Pseudonym, nom de plume, pen name… fifty years ago there were a number of reasons why an author might choose to use a different name.
- Marketabiliy or trying to sell books as a female author in a male skewing market.
- Genre specificity or ‘I write as this persona for sci-fi and this persona for contemporary romance.’ This also ties into the ability to reinvent yourself.
- Privacy. Perhaps you want to keep your private life especially private.
Then the internet came along and with social media, blogging, the expectation to build a platform it’s a whole different world today for authors. One day, I found myself considering how this new world impacts the reasons one might use a nom de plume.
To be frank, I don’t know that the internet has had much impact on the use of pseudonyms when it comes to marketing books. There’s still the idea that boys won’t read a book written by a female author. There’s a number of authors who choose to use their initials, possibly to market their book more broadly, possibly for other reasons. I would be fascinated by an alternate universe where Harry Potter was written by Joanne Rowling and how the sales figures compare.
Twenty years ago, writing with alternate names in different genres would assure readers of what to expect. A ‘Katy Rollins’ novel would be full sweet, heartfelt romance while a ‘Mary Clarkson’ novel could be counted on for edge of your seat suspense.
And while there still are advantages to that, what you lose, especially in a DIY world, is leveraging a shared readership. You have a brand as an author – a website, a twitter account, a goodreads profile. Readers, when they find you, can find all the books you’ve written across lots of genres and know your sci-fi book is as good as your contemporary romance (one would hope). It’s a great way to showcase your versatility.
Because if people really like how you write suspense, they may also like the tension you write into a romance. And if you write characters well, one would hope you write them well in all genres. Why work to build a readership with one name and then start all over again with a new name in a different genre?
On the other hand, a great website in many ways strengthens your ability to write with different names across different genres and foster a single readership. Your readers know you write as Beth Smith and Jean Deaux and they know if it’s a Beth Smith book then it’s going to be all sci-fi and adventure and a Jean Deaux novel is going to be all romance and banter.
It would allow you to leverage both versatile marketing by genre with a stable of readers who know who you are across all those names. And you can promote all your books without the need for multiple social media accounts for each nom de plume.
In the traditional publishing world, changing your name can remains a common way to rebrand yourself. If your first book didn’t sell well it might be easier to pitch your trilogy to editors with a new name. Because sometimes it’s better to be a “brand new” author than to be one with poor sales or, maybe even worse, bad reviews.
The biggest impact of the internet on the decision to use a nom de plume might be privacy. Whatever name you use, people can find pictures of you around the internet. Maybe you care about that sort of thing and maybe you don’t.
They can find you on different social media outlets. Maybe you want that to build your brand, maybe you want two separate accounts so you can share photos of your kids with friends and family and not with fans.
If someone is really determined, they could probably find where you live.
They can find your job history and where you went to school. Not sure what they’d do with the information but as soon as you use your name, the internet creates all sorts of trails that lead to you.
Some people are more comfortable with this than others. Many authors are ok using their real name but choose not to post their spouses or children’s names. For those concerned about maintaining their privacy, whether on the internet or in their social circles, using a pseudonym is perhaps the easiest way to separate your writing life from your real life.
There’s always going to be different reasons someone chooses the name they write under. Whether it’s your initials or a different last name, your real name or an entirely new one, playing with your name is also playing with your persona. The biggest impact of the internet is to craft that persona, to build a platform as an author and present yourself to your audience as splendidly and authentically as you present your novels.