The Importance of Author Pen Names
I was called dishonest today because I use pen names. Okay. You’re entitled to your opinion, of course. But you took the time to write to me and, while you weren’t exactly kind in making your feelings known, I read every last word. I think that gives me the right to take this opportunity to reply and share with you my reasons for writing under assumed names. It is not a “new and disturbing” practice, as you seem to think. It is, in fact, a practice as old as the art of publishing itself. It has nothing to do with dishonesty and I’m not trying to fool anybody. Neither is any other author who writes under a false name. So please allow me to set the record straight.
There are a variety of reasons for why authors write under names other than their own. After the huge success that was Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling published ‘The Cockoo’s Calling’ under the pen name Robert Galbraith because she wanted to “publish without hype or expectation.” In other words, she wanted to see if people would still enjoy her storytelling without the fandom of Harry Potter to drive it. I don’t see how an author who uses a pen name for this reason is cheating his or her reader.
In the early days of his career, Stephen King wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman because, back then publishers believed it hurt an author’s sales if they published more than one book per year. Stephen King created Bachman in order to sidestep his publisher’s restrictions. Again, I don’t see how using a pen name for this reason cheats a reader.
You don’t seem to realize that having a pen name isn’t always an author’s choice. Sometimes publishers force them to take one. The romance genre is a prime example. Most readers won’t touch either a romance or an erotic novel if it’s been authored by a man. Publishers have dealt with this for decades. Is that unfair? You bet, but that’s life, and in particular, that’s life when it comes to publishing. But it’s not only men who are discriminated against in this way. Historically, no one took female authors seriously in genres such as Science Fiction, Action/Adventure, and Spy novels. These days it’s a little easier, but even as much as ten years ago, it didn’t matter how good a novel was, a woman was required to adopt a male pen name before a publisher (and readers) would accept them in certain genres.
I have four pen names, as I’ve already said. I’ve made no secret that I write under Darla Phelps (Age Play), Denise Hall (Consensual Non-Consent/Dubious Consent), Penny Alley (mainstream Paranormal/Fantasy Romance) and Maren Smith (Domestic Discipline). As you’ve noticed, each name covers a different genre and that’s why I did it. I wanted my readers to know by the name on the cover what kind of book they’re getting. I absolutely did NOT want a reader who enjoys, say, my usual domestic discipline stories to accidentally buy an Age play or worse, a paranormal romance without any spanking in it whatsoever.
Safety is another factor, and it’s the biggest one of all. When I first published, it didn’t occur to me that I shouldn’t use my maiden name. Twenty years later, I’m now paying for that decision. Do you even want to know how many penis pictures I’ve received over the course of my career? Or how many inappropriate comments I field from men (and women!) who say they’re my biggest fan and would love to meet me, or Skype with me, or make me their secret lover, or not so secret lover, because everyone knows I write romance/erotica so…well, my morals must be questionable, right? As you were only too happy to point out, there’s absolutely no difference between what I do and prostitution. Sadly, you’re not alone in thinking that way, because over the years, as careful as I’ve been about never giving out personal information, I’ve had three different fans research where I live. One showed up at my door.
Do you have a family? So do I. So let me say that again: a reader tracked me down, flew halfway across the U.S. and knocked on my door.
No author should ever, ever, EVER use their real name because it’s not safe. Period. I’m sorry if that makes you feel betrayed, somehow. You must not realize how scary it is when someone reads your work and then builds up an alternate reality around it and you in their mind.
Authors who write BDSM erotica/romances should never use their real name because of the stigma that BDSM followers face in a world full of people who just don’t understand this thing we do and who can’t understand the difference between abuse and consent.
Unless they’ve been writing a long time and have a solid reader base, chances are most of your favorite authors have a real job. I’ve known some who were outed at work and fired because of it. I’ve known others who were ostracized by their neighbors and their churches.
Did I mention a lunatic showed up AT MY FRONT DOOR?
I’m sorry if you feel betrayed by my “dishonesty”. It was never intended to be such and yet, at the same time, I really don’t believe I owe you or anybody else an apology. I am not the bad person you want so badly to believe me to be. So please, go in peace. Have a great night, an even better weekend, and if you feel the need to argue this further, please don’t bother. I won’t be reading any more of your letters.