A few people have asked me this in the weeks since I released my books. The short answer, which isn’t really an answer, is “there are a lot of reasons.” Trying to respond to that multiplicity of reasons, I’ve ended up giving a variety of equally true, often overlapping, responses. This, in turn, made me think that perhaps I should do a blog post that attempts to cover my main, key reasons for my decision to write under a pseudonym.
Whether or not to use one’s own name, or to write under a pseudonym, is a decision a writer has to make when he or she chooses to put their writing “out there” in a public forum. It is also worth pointing out that there are three main possibilities in the pseudonym-real name continuum: you can write under your real name; write under a pseudonym without personal anonymity; and lastly, you can write under a pseudonym for the purposes of anonymity.
I fall under the middle category: I write under a pseudonym, but don’t have any great desire for personal anonymity. Still, for me, the reasons for the pseudonym range from rational to emotional. I’ll begin with the rational and move through the spectrum–and in the process point out what I would do differently if I were to start over, with a blank slate.
Cleaner Brand Creation. One of the reasons that the use of a pseudonym appeals to me is that I’ve done a lot of stuff over the years. I’m at law school, where I’ve written a number of blog posts for the Innovation Law Blog. I’ve written non-fiction before that, including live theatre reviews, travel articles and so on. But, when readers search for me, I want them to be able to find my fiction easily, without having to wade through other distractors. Of course, those of you who are seeking to create a brand should probably choose a more distinctive name. With some chagrin, I’ll admit that I actually fell into using this name (long story), and by the time I realised that I was developing a brand around it, I was also becoming aware of how much work was involved in building that brand. I didn’t want to start again with another name unless I absolutely had to.
Ease of Searching. This is a related point: if you choose to write under a pseudonym, pick one that is simultaneously distinctive but also easy to search. The fact is that most people misspell my real last name–so the appeal of a simpler name that people will know how to spell and therefore be able to search easily, particularly in conjunction with a book title, is major.
Professional Categorization. I’ve always felt that having different names for different types of roles made sense. I had originally planned to write different genres under different names, for instance, but having seen how much work is involved in building a brand for each name, I abandoned that notion (as mentioned above). But still, it makes sense to me to have a different name for my future lawyer self, and for my fiction writer self (and sometime blogger). It means that, on the one hand, people searching for my fiction won’t have to wade through any law-related output–and vice versa for the my future lawyer self. Google searches of my name will return law and non-fiction writing-related hits, rather than a long list of sf and romance novels that potential clients would have to wade through before finding a law-related link. It just seems cleaner, and easier, to me.
I’ve always liked the idea of multiple names for multiple personae. So I end my list with the emotional reason. This is my own personal thing. To illustrate my point, I’ll say that a fantasy trilogy I wrote years ago (which may never see the light, as it needs too much rewriting) featured a main character who had different names in each book. I didn’t plan it that way, per se–it just somehow happened (She was transforming and her persona was changing significantly with each book, and as a result of various circumstances, she’d earn her new name). Bad idea for writing and continuity and all that, but it does speak to how deeply I am drawn to the idea of many names. So the above may well be rationalizations of something far more visceral and irrational–but I also think they have practical validity.
Now, to balance things, a few quick advantages to using your real name for your writing.
-less confusing for friends and family who are trying to figure out how to buy your books and are not finding them under your name, and have: a) forgotten your pseudonym, or b) forgotten you’re even using a pseudonym.
-simpler for copyright and establishing your rights. The copyright is yours, whether you use your own name or a pseudonym, but if you want to keep your real name and your pseudonym totally separate, then it’s not as easy to determine and trace ownership (I always (c) under my real name, for simplicity, and because my main motives are for branding and clarity of association with particular types of output–not necessarily anonymity).
-simpler for the money thing–getting cheques, etc. This is particularly the case if, again, you want to keep things separate. The Kindle store and smashwords make allowances for the pseudonym/real name distinction, but if you’re also submitting to short story magazines and other such markets, you will need to make your real identity clear to the person signing the cheques if you want to be paid.
As a final note, because I’m at law school, I figured I should probably check into the legalities of writing under a pseudonym. The question arose for me, because in Ontario, if you operate a business under any name other than your own, you have to register the business name–but you can’t register personal names that are not your own, as business names. This created the conundrum for me, as writing is indeed a business–and the pseudonym, as a brand, is a key part of it and the name that people will associate with your writing as a business. I asked the Business Names people whether they had answers (they didn’t–and made suggestions about trademarking or “copyrighting” the name that actually didn’t make sense, even to a law student with just one Intellectual Property course under her belt, and was presumably indicative of their expertise in business names, not ™ or (c) ).
A google search (hoping to find a pointer to a statute or something that I could look into) yielded plenty about term of (c) under a pseudonym, versus a real name, but very little about whether there were any necessary steps to be taken, or registrations to be undertaken, before writing under a pseudonym. My friends who were pseudonymous writers also weren’t sure–they’d just started writing and had been fine (but they keep telling us in law school that we need to look into these things, because if we’re in violation, the courts’ and tribunals’ attitudes will generally be that because of our law background, we should know better and should look into it. Fair enough).
Finally, I found that the answer was right in front of my nose–not under the Business Names Act, but under the Canadian Copyright Act itself (s. 14.1, re Moral Rights), which allows for the author of a work to remain anonymous or write under a pseudonym. Now having said this, I’m not a lawyer, so if you’re really concerned about this, I’d suggest consulting someone who actually knows some in-depth stuff about this area! Good night, and good luck!