It is well known that many authors use nom des plumes, or pen names, when they publish their books. Mark Twain is one of the more famous cases, as his real name was Samuel Clemens. The romance novelist Nora Robertson is also the crime novelist J.D. Robb (BTW, neither name is really hers!). And Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum is better known as Ayn Rand.
Authors use pen name for many reasons. They want to use a more catchy name for marketing purposes or they want some privacy. Some female writers, like J.K. Rowling, take names that sound more masculine in order to appeal to a certain audience. Or, the writers want to publish in different, yet conflicting genres. For example, one author may already have a line of crime thrillers books out, but may also want to write historical fiction. In that case, a pseudonym would be needed so his or her thriller fans won’t be baffled to see their favorite author start writing for a totally different genre, and so the historical fiction readers wouldn’t be turned off when they learn an interesting book was written by someone who writes edgy material.
To sum it all up, it is all about marketing.
But in this Information Age and where anyone could Google a name and find out about any particular person, is it possible for any author to maintain a dual identity?
I think it will be very tough to do so. Before the Internet, it was easy for a writer to keep their true name a secret – that is, if they revealed it themselves, as Anne Rice did when she admitted being the erotica novelist, Anne Roquelaure, many years ago.
But now, it may not be so simple, especially if one writes different genres. Thanks to Amazon and Goodreads, it is easy for word to get around that romance novelist Jane Doe also writes sci-fi books as Mary Smith. The Internet is like wild fire; it is so easy for whispers to get out. Plus, if an author uses a photo in order for his or her readers to put a face to the name – which is quite imperative for an author – it will be easy to put two and two together.
So is the pen name dead? Maybe yes, maybe no. I think a less known author will find it easier to use a pen name and conceal their true identity than a more famous one. But as I said, word gets around quick online, so it won’t be so easy for anyone to maintain total privacy.
So if pseudonyms are useless these days, how will an author go about writing in different genres? Will readers be willing to be more tolerant of their favorite authors spreading out and trying different ways to express themselves and tell a story? Will backlashes be commonplace in those situations?
Honestly, I think readers actually more open minded than that. We all read multiple genres, just like no one listen to one type of music.
It will just be interesting to see what the marketing of authors will be like in this new age.