Thursday, September 10, 2015

Query question: legality of pseudonyms

Recently, a white man revealed that he had been publishing poetry under a pseudonym that sounds like an Asian man in order to be published more. At least one of his previous publishers said they had no idea that he was writing under a pseudonym.

I come from a nonfiction background, where fake names are a very dicey business, so it blew my mind that a writer would not inform his editor that he was writing under a pseudonym. But a friend argued that in fiction, pen names don't carry the same baggage as in nonfiction. And many write under names that are not their legal names (trans writers, those who have been married or divorced, etc.) Putting that man's deceptive intentions aside, what's the legal situation around pseudonyms?

Am I just out of touch/wrong to believe that all writers inform their editors and agents of their legal names? What happens if they sign a contract in the fake name (not an LLC/DBA situation, but posing as a nonexistent individual) - isn't it unenforceable? What if someone were to get lawyer-y about a work of fiction and the publisher finds out they signed a contract with someone who doesn't exist?

I'm not going to weigh in on the situation with the poet using the pseudonym. There are enough raised voices about that now.

From a non-fiction standpoint, the name you write with is much more important since the book's gravitas is partly a function of who you are.

Writing a book about the Buttonweezer family and using the nom de plume "Felix Buttonweezer" is going to create some problems if you're not actually Felix.

With fiction, not so much.

Publishers don't sign contracts with someone who doesn't exist. You exist, no matter what name you use. Your concern is getting PAID. I can't pay you unless I have an authentic tax ID and a name to match.

More important, you can't cash a check unless you have an account and ID to match the name on the check.

The problem sorts itself out not in legalities but in practicality.  

I have had several clients who write under names not their own. With one of them, I wouldn't have known unless she'd told me.  Fortunately she likes to err on the side of propriety so she did tell me. We paid her under her pseudonym because she'd set up her bank account to handle those payments.

 Which brings us back to the poet using the pseudonym. My only question is how did they pay him?


Laura Mary said...

Presumably also into a bank account set up in the pseudonym, although - how easy is this?

I'm sure I could set up a bank account in my maiden name (or not have bothered to change it when I got married) but normally banks ask to see about twenty forms of ID just to update your address!

I'm intrigued that your own client has managed to do this. Do the bank know it is a pseudonym?

First comment and already heading off topic!

Laura Mary said...

On the subject of the Poet in question, personally it makes me uncomfortable. My husband is in the military (RAF) and one of his biggest annoyances is non-military folk wearing uniform in public, to events and ceremonies etc, where the intention is to pass as a member of the military.
It is in the process of becoming a criminal offence over here – they call it ‘Stolen Valour’
I can’t help but feel a similar thing applies here – it is cultural appropriation, and no matter what the intentions, that doesn’t sit right with me.

Anonymous said...

I can't help feeling that if an American Indian or an Australian Aboriginal did this (aka, suggested by name that they were white), it'd be hailed in the media as 'brave' and 'testing boundaries' and the focus would be on what a racist bunch the publishing world is, that an Indian or Aboriginal can't be published as they are. It would be a wonderful publicity engine for them and there would be no blow-back on the author except perhaps adulation.

Perhaps it's time to think about it the other way around. If a white male is having trouble being published because he's white and/or male...well, racism doesn't just apply to white people.

That's not to say I agree with what he's done, simply that there's always such a hue and cry about how racist and sexist the publishing world is, and how only white men get published. Apparently it's not so true...

Unknown said...

Was I the only one who thought of J "K" Rowling's experience with connecting names to sales? I keep hearing stories like this, and I just can't fathom how the heck a name means anything other than who wrote it. Is society really that pretentious?

Fun tidbit, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" was banned because they mistook the author for a different, communist author. #TheNameGame

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I always thought pen names were common- Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemmons. My guess was the agent/ publisher in charge of paying the writer knew the legal name. The pseudonym was simply the name on the cover of the book. I guess that was not the case with this poet?

W.R. - and I agree with you in that society's determination to be tolerant of some groups, it has become totally intolerant of others. Not just in publishing. Political correctness is destroying us, muting us which should be intolerable to a writer or any artist. We must try as individuals to stop judging people in groups and see them as individuals. I do sort of get that in business, marketing might use that group think to determine how this or that book will sell. That said, I hope my work will be judged for its merit and not by my gender, sexual preference, age, or ethnicity. It's rather sad this poet did not feel his work could stand on its own. If that was the case.

Dena Pawling said...

Last month a writer queried her manuscript under a male name and received 8x as many requests for partials and fulls as she had received when she queried under her own [female] name.

Lots of authors publish under pseudonyms for various reasons, some of which are that certain genres expect certain genders. JK Rowling was mentioned above. Several men in my local RWA group use gender-neutral names.

It's not that difficult to set up a DBA so you can be paid under a different name. I had a DBA for a prior business venture, and I was paid under that name.

For marketing purposes [like the name on the book's cover], I don't see a problem with using a pseudonym. The name I use here is a pseudonym. I would be honest with my agent tho. I would be uncomfortable being deceptive in a business relationship. But maybe that's just me.

AJ Blythe said...

Opie, you say And many write under names that are not their legal names (trans writers, those who have been married or divorced, etc.)... there are some of us who just want to use a pen name.

In my case it's because I want to have some level of privacy (which I know is hard in this day and age, but my online presence is only in my pen name). Mostly, though, it's because ever since I dreamed of being a writer (year 7 at school, about 11 or 12 years of age) I decided I'd use a pen name (of course, I didn't know that's what it was called back then). At that time my favourite authors all used pen names: James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small series) and Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden series) for example. At my young age L.M. Montgomery using initials even seemed to me like she was hiding her real name.

I assumed that's what real authors did, so I would too.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ James! That's awesome! Can't be reading books by those communists, now :D

E.M. Goldsmith said...

James, that's insane. Banned due to mistaken identity? Holy Fahrenheit 451!

Colin Smith said...

Acronym Note: DBA = Doing Business As (usually used of businesses that have a legal name, and a name people know them as)

I've never really given much thought to using a pen name (yes, Smith is my real name--go figure whodathunk). I understand some of the reasons people do this (the grade school teacher who doesn't want her kids finding her horror novels, the multi-genre writer who wants to develop distinct audiences for each genre, the writer who doesn't want people to confuse her with that other E.L. James, etc.). It's sad that some feel the need to use an alternative ethnic or gender name in order to get attention. I'd like to think that if JKR had published today, Bloomsbury would have been okay with Joanne Rowling instead of the gender-vague J.K.

But going back to Opie's question, what Janet says makes sense, and coupled with Dena's point about the pen name being nothing more than a DBA, I can't imagine it would create any legal problems.

Annie Daylon said...

Thanks, Janet for all the great info in your posts. Decided to weigh in on this one...

I chose a pen name simply because, when I was seeking a domain name, my real name (Angela Day) was already taken by an "angel a day" group. I write as Annie Daylon; all things legal are handled under my legal name. No secrecy. No issues to date.

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and here's Dena's link:

Sorry, Dena--missed that one. :)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Interesting read about the poet who wrote under the pen name. I wonder what his motive was to use a pseudo.

I've used lots of pseudos to sign my paintings. One could have been Spanish or Portuguese or Italian and definitely male. Lots of artists and musicians use pseudos. There are tons of reasons to use a pseudonym.

When I will publish fiction I want to use only my married name to differentiate from my painting career. If I end up publishing about the craft of painting, it'll have to be my maiden name. That's on my list of questions for a future agent.

Janet, I think there is an 'e' in plume.

Unknown said...

Someone asked me recently if I was going to publish under my own name -SHOULD I BE SO LUCKY! And the answer is yes, I'm going to. But my last name is Asian, because my husband's parents came here from China in the 1940's, but I am not Asian. Sometimes I worry (because I am, after all, a woodland creature) that an agent will see my Asian name and think: Oh, great! A diverse author! Request! Only to be disappointed that I am white. I'm not trying to be deceptive, but I'm proud of my husband's heritage, and my name is my name.

What was the original post about again? Oh, right. The legality of pen names. Well, I'm not going to have one so problem solved! But as always on Janet's blog, good information for those who do choose to publish under a pen name. And if I ever switch genres and write erotica this will be very useful information because otherwise my mother-in-law would be horrified!

S.P. Bowers said...

My name is so generic I'd considered taking a pen name. Unfortunately I can barely remember my real name, trying to be someone else would be entirely impossible. Or hilarious. Using my initials seemed a good compromise. I can stand out from the other writers/characters with my name, while still being me.

S.P. Bowers said...

Of course there's still the issue of the playboy bunny that has my same name....

Clare said...

As you state, the biggest issue seems to be practicality, especially concerning payments.

I was going to argue, in the digital age, it can be circumvented with PayPal, but you're required to prove your identity with that, if a certain amount is being regularly passed through the account.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I will use initials as I do for my online purposes. Although I am quite fond of my name. I query with just first and last name. I suppose once I find an agent and begin shopping publishers, I will ask agent about byline .. Initials or my full name or Felix Buttonweezer. I do kind of like initials, at least for fiction - JRR Tolkien did not suffer for the use of initials after all. Sorry, off topic. Great information as everyday.

Lucie Witt said...

I belIeve he was extensively published before this.

Lucie Witt said...

I use a pen name simply to keep my writing life separate from my 8-5 life. I don't want clients googling attorney -me to get confused by writer -me, and vice -versa.

Anyone who wants to understand more about why people are so upset about this poetry thing, I strongly recommend reading Saeed Jones (also selected for same anthology) tweets yesterday.

Laura Mary said...

Dena's link just made me kinda sad. It adds a new level of complication to it all - trying to be what you think an agent wants you to be sounds too draining for my liking. I may or may not query under my initials when the time comes. I don't think I have it in me to try and create different identities, even if it is just a name.

On a side note, unconscious gender bias is a difficult beast, but I don't think using a male name or even using a gender neutral name is the answer.
My company is hot on this topic at the moment and made a point of stating that they take the names off all CVs now so that the gender is neutral. That doesn't really solve the problem though does it - unless all interviews are going to held blindfolded.
It'll will only really be dealt with when we start asking ourselves *why* we are biased in a particular direction. And that's not an easy question to answer, even when you're aware you're doing it!

Elissa M said...

This discussion reminds me of when my older brother learned his favorite author (Andre Norton) was a woman. He was aghast. Yes, teenage boys don't think women can write good Science Fiction(or at least didn't think so 45 years ago).

What surprised me was, I had read many of the books on his shelf, and even though I didn't understand all the themes and whatnot (I was 10 or so) I enjoyed the stories. I hadn't known "Andre" was a male name, and had just assumed she was a woman because, well, her stories appealed to me. Go figure.

S.D.King said...

There is so much nuance with names.

I prefer to use initials for privacy reasons, but also because I never felt (and still don't) that my name fits me. For my teaching career I was happy to have everyone, including staff, call me Mrs. King. That felt so very, very right.

When someone calls my name in public, I cringe and don't want to answer.

By the way - my husband's name is Stephen King. Nope.

Jenz said...

"Political correctness is destroying us, muting us which should be intolerable to a writer or any artist."

Destroying us? Muting us? Seriously?

Political correctness is nothing more than the expectation of treating people with equal levels of respect. But I'm sure people in the most privileged groups see the loss of their unfair advantages as a terrible thing. They don't want to compete on a level playing field, and they desperately try to convince everyone that losing their privilege is somehow bad for all of us. It isn't.

This Cracked article takes apart all the arguments against political correctness beautifully (profanity warning):

LynnRodz said...

I have to agree with what W.R. said. But I also think, bottom line, who cares if the guy is white or Asian, it's the poem that counts. If nepotism didn't exist, no films in Hollywood would be made.

As for pseudonyms, they're used for many reasons. I myself use one. The name I go by on the internet isn't my legal name, but it's the name I've used most of my life for my art work, music, writing, etc. If/when I'm published this will be the name that'll appear on the front cover.

I've started writing a book in French and I'll probably use my legal name (which is French) when I eventually look for a publisher here. Yes, it'll help.

Confused? Yeah, so am I.

Ashes said...

I plan to publish under my maiden name (Whitt) rather than my married name. Partly because it's short and puncher, but mostly because I've had it longer and it feels like a bigger part of me.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Since I claim to be the (tongue in cheek) writing love child of Andy Rooney and Erma Bombeck, maybe I'll change my name to Erma Rooney, or Andie Bombeck. Can't decide, maybe I'll just be me. Scary thought that.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Jenz, you are confusing common decency for political correctness. PC keeps us from the truth. It doesn't allow us to have honest discussions for fear of offending one another so we are silent. And it keeps us divided by group. We no longer look at content of character but only at superficial characteristics. This is what I lamented. And that diminishes us all. I meant no disrespect. If I am dismissed because I am a woman, I am quite as alarmed as I would be if I was allowed some special professional or academic accommodation solely based on gender. I want my work judged for its merit is all I meant.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: How about Roody Bombark, or Amber Yomneck? :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

2ns Ramma Bomb Oony. No one will forget a name like that. Both Emma and Andy will be satisfied. Or what Colin said

Anonymous said...

E.M. Goldsmith- couldn't have said it better myself (also the name is awesome, like a 40s pop song :D )

2NNs, I like your way of thinking :D

PS: RECaptcha wanted me to select doughnuts and now I can't think of anything else :(

Donnaeve said...

I am not anticipating using a pseudonym, although the opportunity did rear it's head at one point. It was when the first book didn't sell, and I had a second ready. It had "only been a year" since edit ors had seen my name, and my agent said, "that's too soon for them to pass over another Donna Everhart work." He said we could go on sub with the second, but it would have to be under a pseudonym.

I chose to write a third book. Not that I didn't consider a pseudo and to go on sub again, but I figured I needed more writing practice. So, in a way like the post from yesterday about wanting to do "something with it," (i.e. second book) I opted to cool my jets and kept writing. I like the idea of seeing my current name on a cover, but if I needed to have another one, well, okay, no issues there either. I'm Gumby when it comes to these things.

Janice Grinyer said...

Its funny how much focus is put on a name when it really should be the honest work that's considered.

Or, in Montana words - Just because you call a horse whos been cut a gelding, doesnt mean he still isnt a horse.

In the end you buy him because of his honest work expectations, no matter what he is called.

So if someone can use a name legally, why not?

Of course everyone is still going to have their bias; it is what has kept diverse culture populations alive for centuries. But then it also has kept alive many wars...

Humans. We just cant win. *shrug*

Tony Clavelli said...

Two things. First, that Sherman Alexie read was amazing.

Second, I think all writers (because we are inherently paranoid over-thinkers) question what our name sounds like. We wonder "what if I sounded like I were ______ would that get me more responses?" but it isn't really worth the energy. If you're writing your best work, for every person fishing for a demographic, there's someone else who completely breezes over the name and goes to the text. It'll never be fair, but you can do your best. Write something awesome, and see what happens. I say this not because I think pseudonyms are bad, but didn't reading OP's post kind of make you all a little queasy?

This isn't like David Wong (who actual name I always have to look up, who tells you right away that his name is fake--boy, John Dies at the End is such a wild book), and it doesn't really seem to be "subversive" so much as someone really exploiting his white privilege. Since I'm not an agent, I'm not really sure how he was paid, but I just hope it wasn't that much.

Susan said...

Laura Mary: "Dena's link just made me kinda sad. It adds a new level of complication to it all - trying to be what you think an agent wants you to be sounds too draining for my liking..."

I can't agree with this more--I felt the exact same way when I read that Jezebel article. It makes everything seem so impossible because how can we be everything everyone wants us to be? Why should we have to be in order to find high success?

That's the INFJ in me railing against the way of the world, I guess.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Colin, E.M and W.R how about, Looney Rooney or Erma Rama Ding Dong.

Marc P said...

My publishers changed the spelling of my name because it looked too Scandinavian as it is properly spelled they said, and there Scandinavian division didn't sell much Crime. Before my book came out Stig Larson published the Girl with the Whatnot & launched a thing called now called ScandiCrime - that didn't do too well did it!

And I am stuck with my name spelled wrong!



Carolynnwith2Ns said...

But seriously folks, I have to use my real name. (At least that's what my editor says).
I suppose if I wrote a 50 Shades of Something I'd have to go pseudo but I want to use the teeny-tiny-miniscule-itsy-bitsy platform I have for marketing. Wouldn't want all of my 'fan' to be disappointed in me or think I'm into something like whipped cream and pain. Oh, actually I am into that stuff as on warm apple pie and the discomfort of a tight waistband, damn jeans they never fit anyway.

Anonymous said...

This debate is going on at Books and Writers.

The author kept submitting poems under his very Anglo sounding name and got zero nibbles. He decided to submit under an Asian name and gets three poems chosen for best poetry of 2015 collection. The editor admits more attention was paid due to the Asian author.

So, that kind of proves the author's point. The diversity battle cry does have an effect on editorial decisions.

On twitter a few days ago there was a discussion about diversity yet again. A select group thinks there should be the equivalent of affirmative action.

I said, "There's already a huge demand for works by poc by editors and agents. There's a massive demand for diversity. If there is this demand, doesn't that put it in the ball court of the black, red, yellow, brown, purple, whatever authors to supply the demand? They are not only looking for you, they're begging for you to submit. Write something they can sell."

That's not enough. Publishers need to offer purple authors a safety net in case the public doesn't like their work.


Yes, only 10% of the books published last year were by purple authors. Publishers need to increase that and make it more fair. They need to do something to guarantee purple authors succeed.

Ok, good luck with your plan to force the public to buy books they don't like.

It then went on to warning non purple authors not to write purple characters.

So, agents and editors want to see more diversity on the pages, but don't write about diversity unless you are a purple, female, sexual orientation to be determined by most popular trend, handicapped person in real life. Got it.

I'm screwed. I thought sexual orientation meant up or down and failed the modern sex and you test.

J.K. Rowling submitted under her initials because she thought it would give her an edge. It didn't seem to matter to all those who rejected her. I doubt the editor's child who read the story and demanded daddy buy the book cared whether a man or woman wrote it.

I'm glad to see a push for all kinds of talented authors, but I really, really wish publishing were color and gender blind. I wish the only that mattered was writing a danged good book. I wish publishing could look at things through the eyes of a child.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

2N-love Erma Rama Ding Dong - love it. Reminds me of old Chuck Berry songs. You should go with that. I will buy everything you write even if it's a technical manual. Imagine Nuclear Reactor Maintenance For Dummies by Erma Rama Ding Dong. Really anything published under that name works. Dark Yearnings in Carkoon by Erma Rama Ding Dong. You should go with that.

Anonymous said...

Regarding names, then I really have to, you know, write. During the divorce negotiations Don, my darling ex, asked the lawyer about my name. The lawyer said it was my choice whether I changed back to my maiden name or kept my married name.

"No, that's not what I meant. I want my name back. I don't want her using my name if she's not with me."

The lawyer looked astounded. "Well, you can't force her to change her name. You gave it to her."

"Well, I'm taking it back."

I frowned and offered my best pouty face. "Indian giver."

I thought about writing under my maiden name, but I'm comfortable with Weathers and people are constantly misspelling my Danish maiden name.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I thought it was either JKR's agent or editor that suggested initials as opposed to "Joanne," believing that MG boys wouldn't buy a book about a boy written by a girl. She doesn't actually have a middle name--she took "K" (Kathleen) from her grandmother. JK went along with this because she was naïve and eager to be published.

BTW, as I understand it, the other editorial decision she went along with that, in hindsight, she would have said "no" to was changing the first book's title in the US. I have always had a major quibble with this. How totally demeaning to US kids to think they can't find out what the "philosopher's stone" is in folklore!

BJ Muntain said...

What Janet mentioned is the first thing I thought of, too: how did they cash their cheques?

I once talked to my bank about accepting cheques made to BJ, rather than my full first name, and was told that I just had to make sure that both my first and middle names are registered to that account, so my initials are known by the bank.

That's cool. I hate a bunch of rigamarole over something like banking. Clean and simple and to the point.

Using different names to hide your true identity isn't a new thing. People have done it throughout history, taking on names that would be more 'accepted' than their own, whether for ethnicity or gender or simply for meaning.

I haven't been keeping up on this particular topic (I'm avoiding the politics on Twitter right now), but I think the biggest problem with what this fellow did was because he was playing with people's assumptions. Did he market himself as being Asian? Then that's fraud, and that's what would be in the news. If not, if he just took on an Asian-sounding pseudonym, then it's partly the fault of those assuming his ethnicity. And that's probably why there's such a hue and cry about it now. People hate their assumptions being wrong.

Maybe it's time that society stop assigning ethnicity to names. Names don't have ethnicity or colour, only language origins. And many names have more than one language of origin. 'Fisher' could be English or German. Anderson could be English or Scandinavian.

There are fourth-generation Japanese now in both the US and Canada. This generation might look completely Asian or completely white, depending on their parents. You can have a naturally blond/blue-eyed person with a very Japanese name, or someone named Smith who looks very Japanese. Granted, all those with Japanese ancestry are entitled to call themselves Japanese... but when do we stop assuming that Smith *isn't* Japanese? Or that someone named Suzuki isn't white?

I'm not giving any answers here - because there are no answers. I'm just talking about testing assumptions. As Jenny's comment notes, assumptions can be wrong for a very good reason.

The Sleepy One said...

Virtually everyone in my writers group is published, and about half publish under a pseudonym. But the contracts are in their legal names. I know several who use maiden names, and one created a new last name that fits her style of writing (without being cutesy).

I've met a few people who have multiple pen names. One shortened her legal last name to make it easier to spell/say, and also has a second pen name for work-for-hire projects. I met an author at a conference last year with three pen names. Each pen name has its own website, too, and she openly lists all of her pen names on each site.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Julie. Exactly. But from the proverbial wisdom of The Princess Bride. Life isn't fair. Anyone who tells you different is selling something or lying.

How amazing would it be if work was judged solely on its merit (and of course maketability- publishing is a business) and not by immutable traits that we have no control over. That said, I wonder now if I would get more traction if I submitted under my initials after Dena's post and the Andre Norton analogy. *sigh*

Colin Smith said...

All my kids have Hebrew first names. We're not Jewish--they're all biblical. But did we commit some kind of social faux-pas? At least "Colin" is Gaelic, and I'm of Scots-Irish stock, so I suppose my parents did right there... :)

Sorry, this is a bit OT and maybe a little politically hot. Feel free not to touch. :)

RachelErin said...

I am completely unsurprised by the Jezebel article - it is so difficult to overcome unconscious biases. This study got a lot of publicity last year:

Basically all professors respond to emails from white male names at much higher rates than other kinds of names, even the professors themselves are neither white nor male.

I have definitely considered using my initials instead of my first name, partly for privacy because most published writers still have a day job, so I probably will too, and partly because of the gender question.

But I also think about using my middle name or maiden name as my last name, because my married name is hard to spell and pronounce, hence hard to remember, it is generally unlovely and very easy to mock with dirty jokes involving horses. It does have the advantage of being unique. The only other person with my name lives in Australia.

Anonymous said...


You're correct it seems. The previous version I'd read was off target about J.K. Rowling. That will teach me to double check stuff always.


Anonymous said...

Kari Lynn Dell, a tremendously talented writer and all around good gal. She shares pictures of Wrangler patches with me.

So, Kari Lynn is Indian. She competes at Indian rodeos. She doesn't dance, though, claiming she's too clumsy. She probably two-steps. I think that's required for cowgirls. Anyway, Kari Lynn has the most adorable little blonde-haired, blue-eyed little boy, who would also be classified as Indian.

Now, the curious part of me wonders what would happen if he grew up to be a writer and someone wanted to promote his native heritage. Would people howl because he didn't look the part? Personally, I can't see that happening, but woodland creature mind and all. Kari Lynn doesn't trade on her heritage that I'm aware of, she just writes awesome western romances. Talent should be the bottom line.

Donnaeve said...

On writing diversity and specifically this comment by Julie, "don't write about diversity unless you are a purple, female, sexual orientation to be determined by most popular trend, handicapped person in real life."

Sort of OFF TOPIC - I seem to recollect something negative written about white people writing POC characters - maybe it was when THE HELP came out, not sure. So, using THE HELP as a launch pad in understanding exactly which "color" I'm referring to, and so as to not step into some politically incorrect addressing of these individuals (b/c again, I have no idea these days what's right or wrong) I only wanted to say that I just finished reading THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd. I absolutely loved the book, but I think what I was most astounded by was the authentic way I believe she wrote her POC characters. And the thing is, since I'm white, who am I to know/think she did this justice?

I suppose we'll need to wait until P'sOC give their thumbs up or down. With extensive research (which she did) I believe - particularly after reading her book - I don't think anyone should be afraid to write outside of their ethnic group. If a POC wanted to write from the viewpoint of a white, I could care less.

Donnaeve said...

I should add that I know, Julie, you didn't make that comment. I just cc/pasted it to use.

Colin Smith said...

Inspired by Donna's comment:

I've seen US writers write English characters well. And I've seen US writers write English characters badly using every dialog stereotype you can think of to try to make them sound "British" according to what the author thinks that means. Yes, it pulls me out of the story, makes me roll my eyes, and I lament the sloppiness of the writer when s/he could have at least spent a day watching Doctor Who on Netflix to be disabused of the more egregious assumptions.

But I don't take offense. I understand the author wasn't trying to be insensitive, but trying to communicate character, and attempting to show where the character was from as opposed to simply telling. A little research would have been good, but I'm not going to insist only UK writers be allowed to write British characters.

Micki Browning said...

It's all a slippery wicket. I've used initials and my name sounds like a man's but is spelled like a woman's. Sometimes it works for me, other times not so much.

I just try to string words together in the best order possible. Sometimes it works, other times, well, I hate to be redundant.

Kregger said...

I write and have been published under a pseudonym. Typically, 99% of people misspell my first name, so if they try to Google me, they will be directed to some bald-headed dude that sells insurance. I may be a lot of things, but I don't sell insurance.

Whenever confronted by someone that needs my real name, I never pronounce it for them first, I spell it first. Otherwise I have to watch them either erase my misspelled name or backspace on a computer. After watching a new barista scratch off my name three times on a vente mocha latte,and long before I wanted a pen name, I started using Karl. I don't care even if they misspell it, just call-me-Karl.

I have family and friends who do not pronounce my name correctly. This is one of the reasons I can't understand new parents predilection to purposefully misspell their children's first names.

My pen name makes it easy to find my work.

And doesn't confuse the masses with that other know...the one that...

S.D.King said...

On the topic of whether boys would read a book about a boy by a female author - it brings to mind S.E.Hinton. I remember being floored (as a 'tween) when I found out that he was a she!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

SE Hinton is a girl? Well I'll be jiggered. I am definitely using my initials. Who knew?

Amy Schaefer said...

Sherman Alexie, who edited the poetry anthology in question, wrote an essay in response to the controversy. He takes the reader through his entire thought process regarding the poem and poet, both before and after discovering that the poet was a white man. Long, but worth a read: Sherman Alexie Speaks Out on The Best American Poetry 2015.

He sums up his decision to keep the poem thus: "In the end, I chose each poem in the anthology because I love it. And to deny my love for any of them is to deny my love for all of them."

People here have made the point that this writing game should be a strict meritocracy. Writers, write your best work. Agents, accept the best work. Publishers, get the best work out there. Yes, that is the ideal. I disagree that this is actually the case. Bias remains. I'd like to think most of it is unconscious, but it still exists. I'm all in favour of the push to take a second look at traditionally underrepresented groups. Surely this can only lead to a rich new pool of stories. Yes, judge work on its merits. But judge it. Try it. Give it a fair shake. And, like Mr Alexie, embrace something you love, wherever it comes from.

BJ Muntain said...

Writer of Wrongs: Another assumption that can cause problems - the gender of first names.

I have a friend named Robyn - his mother liked that spelling - who worked in a female-dominated profession. When the internet first appeared in the office in the form of listservs, he subscribed to a professional listserv related to his work. He was corresponding with one fellow on the list... and realized that this fellow was flirting with him. Once Robyn mentioned his wife, though, that part of the conversation dried up.

As per Julie's comment - exactly. You can't even judge a person's ethnicity from their looks, let alone their names. North American society is becoming more and more mixed. These days, assumptions need to be checked at the door. In Canada, you can have blond/blue-eyed people who are legally and ethnically First Nations, even Treaty Indians (which is a legal status all its own).

And for 'writing the other' - there are many workshops and courses happening at conferences and other places these days, specifically about 'writing the other'. It can be done. I think the first and foremost thing to remember is: they're human. Unless they're not (I write science fiction - sentience isn't confined to humanity).

RachelErin said...

Oh goodness, now people are talking about kids with a mixture of ethnic backgrounds...
I realized when I signed my kids up for school that I checked the Latina box for my oldest girl, who looks like her Brazilian grandmother....but not for my other two girls. Despite the fact they all have the same parents and grandparents.

When I was checking the boxes, I unconsciously was asking myself if other people would think they were X ethnicity, not so much what they "really" are. I'm not sure what they "really" are. When #1 was a baby, people would ask me why she was so brown? when DH wasn't around, because I am very fair. So I became aware of differences in treatment from time to time.

And don't even get me started on calling my girls "exotic" as a complement. That one really gets me.

Yes, I just admitted on the internet that I assigned different categories to kids with the same biological background. I may have gone back and changed it, or I may have just checked the "I don't want to deal with this question" box.

Vicky said...

My mother is Chinese and I'm first-generation on that side, my father is not, and I go by my father's last name.

Many women use their husband's last name.

I have read comments from publishers that reflect the assumption that if you do not have an ethnic name and/or are not writing about your own ethnic group, then you are white, as if PoCs all have specific, ethnic-sounding names, or only write about characters who share their own ethnicity.

Here's another article about a female freelance writer who got much more work when she used a male pseudonym:

Can't say I blame her.

Donnaeve said...

Colin, as long as they used toodly pip or tiddly pip...(???) it's all good, right?


Colin Smith said...

Here's Vicky's link:

I say, Donna, isn't that a jolly wheeze? Super! Well, tally-ho, pip pip and all that rot. ;)

Anonymous said...

Colin- Absolutely sporting, old chap! :D

Have to say, I totally agree with you, Julie. More annoyingly, that 'you can't write purple characters if you're not purple' clashes horribly with the other modern disease of 'have you written ENOUGH purple characters in your book to be properly diverse?' It becomes a standard that a writer is supposed to meet. I refuse. If I've got an asian-looking girl in my fantasy, that's my business. If I've got a fiery-eyed indian-esque character from a dragon race of people, that's my affair. I'm not gonna count 'em, and I'm not gonna put 'em in there just to be PC. And I'm not going to feel ashamed of my white/scandinavian/english type characters, either.

2NNs- more, more! I want more names, because at this rate we'll have written a whole 40s ragtime hit. And since anything involving Rooney is automatically awesome, it can't fail to hit the top of the charts, even if it IS about 55 years too late :D
Also, I totally relate to the jeans-waisband-too-tight. It's the story of my life, and probably will be until I stop INHALING doughnuts.

As a side-note: I use my initials to publish, just as I sign on here. Mostly that's because I didn't particularly want my real name 'out there', and partly because it's androgynous, and at that stage I figured why should people decide to read my books based on my sex? Leave it mysterious and let 'em judge the book on it's own merits. Now I have an author photo out, so it's kinda moot, but I still really like using my initials.

PS: RECaptcha is evidently CONVINCED I'm a robot. Who told it???
It's asked me to pick stuff out every time I've commented lately :D

Deb Vlock said...

Janet--you think poets get PAID? Ha! I presume that's why so many agencies list poetry as a genre they won't touch with a 10 ft pole. ;)

Anonymous said...


Whenever confronted by someone that needs my real name, I never pronounce it for them first, I spell it first.--

After 23 years of doing interviews and leaving messages to do interviews on a weekly basis, I am thoroughly in the habit of spelling my name slowly even though I have what I think is a common name. J-U-L-I-E separate word etc.

I speak naturally fairly slowly and still have to slow down unless I call a New York City operator. I think they get paid by the word per minute. Wow. Then it's, "Holy smoke, lady. Slow down. I didn't understand a word you said."

Janet Reid said...

Deb, I'm pretty sure that the poets get paid if their poem is in Best American. I could be wrong, but generally those reprint anthologies pay a couple hundred bucks.

Now, they may not have been paid for INITIAL publication but I was thinking of the series payment.

You're right though. The only poets I rep I signed up for something other than their poems.

Jenz said...

No, E.M., I'm not at all confused. It's very straightforward: if you say something offensive, people may be offended. No one has the right to demand that they are free of the consequences of their actions or words. That's not what freedom of speech means. If you choose to be fearful of speaking your mind, that is your choice. But it is no one else's fault if you choose to self-censor.

You might be more aware of the kinds of groups using the argument you're endorsing. I very much doubt you'd like the company you're trying to keep. At least I hope you wouldn't.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Presenting the market with an assumed identity to dodge or exploit prejudice is nothing new, it's as old as publishing. The practice of deliberately hoodwinking trade insiders rather than simply presenting the public with a fictional persona, hasn't been entirely unknown either but hasn't generally been for the motive of negotiating past prejudice, although I can think of one particular parochial contexts within The UK, were that has been the case. Prejudice is a human frailty, one we're all subject to, to some degree, the fact is, frailties are exploitable. Smart people, looking out for their own interests, will engage in such exploitation if they see a net benefit ahead. Not so smart people will do it, just because they get a buzz out of pulling one over on someone else, regardless if they benefit or not. Is it justifiable? Yeah it is justifiable in most contexts. Is it worth it? Could be I suppose but what's it called when folk assume virtues they don't posses? Oh yeah, hypocrisy, so if you don't mind being a hypocrite, which, let's face it, is a more prevalent frailty than prejudice by a couple of exponents, yeah go ahead and enjoy your day in the sun.