6 Successful Female Authors That Go By Initials

There are a lot of women authors that have felt the need to go by initials for success. Read on to learn more about these authors and their reasons.

Author's Corner Book Culture Female Voices Opinions
A woman writing at a desk with a name tag underneath with a question mark, then a period, and then another question mark.

Have you ever come across a book where you see initials in the place of a first name? While there are plenty of people in real life that choose to go by initials in their daily life, that is not usually why an author has decided to credit themselves with initials. The initials are frequently used to cover up the author’s real first name, as they might not want to be known by that name.

Furthermore, more often than not, an author that uses initials as their first name is a woman. To this day, the literary world has been a boy’s club, which means that women authors are not taken that seriously. Therefore the initials can serve as a gender neutral pseudonym. Here is a deeper inside look at the reasons behind this pattern of initial usage.

L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables centers on a young orphan girl trying to figure out her place in life. Therefore, a female audience should be expected. Nevertheless, L.M. Montgomery, the author of this novel, used the gender neutral initials. The L stands for Lucy and the M stands for Maud. It should be taken into account that this novel was published in 1908, a difficult time for women to share their voice.

"Anne of Green Gables" book cover with a young girl standing underneath flowery trees with a blue background.

Women were not even able to vote, in America or in Montgomery’s home country of Canada. The struggle was prevalent. Montgomery used a variety of pen names, some being feminine, but stuck with L.M. so that her gender would not be clear to readers. She did not want assumptions to be made or turn readers away and she did not want the rejection that could have come from publishers in the early 1900s.

S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders is about a group of tough boys who come from the wrong side of the tracks and how they try to power through their problems. Because of that plot, it might be surprising that this novel was written by a woman, especially a teenage woman. S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders while she was still in high school, empathizing with the tough boys at her school, and it became an instant hit. Did the initials have anything to do with that? The S in her name stands for Susan and the E stands for Eloise.

"The Outsiders' book cover" with a young brooding man with greased hair and a leather jacket looking down.

As is often the case, it was the idea of Hinton’s publishers for her to use the gender neutral initials in order to get a male audience. Teenage boys might not want to read a book by a teenage girl, so the sacrifice of slight anonymity is one that Hinton had to make. She still goes by the initials when writing by choice, as it has become the name for her professional life. That demonstrates that a change made for men can be one that can stick for life.

E.L. James

While smut may typically be a woman’s genre, that did not stop E.L. James, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, to go by initials. The author of this salacious series of BDSM had to draw the line somewhere. The E in her name stands for Erika and the L is for an undisclosed middle name. Fifty Shades of Grey started as Twilight fanfiction that James posted under the name Snowqueens Icedragon. Therefore, her current pen name is certainly more approachable and will likely reach a wider audience than the previous random name generator-esque name.

"Fifty Shades of Grey" book cover with a grey knotted tie with a black background.

However, there is still the choice to use the initials in her pen name. In a way, a pen name is like a screen name. It allows James to separate her normal life from her fictional BDSM universe. Is it a gender thing? James has never said either way, but it makes one wonder if men would feel the need for separation.

P.L. Travers

From the novels to the movies to the musical, the character of Mary Poppins has become the public’s magical nanny as she has inspired whimsy in many. That whimsy comes from the original Mary Poppins novel by P.L. Travers. Even with this magical story that centered around a strong female character, the gender neutral initials are coming into play. The P stands for Pamela and the L stands for Lyndon.

"Mary Poppins" book cover with a woman dressed up holding an umbrella and flying through the light blue sky.

Even Pamela was a fake name, as her original first name was Helen, but she thought Pamela sounded prettier, and then that became an initial. Travers’ choice of initials was an interesting situation, as she chose to be gender neutral in her work because she did not want to be grouped with the other women writing magical tales. Travers chose not to bring gender into her work, and that might have worked in her favor in the 1930s, when Mary Poppins came out. Travers, and maybe publishers, did not want gender to be seen, just the story.

K.A. Applegate

A book series about children that can transform into animals by touching them may sound odd. Nevertheless, the Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate has 54 novels that have been a huge success among children, a popular fixture at book fairs and school libraries. The books reached far and wide and that reach was done with a pen name. The K stands for Katherine and the A stands for Alice.

"Animorphs: The Invasion" book cover with humanoid frog on a green background.

This situation is unique because Applegate co-authored the series with her husband Michael Grant. Nevertheless, Applegate had main control of the series, so instead of using the husband’s name, she used the initial pseudonym. The Animorphs is a part of the science fiction/fantasy genre that involves alien battles. Therefore, it is the type of series that is typically meant and advertised for boys. At this point, it is to be expected that a pseudonym would be used to get this audience, which is why the name K.A. was practically a natural choice.

E.L. Konigsburg

With two Newbury Medals, E.L. Konigsburg made quite the name for herself in the literary world. That made name may be a pen name, but she is still notable nonetheless. Konigsburg is known for her young adult novels From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwater and The View From Saturday. Konigsburg got this success through the initials she used. The E stands for Elaine and the L stands for Lobl.

"From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" book cover with a young girl and a young boy in color holding various items looking at black and white stairs and a black and white building.

She chose to go by her initials because she did not want to scare the potential boy readers and she did not think it was relevant for readers to know her gender. Based on what she has said before, it seems that going by initials was her own choice, as opposed to the choice of a publisher. At a certain point, the secrets of industry become publicly known, and to find success, women authors have every right to take advantage of those secrets.

Of course, I can acknowledge that women are not the only ones to use initials as authors. J.D. Salinger, T.S. Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence are examples of some male authors that chose to go by initials in their work. However, they do not have to worry about coming across as a male writer because everyone reads male writers.

Women have more to think about when they decide to go by their initials, or when they are told to do that. Names can mean everything in the literary world, and when women want to gain a neutral and balanced audience, they often need to have a name with those values as well.

If you want to know more about pseudonyms used by female authors, click here.

If you want more book recommendations, click here.