Wednesday 27 April 2011

In defense of pseudonyms and a layer of protection

There are possibly a handful of people out there (in the area of 3-5) that both know my so-called "real" name, where I work, and where I live. Everybody else knows these things to varying degrees. My publishers know all this, of course, since it's legally pertinent.

I've recently encountered an attitude where people say they "respect" somebody more if the name they write under is their "real name". Using a pseudonym, is, according to these people, equivalent to cowardice.

There are several writers out there that put their faces on their websites. All power to them, if they are comfortable with it (I imagine some might not be but feel it's the "done thing"). All power also to writers who don't look anything like weavers of dark and majestic sexy novels, and still put their faces out there.

Within the last two weeks, I've acquired a second stalker (a first stalker reared her ugly head about three years ago and I'm pretty sure she's still out there somewhere, and quite possibly reading this), and another stalker/obsessive "fan" (and you guys know how much I hate the term "fan"). And I've also encountered some people that faced negative consequences because they allowed the wall between their "public" and "private" lives to be breached. Or breached it themselves, feeling they don't "need" the protection, or frankly trusting the wrong people.

There's even been a case of a publisher breaching that wall, as some person at a publisher outed the writer's "real persona" in public.

This here is another case of a romance author facing - potential very very serious - damage due to the stuff that she writes/has written.

We are *not* operating in a safe space.

Hence I am *not* going to conventions, don't give out my photo, don't do anything that attaches my face to my books (sorry, big hot shot agent/publisher, that means NO booktours and no signing), don't even give live interviews via radio/phone or anything else. If I meet readers, I meet them on my terms and after several years of personal correspondence, or if I know I can trust them. And even then I got burned.

I hope my colleague Judy Mays makes it out intact. I'm definitely keeping my fingers crossed for her.


  1. Aleks, I respect an author for talent. I don't care if they give me their real name. I don't need to meet them in person, or be their best friend, or know their entire life history.
    I enjoy chatting with authors online but if tomorrow I found out you were a 102 year old woman, it wouldnt change the fact that I like reading your books, you know? And I wouldnt feel that you have somehow screwed me over. ~shrugs~

    I have social phobias and so I would not want to go to conventions or book signings. I don't write and I already feel pressured to meet people online. It's one reason I have never attempted to be published.

  2. I know how you feel, Aleks. While I haven't acquired any freaky/obsessive fans, I need that layer of distance--the pseudonym filter--between my real life & my writing life and I make no apologies for that. I owe readers a rocking story and online I hope to be at least semi-entertaining via twitter, GR, and the rest. But that's where the ball stops bouncing.

    While I will be at RWA National this year (and going as Kari Gregg), I'm so new I seriously doubt anybody's going to want my picture. At least I hope not. Perhaps I'll go in a sooper seekrit disguise. LOL.

  3. Wow.. I've heard the argument about authors not using a dozen different pseudonyms which I'll agree with but using one at all is somehow .. bad?

    What ridiculousness. Everyone on the internet uses a pseudonym of some kind and it seems like only common sense that authors do as well. I mean why should authors use their real names when almost no one else does? The level of protection is of course subjective to each person but common sense dictates that a name other than your real one is the first thing every smart person does.

  4. I definitely don't blame you for using a pseudonym or wanting a layer of protection. That’s why I go by Harper (and Piper). Neither name is even remotely close to my real one. My husband is a teacher - junior high level - and reading that article I wonder what the parents of his students might think if they ever found out what exactly his wife was up to. It's not cowardice on my part, but self-preservation. Seeing the way these parents unfairly jumped on this teacher and judged her ability to teach their children based on the fact that she writes erotica in her spare time just makes me feel better about my decision. Even if my husband wasn’t the one doing the writing, in the eyes of the school board, and the community, I’m sure, my actions would reflect on him. Not fair, but what can you do? It is what it is.

    More power to the writers who use their real names, but I’m happy with my pseudonyms. They sound cooler than my real name anyway. ;)

  5. Well, you know my feelings on pseudonyms. As complicated as it is to have two, I need them for protection, basically. And who doesn't? I got into a debate/argument (I know, surprise) several weeks back with an author who said that there's no point in pseudonyms anymore, that it only confuses people, there's no privacy on the internet, etc. Clearly that person has the privilege of being able to advertise her real name without consequence without having to worry about publishing academic articles and incest porn. As, y'know, an example. She even went so far as to say that if people were concerned about crossing genres, they should give one up (!!!). I have a sneaking suspicion I know how well you'd react to that.

  6. I'll also add: why do people use online handles or usernames? It used to be a common and accepted (even encouraged) idea in order to preserve safety and privacy. When did that become uncool?

  7. I've been really careless and naive in the past about mixing my RL and online presences, but this is a real eye opener.

    Poor lady! Those stupid people - can't they see that if she's good enough to get her work published she's an ideal person to teach creative writing to their children?

  8. Reading that article made my stomach turn. She has been a teacher for 25 years!! She isn't skinning puppies or shooting meth. She hasn't made her students read aloud from her books or act out what she writes. WTF does it matter to ANYONE what she WRITES????? It's words on a page. The local baptist preacher or Catholic priest probably has more skeletons in their closet than this woman could ever dream to write up.

    Everyone has sex! What is WRONG with that??

    Sorry...I am just so mad about all of this. Stupid, puritanical FIDIOTS. Pay her more as a teacher and she might not have started to write in the first place. Just goes to show where our priorities are as a society.

    Alex, take care, and all you other writers, too. Protect yourselves and the let the rest hang.

  9. There was a big storm about this on Goodreads a while back. Nothing was settled, of course. The people who think it's cowardly or dishonest to use a pseudonym aren't going to change their minds. I've been on the web a long time, and believe that if you can't judge a person's integrity from how they speak and act, then knowing their name isn't going to make a damned bit of difference. And knowing an author's name isn't any more useful or important than knowing the details of their life, which is another issue that comes up now and then -- the author bio.

  10. I don't wish to rehash what's been said already, just offer support of your decision.

    After all, do we approach strangers on the street and offer our most personal truths? No. So why would we do it on the Internet? And what more dangerous truth is there than our Names? Okay, that may be a slight dramatization, but not much (not in this day and age).

    And I wonder if these people who frown upon they not respect Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll either?