To pseudonym or not to pseudonym

The use of a pen name is often discussed among writers in regards to privacy and artistic purposes. What many don’t realize is that taking a pen name is often a part of the publication process itself. Many authors choose a pen name to write across genres. For Heather Graham, who generally writes paranormal romance under her own name, she uses the name Shannon Drake when writing historical romances. Romantic suspense author, Tanya Goodwin, chose the pen name Tania Senko to write her aunt’s biography. The biography details events of her aunt’s, and Russia’s, history, which played a part in her change to a pen name geared more toward the author’s personal heritage. This technique is often employed by authors as a way to signal readers about the types of books they will be reading. For reader’s familiar with their favorite author’s pseudonyms, which many are, they know what genre of book they will be getting based on the name.

Robert Galbraith wrote the detective story entitled The Cuckoo’s Calling. Though the author’s origins had been announced as “a former member of the Special Investigative Branch of the Royal Military Police” (Grossman), it was later revealed to be the work of famed author J.K. Rowling. Rowling chose to write under a pen name in order to receive feedback without the “hype and expectation” (Grossman) that her name generated. “She called it a ‘liberating experience’” (Grossman). For many authors, it is hard to break out of the mold they have created, especially for someone whose name has become synonymous with the Harry Potter series. But most authors have a desire to grow and develop outside of their genres, especially once they have had such great success in one avenue. In order to branch out and become successful on one’s own merits, not simply by their name alone, the anonymity a pseudonym provides becomes a useful tool.

Another reason authors use pseudonyms is in order to publish more books at a time. This is true in the case of both Nora Roberts and Stephen King. King explains his reasoning for writing under the pen name Richard Bachman: “in the early days of my career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept” (Grossman). Nora Roberts also hit a similar issue when she realized her publishing company was having difficulty producing her works faster than her output allowed. Both authors chose to write under pseudonyms as a way to maximize their output and produce more publications a year.

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