What do you think about pen names? My flash fiction just got accepted for publication for the first time, and I was completely unprepared. I've toyed with the idea of using a pen name in the past, but since I hadn't been published, it was an imaginary dilemma until now.
For me, the main reason I would want to use a pen name is so that the reader wouldn't approach my story with any preconceptions. My name immediately communicates (even if only to the subconscious) a female and Chinese perspective, which I would prefer to leave out of the experience of the story. Do you think the author's name really has a big influence on the reader's experience?
Also, logistically, how would I go about establishing a pen name? Do I make a note of it in my cover letter?
Thanks for your input!
Secondly, I don't have any problem with pseudonyms at all. They are a great tradition. That said, I don't think you should use one, and for the exact reason that your name is Judy Li. Publishing is changing, very very slowly, but it is changing. An entire organization, VIDA, exists for the purpose of shaming publishers (and they should be shamed) who don't publish a representative number of women in the arts, and they're getting results. Publishers are more conscious of diversity than they've ever been. The review site The Critical Flame (a very smart site) just vowed to review no books by white men for a full year. These are small examples, but there will be more of them. You're really young, but say you were ten years younger, a teenager with a female Chinese name, and you were flipping through literary magazines. Wouldn't you want to see the name Judy Li in the TOC? Don't we all wish in retrospect that George Eliot had published under the name Mary Anne Evans? Also: plenty of white men write convincingly about women and having a white male name doesn't seem to bother their readers all that much.
Thing is, if you're going to change your name, then you're going to be signaling some kind of ethnic & gender identity no matter what you do, just by the fact that people will read into the name you do choose. I'm guessing the kind of name you're thinking of picking is one that will be read as white and male, under the assumption that this is a normative state, a blank canvas, on which the reader won't project a specific identity. But they will project an identity: a white male identity. Do we really need more of those? And isn't the fact that we have so many of them part of the problem? By publishing as Cody Billings (or whatever) you'll be making it all the more likely that the next Judy Li won't want to use her name either. The cycle will continue forever, enabling further bigotry.
It's trickier to publish under the name Judy Li -- there will be readers who come to your pieces with preconceptions and unfortunately some of them will be editors and publishers -- but I think you should accept the burden (and it's not nearly so large a burden as it was only 10 years ago or will be in another 10 years). You'll be helping to redefine the normative (since, as you know, white males aren't the majority) and helping to direct literary culture toward something more readily inclusive and more imaginative.
That said, the choice is yours and not mine. And let's not forget that I'm speaking from a position of privilege -- I'm not in your shoes and don't know how I'd feel if I was (aside from being irked after reading such a long, preachy email). Of course any decision you make will the the right one for you and so, as far as anyone should be concerned, the right one. But you've got my 2 cents now in any case.
As for practical stuff, the best thing is to never tell the publisher your real name (submit as your pseudonym) but, barring that, a simple, smiling mention in your acceptance note that you'd request your work appear under the name XY should do just fine. You'll also need a fake bio note, and sometimes they'll want a picture (that's when it gets a little strange).
Good luck whatever you do and let me know when the piece comes out. And congratulations again!
For what it's worth, this was her reply: