I’m going to tell you a secret.Â Well, it’s not really a secret because I’ve never tried to hide it, but one of my dear readers recently emailed me, expressing some hurt that I haven’t been completely honest with him about my real name.Â And it got me thinking about how, yes, some readers (especially the wonderful ones who regularly post comments here) might feel miffed that I’ve not been completely open about who I am.Â So now it’s time to tell you.
My real name isn’t Tess, but Terry.
I never really meant “Tess” as a secret identity.Â I took on the name way back when my first romance novel, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, was about to be published.Â Since “Terry” was considered a masculine spelling, my editor was concerned that readers might think the author was a man — and romance readersÂ want books written by women. Â My name caused some confusion in the hospitals too, because when I showed up on the wards, the nurses confessed they were expecting a “blonde Scandinavian guy” — Terry Gerritsen not sounding in the least bit Chinese or female.Â So to make sure my readers knew I was female, I feminized my name to “Tess,” and went on to write nine romances under that name.
When I moved into thriller-writing, I wanted to bring my romance fans along for the ride.Â Which meant keeping the name I’d established for myself.Â So “Tess” has remained my nom de plume ever since.Â It also turned out to be a handy way of knowing whether a communication was personal or professional.Â If a phone call or letter came addressed to “Tess”, I’d know it was about business.Â If it came addressed to “Terry,” it was personal.
I’ve had this double identity for twenty years now, andÂ I’ve forgotten who knows me by which name.Â So whenever I get emails, I never know how to sign off.Â Tess or Terry?Â To avoid confusion, my default is to sign it as Tess.Â And now my acquaintances and neighbors are completely flummoxed about how to address me.Â The truth is, I’ll answer to either name.Â So if you know me as Terry, and I answer as Tess, believe me, I’m not trying to hide a thing.Â I’m just confused.
(I’d make a lousy spy.)
This whole Tess/Terry thing got me thinking about writers’ pseudonyms in general, and why writers would want to adopt a fake name.Â And I can think of plenty of reasons for a nom de plume.Â It’s always a surprise to me when I’ve known a writer for years, and then suddenly discover she’s got another identity.Â Often, we’ll just come right out and tell each other.Â Other times, I learn it through a mutual friend or agent.Â Either way, I can almost always understand immediately why she’d choose to change her name.Â And here are some of the reasons:
Your real name is too long, too hard to spell, or too ethnic.Â Â
Yes, these are valid reasons why a writer might want to change her name.Â A long name means you’re forced to have it appear in smaller print on the book cover, when you want it to be as visible as possible. A hard-to-spell name means readers will have a difficult time looking you up on Amazon, or in a bookstore computer.Â My own name, for instance, is a killer to spell.Â It looks deceptively easy, but there are a lot of different ways to misspell Gerritsen.Â (Gerritson.Â Garretson.Â Geritsen.Â Gerriston.Â Gerristen, etc.)Â I won’t name names, but I know at least half a dozen writers who had to shorten their names or “anglicize” them for the American market.
The odd thing is, in foreign markets, you may also want to anglicize your name.Â David Baldacci, for instance, was asked by his Italian publisher to change his name to something less Italian.Â My Dutch publisher asked me to change my name to something less Dutch.Â It seems that local writers, abroad at least, get no respect from their own countries.
You want to hide your gender
If you’re a man writing romance novels, you’ll probably want a woman’s name.Â (And yes, there are male romance-writers.)Â Â If you’re a woman trying to appeal across gender lines, you may want to adopt first initials only.Â Â JK Rowling andÂ PD James are prime examples.Â Â Right now,Â I’m toying with the idea of writing a young adult seriesÂ featuringÂ the Mephisto Club,Â and I’m wondering if it should be written under the name “T.T. Gerritsen,” so that boys will pick it up.Â
You hate your real name
One writer I know in the UK hates her real name so much that she didn’t want it on any book cover.Â In fact, when I let slip the fact I knew her real name, she was quite annoyed — much to my surprise, as I think her real name is gorgeous.Â Â
You want toÂ protect your professional life
Let’s face it, novel writingÂ is not always considered a “respectable” profession, and some writersÂ who also maintain jobs inÂ academic circles feel the need toÂ write under fake names.Â A doctor mayÂ want to keep his patients from knowing he’s writing gory medical thrillers.Â A journalist may want to avoid ridicule for those racy romance novels she writes.Â An award-winningÂ writer friend of mine keeps her writing career secret because she doesn’t want her academic colleagues to know she’s exaggerating the goings-on of their profession a bit, for the sake of a good plot.Â
You write in more than one genreÂ
A writer who writes both science fiction as well asÂ traditional mysteries mayÂ wellÂ adopt different pen names for each genre.Â Nora Roberts, for instance, took on the name J.D. Robb for her “In death” futuristic novels.Â Readers don’t always cross genres, and you don’t want to confuse or disappoint them by writing such different books under the same name.
You want to hide a prior poor sales record
This may be the one of the most commor reasons for an author to suddenly switch names.Â If your books have a bad track record, the bookstore chains know it.Â In their computers, your name is forever linked to poor sales, and no matter how great your next book is, the stores are not going to order it in large quantities based on your earlier sales.Â Sometimes, the only way to escape the curse of a bad-selling book is to change your name and start off fresh (on bookstore computers, anyway.)Â If you later become incredibly successful with your new name, your old books may be re-released with your new author name on them.
Those are just a few reasons I can think of.Â I’m sure there are others.Â
Now, a few links of interest:
And today’s review in the Maine Sunday Telegram of THE BONE GARDEN, in which critic John Robinson focuses on the true and bloody medical history behind the book.