Pseudonyms and Doubts

Posted by on May 3, 2011 in General Chaos | 5 comments

With the exposure of this story on the writer forums and blogs, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Since I began writing I have been of the opinion that you should be proud of your writing–as well as your name–and that pseudonyms aren’t necessary in this era of electronic and self-publishing.

The article concerns a high-school teacher who was exposed as a writer of erotic fiction under a pseudonym. Apparently some parents believe that a person like that shouldn’t be teaching children. I’m not going to touch the issue of how wrong it is that she is judged that way; it’s been done to death on a million blogs. Instead I’m going to blather on about the other issue, pseudonyms and why we might need them.

Pseudonyms have a long history with good reason, and maybe I’ve dismissed the idea too quickly. Let’s face it; it will be a long time before I am able to quit my day job in favor of writing full time. What will happen if someone I know at work happens to see my name on Amazon? I don’t write erotica, but I do write adult fiction, with disturbing themes that would be troubling to some. It could be embarrassing.

I’m not even really that concerned about my current job. I might be embarrassed the first time someone asks me why I wrote about slavery and magic, but I would live through it and have doubts that I could be fired because of it–I don’t work with children and never speak with outside customers. What happens if I decide to change jobs or I get laid off and I have to start a job search? All employers these days do web searches on prospective employees. Will being a fiction author impact my ability to get hired in the future? Honestly, I have no idea.

My gut response is of course not. Every one of us has hobbies and things we like to do in our spare time that have nothing to do with our work lives. Why should mine be held against me? Considering the backlash against Ms. Judy May, I can no longer believe that everyone shares that opinion.

The simple answer to this issue is that once this position ends, for whatever reason, I go on to freelance or a similarly “authorly” pursuit where my fiction wouldn’t be held against me. Is that realistic though? I’ve never held a paying writing job, and I make a good living doing what I do now. It’s really a difficult question, and I don’t have an answer.

I am proud of my writing and I want to stand on my roof and tell everyone that I’m an author and here is what I’ve written, but so few of us manage to make a real living doing this. It frightens me to make that leap and never look back. I’m not the starving artist type. I like to have money to travel and do the things I want to do.

Do you have similar concerns? I’d like to hear about them.

5 Comments

  1. I write under a pen name. Mainly because if you Google my real name you’ll see what I do. Nothing wrong with what I do (according to most), but it’s not writing. I want (future) fans to think of me only as a writer, not doing that other thing.

    I’d hoped my ID would remain private to others in my social circle, who don’t read books where people swear or castrate men they dislike, but I think eventually I’ll be “outed.” I’ll tell them I’m schizophrenic and my doctor told me to do something constructive when I’m Everett.

  2. I started out a few years ago with a pseudonym, then dropped it because it was confusing. It was a lot to keep track of, making sure I was logged into the “right” google account before posting on a blog and so on. I reevaluated my reasons for writing under a pseudonym and decided they didn’t truly outweigh the hassle.

    My main reason for the pseudonym were to maintain privacy for myself and my family should I ever reach Stephen King status. Aside from the fact that’s unlikely to happen, I took a look at some of my favorite famous authors and determined (as well as I could) that their private lives hadn’t been terribly impacted by their writing fame. Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Orson Scott Card all seem to be left well enough alone, private-life wise, by their fans.

    My second reason was to avoid having people I don’t like read my books (ex-husband and several others around him). Well, heck. As long as they pay for the books, I might as well not mind, no?

    I do publish a blog on an entirely separate facet of my life under a pseudonym, partly to please my husband and partly to avoid repercussions for my work, so I think that is a very valid argument.

  3. Interesting discussion. I seriously considered using one but decided that promoting TWO names was just more than I was prepared to take on.

  4. Fascinating blog post :).

    I write fantasy/sci fi under my real name (this one), but am about to release a romance novel under a pen name simply because it’s in a different genre.

    I don’t want people who enjoy my work as Rebecca Knight confused over why the hell I have romance on my same Amazon page. I know several authors do this successful, so we’ll see how it goes. If it turns out being a hassle, the beauty of indie publishing is I can always change back.

    I’m flexible.

  5. The point about different genres is a good one as well. Some readers are loyal to only one and anything else would make them angry once they recognize your name. Eventually I hope to publish in quite a few, only because multiple genres interest me. At that point will I want to have a few names? I don’t know.

    I’m still not sure what I’m going to do. Decisions, decisions. 🙂

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