Many of the great writers in history wrote under a pseudonym (alias), either to protect their privacy or to conceal the fact they were female (at a time when female authors were heavily frowned upon). Pseudonyms have also meant the difference between life and death for writers and bloggers in oppressed countries. One of my favourite writers of all time is Eric Arthur Blair, but you would know him best as George Orwell.
But if you are about to bring out your debut novel, is writing under an alias the right move for you? This requires a great deal of serious thought because, once your book is out, you can’t change your mind about your author name. At least not without a great deal of hassle and confusion. You need to weigh up the pros and cons and figure out whether or not you need an alias or not.
The pros of a pseudonym/alias
The pros are basically that you have complete privacy. Nobody knows who you really are if you don’t tell them, and you don’t need to be embarrassed about your genre.
- If you choose to write extreme erotica, you won’t have to worry about what your neighbours and employer think about you. You can separate your writing life from the other parts of your life.
- If you are writing a memoir, writing under a pseudonym will help to keep you and your family private (if you change their names too.)
- If you live in an oppressive part of the world, such as the Middle East, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and so forth, then writing under an alias can save your life if you take further proper precautions (such as using a VPN and paying for your online accounts in cash or Bitcoin.)That in itself is a massive plus why you should do it.
- Finally, writing under several aliases can enable you to write under several different genres and keep the fan bases apart from one another. JK Rowling did this when she wrote the Harry Potter series under the Rowling name, and then used Robert Galbraith to write her more serious (some would say, boring) high-brow fiction.
The cons of a pseudonym/alias
But if you don’t live in a risky part of the world, you write in only one genre, and you truly don’t give a flying monkey what other people think about your writing gig, then the advantages to writing under an alias disappear entirely. It’s then that an alias will seriously hold you back.
- An alias stops you from personally appearing in marketing promotions, including YouTube videos and TV shows. What’s the point hiding your identity if you then reveal it in a video or TV interview?
- An alias makes it extremely difficult to do in-person appearances such as book signings. Again, if you’re trying to keep your real identity a secret, you can hardly go to a book store and show everyone who you really are.
- An alias robs you of the feeling of accomplishment of seeing your name on the book cover – because it isn’t your name.
To be or not to be?
Whether or not you choose a pseudonym is entirely a personal choice, and many people have made their decision and are perfectly happy with it. But conversely, I know many people who made the decision to stay anonymous and instantly regretted it. They were under the impression that a “serious author” needed to stay anonymous with some glamorous fake name, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Do what’s right for you, not what others are doing. And if you must choose an alias, choose a proper-sounding name. Not one that will make you cringe with embarrassment every time you hear it being said.
So forget about Troy Knickerbocker and opt for a more normal-sounding everyday name instead. There’s nothing wrong with John Smith or Jane Jones. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with your real name either.