When Penguin handed Dean James a three book contract for his Cat in the Stacks mystery series, it came with one condition: He’d have to get a sex change.
Okay, not really. But to connect with the traditional mystery genre’s primarily female fan base, the publisher decided that James should adopt a female pseudonym; he chose Miranda James. For a previous mystery series he’d taken the androgynous nom de plume Jimmie Ruth Evans. “I picked Evans so it would get me on the shelf next to Janet Evanovich,” he remembers.
Miranda James has found commercial success that eluded Dean James and Jimmie Ruth Evans: a string of New York Times bestsellers and an upcoming spinoff series.
Here are five famous writers who, mostly for marketing reasons, changed genders for their bylines and book covers.
1. Ann Rule
Ann Rule is probably the bestselling true crime writer in history, but when she began reporting on murders for pulp magazines in the late 1960s, it was still a field dominated by men—so she wrote as Andy Stack at the request of her editor.
When The Stranger Beside Me—the book about her friendship with Ted Bundy and the realization that he was a serial killer—became a runaway bestseller under her own name, her name alone seemed destined to make the next few books she already had contracts for instant bestsellers.
But she stayed with Andy Stack. “The Stranger Beside Me was doing very well, so my agent said that these books got such small advances I should not put my name on them,” she later explained. “I stayed with 'Andy Stack,' but after a while I put them under my real name and they sold much better."
2. Ben Franklin
When this founding father wanted to draw attention to the injustice of women taking all the blame for children born out of wedlock, he published "The Speech of Polly Baker" in the April 1747 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine. He also wrote a gossip column under the name Alice Addertongue and he wrote letters to The American Weekly Mercury under the names Caelia Shortface and Martha Careful.
3. L. Frank Baum
Lyman Frank Baum is most famous for his Wizard of Oz series. But when he wanted to sell stories aimed at young girls, he was perfectly happy to adopt a female persona, and he used three: Edith Van Dyne, Laura Bancroft, and Suzanne Metcalf.
4. Bob Rogers
This married man found his calling writing romance novels—a genre read almost exclusively by women, few of whom are interested in reading stories by men. So he’s written 24 novels as a woman, mostly using the name Jean Barrett. How many other popular romance writers are secretly men? We may never know, because if they told us, their sales would plummet.
5. Lawrence Block
Block, most famous for his Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr crime novels, has had a career that’s spanned seven decades and he’s used a few names over that period: William Ard, Ben Christopher, Lee Duncan, Chip Harrison, Paul Kavanagh, Sheldon Lord, Andrew Shaw, B.L. Lawrence, John Warren Wells, and two women: Jill Emerson (he used that one for lesbian novels) and Anne Campbell Clarke. Block, who got his start writing pornographic material, once explained it this way: “Sometimes I used pen names because I was being cute ... But most of the pseudonymous books bore pen names because the work on which they appeared was generically second–rate.”