Here’s the thing about… Pseudonyms, Dedications, and Queries

Let’s talk about writing under a pseudonym, ok? There are many reasons one might do that. For example, I used to have a client who had the same name as a really famous author. In a situation like that it makes perfect sense to choose a different name. My client went with using his initials and his last name. Some authors write for both adults and children and perhaps their adult work is very adult, if you know what I mean? (nudge nudge wink wink) So it might make sense to want to differentiate, so one’s middle grade readers don’t go looking up all your books and checking out the racey romance series you’re making money with. Or perhaps you’ve never liked your name. You always dreamt of being a published author and you made up an authorial sounding name that you love. That’s just as valid as any other reason. There are quite a few very famous writers who have used pen names or pseudonyms—Dr. Seuss, George Eliot, Anne Rice, Mark Twain, and of course JK Rowling. But here’s the thing… (you knew that was coming, right?!)

When I get a query signed something like “Jane Smith writing as Jeanette Affascinante” I…  roll my eyes. Sorry, but I do. If you’re an unpublished author, sending an agent a query, and you’ve got no platform (i.e. you’re not famous or well-known in any big way), in my opinion you’re putting the cart before the horse by including a pseudonym. If after I offer you representation, and I’ve sold your manuscript, you want to use a pseudonym, fine. But signing your query letter with a “writing as,” is akin to putting a dedication and acknowledgments into your unsold manuscript when querying. To me that’s just… kind of silly.

That you’re “kind of silly”(in a bad way) is not one of the first things you want me, or another agent, to be thinking upon first reading your query, is it?  You want us to read your query, and besides falling in love with your story, you want us to come away with the feeling that you’re a professional, someone who understands the business, someone who will be easy to work with.

I’m sure there are other agents out there who might disagree or just not care about this issue. And that’s fine. I’m not committed to being right about this. But again, here’s the thing… when you query you want to potentially offend the least number of people. Your query letter is often the first introduction an agent or editor has with you and your work. So cutting down on the potential faux pas in your letter should be one of your top priorities, after including all the necessary information and writing an interest-piquing query.

So I’m not saying you should put aside your intention to write using a pseudonym, for whatever reason you might have (or for no reason at all). And I’m not saying don’t fantasize about a dedication page or who you’d like to eventually acknowledge, if your manuscript gets published. But I am saying that when you’re introducing yourself, via query letter, that’s not the time to do it.

That’s all. Any questions?



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5 responses to “Here’s the thing about… Pseudonyms, Dedications, and Queries

  1. Thanks for this! It’s actually something I’ve struggled with. I’ve done children’s television and theater for many years under a stage name. I’m not exactly famous, but there are lots of kids, parents, teachers, librarians and theater-folk across the country who know me by that name. However… in SCBWI and my local writing community I’ve been using my legal name. If and when I’m published, I think it will probably be best to use my stage/pen name since I have a following. I’ve wondered how to handle this in queries. I usually use my legal name, but mention my other work and nom de plume in the cover letter in case they feel like googling me (almost all info about me would come up under the pseudonym). I definitely don’t want to come across as silly, though. Any thoughts on the best way to handle this situation would be greatly appreciated!

  2. Esperanza Q. Nussbaum IV

    Is Linda Epstein your real name?