The Writer’s Desk: Pen Names

I know a lot of aspiring and published writers alike who think about pen names. Will they ever use one? If so, why? (And many of us have one already picked out.)

Because of that, I thought it might be fun to talk about a few pen names in the LDS market and the reasons behind them (I’m lucky enough to be friends with all these people, so they’ve shared their stories with me).

Janette Rallison began her writing career with Young Adult novels through Deseret Book. After a few titles, they asked her to write romances. But then they realized a potential problem: she already had a YA fan base, so readers knew Janette Rallison as a YA author. If a romance hit shelves with her name on the cover, the target market for those books (NOT teen girls but adult women) would likely never pick them up. They’d assume the book was another YA.

The solution was to distinguish between her YA titles and her romance titles with a pen name for the romances. Deseret Book reportedly encouraged a last name that began with S so that the romances would be shelved where Anita Stansfield’s fans could easily find them. Thus Sierra St. James was born. Janette wrote several fun romantic comedies as Sierra. She’s since shelved Sierra and is now writing exclusively for the national YA audience; she’s back to being Janette Rallison all the time.

Jeffrey S. Savage wrote LDS adult novels for Covenant, beginning with his techno-thriller Cutting Edge. He continued with several other novels, including the Shandra Covington series. When he began publishing middle-grade fantasy with Shadow Mountain, he ran into the same problem Janette had: the need for readers to know what they’re picking up. Again, an author name is like a brand, and the “Jeffrey S. Savage” brand implied realistic LDS fiction for grown-ups.

But Farworld was hardly that. It was clearly middle-grade fantasy. They needed a new brand to distinguish those books so as not to confuse his other brand (and his readers). Unlike Janette, Jeff didn’t totally change his name for the Farworld books. He used a variation of it: J. Scott Savage. (Scott is his middle name.) Now readers know exactly what they’re buying (and what the target age group is) depending on which name is on the cover.

Carole Thayne had a slightly different issue. Thayne is her maiden name. Her married name is Warburton. The problem? Covenant already had a Carole Warbuton publishing with them. Having two novelists from the same publisher with the same name would obviously lead to some serious confusion. So Carole published under her maiden name. (Unfortunately, she still gets friends reading the other Carole’s books and then reporting that they liked them . . . only to then be informed that the books aren’t hers.)

N. C. Allen, H. B. Moore, and K. C. Grant Much as with Jeff’s situation, these aren’t totally made-up pen names. They’re the actual initials of the authors. But the type of books they write are ones that their publisher hoped to sell to a broader audience. (Read: not just to women, who are the core of LDS book buyers.)

The reasoning is the same idea as with J. K. Rowling, who was encouraged to not publish her series as Joanne. There was evidence that girls are pretty likely to pick up a book by pretty much anyone, but boys often steer clear of female authors. Having initials on the cover obscured her gender, and lo and behold, boys ate up Harry Potter as much as anyone.

(This is an issue that’s centuries old. Remember George Eliot?)

In the same vein, Covenant hoped that men, who don’t read nearly as much LDS fiction as women do, might be more likely to pick up these historical novels if a woman’s name wasn’t listed on the cover. Why? Because a good portion of LDS fiction has been romance, and men aren’t likely to have burning a desire to read them. A female name on the cover could lead to the assumption that a book is a romance. The desired outcome happened: these writers have a much larger percentage of male readers than the majority of LDS writers do.

(I’ve even had several men mentioning to me these very authors and saying how they loved “his” books. Somehow they missed the bio pictures at the end . . .)

David Wolverton. Similar things happen in the national market, and with LDS writers in the national market. The most famous, of course, is David Wolverton/Farland. If I remember the story correctly, he began writing fantasy under his real name, Wolverton, and then found a review advising readers to give him a shot even though you might miss his books because with a W name, they’re on the bottom shelf.

He now publishes Science Fiction under David Farland, and I believe his fantasy work is entirely under Wolverton. (Someone can correct me there if I’m wrong.) Even his one LDS novel, In the Company of Angels (which was much-deserving in its win for Whitney’s 2009 Best Novel of the Year) is self-published under his pen name, David Farland.

Nationally, you’ll find Nora Roberts, James Patterson, Stephen King, and others writing under pen names to avoid confusing their brand. One interesting quirk is that some titles will list both names in an effort to reach a wider audience while keeping the brands separate.

For example, you might see a cover that reads, “Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb.”

J. D. Robb is a signpost clarifying the brand (this book is romantic suspense), but Nora Roberts, a huge name nationally, is added to the cover so her regular fans (who are used to her writing contemporary romance, not suspense) can find these books and then consider picking up her new brand, since they already like the author.

So do I have a pen name picked out? Yep. Not that I think I’ll ever have a need for it.

But it’s still fun to play with alternate identities. It’s like a grown-up version of dress-up.

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16 Responses to The Writer’s Desk: Pen Names

  1. Eric Samuelsen says:

    I’d add Dave Wolverton, who also publishes under Dave Farland. I don’t know why, but I think it’s because sci-fi and fantasy are different markets.
    I had a pen name for awhile. I wanted to write plays for a national market, and I wanted to explore darker themes and characters and material, but I thought my employer, BYU, might object. I found that theatres want to promote the playwright–I was told by several houses, drop the psuedonym and we’ll consider the play.

  2. Annette Lyon says:

    Of course! How did I forget him? Adding Dave forthwith. (This is pre-posted right now, so I can do that.)

  3. I have my pen name all picked out, Annette. Let you know if I ever use it. Actually, I have a alternate Facebook page and have been playing around with the name a bit. Kinda fun. Wish I had more time to grow my "friend" list, though. I have about 70. I have no idea who those people are, but they like urban fantasy.

  4. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    I believe Dave Wolverton is the name his science fiction was published under and David Farland is the name his fantasy is published under (and with which he achieved a much greater readership than for his science fiction).

    I’ve made whole lists of pen names, and I figure if I don’t use them for myself, I can always use them for my characters.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    My pen name will be Rock Steady.

  6. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Well then, Mormon writers have rather boring reasons for using a pen name. I was hoping for a little scandal here.

  7. When I wrote [i]The Path of Dreams,[/i] I was also translating yaoi for Digital Manga. At the time, we were still hoping (naively) that a "mainstream Mormon distributor" might carry the former, so I used "Kelly Quine" for the latter (reviews have referred to me as "she"; in my family it’s a boy’s and a girl’s name, though the confusion doesn’t hurt in this genre).

    As it turns out, the kind of people who think I’m a reprobate for writing [i]Angel Falling Softly[/i] are the kind of people who would probably think me a reprobate for translating yaoi. And since nobody made the connection anyway–thank obscurity for preserving my reputation–I don’t bother anymore. I list both in my on-line bibliography.

  8. Annette Lyon says:

    Lisa, when you look at the reasons, pen names aren’t nearly so cool after all, are they? Not much scandal here.

  9. Wm Morris says:

    I’m still trying to figure out what my name name is let alone a pen name.

  10. My black pen is named Ernie, and my blue pen is named Herbert. I have a purple pen named Mikey Sue, and a green one named J. D. Dalrymple. Also a calligraphy pen named Erastus.

    Since I mostly write on my computer, though, I can’t see why I would publish any work under my pens’ names.

  11. Th. says:


    O! the existential weight of all my many names!

  12. Andrew H. says:

    Obert Skye, a case where the author and publisher a careful not to spill the beans on the author’s real identity. I remember one of Dave Wolverton first started using Farland, one of his friends on AML urged people to keep it a secret, but that did not last long.

  13. Annette Lyon says:

    Andrew, Thanks for mentioning that one! Not sure how it fell off my radar. I find it amazing that so many people still don’t know who Obert really is.

  14. Th. says:


    Wikipedia doesn’t know.

  15. Jonathan Langford says:

    With Dave Wolverton/Farland, I think the motivating reason had to do with the move from sf to fantasy. As I recall the story, the publisher was more comfortable with putting on a big publicity push for Dave’s fantasy novels if they had a "new" name to do it with. After Dave had gotten his initial splash, he and the publisher didn’t care anymore if the secret got out.

    I don’t know, but am guessing that the reason In the Company of Angels was published under the name of Dave Farland may be because he had published some children’s fantasy novels with Covenant. Since those were fantasy, they were under the name of Farland. And so that’s now the name he’s better known under in the Mormon market. Just speculating here. (It could also be because Farland is simply better recognized generally.)

    All of Orson Scott Card’s stories that appeared in LDS magazine were originally published under the name of Byron Walley. He writes: "It began for one of the traditional reasons: I already had my name too often in the July 1972 fine arts issue of The Ensign. Both an article and a poem appeared under my name. "Gert Fram" appeared under the name Byron Walley, and my play "Rag Mission" appeared under the name Brian Green. I liked the Byron Walley name and have used it ever since when pseudonyms were required" (Maps in a Mirror, p. 675).

  16. Writers use pen names for marketing reasons. Usually the same reason with Janette Rallison. Because they want to sell something and they wouldn’t be able to do it without the pen name.

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