequality when women were forced to change their name to have their works published. Some you may have known, others you may be very surprised by. Like Louisa May Alcott, orginally publishing Little Women as A. M. Barnard. And for the males, George Orwell is actually Eric Arthur Blair.
It places a bit of mystery on the writer, and leaves me wondering. Not only should I try and deduce the novel’s plot, but investigate the mind of the writer themselves too.
Australian author Jaye Ford, or Janette Paul, or a name who we do not know, writes under two names, for the crime and romance genres. She is a woman, (or so we think), who has preluded as to why she writes under her pseudonyms in the 21st Century.
Why did you choose to write as Jaye Ford and not your real name?
There were a few reasons but in the end it came down to spelling. It’s a rare moment when someone spells my name correctly. My names – all of them: first and both my maiden and married names – aren’t particularly complicated. There are several variations for my Christian name and mix-ups around the syllables in my surnames. Unfortunately, it’s not because they’re fabulously exotic and filled with unusual combinations of consonants, they’re just longish, easy to read Anglo names that get annoyingly misspelled all the time. Then there’s the pronunciation: my real name is Janette, with the emphasis on ‘ette’. It’s not Janet and it doesn’t get shortened to Jan – no offence to all the Janet’s and Jan’s out there, but my name is Janette.
Yes, there’s an edge of irritation there. If you’ve never had a problem with people getting your name wrong, let me tell you – it gets really wearing.
I earned a bronze medallion for life saving at school around the same time the Australian comedy Kingswood Country was on TV, with the sexist, racist knob of a main character Ted Bullpit. My bronze medal is engraved with the name Janet Bullpit!
When I was a television journalist, I was asked by one TV station if I could make my name more ethnic. Another asked if I could shorten my surname so they wouldn’t have to change the font size to fit it on the screen.
I said no to both but when I had the chance to start a new career as an author, I decided that A) it was a chance to do something about the spelling problem, and B) it would be better if readers could take an easy guess at how to spell my name if I wanted them to find me in a bookstore or online.
Why did you choose to publish your romance novels as Janette Paul?
The Jaye Ford novels are psychological thrillers with plenty of gritty, fast-paced action, while my Janette Paul novel Just Breathe is a romantic comedy and pretty much the opposite of the others. It’s fun as a writer to be diverse but not all readers’ tastes are. My publisher and I decided we didn’t want readers picking up a Jaye Ford novel expecting a suspense thriller and getting a romantic romp – or being thrust into nail-biting suspense when they were after a cosy, fun read. It was about making sure readers aren’t disappointed with what they pay for.
How do you choose your pseudonyms?
I was told once by an author that it’s wise to choose a pseudonym that’s close to your own name – she’d chosen one that was entirely different and for some time, went about at reader events ignoring people who tried to speak to her because she didn’t recognise the name she was using. Both my pseudonyms are a version of my real name.
I came up with Jaye Ford for my first thriller, Beyond Fear. I’ve been called ‘J’ for years so it seemed an obvious choice. I wanted to use it as a name rather than an initial and as the spelling ‘Jay’ is a common American male name, I added an ‘e’. Possibly I created another spelling problem for myself – I occasionally get called ‘Jane’ or asked ‘how do you spell that?’. Ford is a shortened version of my maiden name.
With the pseudonym for my romantic comedy, Paul is my husband’s name. He wasn’t enthusiastic about not using my real name when I was first published so it was fun to include his the second time around. Lucky for me it’s easy to spell.
Why do you think authors use pseudonyms?
The obvious answer is privacy and the myriad reasons why an author might want or need that. It was part of the choice for me, too. But I think there’s also a desire to have a name that sounds right for the job. We try to create names that perfectly suit the characters we write about so it seems a logical extension to do it with our own. And writing is a business – I don’t have a burning desire to have my real name in lights but I’d really like people to read my books and if a different name can help that by being more easily remembered or eye catching or more appropriate to the genre, then I’ve no problem with that.
Are any specific genres that writers are more likely to use a pseudonym?
I could say crime and romance but perhaps they’re just the ones I’m familiar with. It’s been said short names with hard consonant sounds work well for crime writers (and their main characters), perhaps suggesting the drama and action they write about. For example Lee Child, Nicci French, Harlan Coban, Stuart MacBride, Kathy Reichs and the list goes on. But then there’s Michael Robotham and Caroline Overington, whose names prove the theory wrong but are quite unforgettable.
In the romance genre, I know a number of authors who use pseudonyms because their own names don’t lend themselves to their stories. For example, Karen Smith just doesn’t work for a romantic story set in Elizabethan times. Then there are others who are blessed with monikers that are perfect for what they write, like my friend and historical author Isolde Martyn.