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That’s Pseu You!

I happened upon an interesting blog post as I was skimming my Flipboard this week about the upsides and downsides of using a pen name when publishing a book. Blogger Carolyn Howard-Johnson stands firmly in the “Don’t do it!” camp. In support of her argument, she cites best–selling romance novelist Nora Roberts, who apparently writes her ‘edgier’ (not sure what that means) romantic suspense novels under the pen name J. D. Robb.

Ms. Howard-Johnson goes on to list six excellent points an aspiring novelist should consider before creating that nom de plume, including the difficulty in keeping up the secret and the constant fear of getting outed [check out my The Outing of Elena post!]. She did, however, lose me when, learning of Nora Roberts’ covertness, stated “Suddenly I don’t feel the same affinity for her as a person or an author. I don’t even know her name. In one fell swoop her pen name lost some of its branding value.”

Woah! I was stunned!

Was Ms. Howard-Johnson being overly sentimental because she is a consumer of sappy romance novels? Or was she on to something here? Do readers love the author as much as the content of their work? Is my left-brain overthinking here? Surely no one cares whether Stephen King or Richard Bachman wrote a particular novel, they simply care that it’s good reading, don’t they?

[An interesting aside reference Stephen King’s alter-ego here, (which will make all us procrastinating writers wince a tad!): When King first started publishing his work, most publishing houses often limited authors to one book a year. King was so prolific, as a compromise he convinced his publisher to print other horror fiction stories using the pseudonym Richard Bachman, so the market wouldn’t be flooded by Stephen King works!]

There have been plenty of famous writers who have written under a pseudonym. Dr. Seuss’s real name was Theodore Geisel, which he only changed in order to get published in his university’s magazine, having been banned from submitting as a punishment for getting busted for the possession of bootleg gin. One Mr. Samuel Clemens adopted a boating term used for marking a steamboat’s line, to show the river tide was high enough for steamboat travel; We were introduced to the great American literary icon Mark Twain.

J. K. Rowling is also Robert Galbraith, which came as a shock to everyone when it was divulged she was the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Rowling herself was disappointed she was outed, hoping that she’d have been able to keep the secret longer because, publishing as Galbraith, “without hype or expectation,” had “been such a liberating experience. . . . without hype or expectation, get[ting] feedback under a different name.”

One of my favorite pseudonyms is Mrs. Silence Dogood, brought back into contemporary focus by the Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure. Rejected from publication by a New England paper run by his older brother, the then teenage Benjamin Franklin took to submitting autobiographical missives of one Madam Silence Dogood; a character he dreamt up to satirize Colonial lifestyle. Who knew one of our Founding Fathers was such a wag?

Does Ms. Howard-Johnson make some valid arguments about the pitfalls of using a pen name? Sure. But there again….Wait a minute! Howard-Johnson? As in the hotel/motel chain? Have we been had? Is Carolyn Howard-Johnson really some dude sitting in a motel room overlooking JFK’s Runway 4, tapping out a quick blog post before leaving to catch his flight to Poughkeepsie?

As far as I go? Call me Zoe Wright, or any other name that pleases you, but, as my hubs says, “just don’t call me late for dinner!”

What do you think? As a reader? As a writer? Do you bond with the author, or just the characters on the pages? Let us know below!

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