Pseudonyms Are Stupid

Did you know that your most favorite author ever has written and published secret books that they don’t want you to know about?

This last weekend at MarsCon I had conversations with three authors where the use of pseudonyms came up. Two of them used pseudonyms and the other was considering it. These three were all professionally published multiple times and all three lamented sales numbers that were less than their ultimate goals. To boost their sales and to make a little more money, they mused, writing under a pseudonym was a good avenue to explore.

This is old thinking. A holdover from an industry in flux, flailing about in a mud puddle.

The difference between an amateur/hobbyist and a professional is simple: is this where you make your full-time living. It’s not quality of work, length of your reach, impact of your art. Is this where you make your living. By this definition, I am an amateur/hobbyist working towards becoming a professional.

As an independent, I will never have a random hit single and you, my dear favorite author, you will never have a #1 New York Times Best Seller. We will not make a fortune off of a fluke stroke of good luck. I will never make $50,000 in a year from one album but, what about ten albums? How about fifteen albums plus cool T-shirts, a novel or two, and some soundtracks? Maybe. Maybe then I’ll have a shot. One novel will probably not cover the cost you put into it but, what about two trilogies, a bunch of short stories, a How-to-write ebook, and some comic projects?

What would happen, though, if some of my albums were released under a pseudonym, and my books under a pen name, and the T-shirts were just random T-shirts? What if you like one of my albums but you can’t find the others with a Google search? What if I’m uncredited for that soundtrack? If your favorite author is publishing secret books, how will you buy them? How can you help your favorite author make a living as a writer if they won’t let you?

But, you might ask, what if the author wants to write something really different from their last four books? That’s totally awesome! I want to know how versatile they are. Should I release my South Dakota concept album under a pseudonym because folks who like my ghost songs might get mad and stop liking me all together? No. I will say, “This album is about South Dakota. There are no ghost songs on it.” They will either buy it or they wont. It will sell or it wont. As long as I am honest and clear about what I am doing, there is no danger. Low sales numbers do not mean a loss of fans. There are folks who said that they didn’t want to buy my steampunk album because they don’t like steampunk. But you know what? They bought the Christmas album because that sounded like something they would want.

I can think of only one real reason to use a pseudonym. You don’t what your friends/family/church/co-workers to know that you write erotica or some other material that would offend soft minds. If this is the case, so be it. Just make sure that you stick with whatever pseudonym you choose.

Pseudonyms are stupid. If you’re proud of it, put your name on it.

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About jonahknight

Jonah writes, records, and performs songs about ghosts, monsters, steampunk, and creepy Christmas tunes. Is that geek music? Nerd music? Filk? Who knows. Find more at www.jonahofthesea.com He also co-hosts (with Mikey Mason) the Pros and Cons podcast. A Parsec Finalist, the show is about geek music and convention culture. http://prosandconspodcast.blogspot.com/

12 thoughts on “Pseudonyms Are Stupid

  1. I don’t use a pseudonym but I published my scifi/fantasy series (that got picked up by a publisher AFTER self-publishing) under my maiden name (Shay West) to 1) separate the self-pubbed stuff that still shows up on Amazon event though you can’t order it anymore) and 2) separate it from the YA series I wrote. People had serious issues and couldn’t quite figure out that even though the covers were different, font on the front was different, titles clearly indicate a different series, and the blurbs/samples had nothing to do with the scifi series, they were all put out when they bought the YA stuff thinking it was connected to the scifi stuff.

  2. I read a really interesting piece on this very topic not long ago but can’t for the life of me remember where! Damn my feeble brain!! Oh, I seem to remember it was something about the author who wrote The Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl – or maybe something similar – which would seem to support your idea that pseudonyms are used by people wanting to hide the fact that they’re writing erotica.
    However, although I enjoyed reading your review and thought it was quite thought provoking I can feel some sympathy for authors in relation to using a false name.
    I think that having a large fan base and following could sometimes feel very restrictive for an author – people have certain expectations and if you don’t meet them then let’s face it they can be fickle! So, maybe using a different name gives the author the freedom to write something completely out of their comfort zone without being judged or compared to previous works.
    On top of that there was and still is sexism in the business. A number of classical female writers used male names and probably would never have been published without doing so – George Elliot being a perfect example. And the sexism isn’t just in the publishing world but in the market – a lot of readers will simply ignore a book or think it’s chic lit if it has a female author.
    Anyway, I suppose if the author is famous or well published enough they can afford to take the risk of writing under a different name and seeing how the book does or whether people react differently to their writing when it doesn’t have the same name attached? Actually, I think that would be a pretty good experiment!
    Thanks
    Lynn :D

    • The changing the name to an androgynous or male name makes me really angry, it’s been happening for ages and ages. C.L.Moore, C.S.Friedman, Sherwood Smith, Andre Norton, etc. URRR!

      I actually seek out female authors of SF over male authors, but I don’t know of this is because of a knee jerk angry reaction or if it’s because I generally like female authors better, or maybe I’ve read damn near all SF out there and most of it is written by men… Who knows.

      Anyway, I’ve learned that initials=female author, usually.

  3. The only two legit reasons I’ve ever come across (from my POV as a reader) is 1) there’s already someone out there with your same name publishing in the same sub-genre and 2) you publisher tells you This Is How It’s Gonna Roll.

    One of my fave authors, Julie Czerneda is known for her biology-based SF. She’s publishing a real honest to goodness straight up fantasy this year. It’s being published under her same name. Yeah! As you say, I love to know how diverse an author is. “I know you can do this, I trust you. I will trust you for this completely other thing.”

  4. I found your post thought provoking, but in the end I snorted. Pseudonyms aren’t stupid; they have been used and are still being used for legit reasons. And quite frankly, if your stuff is great, folks are going to figure out all your pseudonyms and track all your stuff down anyway (think about Robert Jordan, a pen name for James Rigney, who also published under Reagan O’Neal, Chang Lung, and Jackson O’Reilly). Sexism is still a big thing out there and it works both ways. Many women won’t pick up a romance/erotica written by a man because they don’t think a man can truly tell a love story from a lady’s POV. How many men poopoo women who write anything other than romance, like military fiction? And yes, if I ever write a hard core erotica book, I will probably use a pseudonym because I value my privacy (just like I use one for the blogging world). Great discussion post.

  5. I’ve read enough comments by authors who can no longer sell anything under their original name. They all said they were forced to change by their publishers/agents/whoever. Their original name was mud and they would have no chance at selling again unless they were “new.” So in that case, I think they didn’t get a choice about it.

    As for the “names in different genres,” I do think that is pretty ridiculous, though. Especially when the author is super open about their pseudonyms like Iain (M) Banks or whoever. I can totally handle a writer writing in different genres and styles if I have to, for fuck’s sake.

    • The one that made me sad was David B. Coe being asked to publish as D.B. Jackson. My overly cynical mind wondered if there wasn’t a smudge of anti-semitism behind that decision.

      • This particular situation might be to safely differentiate the author from controversial country singer/songwriter David Allen Coe? I know it’s not even the same industry/wheelhouse, but it’s possible.

        Otherwise, regarding psuedonyms, I tend to agree with Jonah’s reasoning – if one’s trying to make a living as a creative type, splitting one’s streams seems counter-productive (with exceptions for the erotica example).

        I suppose one could probably come up with good reasons for their use otherwise, but I can’t think of too many for “up and coming” types.

  6. Years ago, finding someone by just knowing their name would have required lots of effort or the use of a private detective.

    These days, most of us can use the Internet which can give us the person’s address and even print out a map to their house in just a few minutes. We can find out if they are married, their kids’ names, and about anything else we want to know.

    Years ago, authors didn’t worry about the dangers involved with using their real name, but today, professional writers talk about stalker fans, scary letters from prison inmates, and identity theft they and their friends have experienced.

    I have never had any problems, but, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t use my real name.

    Other reasons to use a pen name aren’t so scary.

    Some publishers like Harlequin/Silhouette prefer pen names.

    If your books’ sales stink, your publisher or your agent may insist you change your name so that you have a clean slate with book distributors and bookstores who look at your last book’s sales numbers before they buy or don’t buy your book.

    If your next book has a different audience than usual, a new pen name will allow you to attract the right readers and not disappoint your regular readers. For example, if your books are sweet romances, and you decide to write erotica, you don’t want to disappoint your fans or lose readers of erotica who think Jane Smith only writes romance with no blatant sex.

    Some authors are so prolific that they write under two or more names because publishers don’t want to publish more than X number of titles per author a year.

    There’s also the question of how accessible your name is. In these days of Amazon and Google, a name that is hard to spell makes an author less likely to be found and bought. My last name is simple, but my first name is a variant spelling of “Marilyn.” NO ONE spells my name right so I’m much harder to find. One of my books won a major award and their announcements, website, etc. spelled my name and my book’s name incorrectly. I might as well have not won for all the lack of traffic that award generated.

  7. I actually have some experience of this with an acquaintance of mine who was written paranormal romance under a couple of different pen names and she started doing it primarily because of contract constraints with the publisher and secondarily because she wanted to branch out into the YA market and have a brand identity there differentiated from her more adult, but not erotic, romance stories. She is a very prolific author whose income would have been decreased had she not found the necessary loopholes to get as much of her work out in any given year as possible.

  8. Pingback: Scurte #106 « Assassin CG

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