Thursday, April 13, 2006

Pseudocarps, Pods and Nyms

A subject that gets batted around now and then: the reasons, use and value of a pseudonym, an alias.
The word alias has such a style plus recherche sound. Devious, even criminal. Like an AKA on police reports.
Suggestive of night life, naughtie negligees and nefarious intent.

However, the reasons why writers chose a pseudonym are almost entirely practical, mundane, and reasonable.

1. They are mid-list authors attempting to break out,( break-out sounds rather Big House, doesn't it?) and revitalize their careers.
2. Writers who change or add genres, very different from their usual haunts. Not necessarily the same thing as above.
3. Writers who wish to avoid repercussions that might arise from the contrast with their usual non-fiction day job and their stories.
4. Writers living in a disapproving social milieu -which can be vicious.
5.Writers playing the "alphabet game" and figure that a name from the early part of the alphabet will get them positioned better on shelves, Amazon, and the like.
6. Writers with names they feel will not play well on book covers. (This may be a false fear ( considering some names on best-seller lists ) but is nevertheless a real one, especially by a first-timers dipping their little pods in publishing waters.
Number 6 has a sub-section: Who would want to be a writer named Dan Brown querying an agent right now, with the inevitable thump when the agent realizes you are not HE.
7. Writers who feel that a certain type of name will enhance their genre: such as "Desiree Montaigne" - erotic fiction.
8. Writers who avoid certain perceived reader prejudices: men can't write romance - women can't write war or murder. Solved sometime not with a pseudonym but with initials.
9. Personal reasons. Some people are just shy and use a pseudonym as a protective barrier, a privacy fence, so that any criticisms of their writing are separate and distant from their essential self. With others, it's basically a role-playing exercise, an identity creation of a persona they might like to be or be perceived as - mysterious/dangerous/exotic, etc.

Some of you have pen names. Some do not. Some use pseudonyms for blogs only. Some do not. Many of us have considered the pros and cons.

I've often wondered if I should have chosen a fake first name, considering my own might sound hard.
And when I read on google some of the di-does others have been up to with the same name... which, I suppose, makes...
#10 - your name is associated with a character or events - such as mass murder - that might not be conductive to editorial interest or book sales.

What's your take on the subject?


Sandra Ruttan said...

A little author profile I find amusing:

Duane Swierczynski
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Swierczynski is the author of The Wheelman, just out from St. Martin's Minotaur, as well as other books about crime and vice. He's also the editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper. Laura Lippman on Swierczynski: "The hardest surname to spell since Pelecanos!"

Tough names didn't stop Duane or Janet Evanovich. And Duane's very well-known in my circles.

I think if people use a pseudonym, they do have to own up to their real name. All the authors I know who write under a different name do. And then I just find it a bit confusing, like "why do you write under a different name?" Because it isn't to have a name more suited to their genre. The example that comes to mind is a real person with the initials DW who writes as Natasha Cooper - she writes mysteries. See? Natasha Cooper really doesn't have anything to do with selling mysteries.

I write under my maiden name for one basic reason: I was published under my maiden name before I got married. I spoke to an advisor about it, and was advised to continue writing under my maiden name.

The only other time it makes a lot of sense to me is when an author is so well known for a certain series or style of writing, and they have new material being released that's in a slightly different vein. For example, Ian Rankin wrote three books as Jack Harvey (there is meaning to the pseudonym fans would get). But the covers all say, "Ian Rankin writing as Jack Harvey." And they get shelved in the R section in the bookstores.

Considering I've already had some pseudo-stalker email, have seen authors impersonated by frauds, and had a number of other disturbing experiences, I'm cautious if someone blogs under a different name but won't tell me in correspondence via email what their real name is. Not like I email everyone and ask, but if I do get email from someone, I'd expect them to be willing to tell me. Anyone who's ever asked knows what my married name is - it isn't that hard to figure out.

It boils down to being a peer, I guess. All authors I personally know who write under different names don't operate with them out of the "public" sphere, so when someone won't tell me their real name, it strikes me as suspicious and odd.

Gabriele C. said...

I use one becasue
a) I want to keep my fiction and non fiction separate, esp. with the pompous attitude in German academics,
b) my real name would get misspelled and mispronounced all the time,
c) I don't want my uncle to find my blog. :)

Bernita said...

Very sound reasons, Gabriele!

Thank you, Sandra, that provides an interesting twist. If you haven't already blogged about the stalkers and oddities, I hope you will.

Previous reputation/publishing credits is an absolutely solid reason to continue.
(I know a number of people who maintain their professional name for their professional contacts while using their married name socially and privately. Saves all sorts of bureaucratic problems.)

I might have done something similar, except one day I sounded out my initials I was using and decided " be-ach" might not be a good thing...

James Goodman said...

I don't use a pen-name (as of yet), but I might consider it if I decide to write outside of my chosen genre.

Ric said...

Interesting topic, he said, trying to find a suitcase with a zipper that works....

Was a concern due to the fact that I have a loyal contingent of readers from my newspaper column (mostly old school teachers, but, hey). I was worried that my novel would cause more than a few blushes might not be what they expected.
Using a couple as beta readers, worked out as they were intrigued that I could write something more ambitious. So my name goes on everything.
Personally, the whole Richard Bachman thing still annoys me. I understand the reasoning behind it, but it was just stupid - and messes up my carefully arranged bookshelves.

Dennie McDonald said...

I am just dorky enough that when I first sold, I want *my* name on everything - I toyed w/ a pseudonym but went w/ the real me...

For The Trees said...

I have three pseudonyms on file, waiting just in case. I probably won't use them unless something odd pops up, and then I'd put my own name inside on the copyright.

Still, I have those names, even if I may never use them. I like my own name way too much. It's got a ring to it...

Bernita said...

All four of you have what I would call "good names" both first and last to appear on a cover - Dennie, James, Forrest and Ric.
Gothic writers used to be published under hyphenated or triple names. I rather liked it. Wonder if there is a "style" according to genre.
Mysteries preferring the short and sharp. Romances, the more soft and extended.

Safe and pleasant trip,Ric.

What bugs me most is a re-issue under another title - to grab up and then find I already have it when I get home.

Anonymous said...

I think your name has a nice look to it. I wouldn't change it for difficulty reasons. Swierczynski is forever going to be battling the misspellers and mispronouncers, though. He's fine with it, I guess. I'm not sure I would be. Just imagine someone hearing the name, then running to Borders to buy a copy. They might get frustrated trying to find it. Am I a marketing whore? Yes.

As you know, Mom, I'm a pseudonym-er because of my day job. Like Gabrielle said, fictional fancies are not always consistent with the expectations of a profession.

Bernita said...

This has to be the most solid reason for choosing a pseudonym - that writing under one's own name might damage one's bread-and-butter/one's basic livelihood because of expectations about certain professions.
This and the attitudes of one's family/ close social group.
One does not need to borrow trouble.

Dennie McDonald said...

the funnt thing... I have ALWAYS hated my middle name but when it came time for publishing.. I used:

Denise Belinda McDonald

just flowed to me

don't know

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I don't know if I'd ever use a pseudonym...never thought about it.

When I was buying domain names, I bout my name and my name as initials in case it is decided that I need to mask that I am a female. The best and funniest me....

My initials.....BS Calhoun!!!ROFLOL!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Apparently it's too early and too few cups of coffee to be able to spell! I bought...I bought!!!

Erik Ivan James said...

I use a psuedonym for the same reasons as Jason. And, because of the profile I chose to put on my blog. The profile is true.

I do, however, try to remember to let fellow bloggers know I use a psuedonym when I have email correspondence with them. Maybe not during the first correspondence, but if correspondence continues I will.

Bernita said...

Denise Belinda McDonald -
is very pretty and suitable for a writer of romantic fiction.

B.S. Calhoun - and you don't deal in it at all!
But when people know it's a name, I doubt if the tangents click in.
I used initials to be gender neutral, but I think fiction readers prefer a full name - as more of a valid identity.
Still, there are lots of successful writers who just use initials.

Savannah Jordan said...

Well, I chose a penname for the erotica to protect the innocent bystanders in my life -- don't need the family falling prey. And, MIL would have a stroke (or die of embarassment)if she found out what I write; especially considering the first story I ever wrote was Christian Juvenile fiction! *seriously*

Plus, I really like the name I choose. :)

Not everyone appreciates the beauty in what I write; be it visceral or erotic. They don't want to go there, and don't necessarily want to know, or want it known, that I do.

As for not liking your given name, or concerns about it on the cover, etc. Yup. That's why I went with my initials for my upcoming release. I hate my first two names. Never mind the fact that NO ONE pronounces my last name correctly...

Dennie McDonald said...

my "bosses" - have the same name (STAY-AT-HOME-MOM y'know) and it's a married into name so my family isn't affected at all. His however... if they have a problem they haven't mentioned it - but truly there are few McDonalds left in his family that are over 15 so I am good for now, when they get older the lot of them may not like it - but hopefully I will have sold enough books...

Bernita said...

Perfectly understandable, Erik.
That's cautious honesty.

Carla said...

Same reasons as Gabriele, with the exception of (c).

Bernita said...

Obviously the reasons described here are the most sensible and logical.
(1) existing fan-base(Sandra/Ric)
(2) professional side-effects( Gabriele/Jason/ Erik/ Carla)
(3) as Savannah says "to protect the innocent by-standers."

ivan said...

Using a pseudonym:

Being like a grazing dinosaur, I am multicultural, with two brains, so I have the luxury of thinking twice about a matter before doing anything...But then being North American, there is a brashness and I generally let fly.
The great Joseph Conrad used a pseudonym of course, writing first in Polish, then translating to French, then retranslating into English. His original name was almost unpronounceable. (Conrad and I should have hung around together?). But ah, Conrad was a writer's writer.
The submission process is simple.
You just put down you title, say,
by Sally Smug,
and then your real name and address bottom left (at least it was so in the old days).
I have had to use pseudonyms in the past especaially as a rock critic, where my own name just woldn't do in a fast field. John Pope was the monicker and after some success, I halfway thought I was Pope John. Maybe it was a good thing the Toronto Telegram sank.
I found that in entertainment writing anyway, the publisher will suggest a pseudonym to you, especially if you're writing half the magazine and you're just too damn prolific.
Lately, I have developed a gallows humour towards all this, thinking, "what the hell, it's not going to be published anyway, so why bother with the pseudonym?"
Ah, but there was hope. Support from unexpected quarters. I did my university thesis on MAD Magazine.
I checked out MAD's website recently and what do I see? Part of my thesis, attributed to my original name.
Think I'll keep it.

Bernita said...

I believe they prefer that data on the upper left these days, Ivan.

For The Trees said...

I think I learn as much from the comments section as I do from the post section. This is amazing, stuff I'd never have thought of. Makes me think.

An unusual process, I admit.

Bernita said...

That's so true!
It's the comments which make a blog, Forrest.

ali said...

I think my name's quite nicely positioned in the alphabet - on the YA shelves between Phillip Pullman and J.K Rowling, which is probably a place gettin a lot of attention. But there's already an Alison Ritchie who writes and illustrates children's books, so I might use my initials or something. Assuming I ever get published, of course :).

I understand the reasoning behind having one - but I agree with Dennie. I want my name on it.

Sam said...

Hi Bernita!
my pen name is because I write YA fiction and adult fiction and wanted to keep the two separate. LOL.

Bernita said...

Similar to the Elizabeth Peters - Ellis Peters thingy.Didn't seem to hurt either of them.
You WILL get published,Ali, your contest win is only the beginning.

Sam, you're the third - to avoid genre confusion. Very practical.

Dakota Knight said...

I am a fan of pseudonyms. For someone such as myself, who writes in four different genres, I have to be able to separate everything out. I don't want my YA readers getting their hands on my adult urban fiction. I don't think my potential sci-fi fans will be particularly interest in the previous two mentioned. Plus, I write mystery/suspense novels. It may sound extreme, but I think its necessary. Now, I don't think I have to hide my real name, but I don't advertise it either. When I go to conferences or meet fellow authors on a personal level, I use my real name. But other than that, I am quite content with my different personalities.

Bernita said...

Four - to avoid confusion.
I must say I think "Dakota Knight" is a great name.

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