Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why I Lost a Y: On Pen Names

Now that my friends and family are finally getting their hands on DEADWOOD, they keep asking the same question:

What happened to the Y?

DEADWOOD by Kell Andrews (not Kelly!)
Order from Amazon now!
That's because I'm publishing under the name Kell Andrews, and all my real-life friends and acquaintances know me as Kelly, with a Y (not an I, IE, or EY). So let's get this straight: The missing Y is not a typo! It's a pen name.

As pen names go, this one isn't exactly a secret identity, but it has advantages. Kell is more gender-neutral, which is helpful since I'm trying to reach boy and girl readers with my middle-grade fiction. Kell Andrews is more unique --  I'm the only Kell Andrews in the U.S., while I'm one of 261 people (81.79% of us female) named Kelly Andrews -- not to mention Kelli, Kellie, and Kelley Andrews, and those in other countries around the world.

But the real problem was Google. Not only do other Kelly Andrews dominate, there are some that I definitely don't want to mix with on a search results page.

I'm not talking about Kelly Andrews who is the head of the Green Party in Northern Ireland. I wouldn’t mind being confused with her.

I mean Kelly Andrews, the English "glamour model" (wink, nudge), whose photos dominate the first page of Google and are definitely NSFW, and even less safe for a kidlit writer who is trying to reach 8- to 13-year-olds and their parents, teachers, and librarians.

So Kell I am, at least as far as my books go. My pen name is unique but easy. I own the domain It's recognizable to those who know me. And it's recognizable to ME, so that if someone calls me Kell, I don't look for someone standing behind me.

Good Reasons for Pen Names

Real name is too common. You might need something to distinguish you from similarly named writers -- although Dan Brown and Suzanne Collins did OK with boring names. 

Real name is too difficult. If your name is hard to spell, potential readers might not find you in search engines. If it's hard to say, they won't talk about you for fear of botching it.

You write in several genres. If you write in unrelated genres, like adult nonfiction and picture books, different names might allow you to distinguish your identities. This is common even with closely related subgenres, such as romance, where many writers use different names for contemporary versus historical or paranormal romances, or to indicated different heat levels.

Your day job (or your writing) is sensitive. Many writers like to keep their writing and career identities separate. This is especially common for the spicier genres.

You publish in several modes. Writers who publish with traditional presses and self-publish sometimes keep the identities separate, often for the same reasons as above.

What are your thoughts on pen names? Anybody famous (or infamous) have your name? What’s a good reason to write under an assumed name? Do you use your own name or another one?

And here's an article from Rachelle Gardner on this subject:

Should I Use a Nom de Plume?


  1. I find this so interesting! I, too, write under a pen name. Although I'm not published yet (or even represented), I'd decided as a teenager that if I ever wrote a novel, I'd go by my first and middle names. Neither of them are common--Jaime and Loren are both unique ways of spelling those particular names (thanks, Mum!), and put them together ... well, you don't see those two names together too often.


    This morning I woke up to a tweet stating that I could be heard puking thanks to my drunken night out. The ACTUAL Jaime Loren had apparently partied quite hard last night. XD It was a pretty funny case of mistaken identity, and we all had a good laugh about it. Tweets were RT'd. Others were favourited. Ah, good times. For her. *I* was up all night with a sick toddler ... on the other side of the world. :P

    So I guess my pseudonym isn't that unique after all. XD

  2. I just went through this pen name business. I write fantasy and sci-fi, and my agent thinks I have a great name for fantasy, but wanted a "hard" name for the sci-fi she just started submitting. So now I'm going around with initials:) And my friends now call me M.D. Waters, which is hella annoying, but... lol.
    I never really gave a lot of thought to the other Misty Waters out there, though. There are definitely a few, though not as common as yours. One happens to be a stripper. (Awesome!) Another works for the same company I do but in another state and company reps get us confused all the time b/c we work the same position. Crazysauce.
    Great post. Gives me a lot to think about:)

  3. I never would have thought about the fact that other Kelly Andrews' would come up on Google, and maybe not good ones. ;)
    I used a pen name for the romance short story I wrote because I want to use my real name for children's lit. Of course, if I ever get anything published for kidlit I may need to rethink Schieffelbein for the 'too hard to spell' reason. Ugh.

  4. I write under my initials for fiction and do my freelance work with my full name. It's not a very large distinction, and I don't really work at keeping the two identities *that* separate, but I do like having the "brands" divided up that way.

    Whenever I get married, I'll continue writing under my maiden name, which will make an added layer of separation between 'writer' me and 'regular' me, which I like quite a lot.

  5. Interesting stories! It looks as if few names are untroubled, even if it's the doing of unreputable name-mates.

    Misty, I love your name for a fantasy writer! I know a few writers whose names are so perfect and memorable for their genres that they sound fake.

    Rachel, I like your name too, but I bet the "i before e" rule has plagued you. Google and Amazon can figure it out, but right now, I've notice that Goodreads wants spellings to be PERFECT. But there are plenty of writers who have overcome it.

    Jaime, that's funny. I have always tried to maintain an impeccable online persona, but all it takes is a namesake to start acting up, and we look like miscreants too!

  6. So far I have spent all my time becoming known as a writer named Laura Hughes. It's my married name, and I decided to use it because my maiden name is hard to spell. Unfortunately, there are TWO other writers named Laura Hughes, as well as an artist, and various others. It's just too common a name. I'm debating what to do about it now.

    Granted, I don't have representation yet, so that might be a decision best left until after I do, but in the mean time, it is something I've been thinking about. I could use my maiden name. My sister's already published several successful books using the same tongue-tripping name, so it's probably not as big a stumbling block as I've made it out to be in my own mind.

    I've also considered (half-jokingly) publishing as Mittens Morgul, since everyone on Twitter already knows me as that. :D

    I sense some important decisions in my future...

  7. Laura, unusual names are so awesome that I don't think we as writers should necessarily abandon them. And that's true of names like Mittens Morgul too -- I thought about using one of my favorite screen names. It was first runner up!

    T.L., I use my regular name (with a Y) for my business writing. I'm used it my whole career -- not going to change now.

  8. Just felt compelled to google the 'other' Andrews. Ahem. I'd say that's a good choice on your part.

  9. As a very boring Robin Hall, I have thought about using a pen name a lot. I mean the idea of being next to Shannon Hale is awesome, but yeah, my name is so generic that I can't find myself on google. Once I get a book deal I'll worry about a pen name. If only I could just drop a y:)

  10. Thanks for an interesting post, Kell!

  11. This is so interesting. A couple of those reasons for the pseudonym had never occurred to me. And I really like the sound of "Kell Andrews." :)


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