Emily Bronte wrote under the name Ellis Bell. Women didn’t write novels. Men did. And if a woman did write novels she was assumed to be looked on with ‘prejudice’. Sadly, Emily you’d find the twenty-first century remarkably similar. J.K. Rowling is not Joanne Rowling as the publishers thought that her fantasy novels would be better received by a male or ‘ambiguous’ author. So J.K. Rowling it is. Nora Roberts writes under the name J.D. Robb for her fantasy novels (noticing a pattern here). Alice Bradley Sheldon is James Tiptree Jr, Mary Ann Evans is George Eliot, and Louisa May Alcott is A.M. Barnard.
What about the converse? Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachmann when his writer crises of confidence had him considering his publishing success a ‘fluke’. But he remains a ‘male voice’ with both names. Some male authors choose gender neutral initials, such as Steve Watson who is S.J. Watson, particularly if their readership is predominantly women. Women tend to read women writers. But all in all, it’s women writers who choose male pseudonyms to actively engage male readership.
So, yes, it would seem it’s still necessary to have pseudonyms of some kind to mask gender prejudices, particularly, it would seem, in the science fiction/fantasy genres. But what about for subjects like erotica? These tend to be for women by women, although the male/male market is currently booming (I’m curious to see who the readership is). I’ve been debating with my latest book whether or not to use those ambiguous initials, a pseudonym, or my author name. I know a lot of erotica writers, but the norm is to hide behind an assumed name, no doubt to protect the writer from sideways glances, raised eyebrows, and indeed ‘prejudice’. As one writer noted, no-one assumes that the aforementioned Stephen King is killing kids disguised as a clown, or setting out rabid dogs on a mother and her child locked into a car. But write a sex scene that involves a little kink, and the assumption is that the author spends most of his/her time hanging out at sex clubs. I’d like to point out that if this were true, precious little writing would be done.
Sad that scenes of extreme violence, blood, gore and the like are far more acceptable than scenes of unbridled female sexuality. A woman in charge of her sexuality is so threatening, so terrifying, so powerful that the writer thereof has to hide behind an assumed name. Unless she’s French, like Anais Nin. Side note - notice how the media is banging on and on and on and on about Emmanuel Macron’s much older wife. FFS.
But I digress. Pseudonyms, although still about gender prejudice, are also about writers expanding their writerly skills across genres. Famous literary authors writing pulp fiction under assumed aliases (that ‘prejudice’ might also include that which is perceived as ‘real’ writing versus commercial writing etc). So now a writer can write YA under one name, romance under another, medical detective series under another, and still let each audience know that it is the original author’s pseudonym… so Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb. Alright. Whatever.
One publisher suggested I have a pseudonym for each different genre, together with different websites, different FB pages, different Twitter feeds to manage each different ‘voice’. Clearly she also has Hermione’s nifty time-travelling device (and if so, I can think of other better uses, ditto Hermione and those additional classes). Three or four additional author pages to manage? I so think not.
For other authors, changing their author name to a pseudonym is an imperative. Poor sales, tons of bad reviews, or reputational issues might require an author to consider a nom-de-plume to reboot their career in another direction. Or they need protection from whichever group they’ve revealed in their tell-all expose, and need to remain in cognito, baby.
I have no idea what’s the answer to this. But I do tinker about with the stripper, porn star, Christmas elf name generators to consider various aliases. Just in case. ‘His Forbidden Pleasures’ by Twinkle-toes Jenkins, has a certain ring, don’t you think?
*With thanks to Tom Robbins