Friday 30 October 2015

Why we choose pseudonyms - two authors share their reasons

TWO of the authors who write for Inklings Press - including the host of this blog - write under an assumed name when it comes to fiction. Alei Kotdaishura and Leo McBride are both pseudonyms that the writers have taken on for their fictional work. We chatted to both about their reasons for putting on a mask as a writer. 

Alei Kotdaishura 

For starters, what are pseudonyms? (We may have someone who doesn’t understand the term)
I see some reasons to use them:
  • You don’t want your real name to be known
  • Your name is too common
  • Some writers use it to dissociate their usual writing style with another kind of writings they actually publish
  • Your name might be confused with someone else’s
In my case, it is a mix of the first two cases. I began using an alias when I was a teenager in order to maintain privacy. Internet was new and the paranoia about using real names was high, especially with parents that didn’t understand much about computing. Besides, I liked the idea of having an alternate self with a name chosen by myself.
As the years passed, I began using my real name, but since I studied Chemistry, I still hope to be able to publish some scientific articles in the future, even though I am more focused on the administrative areas of the pharmaceutical business, so having an author name and a scientifically recognized name separated works for me.
For example, Mayim Bialik has a PhD in Neuroscience. I don’t know whether her acting name is the same she uses for her scientific research, but you could question just how serious she is when you see her playing a goofy character on TV, right? That is one of the cases where a pseudonym actually works.

For the third case, one of the latest examples is JK Rowling, who used a pseudonym in order to publish something different than the Harry Potter series. I don’t recall the name of the book [Editor's note: The Cuckoo Calling, published under the name Robert Galbraith], but it might have been published after the Unexpected Vacancy, which at the time of publishing was expensive and many fans of Harry Potter bought it expecting to read another book regarding magic… Only to find out that the book was about the day-to-day life in a small English town, where almost nothing happens, and certainly, no magic. Rather disappointing and boring, actually. Yes, I read it. I knew it was not about magic, but I still wanted to see whether she could write something else and actually pull it off. To me, it didn’t but I am still interested on giving her another chance – having a popular series behind you can be a very big shadow to shake off when you want to write about other subjects.
Elena Poniatowska, a Mexican writer since the 60s, at the beginning of 2000 entered a contest for new authors using a pseudonym and actually won the first price. When asked, she explained that she wanted to know whether she was still good at her writing, or whether she heard her books were good due to flattery. (Personally, I am still angry at her about this. She robbed the chance of success from a beginner because of self-esteem problems. But that’s just me.)

Now, advantages:
  • You can keep going with your life without fame bothering you (if you become famous, of course!).
  • You can actually write different kinds of books and articles without both identities being confused.

  • Unless someone actually sees your face on the book cover or blog or facebook page, they won’t believe you truly are a writer.
  • You may not be able to demonstrate your identity for writing events where you’re invited if they have your pseudonym instead of your real name
Leo McBride

It was an easy choice for me to use a pseudonym. My real name is Stephen Hunt - and as fans of fantasy and science fiction will likely know, there is already an author by that name, whose Jackelian series of steampunk-influenced magical fantasy I've even reviewed in the past (Mr Hunt's website is here). I tell you, it's hard when you see your name on the cover of a book not to feel envious and wish you'd done it already! As an aside, he's well worth a look, tremendously fun writing. 
More than that, though, because I work in newspapers and my name is publicly out there on a regular basis, it's useful to create that separation between my factual work and my fiction. 
Finally, there is a personal reason in that the surname I've chosen is a tribute to my mother, who always encouraged my writing. And yes, choosing that name means I can never have that particular security question!
I think there are definite advantages and disadvantages. I'm open about writing under a pseudonym and have put my face to articles appearing in the press about my work but if you're using it for anonymity reasons, then it's a hindrance to a publicity drive. Of course, historically there are the cases where women wrote under a male pseudonym in order to have their work viewed in a different light - thankfully, those days are gone but perhaps we have our own modern demon in that context with the harassment that many female writers - heck, women in general - suffer online. 

An article featured in The Tribune in The Bahamas highlighting the writing of Leo McBride - but how does promotion and publicity fit alongside writing behind a pseudonym?

Also, if you're creating that pseudonym from scratch, then it is a tabula rasa, a blank slate. The pseudonym has no friends to say "Hey, I didn't know you wrote, let me buy your book!", it has no network ready there for a head start as you take your first steps out into the world saying "This is me, here's what I wrote, here is my heart." Now perhaps that gets you more honest responses to the quality of your work, I'm not sure, but it's certainly a few steps further down the hill when you get started. 
As an advantage, though, I find people accept that clear distinction - so far, at least. And those who are genuinely interested can follow more easily when you have drawn that line between the two different strands of your professional life. I'm still struggling with some aspects of that - I'm weighing up whether to launch a separate Twitter account for example, for my author identity. But then you start wondering how far that should go. I have a Facebook page already for my pseudonym, and that's easy to manage without separate log-ins - but what about Goodreads, or Google+ or Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest, all those things? There's only so much time in the day and the more time you spend on all those different things, the less time you spend actually writing - or living your life! So it's still a learning process for me and I'm sure I'll experiment with different aspects as I go. It's tricky because you give of yourself when you write, but then you don't want to push it too much onto people in the other aspects of your life. Finding the right balance is a difficult thing. 
Am I glad to have taken the path of writing under a pseudonym? Yes. It has its challenges, but for the personal reason alone, every time I have a measure of success, it's a tribute to the belief given to me in the past. And for that, I'm very thankful. 

Both Alei Kotdaishura and Leo McBride are featured in Tales From The Mists, now available on Amazon. It is available on here. For other territories around the world, check our list here. You can find both writers on Twitter, as @chippychatty and @aleikotdaishura


  1. Many commenst going throu my head right now:

    -The Elena Poniatowska thing pisses me beyond human ken. That was a jackass move. If you have issues about your writing, get rid from the yes men. Also she should have declined the award and let others win.

    -In my case, while I've tried using a pseudonym, I didn't feel conformtable. One is legal issues (like copyright being harder to secure). Another is my ego, I do want to see my name in the cover of a book, that is one of my bucket list items.

    Now, while I face the same issue than Alei about having a scientific career and a literary one and trying to keep both, I realized that due work requierments, I have to use both my surnames (in Spanish we have two) for any research related paper or conference, otherwise it won't be valid for my track career and tenure. That has freed me to use my real name but with my first last name only as pen name (also Victoria as last name sounds kickass for a writer). Considering that I'm technically Ricardo Victoria the 3rd (my family wasn't too imaginative with names) and both forefathers were/are Doctors like me (albeit in different areas), I'm already used to confusion due names.

    But then again everyone has different needs and are better than me at creating a good pseudonym. :P

  2. Those are great ideas. Once I worked for I was willing to write, but due to legal obligations wasn't able to disclose my real identity.