An author by any other name

This article was originally posted at electrikinc

Here’s a test: judged purely on their names, which genre do you think these authors write in? Winifred Futtock, Colin Smith, Lorelei Chase, Theodora Clench, John Myszkowski, Chantelle Blake. And just to confuse you here are the titles of their books so you can have fun matching author to title: The tyranny of the balcony: what your bra says about you; A History of Baseball; Blue: my love affair with erotica; Bunny’s Birthday; Bonemasters; The Tale of Snatcher Bagpole.

Just in case you’re already resenting the waste of grey matter trying to second guess the ‘answers’ I’ll reveal all: the titles and the authors’ names are all invented but hopefully the excercise threw up a few questions. Does it really matter what you call yourself as an author? Does it only matter if you write in certain genres? Perhaps (with understandable insecurity) an indie writer could be forgiven for imagining that with a name like Colin Smith you might not be optimising your chances of selling a book about erotica. There may be a more basic problem if your surname is the unpronounceable Polish-sounding one above: that poor author has to grapple with the unhappy possibility of a reader going into a bookshop and asking for ‘…that John something-or-other, you know, that unpronounceable one beginning with m—lots of consonants, you know the one…’ His name will probably only trip off the tongue if/when he becomes well known; a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation.

And what of those writers who choose to be JK; GK; PL; HG; CS. or HE.? Are they trying to sound anonymous? (“Judge me by my novel and not my exotic/boring/strange Christian name”.) Alternatively,perhaps for some there is more than a whiff of prep school culture around giving yourself initials alone. (“Chesterton G.K., second form prize for Divinity…”) But there may be a more obvious strategy if you’re female; simply wanting your name to be gender neutral. Tricky territory, and guaranteed to ruffle feathers.

Some novelists adopt a pseudonym because they are known for a particular genre and want to break into another. The marketing department is thrown into disarray if you’re known for coming-of-age frothy romps for a largely female readership and you suddenly produce a darkly violent thriller set in nineteen eighties East London.

By a happy accident the inimitable and utterly brilliant Edward Gorey was possessed of a name that could be jumbled to produce the alternative Ogdred Weary. Strangely apt and evocative for a writer of dark, faintly menacing tales about small children.

Aside from the prosaic commercial reasons for adopting a nom-de-plume what fun it would be to dream up an alter ego. We are, after all, in the business of ‘making things up’. How about embracing the new image with strings of rather noisy beads, a velvet cloak lined with purple silk and a handbag containing nothing but a box of truffles, a pair of knickers and a plan of the Moscow underground? But I’m getting carried away now.

Seriously, any suggestions for that pseudonym, now that you know my innermost fantasies?

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