Authors have used pseudonyms, or pen-names, since the beginning of well, authorship. It’s fairly likely ‘Homer’ wasn’t the real name of the poet who wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad—but nobody knows for sure! Famous authors as varied as Mary Anne Evans (George Sand), Eric Blair (George Orwell), Theodore Geisel (Dr Seuss), David Cornwell (John le Carre) and JK Rowling (Robert Galbraith) have all adopted pen-names, for various reasons. But it’s not just the famous and exalted who adopt pen-names; many of us writers have used pseudonyms at one time or another. I myself have used two—Isabelle Merlin and Jenna Austen. Each pen-name was used for very particular kinds of books: the Isabelle one for a quartet of YA romantic thrillers set in France (published between 2008—2010) the Jenna one for a duo of middle-grade/tween romantic comedies, the Romance Diaries, inspired by Jane Austen novels (both published in 2013). Each worked well within its genre, despite the fact no-one knew I was Isabelle, and it stayed that way for at least the third book, when my publisher revealed it was me; whereas neither I nor my publisher ever hid the fact I was Jenna. And nobody seemed to mind either way, though people who knew my writing under my own name were, surprisingly but gratifyingly, generally very surprised to discover Isabelle was me, as they felt the style was so different. Jenna’s style was different too, but because everyone knew it was me from the start, they adjusted to it quicker than they did than to the Isabelle style—because that name, and the enigmatic biography (which was all true, by the way, just not precise!) and ‘glamorous’ author pic (see above–and yes, it’s really me!) gave them a different experience, in keeping with the tone of the books. At least that’s my theory.
Anyway, I enjoyed the experience both times but went happily back to using my own name for my later books. But recently I started thinking about the whole question again, after reading an interesting post on a blog which argued that in the digital age it’s a silly idea to use a pen-name, especially more than one pen-name, as in these days of social media saturation you are likely to be found out, and people would be annoyed with you for tricking them. Besides, the author went on, there was much more understanding these days that writers can flit between genres, and so that reason for adopting the pen-name is no longer valid. So, was that right? Have we really gone past the time when pen-names are useful—are they more of a hindrance these days?
I don’t think so. Why not? [Read more…]