Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pseudonymously Yours

I despise pseudonyms for the sake of pseudonyms. I snort derisively whenever I see beginning writers asking what their pen name should be. I roll my eyes when people talk about not letting their family know that they write.

I'm beginning to re-think my position.

A friend of mine recently submitted poetry to the New Yorker (as of writing, we are both waiting to hear back). She wasn't sure whether she wanted to submit under her name or a pen name. I told her to use the pen name. She works with children, in the mental health field. Having her name on poetry can't help her professionalism, particularly as my favourite collection of her poetry revolves around (unnamed, unspecified) children and the medications that they're on and how the medications change things dramatically. I think they are fantastic, and show compassion and depth of feeling. Parents of children sending them to her in a professional capacity might not feel the same.

Anonymity is never absolute, but a pseudonym seemed the smartest way to go in my friend's case.

Another friend writes both futuristic thrillers and erotica. She publishes the erotica under a pen name. It makes some sense to me to publish such different genres under different imprints, and the easiest way for an indie writer to differentiate is with pseudonyms. I don't necessarily agree with the reasons she chose to publish the erotica under a pen name: she did so partly out of embarrassment at writing the genre at all and fear of family finding out and being embarrassed. I, obviously, have no such compunction.

But it occurred to me that, since I want to write both YA and romance, a pseudonym might at some point become useful. Even though I know that as a teenager, I myself was alternating YA-designated things with Laurell K Hamilton and filthy smut on the Internet, as were most of my friends, school librarians might not agree with my assessment that teenagers probably won't mind searching for another title by their favourite author and picking up something significantly less family-friendly.

It is not anonymity. It will never be anonymity. But it would be a way for readers to know what they were in for before opening the book.

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