There are good reasons for an author to use a fake name.
If you write something so scandalous that it might get you arrested, or sued, or attacked by angry mobs, then you are probably wise to consider using a pseudonym. Or maybe if you’re already so famous and prolific that you’ve saturated the market, and your only satisfaction now will come from seeing if you can repeat your success with a false identity…in which case you should probably be killed.
But beyond those circumstances, it’s hard to understand why an author wouldn’t want to use his or her own real name. I mean, you will only live so long; why not grab what little credit you can in this life? Presumably you’ve poured hard work into your book, long months or years of effort that you will never get back. Hopefully you are proud of it. So why would you allow a fake name to be attached to it instead of your own?
Good question…and it’s one I should be ideally qualified to answer, since I recently did it myself.
I’ve spent the last year or so inhabiting the identity of one “W.G. Marshall,” fake author of the novel Enormity. My actual name is Walter Greatshell, genuine author of a number of books, including Enormity. My latest work, Terminal Island, is being published under my own name, and I have to say I prefer it that way.
So why did I use a pen name for Enormity?
I guess it goes back to something someone told me around ten years ago, when I signed the contract for my first novel, Xombies. I was asked if I wanted to use a pseudonym, and when I said no, the person replied, “Just remember: if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”
I didn’t really get it at the time. It sounded vaguely insulting, though to whom I wasn’t sure. But its meaning became more clear to me once I realized that my name was likely to be linked with the words “zombie author” for the rest of my life.
Now, zombies are great, don’t get me wrong, but I like a lot of other things just as much, and the idea that I had struggled for twenty years to become a published author only to be permanently relegated to some zombie ghetto was ridiculous—especially since my book was never intended to be a Zombie Novel at all. No such genre existed when I wrote it; it was just a novel, a tribute to books I loved as a kid, like Earth Abides and Ice Station Zebra and True Grit. Little did I know that zombie fever would soon sweep the nation, rendering my intentions moot. Like it or not, I was a zombie guy…probably forever.
Aha! Now I understood perfectly what that advice had meant. Fleas indeed—when I wrote my third book, Mad Skills, one review site dismissed it as “a new book by the author of a couple of zombie novels.” Ouch.
I wanted no such prejudices interfering with my book Enormity, so when Night Shade proposed the use of a pseudonym, I jumped at it. And I think it worked—the book was treated totally objectively and favorably, without a hint of zombie prejudice. The only problem was I got no credit for it, so there was no crossover between fans of Enormity and fans of my other work. Also, I had to maintain two identities, which meant I spent twice as much time networking, half of which felt like a waste since I was promoting the career of a nonexistent person.
In short, I didn’t like it. So with Terminal Island I gladly dispensed with the nom de plume. Not that it makes much difference, since I’m hardly a household name.
But if I’m ever going to be, that name will be Walter Greatshell.
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