It’s too late for me to use this option (probably), but an incident (two, actually) occurred last week that got me to thinking.
I’ve already considered the idea that breaking into science fiction and fantasy as a conservative, religious, white, married, cisgender old man (and if you exist at a particular social and political extreme, all of that means I’m “evil”) might be a waste of time considering how the publishing industry in particular, and entertainment in general seems fairly prejudiced against creators who aren’t leftists and atheists (although I know some leftists who are religious). In science fiction in particular, this was played out in previous years by the Sad Puppies phenomenon, and not too long ago by the Comicsgate movement, which also seems to have gone by the wayside.
But as I mentioned, last week, a person responded to two of my missives on Facebook rather negatively. Normally, I take these things in stride, since “outrage” is something you get used to if you’re not following a popular social media narrative, but this time the person in question was in a position to significantly inhibit my future as an author, at least within a certain realm.
I won’t provide the specifics of this, but I will confess to having my anxiety level rise quite a bit and losing some sleep over it.
A day or two ago, one of the writer’s groups to which I belong suggested that we participants make our own Facebook authors pages if we already haven’t done so. I do have an Amazon author’s page, but that’s largely because I’ve been a published author of textbooks and self-study guides in the area of information technology for nearly 20 years. As far as my fiction writing goes, only three of my stories have been accepted for publication, and all in the month of January.
In other words, a Facebook author’s page seems a little premature.
But then again, it might go a long way to separating my personal identity / opinions from my professional (when you do something and you get paid for it, you’re a professional) writing. Then, anyone in the industry who wants to follow me on Facebook can “Like” my author’s page, and I’ll once again have the freedom to be who I am on my personal page without fear of being victimized by prejudice or bias.
In preparation for writing this missive, I did look up why modern authors use pen names, and according to Writer’s Relief, here are the primary reasons:
- Another author “owns” your name. Your mother was a big fan, and your name is Sylvia Plath.
- Your name doesn’t fit the genre. Bruiser Ratchet or Belinda Blood may want to choose more romantic names to break into the romance genre. (However, Bruiser Ratchet would be a great name for a detective/suspense novel writer, and Ms. Blood’s name suits the horror genre to a tee.)
- You want to conceal your real identity. You’re a prim and proper physics professor at a large university but write erotica on the side—under an assumed name, of course. A pen name would also protect the author from political persecution or prejudice. Imagine writing about homosexuality or even atheism from a personal perspective in the 1950s without using a pen name.
- Your name is too hard to pronounce and/or spell. If your name contains ten syllables and several Xs and Zs, perhaps a shorter, easier-to-spell name would be in order. And if it can be pronounced correctly by the average Joe, that would be good. Remember: easy to say, easy to spell, easy to remember.
- You’ve been burdened with a truly bad name to begin with. Consider Adolf Mussolini. Ima Hogg. Harold Bahls. Mercedes Binns. Tanya Hyde. Rachel Inequality. You get the picture.
- You want to cross genres. Anne Rice, famous for her vampire series, uses pen names for her collections of erotica, and she would probably take up a new one if she wanted to move into Sci-Fi or Westerns.
- You’ve been published before, and sales were not good. In this case, your publisher may suggest a pen name to help boost sales of your new book (and break the association with the poorly received book).
No one owns my name, so that’s out.
Can’t see why my name doesn’t fit into the SF/F genre (your opinion may be different).
Concealing my identity does have an appeal, especially if I’m all of the bad things I listed above and I want to have my work accepted in a more inclusive, progressive industry, but we’ll let that one pass for a moment.
My name isn’t too hard to pronounce, but people often misspell it by dropping the “s” from the end of my last name. Go figure.
You could consider “Pyles” a “bad” name. It certainly caused me a lot of grief in Junior High and High School. That said, only an immature idiot would make fun of it as an adult.
Isaac Asimov wrote both science fiction and mysteries (most of you probably didn’t know that), plus if I write in the areas of science fiction, fantasy, and occasionally horror, I can’t see those being particularly inconsistent.
I’ve published before, but in the realm of non-fiction information technology, which I actually consider a plus in terms of science fiction.
The website Write Brilliant suggests that using a pen name might actually put off fans because you could be perceived as disingenuous or deceptive in some sense.
When I was first published early in the 21st century, it was a big thrill to see my name on the cover of a book. Granted, I quickly realized that authors are a dime a dozen, and tons and tons of people have their names on the covers of books (go to a really big brick and mortar bookstore or a major library to see what I mean).
In the end, I want to be recognized for my accomplishments, even if it also means being recognized for my failures (I’ve received far more rejection notices than acceptances). However, I do see the advantage of separating my personal and professional lives by creating an author’s page on Facebook. I haven’t done so yet, but will consider it more as the days and weeks pass by.
Not sure how any of that would work on twitter, though.
6 thoughts on “Concealment: Should I Have Used a Pen Name?”
I have pen names. My more erotic romance is written as Anna Fondant, though I don’t keep it a secret. I just wanted to keep it separate from “my” poetry and other stuff. But I have another name I began for something speculative, which I unpublished until I have time to add to it the way I want. The genre is quite different and I think it’s better to keep it separate. I’ve noted that writers do this, even if they later tell everyone the names in promotional materials.
As far as Facebook “friends” being jerks, that’ll never stop!
Well, it’s only one person. Those few who are left of my Facebook friends who are sometimes critical of me, do so in a way that allows for a conversation or at least “we agree to disagree.” They don’t have the ability to deliberately not publish my fiction because they don’t like my politics.
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I use a pen name for my last name, mainly because I don’t want searches for my wife and her fledgling business to bring me up.
I also just think pen names are kind of cool, but that’s just me.
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Cool, true, however, I guess I want the recognition as “me.” My wife surprised me some months back when she encouraged me to write for publication. She actually had a conversation with our grandson about it. I don’t think she’s ever read a single thing that I’ve written, but then, she’s never been a science fiction or fantasy fan. I don’t suppose she’s particularly concerned about any fallout.
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That’s awesome! Go for it then with your real name.
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I think I may have exacerbated the problem by posting a link to this missive in a writer’s group. All links have to be approved by the admin, so no big deal. That usually happens within 30 minutes or so. It’s been hours and no word, so once again, I’m guilty of a social and political gaffe.