Writing Under Different Names

If I could go back in time and change one thing about my writing career it would be to sell How To Ditch Your Fairy under a different name. And then Team Human would also be under that name.1

Justine Larbalestier would be my author name for my older, less funny, scarier YA and Something Extremely Catchy would be the author of my lighter, funnier, younger books.

All too often fans of HTDYF or TH pick up Liar and, well, it does not go well. But usually it goes way better than the other way around. The people who read Liar first tend to run the gamut from Huh? to THIS IS THE WORST BOOK EVER when reading HTDYF or TH.

When people fall in love with Liar and ask me what they should read next I suggest Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly or any of these books. I don’t suggest any of my own books because none of them are like Liar.2

Most readers like their favourite authors to stick to writing within the one genre. When they pick up a book by Favourite Writer they like to know what to expect and they get annoyed when they don’t get it.

Yes, there are also readers like you, who love the writers who do something different with every book. But you are a rare creature. I know you’re thinking, “But different names will just make it harder for me to find all your books and read them!”

Not so. The kind of readers who read all my books, sometimes even my scholarly ones, are usually the kind who read my blog and follow me on Twitter. You can rest assured when I start writing under another name this website and my Twitter feed will loudly proclaim it. It will also be noted in the bio on the books: Awesome Pen Name also writes as Justine Larbalestier. Rest assured I will not make it hard for anyone to find all my books!

Think of Nora Robert who also writes as J.D. Robb. It’s not exactly a secret, is it? Or Seanan MacGuire writing as Mira Grant. In fact, the only writers who try to keep their pen names secret are the likes of Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Super famous and popular already. Lucky bastards.

I cannot judge these readers who want one kind of book from their favourite writers because I am that kind of reader. When I first picked up one of Heyer’s detective novels I was horrified! I’d expected a bubbly and delightful regency romance, not a leaden, predictable, detective novel. It was a nightmare.

I like knowing which writers to turn to when I’m in the mood for something very specific: smart, feminist, sexy Victorian romance (Courtney Milan), being scared shitless (Stephen King), erudite, treacherous, complicated historicals (Hilary Mantel), having my heart broken (Jacqueline Woodson). Etc.

So, yes, I wish I had managed my writing career as my reader self would have liked it. Justine Larbalestier for my older books, a different name for my younger ones. If I ever start writing adult romance or adult crime, you can bet I’ll be using a different name.

Writers, readers, publishers what’s your take on this?

  1. Different Name and Sarah Rees Brennan, obviously. []
  2. Though that will change in July when Razorhurst comes out, which is definitely closer in feeling to Liar than anything else I’ve written. []


  1. Shannon on #

    Great idea and great post. It just makes so much sense. I know that Jennifer Ashley books are going to be different than her Ashley Gardner books and like you said, when you pick up a JD Robb, you know what to expect.
    Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. Ken Doyle on #

    It seems like it would be a lot of work to maintain multiple identities, especially on social media channels. However, I can see the benefits of pen names for different genres.

  3. Justine on #

    Shannon: Thanks.

    Ken Doyle: I think that’s one way of doing it. But like you say loads of work. I’ve also seen authors keep blogging/tweeting etc as themselves while promoting their work under pen names. I think that works.

  4. Jack Heath on #

    I used to write romance under another name, and fantasy under yet another. I found it liberating, although none of my noms de plume sold well.

    If I had my time again, I wouldn’t write anything under my own name. I’ve met authors who write exclusively from behind secret identities, and they seem to have much better work/life balance than those who don’t. (Though they’re also not as friendly, with the exception of the delightful Kathryn Fox and Jeff Lindsay.)

    Having said all that, Facebook has fewer trolls than Twitter because it all but forces users to put their real names and mugshots next to everything they write. If my real name weren’t on the cover of my books, would I have worked as hard on them? I certainly took them more seriously than my romance novellas.

  5. Justine on #

    Jack Heath: I didn’t know you’d written romance or fantasy. I didn’t know you read them.

    I’m thinking more of the reader end of this. Right now with my work under all the same name I feel like readers who would like my lighter stuff aren’t finding it because I’m mainly know as a writer of more serious stuff like Liar. I think the same author name for very different kinds of books is an extra hindrance to getting your work to as many readers as possible.

    Not seeing the relevance of trolls to this discussion.

  6. Kaethe on #

    “I like knowing which writers to turn to when I’m in the mood for something very specific”

    Yes, this is the kind of reader I am. If book stores and libraries only shelved books by mood I think I’d be able to make happy selections 95% of the time. So a different pen name for each mood of book would suit me well. For newer, active writers, finding all the different pen names isn’t a problem, but twenty years ago it was rather more challenging. Finding out the other names of retired and/or deceased writers remains more difficult. I only learned last week that Rosamunde Pilcher had published under another name.

  7. Justine on #

    Kaethe: I would love a bookshop that shelved that way!

    But they’d have to think the same way as me. I just had a disagreement with a friend because I think Beyoncé’s new album is very melancholy. They thought that was an insane way to describe it. So I’d be putting it in the melancholy section and they’d want it in the joyful/sexy section. Problem.

  8. Kaethe on #

    And the persistent dilemma:where does one shelve the happy tune with a morbid lyric?

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