Pseudonyms and the New Writer.

20 01 2008

There’s a peculiar belief amongst the SF/F/H amateur writing world (and, I would imagine, the amateur writing world at large) that to be a writer, what one really really needs is an awesome pseudonym.

Forgive me if I accidentally pluck an in-use nom de guerre from the air when I make this list of example cockamaime sobriquets, but I’ve seen ones such as:

  • Mortekai Darkholme
  • Desdemona Bloodraven
  • Wednesday Salamander
I could go on forever, but you get the idea. Now while this is all fab and groovy if you’d like to hide your identity whilst posting trashy poetry and awful slash fiction in forums and on blogs, it’s time to move on when making your very first foray into the world of actually getting your work published.

Writers go through a mid-life crisis once they’re famous and successful. What if I’m not any good these days? they wonder. What if it’s my name people are buying, not my writing skill? To appease the ego they grab themselves a pseudonym and release a new book, usually in an altogether different genre. It doesn’t sell, so someone lets out that the new book is actually by Famous Author writing under a pen name. Fans rush to buy it, Famous Author’s ego is soothed, and life returns to normal. But you, new writer, are not yet famous. You are not suffering a midlife crisis. And unless you have reason to believe that publishing a book under your real name could bring actual danger to you and yours (whistleblowing biographies are a good one for this), insisting on writing under a pseudonym makes you look pretentious and unprofessional to any agent or publisher who doesn’t specialise in Goth fiction.

Then there’s the future to consider. If you are truly serious about making writing your career, why do you want your early works to be published under a pseudonym? Are you ashamed of your output? Is there a reason that, in five years’ time, you don’t want to be associated with it? Do you genuinely want to present the articles you wrote as “Damien Heartsblood” to potential employers when you start Freelancing? And what will you say when they ask you about why you chose to use a pseudonym?

If you want to be a novellist, check your bookshelves. I’ll wager most of the authors there aren’t pseudonyms, and have relatively normal names. Yes, of course there are obviously going to be exceptions, but George Eliot knew nobody would take a female author seriously during her lifetime, and China Miéville can’t help what his parents named him.

If you want to be a writer, what you really really need is to be good at writing. If your prose stinks and your dialogue is lifeless, no amount of crazy rebranding will help you.




2 responses

21 01 2008
Ian Alexander Martin

I noticed a nom de plume in the last issue of Hub Magazine.

Could this bo co-incidence?

22 01 2008
Trudi Topham

Pure coincidence. And to be fair Pantechnicon’s also published the occasional pseudonym. If people want to do it to themselves, it’s their decision.

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