Believe me, I’m the first to realize that it’s stupid of me to be against pseudonyms. I mean, after all, almost every superhero ever goes by a moniker that’s not their own. Heck, most of them also hide behind masks in order to keep their deeds separate from their everyday lives. Mark Twain’s a much more iconic sounding name than Samuel Clemens (although I have to admit that I prefer the latter overall).
And there have been times in which pseudonyms have served a very important purpose. Franklin W. Dixon, the name stamped on all Hardy Boys books, was a name much more likely to sell books written for boys than Leslie McFarlane. I’d like to say that had to do with the times, but JK Rowling, the author of a series of books you may have heard of about wizards and monsters and stuff, was directed to use her first initial (and a made up middle initial) to keep the fact that she was female secret.
And, I’ll be completely honest, I long had considered utilizing a nom de plume for myself as well, although the names I came up with were things like Guy Awesome…you know, humble-sounding names 🙂
Anyways, I realize there are plenty of reasons to use pseudonyms. Rowling’s attempt to separate her books from herself showed that people might not be quite as excited about her writing if, you know, her name’s not attached.
But I fear that there are several things that cause authors to utilize pen names instead of their real names that detract from their work altogether. One such example I’ve found is the use of a name of another author who writes books in the same genre. For serious… A while back, in my searchings of the internets for fellow writers to begin to get ideas about how to move forward with my own art, I was contacted by a fellow who had already gone down the self-publishing route. He told me of his process and how little marketing he did and how he was now beginning to make enough money to consider quitting his day job, which happened to be a job that one would require a doctorate (or at the very least, a high level undergrad degree) to perform. This seemed crazy to me. I mean, I had read a little bit of his work at this point and it was pretty good, but, well…he was not doing anything special to separate himself from the crowd.
Of course, his name, which is a rather normal name, sounded familiar to me, and I did my standard google search to do a little background on the fellow. Turns out his name was the name of a very well respected author in the genre. Since the faked named guy claimed he did little to no marketing, I think it’s relatively safe to say there was a great deal of coat tail riding going on there.
Other authors seem to do it because they are looking for a name that matches their genre better. I see this most often with romance and erotica writers. Names like Jessica Smith (made up name, trying not to single anyone out since these are my friends we’re talking about here) just don’t look as nice on the cover of a book with Fabio standing bare-chested against the wind. But Willow Fortnight (also made up) might. And honestly, I can see the reasoning behind this change more than many. Romance and erotica novels are all about the fantasy. I mean, someone named Willow Fortnight sounds like someone who may have experienced pieces of the story within, you know, of the clean-shaven, not-stinky pirates who lovingly caress the protagonist’s body, instead of, you know, the thing real pirates like to do when they’re not pirating. Jessica Smith, however, sounds like someone who made up the story while sitting in her cubicle, inbetween entering formulas into Microsoft Excel.
There’s others yet who do it out of a fear of letting people know who they are. Perhaps it’s a fear that when they become famous (you know, like all authors), they want to have that point of separation between their author self and their personal self. I think the more common version (the reason that had me considering this route) is the fear of actually being seen as yet another one of those unsuccessful authors, constantly pimping their wares to an audience who doesn’t want you. If I go around telling the world to buy my books as Adam Oster, that’s a direct definition of myself. My family and friends will see that and begin to think differently of me. If I do so as Guy Awesome, well, that’s just what Guy Awesome does. He’s a character I developed just to allow myself to shill like a good shill should.
In the end, however, I find it more refreshing to see an author stand proud behind their books, especially when talking about self-published writers. Having folks who aren’t hiding behind a mask as they tell you about their latest Dinosaur Erotica makes you much more interested to read it than if you just find out that dinosaur erotica actually exists (which it unfortunately does, and yes, the authors use pseudonyms).
So, maybe I’m not actually against pseudonyms as much as I just hope that the folks using them aren’t doing so because of a lack of confidence in their writing. I find for myself that the moment I’m not feeling confident about my writing abilities, my actual attempts at writing begin to suffer. When I stand strong behind what I’m working on, not allowing myself to think of it as some sort of silly drivel, that’s when I am actually able to see the story take shape and become something more than the rather goofy idea that started it all off.
And, if you’re choosing a pseudonym, you can’t have Guy Awesome. That one’s mine!
Have fun out there!