By Vicki H. Moss, Contributing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine
According to studies in 1990 by Kimura and Hampson, women perform on average higher on verbal skills and fine motor coordination than males, and lower on math and spatial skill than males. The following is a quote from Peirce J. Howard’s book, The Owner’s Manual of the Brain:
“This pattern prompts an obvious question: If women as a group are verbally superior, why are there not more famous female writers? Halpern (2000) points out (p. 96) that more than ability makes the writer. Such factors as having sufficient independent income, leisure, and permission to write are important.” She cites examples of Emily Dickinson and the Bronte sisters as women with private means as well as ability, opportunity, and encouragement to write.
If you recall in Little Women, female writers experienced gender constraints. Historically, women have had to hide their identities due to sexism and prejudice. While using a male pen name to get a foot in the door, many male publishers didn’t think the literary world was a suitable place for women.
One rejection by Robert Southey—England’s poet laureate—received by 20-year-old Charlotte Bronte read: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life.” Luckily for later readers, Charlotte disregarded his advice and Jane Eyre was published.
Along with writers like George Eliot and George Sand, many women put out critically praised novels under the guise of a male name or initials. Even J. K. Rowling was asked by her publishers—in order to attract male readers—to change her name from Joanne to something with initials.
Louisa May Alcott wrote using the pen name A. M. Barnard. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dudevant wrote using the pen name George Sand. Mary Ann Evans wrote using the name George Eliot.
And women weren’t the only writers to choose a pen name of the opposite sex. Tom Huff used the name Jennifer Wilde when writing bestselling romance novels. When Ben Franklin was a teen he wrote under the name “Silence Dogood.”
I love this one: John Creasey published almost 600 books using 28 pseudonyms including the name Margaret Cooke for a nom de plume.
And who would have ever guessed that some of the Nancy Drew books originally written by Carolyn Keene were actually written by many people, some of whom are men.
The moral to this story? Write first. Get your story out. When your manuscript is finished, then you can decide whether to use initials, pseudonyms, nom de plumes, or nom de guerres for the author’s name. Most of all, have fun with concocting an author name if you choose to travel incognito. When the truth comes out—there’s always someone who leaks tidbits like this—or should you choose to out yourself, you’ll have an article waiting in the wings to be written about why you chose your particular author name.
More publicity and advertising for your book!