What’s to Be Done with an Author’s Pen Name?

From Publishers Weekly:

“Still writing?”

Oh no. Not again. Here in the parking lot at Stop & Shop? I live in a medium-size town where many locals are aware I have something to do with writing books. This guy—who I knew way back when he was a Little League umpire who made good calls—is looking at me funny and thinking, “How come it’s taking him so long to answer?”

Because the answer is complicated! Because it’s nice of him to ask and my job is to be nice back, hiding my frustration in the process—which adds to my frustration. So, okay, ump, here goes. “Well, since the last Peter Abrahams novel came out—in 2009—I’ve actually written nine more, and that’s if we’re just counting those for adults. There are four middle grade mysteries as well. But the thing is, they’re written under another name.”

“Stephen King?” he asks.

. . . .

Recently my dad told me about the day my mom realized she had a potential writer on her hands. I was four and in preschool. Every day, we went for a walk, the rainy-day walks taking place indoors with imaginary outdoor scenery. On this particular day, the teacher said, “Class, here’s a puddle.” The whole class walked around this “puddle,” except for me. I walked straight through. “Petey,” the teacher said, “what about the puddle?”

“I’ve got boots on,” I replied. The teacher told that story to my mom. The point is, being a writer is a deeply rooted part of my identity.

Back to the parking lot. “No, actually,” I tell the ump. “I’ve been writing under my pen name—Spencer Quinn.”

“The ones where the dog tells the story? My wife loves those!”


“Gets them from the library.”

“Oh. That’s… nice. Does she ever borrow any of the Peter Abrahams titles?”

“Name me a couple.”

OblivionEnd of Story.”

“Maybe that second one. A little too dark for her, if I recall. She prefers…”


“More upbeat, I’d say. So how come the name change?”

“You’re sort of onto it. The Chet and Bernie stories are upbeat, but not cutesy! Does your wife say they’re cutesy?”

“Nope. In fact, I’ve never heard her use that word.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

3 thoughts on “What’s to Be Done with an Author’s Pen Name?”

  1. I see the problem.

    He made the fundamental mistake of thinking that his name on a book was more important than the book itself. That the book’s success was about him.

    – The pen name is just another way to differentiate the Brand.

    No one is stopping him from having as many pen names as are needed.

    Wiki – Heteronym (literature)

    I am called by many names in real life and on the page. Just don’t call me late for dinner. HA!

  2. I’m not sure I get how the story about the puddle meant his mother knew he would potentially be a writer. It just says to me that he isn’t interested in going with the flow of everyone else or worried about getting his feet wet. I guess he decided to interpret that is “I’m different from the rest of the world BECAUSE I’m a writer.”

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