The one writing question I tend to get the most is a simple one. “Why do I write under so many names?”
I usually want to say, but never do, “Because I can.”
Actually, that’s the most accurate answer. But before I jump into that aspect of this, let me talk about the obvious business reasons.
1) I write in a number of different genres. A reader of one of my romance novels might not want to pick up a copy of one of my thrillers. So the best way to keep them apart is just use a different name.
2) Sales of books in different genres are at different levels, and sales numbers are tracked in computers by name. So I have a small 10,000 copy science fiction novel and a 40,000 copy romance. I don’t want those numbers confused in any sales meeting or computer generated sales orders. Thus different names.
3) Dean Wesley Smith is known as a tie-in writer. So I write a thriller under Dean Wesley Smith and every review starts, “Star Trek writer… ” Thus a different name for those as well.
4) Speed. I write too damn fast for one name. This industry limits an author (unless you are a brand name) to one or two or three books a year. So I can have two books under one name, another book under my real name, another book under yet another name, and no one in the business cares. How do you think I got to over 90 novels sold? One novel per year, starting when I was 37 when I sold my first novel, would make me on the upper side of 130 years old. Nope, I write too fast for this business, so guess what, I can be a lot of names.
5) I am a writer. I don’t have an ego about a name, or care in the slightest if someone knows a book is mine or not. I know it is mine, that’s all that matters. I once stood in Safeway late one night staring at the paperback section, just smiling. I had three novels there under three names. One Trek under my own name and two others under other names. That was a cool thing. Most writers have trouble with this part of many names. They must have EVERYONE know it is their book for some ego reason or another. Get over it or write one or two books a year.
6) Making a living with my fiction. Let me think, one writing career (name) vs three or four writing careers (names) pumping money into the house? Which is better? Duh. I have three unseen roommates who pay expenses yet never eat or cost me a thing. And my wife Kris has two or three unseen roommates as well in her office bringing in money. Makes it a ton easier to make a living at this business when you have a bunch of names working.
So, those are the business reasons, plus a few other minor reasons. But let’s look at the real answer: “Because I can.”
An actor, an artist, a business person. They are all stuck with their name, their reputation, their faces. With the exception of a very few brand names like King, no one knows what a writer looks like. Our work is not attached to our face, just our name.
Our work is not attached to our age, or our skin color, or our social level. It is only attached to our name. And anyone can change a name at any point. Women often change their name when they get married. No big deal.
Writers have the freedom to change their name from story to story, novel to novel, always being a fresh young face in the field.
Once, way back in the ancient history, I did a new writer column for a magazine Orson Scott Card edited. My job was to find and point out the new writers coming in through the magazines and books. I was a new writer as well, so it fit. And I got to pick up the phone and call the editors to get information about the new writers they published.Â A great assignment that Scott gave me.
Every time I did this, I was shocked to discover that so many of the “new writers” I was discovering and loving were simply pen names of long established writers. In one issue of one magazine, the same author had three stories under three names. As a new writer myself, this stunned me, until I started to understand the clear meaning of it.
Here is what it meant:
— Editors couldn’t find enough good material, first off, so they turned to established professional writers to fill their pages because deadlines didn’t change. A monthly magazine had to be out every month.
— Professional writers could make more money having more names.
— Professional writers could be thought of as new writers, getting around the baggage they might carry with their own name.
— Many professional writers found it was fun to write something completely different from what they normally wrote, what their fans expected. So, for example, a hard sf writer could publish a high fantasy under a pen name and enjoy the task of writing it without fear of what it would mean to his own name.
And so on and so on.
I’m fast, I enjoy writing across genre restrictions, I like more money, I enjoy the simple aspect of writing.
Writers write. Professional writers get paid for what they write. I am a professional writer. I couldn’t give a crap which name it is published under, or if anyone pats me on the back or not after reading it, or gives it a good review or not. Makes no difference to me, because what’s important is the writing.
Nothing more. Just the writing.
I write under many names because I can.
There, I said it.