Tuesday, June 7, 2011
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
— William Shakespeare
When I first started writing back in the last century (the 1900's not the 1800's :-), many publishers required their writers to use pseudonyms and everyone I know was itching to use their own name. I’d been advised by my agent to keep all my writing under one name and it took a nice bit of negotiation to convince one publisher that I should write future books under my own name. That was considered quite a coup d'état.
Lately, many writers assume a pen name even before they are published and I often wonder why. I know some authors hope to publish academic or political papers someday and fear that being linked with writing genre fiction might be a stigma. Others are writing edgy erotica that they might not want their grandmother’s uncorrupted eyes to see — although I’m not sure those eyes exist much anymore.
I had a personal experience with the benefits of pseudonyms when one of my romantic comedies came out shortly after my first werewolf romance, SHADOW ON THE MOON. A reviewer loved SHADOW and gave it her highest rating. Two months later the same reviewer read ONLY COUPLES NEED APPLY, the comedy, and gave it a scathing review, the kind that melts toenails. I liked both books but must admit the content were world’s apart and I suspect the reviewer was expecting a touch of S&M and was quite disappointed when I gave her M&Ms. I’d failed to live up to her reader expectations, which makes this incident a very good argument for using pseudonyms.
After all, very established writers like Nora Roberts and Jennifer Ashley use a pen name when they writer for a new genre, especially if the genres don’t cross over well. Partly it’s a financial decision involving sales figures and such, but that motive aside, I can’t see much benefit in taking on the enormous task of supporting and publicizing two or more career names. I’m sure there are many reasons that haven’t occurred to me but I’ve been giving it a lot more thought since I started writing two series, one fantasy, and the other thriller/suspense.
So what do you think? Do you have a pen name? If so, why? Is it to keep your genres separate or to keep your grandma in the dark? Or just because you like the sound of the name you chose? There’s no right answers so if you’ve got an opinion, sound off. I’m listening. You may help me make up my mind.