Manuscript Submissions Under A Pen Name

Posted at 23:45pm on 22nd January 2010

Hi Mel,

I was interested to see what you had posted earlier this month on your blog about formatting a manuscript; it was most helpful.

  1. Could you tell me how you handle using a pen name when it comes to putting the name on each page? Do you put the pen name on each of them, or do you put your real name just on the title page and then the pen name on every subsequent page? Then explain in the covering letter?
  2. Also once you have agreement to submit a manuscript, does one always send in the hard copy version or do any editors take in disc versions?
  3. One more query, do individual publishing houses have slightly different guidelines on how they wish to have their submissions produced?

Thank you for your help.

Very best regards,


Deborah

Mel's Comment:

Hi Deborah,

Many thanks for your e-mail; I'm glad you found the article Manuscript Formatting helpful. There is another which accompanies it: Manuscript Submission Guidelines: How To Write A Publishing Proposal For Your Book. Both, of course, are guidelines only. It's impossible - particularly in the digital age - to be prescriptive. However, I'll do my best to answer your questions.

1. THE USE OF PEN NAMES

This is an interesting question. I have used different pen names in several of my books and a number of articles. I like to use a different name for different genres. Hence my earliest publications, which were self-help books and contained a good deal of personal anecdotal material, were written with anonymity and privacy in mind. I didn't want to embarrass anyone whose story overlapped with mine. When it came to biographical books, I used another by-line. And I've used yet another name for novels.

Now, whether this is beneficial or not is debatable. On the one hand it means that you have no cross-over in readership, a factor which restricts sales. On the other, it means that you could, if you wished, write in two opposing styles, each with its own following, without upsetting one or the other. Let's say you were an advocate of euthanasia, for example (personally, I am not) and you wanted to write articles promoting that viewpoint for a life/health genre, but your main stream of authorship lay with gentle romances. Readers of the latter just might find your alter ego shocking and abandon you in their droves. In other words, you might be better using a pen name for one genre or the other.

Another point to consider is that if your book sales to date are poor, you may be better off submitting a new proposal to publishers under a pen name. They would then be unable to trace your previous poor sales via the EPOS system (Electronic Point Of Sale) which might make them more disposed to consider your submission on its own merit, rather than in the light of previous sales. Naturally, this would give you a better chance of success. But - and it's a big but - at some point - assuming that the publisher took you up on your new proposal - you would have to come clean. This could work against you in that they may not like you for deceiving them!

So - in answer to your question (and I can only speak from experience) I would say that you have two options:

  • Stick with your pen name throughout, without any mention of your legal entity.
  • Show both – in which case, the front cover of your manuscript should show, clearly, that the submission is: By Mel Menzies (writing as Jane Smith); or By Jane Smith (the pen name of Mel Menzies). However, when it comes to the heading of each folio, I would use your pen name only.

2. HARD COPY SUBMISSION VERSUS DISC?

Again, in my experience, I have always been asked to submit a partial or total manuscript as a hard copy – even when it is to major publishers who have taken my work in the past. I have heard and read other authors who say that in the digital age this is old hat. However, I have never come across a publisher who would allow a manuscript to be submitted electronically by an author they don't know because, naturally, they're worried about their system being corrupted by viruses.

3. PUBLISHERS' GUIDELINES ON SUBMISSIONS

Most publishers now have websites showing their submission policy and it's always as well to check. Failing that, Writers' & Artists' Yearbook will provide this information.

Hope that helps. Do get back to me if you have any further queries.

Very Best Wishes, Mel

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