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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Male Writers Using Gender-Neutral Pseudonyms

Throughout history, many female writers have felt the need to write under a male pseudonym to mask their identity in order to be taken more seriously in the literary world, thanks to age-old stereotypes about what women are capable of writing.  Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë became Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; Mary Ann Evans became George Eliot; Karen Blixen became Isak Dinesen; J. K. Rowling became Robert Galbraith; and Nelle Harper Lee became Harper Lee. 

Apparently that bias still exists.  Catherine Nichols sent a cover letter and the opening pages of a novel under her own name and under the pseudonym “George” to agents and received very different responses:  “George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.”   She even sent the same work to the same agent using both names and the result was disturbing:  “One who sent me a form rejection as Catherine not only wanted to read George’s book, but instead of rejecting it asked if he could send it along to a more senior agent. Even George’s rejections were polite and warm” 

Now apparently, the practice of adopting a female or gender-neutral nom de plume is prevalent in the psychological thriller genre.  There is market demand for psychological thrillers written mostly by women for female audiences and featuring a female narrator.  Some fans might doubt the authenticity of the female narrator’s voice when it is delivered by a male author, so male writers are adopting gender ambiguous pseudonyms in order to attract more female readers.  Hence, Todd Ritter has become Riley Sager, author of Final Girls; Steve Watson has become S. J. Watson, author of Before I Go to Sleep and Second Life; and Daniel Mallory has become A. J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window (

Perhaps initials are the way to go so gender bias is eliminated.