Sunday, December 29, 2013

What's in a name? Writing under a pseudonym

Pseudonyms are funny things. Mine has a life of its own. We’re like a married couple who pretty much lead separate lives. We don’t talk, we don’t socialise together, and we have different groups of friends.

I chose to write under a pseudonym, because, hello, erotic romance!  And while I’ve got YA aspirations as well, there’s a reason I don’t really want my real name and my pseudonym linked. A few people know, and a few have figured it out, but that’s okay. I’m much less embarrassed about writing erotic romance than I was two years ago when I first had this crazy idea. 


 When it comes to choosing a pseudonym though, are you choosing a fake name or are you choosing to be another person entirely? I think it's an important distinction. 

Most people writing erotica have pseudonyms, because we also have day jobs. One writer I know of who writes erotica admits that she’d lose her job if her employer — a religious organisation — found out. And that’s a damn good reason to have a pseudonym.

But people, women especially, have been writing under pseudonyms forever. The Bronte sisters, George Eliot. A gazillion others I can’t be bothered Googling. Because to be a female novelist back in those days meant that nobody would take you seriously. You were probably hysterical, and needed to get married and raise children. Writing was a man’s job. Now tighten your corset until you can’t breathe, and go and smile politely while a gentleman talks at you.

Pseudonyms are still huge in the thriller and mystery genres. Because those, apart from cosy mysteries, are still seen as a man’s domain.  Just ask Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling. She didn’t just choose a pseudonym to escape from the pressure of being judged as the J.K. Rowling, did she? She chose a man’s name. Interestingly, she also published the Harry Potter books under her initials because of the prevailing “wisdom” that boys won’t read books written by women.

But back to Romancelandia. Things get weird there sometimes, trust me. Again, most people use pseudonyms. And a huge amount use initials. This usually means what it has always meant: gender neutral. Translation: a woman writer, but it’s okay to assume a man if that will make you more inclined to read the book.

Sidenote: While it’s usually women masquerading as men, the opposite can also be true. And awesome.

I should probably point something out here, right? A lot of you may be wondering why romance-writing women would have gender-neutral or males names. Well, we’re talking gay romance here. It’s just like straight romance, except there are twice as many hot guys. So in the corner of Romancelandia that I sometimes inhabit, there are a lot of gender-neutral or male names out there, that are attached to female writers. And I have no problem with that.

Where I have a problem is when a pseudonym morphs into an entirely false persona. For starters, who’s got time for that? But where does the pseudonym stop and the deception start? And what does it even matter? This is a complicated issue (anything focussing on gender always is), and Dear Author has addressed it beautifully here. My personal opinion is write what you want to write — it will find an audience — but don’t misrepresent yourself.

Don’t hire a man to pretend to be you at book signings.
Don’t talk about the struggles you have faced in coming out.
Don’t appropriate the experiences of a marginalised community of people.  
And especially don’t tell that story of the time you were bashed for being a gay teenage boy. 


  1. Thanks for an interesting slant on this topic. Are gay guys just as choosy in the gender of their romance authors as straight guys? That'd be an interesting study.

    And it reminds me of a comment I read last month, in which a bookseller said a guy wouldn't buy any P.G. Wodehouse 'cause "You can't tell with that one." Meaning he might be (gasp) a woman.

    Now off to read my S.E. Hinton. :-)

  2. It's a crazy world. Most male/male romance is written by women, and it's mostly bought by women as well. The general assumption seems to be that even the male pseudonyms are presumed to be women anyway!

    I love PG Wodehouse so much. I don't think there's ever been any doubt in my mind that he was a man, although man, woman, or orange and green zebra -- I'd buy anything he wrote! And I'm pretty sure I have :)


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