I’ve written about pseudonyms on this blog before. They have a long history in literature and the arts, and even nowadays on the Internet, many people choose to comment on blogs or maintain their Twitter presence under a pseudonym.
Some authors have pseudonyms because their real name doesn’t seem right, for whatever reason (it may be hard to pronounce, hard to spell, or just doesn’t sound like an “author”). Typically these people have their entire online persona and write all their books under this pseudonym, so for them, it’s not as much of an issue.
There are others who write different genres under different names. And still others who are re-launching their careers under a different name to escape unhappy sales figures from a previous writing life. Other authors have the same name as a celebrity and take on a pseudonym to avoid confusion.
But I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time we rethink the idea of pseudonyms for authors. This isn’t easy (some of my own clients took on a nom de plume at my advice), but times change and it often requires we change our thinking. What makes me bring up this whole topic?
I somewhat agree with Nathan Bransford’s blog post last Thursday in which he says, “On the Internet, there is no such thing as a brand. There is only you.” In the article he talks about how people online want authenticity. When we’re interacting with others via social media, we don’t want to interact with a “brand” or a false front, we want to interact with a person. I think it’s difficult to be a real person, be “you,” when you’re not actually “you.”
Of course, my clients who have pen names feel like they are actually “themselves,” just under a different name. They haven’t invented someone new and different. The pen name is not a false front, it’s just a different name.
There’s also the fact that much of what we see online is not, in fact, authentic. There are lots of fake names, lots of anonymous commenters, and most of all, there is a lot of marketing. Is that really “authentic”? Can we really say that the internet is all about being real? The question remains… how important is authenticity and do pseudonyms jeopardize it?
If you have two or more names, managing social media can become a real problem. Staying on top of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. is hard enough with ONE name; trying to do it for two or more personas can be absolutely crazy-making (or impossible).
There’s the issue of the author photo. Can you use the same photo if you’re out there on the Internet under two or more names? And the author website—do you give your secret away or do you have separate websites for your different pen names?
It’s all so complicated! What’s the answer?
In a situation where an author has written in one genre and wants to publish in another…I’d like to say that they should just keep one name. But will readers be confused by an author who writes both upmarket women’s fiction and YA paranormal romance? Maybe so. I could see a website with separate tabs—whole separate sections of the site—for each genre. But would that be even more difficult to manage? Perhaps having separate names for different genres makes things easier for the author, not harder.
What about situations where an author has poor sales figures but has a new book with terrific potential? I wish publishers and booksellers would go ahead and try again with that author under their same name. Let’s stop trying to pull something over on readers. Let’s give authors a chance to reinvent themselves without having to re-invent their name. But would there be a problem selling it to readers?
In this world where many of us are present and visible 24/7 on the Internet, pseudonyms are going to be more and more difficult to manage, and less effective at accomplishing their goals. It’s a dilemma.
We’re not going to completely get away from pseudonyms, since there are real reasons people use them. However, for now I’d say, only use one if it’s crucial – if there’s no other way. And if you use one—it’s best to use only one name in your online presence—website, blog, Facebook, Twitter. Just inhabit that name and become it.