Occasionally, the fact I sign my name as the fairly androgynous ‘Ali’ leads people to assume I am a man. This belies the fact that however peppered with links to my online endeavours my email signature may be, most recipients of my missives can’t be arsed clicking them.
I wish I could say that I go by Ali out of a canny sense of marketing – knowing as I do that women who go by initials (E.Nesbitt, J.K.Rowling) or women writing under unisex or male sounding names (George Elliott, Robin Hobb, Alex Gray) have often done so to avoid problems associated with being a female writer. Said problems can include not being taken seriously, boys or men refusing to read your work, and publishers putting inappropriate covers on your books.
Going by a pseudonym to trick damn fool publishers into giving you the same opportunities as men seems a noble endeavour to me, but in fact I haven’t experienced any sexism related to my writing (she said, jinxing it), and the only reason I go by Ali is because that’s what I’ve always done online. Tinternet was originally a social outlet for me much more than a platform to promote my work, and people tended to call me Ali when writing emails or on AIM/MSN because everything must be abbreviated as much as possible online. Also because it’s a fairly standard nickname for someone called Alison.
So what’s in a name? Time was if you googled mine you got screeds of stuff about the Rumble in the Jungle between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, but due to some pretty concerted effort over the past few years I now appear alongside them. Sorry, confused boxing fans… But would I do better if I chose an exotic pseudonym to write under?
I think it probably depends on the genre. The received wisdom with genre fiction seems to be that never-ending series featuring the same characters by the same authors with very similar covers are the best way to go. However, I’ve written books in 12 genres. This may mean I need 12 different pseudonyms. I’ve come up with a few ideas (always helps to be prepared, after all) but feel free to leave your own in the comments…
Historical Fiction: Caligula’s Blog is more Adrian Mole than Umberto Eco, but I think there’s something for everyone to appreciate in there. Perhaps a gender-neutral name is required, A E George, maybe?
Murder Mystery: my one is a sort of small town, MC Beaton affair, so maybe initials again. A E Gow, perhaps, or MA Shandwick?
Western: no rules here, although than it should probably sound American. Maddison Foster, Cookie Miller, Brick Wilson?
Paranormal Romance: should be a female name for this I think. What about Tallulah Campbell, Portia Docherty, Memory Flanagan or Tabitha Crawford?
Fantasy: there aren’t really any hard and fast rules with author names here… middle initials crop up a bit so could go for Ali E. George could work. Simple.
Scottish: could probably use my own name… But that’s no fun. How about Dougal Douglas? Morag Miller? Fergus Ferguson? Annie Anderson? (it doesn’t have to be alliterative, that just sort of happened)
Children’s: once more my actual name could be fine here… Or, I could start churning out fairy books under a name like Rosie Sunset or Ladybird Lyle. Daisy Meadows eat your heart(s) out.
Science Fiction: Gibson Brady, Kilmarnock O’Neill, Wyn Blair (with thanks to Modest Mouse for the lyric “we named our children after towns… that we’ve never been to”)
Humour: Huckleberry Djinn, Aloysius Kerr (the former being the invention of Mr 12 Books rather than me)
Horror: Lenore Lupescu, Edward Owen, Annelise Von Kleve
Literary Fiction: my own initials or indeed full name could work here once again… but if they’ve already been used elsewhere I’m a bit stumped.
Graphic Novel: The Pigeon Collective