I was reading Sarah Cawkwell’s blog yesterday and she raised the very interesting question of pseudonyms and women in genre and tie-in fiction... Should women hide their sex behind gender neutral names, as I did? Let’s explore the guilt thing... Did I let down other women writers by using Nik Vincent?
First of all, I used Nik, because that’s what the husband calls me, and the first things I wrote were in collaboration with him. We had been Dan and Nik for a long time, and there was something romantic about seeing our names side-by-side on a book jacket in that format. It didn’t cross my mind at the time that Nik was gender neutral, because I considered the spelling to be feminine. Had I been a male, I would have spelled it, Nick, surely? Of course, other people didn’t see it that way, and plenty of people were confused when they met me at signings and events. Fortunately for all of us, I was sitting next to the husband whenever I met readers so I was almost always shielded from consumer consternation.
I’m a feminist, and I would never deliberately let the side down. I do wonder, though, how many women in tie-in and genre fiction choose, quite deliberately, to use gender neutral versions of their own names, or to use their initials or pseudonyms in order to make buying their books easier for a suspicious or sexist public. I see it again and again, and it continues to happen even among new and young women writers. It’s a terrible prejudice to reinforce, but if it meant I sold more books, would I do it?
J.K. Rowling, when she wrote the Harry Potter books, about a young wizard, so a fantasy novel with a male character at its centre, chose not to call herself Joanne. I wonder if her publisher thought that more boys would want the book, and more mothers might think it suitable for their sons if it was written by a man, or if they at least assumed it was? My next question is: Why would they assume that it was?
It’s a moot point for me, as far as my career in tie-in fiction is concerned, because, when it comes to collaborating with the husband, I already have a name, and it would be pointless and foolish to change it now. Besides, the very association with the husband means that I already have a man’s name on my books, and a prestigious one at that. It might be pointless and foolish not to keep my name if I began to write solo, too, given the association back to my husband, whom the readers tend to trust. So, honestly, I don’t know. I suspect the publisher’s choice would be to leave well alone.
Perhaps I did fudge the issue; on the other hand, I could’ve used Abnett and I didn’t. Even when I collaborate with the husband, I don’t use his very illustrious (in this arena, anyway) name. Could I sell more books if I used his name? Almost certainly, and I use it in my private life, so why did I choose to go with my maiden name for my career? I don’t know; I suppose it was something to do with professional pride. Would I use Abnett in the future? Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question either. I’m told, however, that there is an advantage to having a name that begins higher in the alphabet, because of the likelihood of being shelved at eye-level to the customer: go figure.
Of course, I’m now attempting to dip my toe in the waters of a solo career, independent of tie-in and genre fiction, and I’ll need a name for that, too. I doubt I’ll take my old name with me, because I’ll need something more serious, but do I take the husband’s name, considering that it’s both unusual and well known in another arena?
It’s all terribly complicated, and confusing, and I don’t have any answers... not yet at least.