Veterans of the Nymwars will know why my ears pricked when a member of the audience asked the panelists at Pitch 2.o about pseudonyms. And they’ll know why I scowled a bit when the first response was along the lines of “Why would you?” They came out pretty anti-nym, but for a good reason: identity. While it wasn’t made clear in that brief time for discussion, I think they’d agree that it’s not the ‘nym that’s the problem, but starting over from scratch.
If I’m mistaken, they’ll hopefully be by to set me straight. But let’s proceed on the assumption I’m correct.
(Apologies in advance for not identifying who said what – I don’t do shorthand and was scribbling too frantically to pop a name by the notions. I’d make a lousy reporter, wouldn’t I just?)
Right. So. Pseudonym. Should you? The question was from someone who’d written something outside of his normal sphere and was thinking of publishing it under a ‘nym. And when he said this, looks of horror crept across the faces of every person on stage. These are, mind you, folks who’d just got done talking about platforms (which I shall get to shortly – exhaustion is forcing me to write out-of-sequence in search of the low-hanging fruit. It is also apparently making me segue. How much does a seg weigh? Anyway. Where were we? Right. ‘Nyms).
One said, “Why give up the platform you have just because it’s different? You shouldn’t have to use a pseudonym just because you’re an expert in only one area so far. Show them your expertise.”
Another said, “We’re all complex people with lots of interests. Your followers are too. Something about you appealed to them. X % of people interested in your former thing will be interested in the new.”
And the last said, “People follow you because you’re a good writer.”
I didn’t jot down the rest. It had to do with being the world’s expert on trumpet polishing, and having written a widely-admired book on trumpet polishing, and then going on to write a treatise on strawberry slicing. You could do that under a ‘nym, yeah, and build a reputation as the world expert on strawberry slicing. But you’ve got this platform you built as the world expert on trumpet polishing, and your audience will have a subset of people in it who’d be thrilled to find out this nifty new technique for strawberry slicing. So why not keep your name, and show them your expertise, thus keeping a portion of your existing audience while also building a new following of strawberry-slicing fans? I don’t believe this bit was mentioned, but it’s also possible your strawberry-slicing fans will also contain a few trumpet polishers, and they’ll be glad to know their search for the best book on trumpet polishing is at an end.
So here’s what it’s about. It’s about an identity, not a name. We veterans of the Nymwars know a “real name” isn’t an identity. So if you, like me, write under a ‘nym, breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve got an identity you’ve established. People know you as your ‘nym. Your ‘nym has name recognition. The silly thing isn’t writing under a ‘nym to begin with. But it’s possibly very silly to write about trumpet polishing under one ‘nym and then create a new ‘nym to do the strawberry slicing thing, just because you’re worried people will somehow become upset if the world’s foremost authority on trumpet polishing has also some quite useful things to say about strawberry slicing.
I, personally, have never minded when my favorite authors of one sort of thing have pursued other sorts of things under their established name. I may not be in to everything they do, but I appreciate the opportunity to discover whether I am or not. Neil Gaiman, for instance, writes some fabulous children’s books I’d never have read if he’d published under the name Bob McRobert. Most readers will understand that you are no more cardboard than your characters (and your characters aren’t cardboard, right? Right?). They’ll be happy to let you prove your mettle at something a little different. They might even discover interests they never knew they had.
Some of your fans may gripe about you wasting your time on strawberry slicing when you could be spending your valuable time writing Trumpet Polishing Two: Electric Bugaloo, but no one’s forcing them at gunpoint to read Strawberry Slicing Secrets Revealed! And if someone is, in fact, doing so, then they really need to assess whether it’s wise to continue their relationship with that particular bookseller.
Now, if you’re known for wholesome children’s picture books, and you wish to write some rather, erm, vivid pornography, I suppose a case could be made that a new ‘nym might not be such a terrible idea. And authors choose to give up the platforms they have as one name and do something else under another quite often. It sometimes works. As with all things in writing, rules are bendy.
But you have to keep in mind what you’re giving up. You’ve got to create a new audience from scratch. You’ll have to create a website, perhaps a blog, certainly a Facebook page and perhaps a G+ one, and if you’re wise you’ll do a Twitter account, all under a new name. You’ll have to feed that identity as well as your previous one. You’ll have to keep the two separate. It’s twice the work. So the benefits should be pretty spectacular before you decide to create all that extra work for yourself.
Be sure it’s worth it before you spawn an alter-ego.
Also be sure to check out the comments on the previous post – Jason Black and Nathan Everett, two of the professionals who made Pitch 2.0 such an informative and fun time, put up comments that will certainly repay a perusal. Our own Hank Fox has direct experience with CreateSpace, which is welcome news for those of us considering whether or not to go this route. It pays to consider your options carefully, but isn’t it nice we have got them at last?