Author initials. A.A. Milne. G.K. Chesterton. E.E. Cummings. E.B. White. C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien. P.D. James. J.M. Barrie. H.L. Mencken. E.L. Doctorow. B.F. Skinner. T.S. Eliot. W.H. Auden. M.K. Gilroy. What’s with that? Why do so many authors use initials instead of their first name?
I’m guessing F. Scott Fitzgerald never forgave his parents for naming him Francis. But he could have gone with Frank.
When my first novel, Cuts Like a Knife, was introduced, my sister Susan asked me, “What’s with the initials on the cover of the book instead of using your full name?”
My first response was it seemed to have worked out fine for Joanne Rowling—and no, no one has been able to confirm whether her middle name is Kathleen or Katherine. (Do you know why?)
That raises a much bigger question than why I went with M.K. rather than Mark. Why did Joanne become J.K.? To my knowledge she’s never answered that question directly.
When I headed up marketing for a publishing group early in my career we made cover decisions on the basis of the old advertising rule that females will relate almost equally well to a picture of a female or a male—but generally speaking, males relate almost exclusively to a picture of a male.
I’m not claiming that rule is still true, but I suspect there’s significant truth to it. I just can’t prove it. If someone can point to research on the topic, please message me!
I have to assume that J.K. used initials to make her author name gender neutral, which makes sense for the launch of a series categorized as children’s literature.
Is that the same reason why I went with M.K. instead of Mark?
I’ll make a confession. I originally wrote the novel under a female pen name and attempted to sell it that way as an agent. After all, my lead character is a female. I got a lot of interest but to my surprise there was near universal resistance to buying a novel by a pseudonymous author – which I thought would be a marketing benefit. I wonder if Nora Roberts had a hard time convincing her agent and publisher to introduce a mystery series under the name J.D. Robb? (Hmmm. There are those initials again.) On the gender switch, Rowling got “outed” pretty quickly when she wrote as Robert Galbraith for The Cuckoo’s Calling.
But back to the question. Why initials on my book cover? Was it because M.K. is more gender neutral than Mark or is it because M.K. Gilroy fits easier on one line than Mark Gilroy – a decision based on style?
The former. It was a marketing decision. My guess is that is the same reason many authors use initials.
But there is another reason I went by M.K. instead of Mark. And maybe I’m not alone.
My Kristen Conner series was acquired by Jeana Ledbetter who let me know a pen name wasn’t in the cards. But then she said, “But we do think ‘M.K.’ sounds kind of cool.”
Cool. I liked the sound of that. Is it possible J.R.R. Tolkien was showing off by adding three initials to his book covers? His friend and contemporary C.S. Lewis was satisfied with just two.
I’ve always wanted to be kind of cool—so there you have it. Mystery solved. Now you know why so many authors use initials instead of full first name. We want to be cool!