A rose might smell as sweet, but what is in a name? Well, as an author, quite a lot. Your name is your brand. A lot of authors do publish under their own name, but not everyone wants to do this, so why pick a pseudonym?
The most obvious choice is to hide a real identity. Andy McNab isn’t really Andy McNab. Though his identity can now be easy found, when first published, it was important he not be easily identified. That smoke screen was also a useful marketing ploy. Being able to up the mystery factor that way only reinforces the overall impact of the story, it’s a gift to a marketing manager. Mind, if your real name is Andy McNab, you pretty much now need to write under a pseudonym now.
There are bound to be people who don’t want their real identities known because what they’ve written may not fit with their everyday lives. Someone serving in any emergency service, the armed forces or otherwise sensitive profession may need to separate their real life and writing life. I know a magistrate who writes lovely romance fiction, but she doesn’t do it under her real name.
A friend of mine publishes erotica and always has difficulty with authors not promoting their own books because they didn’t want the wider world to know they write erotica.
Pseudonyms may just be a society / family choice. Charlotte Bronte originally published as Currer Bell, because society and most particularly, her parson father, wouldn’t have approved of her writing.
Someone who writes in multiple genres may want to separate by-lines. Iain Banks famously wrote mainstream fiction, but when writing science fiction, he became Iain M Banks to distinguish the two.
Writing partnerships may want to simplify the by-line. Recently Ambrose Parry hit the shelves as Christopher Brookmyre now writes with this wife, Marisa Haetzman, those two names on one cover wouldn’t be easy to read.
The fact that I know who Ambrose Parry is also hints at something else to take into consideration. When using a pen name, remember the readership may feel cheated if the author’s real identity is later revealed. Author names, real or pseudo, are a brand, and only the writer using them can decide how up front they want to be about the person behind that brand. This works both way, remember that Robert Gilbrath wasn’t selling all that well until it was ‘accidentally leaked’ that he was JK Rowling, then the book hit the number one slot.
There are times when a writer needs to disassociate from their past. This is unusual, but if a book flops, or causes other issues, then a name change might be in order to revitalise a career and shake off past failure.
It is also worth considering gender when looking at pseudonyms. For years I assumed PD James was a man its only really this century that women writing crime has become more acceptable. As we move into a more woke era and underrepresented populations are seen more in literature, it’s possible that non-gender specific by-lines will work better.
To give a real life example, I’m Gail – Hi, nice to meet you – but don’t go looking for by-lines of Gail Williams because you’ll find two other authors by that name. Both are Americans, one is a vet writing non-fiction, and the other sells romance ebooks.
I write contemporary crime as GB Williams. The reasons for this are many, the two Gails mentioned above are good reason though. I’ve also had short stories published as Gail Williams, these include steampunk, erotica and horror, not necessarily the best associations for crime writing. Though clearly, I’m not actually hiding the link.
I also write steampunk novels which are an entirely different from my crime writing. These I write as Abi Barden. Barden, like the B of GB, is my middle name. The Abi because while Gail, my full name, is derived from Abigail, so I widened and truncated. I chose different names because I don’t want young adult readers of steampunk picking up my crime books and thinking that they are in for the same sort of thing, they aren’t. Abi is much gentler than GB.
Pseudonyms come with added complications.
These days readers want to know who a writer is, so we all have to have social media platforms. With two personas, I have two social media IDs, as GB Williams and Abi Barden, on some sites I also have a personal account. This can make finding sufficient content tricky, as is knowing which persona to post on. Especially cat pictures. SM goes nuts for cat pictures, I get more likes and followers from cat pictures than anything else.
Even in real life multiple names can cause issues. At one conference I was introduced to a well-known writer and the name totally threw me, because it was not the name on her books. Sometimes when I’m asked to autograph a book, I have to check the by-line to ensure that I sign the right name.
Remember that contracts will remain in the name of the real person, you can’t make binding contracts under a false identity. Similarly, copyright must remain with the real person, check your local laws in that regard.
Some argue that the digital age makes the use of pseudonyms irrelevant. They cite reasons like changing levels of control traditional publishers have over writers, point out that secrets don’t stay secret, and if you change name, you have to start your career from scratch. All valid points.
Using a pseudonym is entirely a matter for personal choice, let your own circumstances guide you. Remember, nothing about writing is easy, not even selecting a name.
- Pick wisely. Check no one else uses that name.
- Build the on-line platform/persona.
- Be ready to present that persona whether its you or nearly you, so someone entirely different.
Think carefully if you want to use a pseudonym. Write under any name you want – just make sure your writing doesn’t stink, we don’t all always churn out roses.
(c) G.B. Williams
About The Chair:
On a snowbound Cader Idris, death comes stalking.
Cobb retreated to Cader Idris for a solitary life of peace and quiet, and to escape his dangerous past. Though that illusion starts to crumble after he and Branwen Jones, the local vet, find a mysterious RTA victim and shelter him in Cobb’s home.
When elements of London’s criminal underbelly reach Wales, and their presence throws the close-knit community into stark relief, the chance to settle old scores could prove too tempting.
With no choice but to try and hide the RTA victim from people who want to kill him, Cobb’s not sure he’s ready to rejoin the world he’s running from, when that means putting another woman in the firing line. Meanwhile, Branwen’s not sure she can face the revelation of her darkest secret.
But as they face the final showdown, a race over the snowed-in mountain, will anyone survive unscathed?
Order your copy online here.