Writing under a pseudonym is hardly revolutionary. It’s been done since the beginning of novels, and is still practiced by authors of all stripes for any number of reasons. John LeCarre, for instance, is really David Cornwell. John Sanford is John Camp, winner of a Pulitzer Prize. Anthony Boucher was William Anthony Parker White. George Eliot was Mary Ann Evans. And on and on. Why would you use a pseudonym? I asked a bunch of writers on Facebook and their answers are as varied as their fiction. Let’s start at the top, the most popular reason to change your nom de plume.
1. You’re writing in another genre. The most popular application of the pseudonym, for marketing purposes, to signal to fans not to expect what they’ve been getting from you in the past, and, naturally, to get some new fans.
2. If it were the only way the book would get published. This covers a few waterfronts, mainly the one where your sales stink, the chains know it, and you have to re-invent yourself. Your work could be very similar to your earlier stuff, but you use a new name to cheat the computer programs.
3. Your writing is very different from your earlier writing. You could be in the same genre, say “mystery” or “contemporary romance” but the tone, the violence, the sexual content might be very different. You don’t want to shock anybody.
4. Any reason that would get more readers. The What-the-Hey Option. This falls under the heading of “jump-starting my career.”
5. If it was so bad you wanted to blame it on someone else. Generally a work-for-hire situation, see #7.
6. Your relatives aren’t aware you’re writing filth. You know who you are….
7. Work-for-hire situation, where it was a condition of employment. For instance, if you’re writing a Nancy Drew, or any series with a single author name like Carolyn Keene.
8. You want to beat your backlist. This is similar to “escape evil algorithms.” Your backlist didn’t sell so well, and you want to “be somebody else for awhile.” Akin to the witness protection program.
9. Better placement on the shelf alphabetically. If your name is Xavier, or Zebo.
10. To write four series at one time/to not ruin my spouse’s career/when my career had come to a total dead-end/so readers would think I am human/to write a chick lit novel/and so on.
Don’t know about you, but for me these cover just about any situation you can imagine. A marketing genius plan, bad sell-through, indifferent retailers, critical relatives, just-feel-like-it, poor editing, skewed promotion, and evil algorithms. Or, you know, shit writing. But we won’t blame it on that, will we?