My name is a problem.
I married into the name “Gerritsen”, and to preserve domestic harmony, I’ve used it ever since my wedding day.Â But had I known how troublesome it would be as an author’s name, I might have chosen a pen name instead.Â I’ve seen many a bookstore clerk struggle to spell it while checking to see if any of my books were in stock.Â When I google myself, I find a broad number of spelling permutations — any one of which could cause a reader to not find me.Â Among the versions I’ve seen are Gerritson, Garretson, Gerristen, Geritsen, Gerrittsen.Â
Spelling issues aside, there are other times when an author’s name can be a problem.Â In the Netherlands, the name “Gerritsen” is so typically Dutch that they assume I’m from Holland.Â Unfortunately, Dutch writers are given no respect in their ownÂ homeland, so Dutch readers are reluctant to buy my books.Â (One interviewer I met there said there’s only one worse nameÂ an author couldÂ have in Holland. And that’s a German name.)Â My publisher there even suggested I change my name just for the Dutch market.Â I refused.Â The result is thatÂ it’s taken a far longer time for my sales to grow there.
A similar problem was faced by bestselling author David Baldacci, whose early books didn’t sell wellÂ in Italy.Â Your name’s too Italian, his publisher said, and Italians don’t trust their own authors.Â So they suggested that Baldacci change his name to something more, oh, English-sounding.Â
I can think of a number of other reasons a writer might want to change his/her name.Â First is gender. If you’re a woman writing men’s action/adventure, you’ll want to write as a man.Â First initials will do just fine.Â And if you’re a man who wants to write steamy romances, you’ll probably want to write as a woman.Â (And you might want to skip the author photo.)
Another problem is the too-longÂ name.Â If I had a long Czech or Polish name, for example,I’d certainly consider shortening it.Â Long names become problems because of design issues on the bookcovers.Â As you grow in popularity, your name gains prominence on the cover, and long names just can’t be printed in a big eye-catching font.Â Although no one likes to talk about it, I sometimes wonder if identifiably “ethnic” names are a problem for popular fiction authors.Â If I had written mainstream thrillers under my Chinese maiden name would I have been handicapped?Â I don’t know.Â But I wonder.
Finally, there’s a very practical reason forÂ taking on a pen name:Â in order to escape a bad sales history.Â Â An author whose last few books bombed might want to sell her next book under a different name, just to fool theÂ industry.Â A bad sales record can destroy any hopes of a big print run for your next book, and you’llÂ have a better chance of resurrecting your career by wiping the slate clean and appearing to be a debut author.Â If your later books hit it big, your earlier books can be published again under your new, more successful name.Â
Whatever its handicaps, the name “Gerritsen” is the one I’ll have to stick with. Here’s hoping you’ll all remember how to spell it the next time you go to the bookstore!Â