All My Friends Are Like Drag Queens

Hi. Barb here.

Lately, I’ve been saying the above a lot, because so many of the writers I know have two or more names and identities.

Our own Kaitlyn/Kate/Kathy is one. She uses different names for different types of books.

Other friends use pseudonyms because they’re writing work-for-hire and don’t want the publishing company to end up owning their given name.

Then there are men writing books for women and women writing books they hope will crossover and sell to men.

Others are forbidden by contract to publish books outside their current line under their own names.

Or have unspellable, unpronounceable real names.

And still others have been advised to get a new name because their last book didn’t sell well.

All this may have made sense at one time or another in publishing. But now it runs absolutely smack into the pressure most authors are under to build a brand, an online presence and a persona. Then it makes no sense at all. Especially the last reason. I’m convinced no reader ever said, “Well I didn’t buy a book by so-and-so the last time, so I’m not going to buy her new one now.” This is the kind of dumb decision companies make when they are afraid of their own salespeople–and their own distribution system–booksellers–who are, I’m convinced, the only people who remember a non-sale. Believe me, if an author had a name the reader could remember well enough to know he or she had walked away from buying a former book, that author would have a name worth holding on to.

When I had my kids, it was in the era of hyphenate names, like Ethan-Marcus Weinstein-McGillicuddy (gotta be a good story there, right?) Or law firm families. (You’re reached the family of Smith, Jones and Clark. Leave a message at the beep!)

I got pretty good at navigating that, so now I’m adjusting okay to introducing my friends as Carol/Jane, Kelly/Clara, John/Ellen.

So far, everything I’ve written has been under my name. And I kept my surname when I got married. So you’d think I’d be pretty committed to it. But actually, I’m one of those people who’s barely cognizant of my name. When someone asks, “Should I call you Barbara or Barb?” I shrug. I’m lightly attached to either.

And Barbara Ross is a wicked common name. Every one of us is between 50 and 80 (the golden era–in fact the only era–for Barbara as a name). So my Google Alert on my name regularly sends me my own obituary.

There are lots of Barbara Ross authors, including one who writes almost daily for the New York Daily News. And the one who wrote Anaesthetic and Sedative Techniques for Aquatic Animals, and the one who wrote Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Children. Sometimes on various author sites their books are attributed to me, and it’s always challenging, and sometimes impossible, to straighten it out.

So I have fantasized about another name. Didn’t everyone do that as a child? So cool to be able to choose. But then I think about rebuilding my meager brand and “presence,” and I’m like, meh.

So we’ll see what the future brings, but right now I’m sticking with Barbara Ross.

Writers, how do you feel about using your name or another? And readers, how do you feel about writers having other identities?

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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5 Responses to All My Friends Are Like Drag Queens

  1. Gram says:

    I know that writers use other names for different series, but sometimes it gets confusing. -and look what happened when J.K. Rowling published under another name!

  2. Barb
    You missed one! I also wrote three romance novels for Silhouette under the name Kaitlyn Gorton. Why? Because my mom thought not everything I published should be written under my married name. Kaitlyn is the name I wished I’d been given instead of Kathy Lynn. Gorton is my maiden name.

    I’m planning to ditch the pseudonyms for the project I’m working on now, a new 16th century mystery series.

  3. I am an author, My first book Viking books, was published under my own name, Beckie Weinheimer. My editor at Viking did not suggest I write under another name when I presented her with my middle grade novel, but instead suggested I keep writing the same type of contemporary YA as my first book had been to create a following. I wish that those are the books that would come to me, but my creativity runs all over the place. I have an agent interested in my adult novel right now, a middle grade novel is out with several editors, and I have a picture book I’m dying to show someone and now a new idea for a murder mystery set in Tenants Harbor, ME. I know its about branding and getting a following, but I don’t mind reading the same author who writes under her own name in different genres. Last night I was at the Thomaston Library to hear Kate and Lea, who I think are MORE fascinating because they don’t just write crime novels! I like to follow a name, so I’m for using the same name, whatever it is!

  4. Oh spare me the multiple names! When I first joined my RWA chapter, I thought I was going to lose my mind. All these women (mostly) had more than one name. How was I supposed to remember them? One name is hard enough, thank you very much.
    Do we see men using other names? Or is this mostly a woman thing? I’d never thought of this before.
    Now I had a friend who taught kindergarten and she wrote erotic romance. I understood her using a different name. Now she just writes so she could use her real name but has a following under Lavender Day. 🙂
    I write under my own name. Marsha R. West (I’ve always used the R, and it was very important to differentiate me from another Marsha West, who is distinctly different from me.) When I began writing I thought one of the things that would help me sell, is merely the fact I’d been around a long time and new lots of folks. So I wanted my own name out there. And yes I’ve learned to the importance of brand. I think readers are smart enough to understand that Nora Roberts and JD. Robb are the same person. You can pretty much tell from the covers which line it is, too. Here’s to writing with our real names, Barb.

  5. MCWriTers says:

    Is there anything more common than John Clark? I am glad I didn’t give in to a long ago impulse to change it to Zebulon Pathfinder. The older I get, the happier I am to have a short name because it hurts to write in long hand/cursive.

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