. . .By any other name. . .

As promised, a few thoughts on writing under another name. Otherwise known as using a pseudonym, pen name, nom de plume, alias. . . I’ve actually done this myself. Once. For a competition I was a bit unsure/embarrassed about entering, and it actually encouraged the use of another name. The thing was I spent ages coming up with something, because I knew it was important to be comfortable with your choice, and then not long after I’d hit send I started thinking. (Always dangerous I know) But I started thinking that I’d chosen the wrong name, and it sounded like a real name and it was all wrong for this. And even forgetting the name itself, why was I submitting for something that encouraged anonymity, and that I was apparently uncomfortable entering?

Long story short: I entered, I panicked and regretted it. I not only wasn’t selected but was advised to read their stuff to see what they were looking for. Finished.

What I took away from this? Be wary of pseudonyms. They add an extra layer of tension, work and worry to something that can be stressful enough on its own. Also, if you’re uncomfortable writing something there’s probably a reason and it will show through in your work.

I think it’s a shame that some people feel they need to hide who they are, for whatever reason. Even if you say it’s for business reasons – that it’ll help the book sell better, that you use one name for your ‘serious’ writing and another for your lighter stuff, because it’s a actually a collaborative piece. . . Why should a scientist be ridiculed and loose credibility because they write fiction in their spare time, and why can’t someone who writes gritty crime novels also write fluffy romances? Should all this be put on the readers; that a writer uses different names so that their loyal fans don’t get confused? I could be on my own here, but if I like an author who writes crime and I see they’ve written a romance, I’m not going to assume they’re written in the same way and get upset if they’re not. Different genres generally require different styles of writing; that’s something of the point. In fact it might encourage me to try reading something I wouldn’t normally.

Of course that assumes the author can write successfully in other genres!

Here’s a funny thing though: Women write as men to get their work published; men write as women to encourage sales. People with unusual names change them to sound ‘normal’, while people with names they feel are boring change them to something more outlandish. I think it’s partly to do with diversity and gender and all that, something you’d think we’d be past fussing and/or obsessing over these days (I said as much here) but it seems maybe we’re not. Or at least not as far past it as I believed. Then there’s that age-old condition of people wanting something they don’t have, or seeing something as ‘better’. I want curly hair not straight, their bike’s better than mine, but everyone else has/is/gets to. . .

Anyway, here’s a quick run-down of what (at present) I understand to be true about writing under another name:

  • You want to be sure of why you’re doing it, and if it’s really necessary.
  • Be careful what you pick, because if you get something published under the name, you’re stuck with it.
  • If you already have a fan-base and you write under another name, you’re going to have to start building support all over again. And if you want to keep the two separate you’ll have to maintain more than one online presence. (That’ll include websites, blogs, social media etc.)
  • Don’t underestimate the emotional impact. You may end up feeling like you’re hiding, and that can get you down. Or you might go the other way and find it liberating.
  • It can give you freedom to write as someone else, or help you ‘get into character’ if your writing styles for different genres are very different.

It was once famously written:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;”

(Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

Yet while it’s is true that changing a name doesn’t change the essential nature of a thing, it can facilitate outward change and allow a person to become something different than they were. It can affect emotions, expectations and prejudice, as well as how you and your work might be viewed by family, publishers, other professionals, and the public.

A rose never had it so hard; all it had to do was smell as sweet.

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