Do Women Authors Benefit From Using Initials?

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Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter book. Twitter and other social media platforms teemed with memories and thoughts about the series and its author, J. K. Rowling. There’s an inspirational “keep on keeping on” story about how many times Rowling was rejected by agents and publishers before someone finally saw how special her work was.

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That tweet was in response to this one:

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I didn’t dig enough to see what Oswalt was ringing the bell for, but the quoted tweet is a bit in conflict, it seems. Yes, Rowling was rejected several times and the takeaway is to never give up.

But

How is suggesting she use her initials part of the inspirational story? And maybe more importantly – should female authors take a cue from Rowling and also use initials to hide their gender from potential readers? Will their chances of publication and/or sales suffer if they don’t?

When I was a new, budding writer, I toyed with the idea of using initials or even a non-gender specific pseudonym. As readers of this blog know, I decided to use my full, female name on my books and posts. It’s in the web address, for crying out loud. I’ll tell you why I made that choice, but you have to wait a minute.

It’s not a great mystery that sexism exists in the publishing industry. Check here and here and here and here for stories about that. So it would seem using my feminine name would be hurtful to me (to be honest, I wonder more about my Russian-sounding last name in today’s political climate. For the record, it’s Czech). So why not use initials if it will help me professionally?

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credit: Blue Cereal Education

I’m going to borrow Mystique’s answer to Nightcrawler: because we shouldn’t have to.

I don’t begrudge female authors who use initials or male pseudonyms. They have very valid reasons for doing so (hell, it’s certainly worked out for J.K. Rowling and E. L. James). I have friends who do it. Personally, I chose to use my female name because I don’t think my womanhood should be hidden, as if it means my work is less deserving of attention. I imagine you could ask most men if they think male writers are inherently superior to female writers and they would say no, because that’s ridiculous. There are plenty of women authors who use their female names and do quite well (Suzanne Collins, anyone?).

Still, the underlying sexist culture is real. Maybe I’m hurting myself by admitting my womanhood, but I figure as long as we play by the sexist rules, they won’t change.

What do you think? Would women authors do better to hide their femininity?Β 

25 thoughts on “Do Women Authors Benefit From Using Initials?

  1. It never occurred to use initials instead of my first name. I had enough issues with my first book, so I’m glad that wasn’t one of them. I love women authors–Naomi Shihab Nye just wouldn’t be the same as N.S. Nye. Terry Tempest Williams as TT Williams. Nah… Whatever anyone wants to do is OK with me, but I prefer women’s names and women authors.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Friday Roundup – 30th June | Stevie Turner, Indie Author.

  3. Reblogged this on Kim Knight_ The Author and commented:
    This is an interesting article. I salute J.K Rowling as a writer. It’s a shame she felt she should hide her femininity. Me? I’ll never do, it or use a none gender based name as a writer. Why? Because I rock! Lol no seriously I don’t believe in female writers hiding behind initials for book sales…. Only if it’s a personal choice to stylise or brand their name. I’ll always be Kim never Kevin πŸ˜†

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Allison. This is a marvelous post. I was told by my “book manager” that I should use my initials since I write in the science fiction and fantasy genres, which are considered predominantly white and male. Lol. Well, to make a long story short, I’ve decided to use my full name for my books. The funny thing about my name is that some people think it’s a nom de plume. Thanks to my Haitian Dad I have a pretty sexy name that I finally appreciate. Lucky me! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s an interesting thought. I’m currently working on a book, and I plan on using my full first name, but like it’s mentioned above, I think my genre plays into that decision (YA fiction – 13 yo girl’s diary…). When I first started writing, though, I did post on writing boards using my initials (influenced actually by JK Rowling’s use of initials). I agree with what you said, though: we shouldn’t have to.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My real name is Jennifer Lyon, which is common enough that it was already “taken” at the time I published my first book. Using my initials was also not an option, because those were also “taken”. So I decided to publish my books as Jens Lyon. (You can read more about this here: https://jenslyon.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/google-says-im-dead-other-reasons-why-im-using-a-pen-name/.)

    In Scandinavia, Jens is a male name, but I didn’t choose it for that reason. I just wanted to publish my books under a name that I don’t share with dozens of other people. Since my second book falls under the “women’s fiction” umbrella, having a male name would probably be a liability.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Quite right! By the time it occurred to me that using my own name in full might not be the best option, I’d already put out one book. I’m stuck with it now but, actually, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m proud of my lady-ness!

    Liked by 4 people

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