Using Your Pen Name in a Query

This is a very quick note for those of you inclined to use a pen name. It will not apply to all of you.

When I was a literary agent, I received a lot of queries. And a lot of those queries were from mysterious writerly types who had chosen mysterious writerly names for themselves. Names like “J.D. Smith” or “P.U. Smellweather.” (Okay, maybe not “P.U. Smellweather.”)

pen name, pseudonym
Is your real name George? Then you’d better tell the agent you’re querying so they know who the heck to respond to. Save the pen name for your published work.

When Should I Use a Pen Name?

When you’re P.C. Cast or J.K. Rowling, or you have a book cover to put your mysterious writerly name on, then you can use a pseudonym. But in a query, if writers used just their pen name and nothing else, I didn’t know who to respond to. And I felt stupid writing “Dear P” in an email.

You know the agent’s name; you should share yours, too.

The most important part of querying is making sure you have a strong project to submit. Hire me as your manuscript editor and I’ll guide you towards creating something you’ll be proud to attach your (pen) name to.

23 Replies to “Using Your Pen Name in a Query”

  1. My first manuscript had a female main character. I worried that a query coming from a male writer would already be a blow against me. Whether valid or not, using initials took away that concern. But I see your point. It’s a matter of courtesy.

  2. Pretty amusing since I think J.K.’s decision was based on feedback from her publisher and her queries would have, one suspects, been sent with her given name.

  3. This was definitely a mistake I made early on. J.S. McCune — never even occurred to me that my initials (all 3) were not exactly the best for the YA/MG market :)… Like the query, i’ve learned that it’s best to leave out the mystery.

  4. I have a pen name, but it’s not initials. In my queries I sign my full name then add on, “Writing as Lynn Rush” I had a writer friend tell me to do that so potential agents/editors know both the names. 🙂

    I’ve always been confused by initials as first names, cuz you’re right, do you call PC Cast PC? if you talk with her? LOL.

    Great post. Have a nice weekend.

  5. I plan on waiting until AFTER one of my books sell to think of an pen name. Although, I doubt I would use one in the future anyway. I’d sorta rather see my real name on a book cover, so I can run my fingers over it time after time.

  6. I figure my name is my brand, as a writer, until or unless I change over to a penname. But that’s a joint decision, editor/writer, right? I have a “plain vanilla” name, but it’s mine, so I’ll keep it for now!

  7. Susan — It’s always the writer’s decision and they have that talk with their editor when the time comes. If someone uses a pen name, my only advice would be to pick one that’s short and that still has the .com version of the domain name available. 🙂 But I still want to know their real human name when they query.

  8. I query with my given name but my networking profiles and my website are listed under my initials. That whole, I’m-the-only-person-in-the-world-with-my-name-and-I-don’t-want-strangers-to-find-me thing.

  9. I’ve decided to go with initials for my pen name because there is another girl with the same name as me and not only did she grab giseleleblanc.com first, but people sometimes confuse us–especially since we’re both from Canada. She is an illustrator, and I am a writer who dabbles in illustration as well.

    I didn’t want to go with a made up name so decided to use initials and my last name. Also, a lot of people have difficulty pronouncing my first name correctly–although I wouldn’t have decided to go with a pen name just because of that.

    And that is probably way more than you wanted to know. 🙂

  10. But my parents named me I.M Awesome. They don’t believe in extra letters.


    I was wondering if you should query with your pen name or your real name.
    Because I. M Awesome would be a great pen name.

  11. I don’t care for initials for author names for the very problem you described (although in my case, I’m usually writing a fan message). That being said, I’ve always thought it would be amusing to write as S. Quigley and insist that people call me “squiggly.” Maybe someday I’ll be fancy enough for that.

  12. Erinn — I love to get queries from real names. Speaking of which, I’m going to change my real name to I.M. Awesome. Thanks for the idea!

    Sarah — You don’t need to start doing that because I already call you “squiggly,” and I got B on that bandwagon, too. Great seeing you last Friday!

  13. My byline has always been Siski Green rather than Franziska Green (my real name) purely because when I first started writing, I wanted to show people the article and say, “That’s me!”. I can count on one hand the people who even know my first name is Franziska, rather than Siski. It isn’t so great when people write checks to ‘Siski’ and the bank won’t cash them though.

    I’ve always been tempted to change my first name to Theresa. Theresa Green. Geddit?! I know, I know, I have an awful sense of humor but at least it makes me laugh!

  14. Siski — I had a really long last name and changed it legally after the LA Times wouldn’t let me use a shortened version as a byline. I didn’t want to write or work with an unpronounceable name. Changing my name legally let me have the same name on the byline and on the check. 🙂 Less hassle that way.

  15. That’s a good idea, although now I wonder whether it’s good I have another name. I’m not sure whether I want the same name on my adult books as the children’s ones!

  16. Siski — Well THAT is an issue you can discuss with your editor. For books, pen names are much more common. For newspapers and other markets, they don’t look kindly on pen names. (As the editor at the Times told me, “We are a newspaper. We deal in facts.”) So I don’t think you need to change your name legally for the fiction market.

  17. Mary,

    For some of us, pen names protect us very nicely. They protect our private lives, our university jobs (or some other not-so-understanding employers) from putting us under too much scrutiny, as we secure our place in literary history. I chose initials because I have gone by initials for most of my life, so it was natural and comfortable. I have used my pen name on all of my print work – including newspapers and mags. But, you are correct in that my agent, agency, publishers, and editors all know my real name.

    From behind the veil,

    J.H. Everett
    (the “H” stands for Huckleberry, now who would want that in print? Oops. Now there is a story for a bottle of wine.)

  18. Ev — !!!! Thanks for stopping by the blog. I wasn’t talking about YOU, silly goose. Although, I will take you up on that story and bottle of wine. I understand people use of initials, I just am puzzled at the few who don’t mention a name I can respond to when answering their query.

  19. I write under my given name however my last name- Treggiari is unpronounceable for most people except for Italians so I gave a lot of thought to whether I would use it or not. My husband’s last name is Parris and that’s nice but eventually I decided my name is too wrapped up with my identity and decided to keep it. It’s great now, because all the kids who come to the writing workshops I do, pronounce it correctly and with great rolling ‘r’s and arm flourishes. The ‘Jo’ is often a problem because people want to masculinize it and add an ‘e’. I have accepted that my name will be mis-written and mis-read.

  20. I think people are getting confused about the point of this post. The point of the post is that, even if you write under a name like “B. M. Xavier” and intend to publish your book under that name, when you contact publishers or agents you contact them as “Barry Xavier.” This is because when you write such a letter you are writing business correspondence not meant for publication.

  21. Jonathan — DING DING DING DING DING! I find that blog comments veer off in their own directions sometimes but yes, that is indeed the point of the post.

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