Pseudonyms and Why We Need Them

Do pseudonyms have a place in modern literature? Has their use changed over the past century? Let’s explore some of literature’s most famous pseudonyms.

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Authors and artists alike will inevitably have a mental barrier when it comes to how to sell their work. With the focus being purely on the piece itself, bending the book to the will of the publisher always feels obstructive. Its a steep hill that’s not meant for the creative, but there is indeed a crevice within the process that doesn’t induce night terrors: the pseudonym. Authors large and small alike have always and have had the option to switch up the name of what’ll be on the cover for others to see. It’s another spot that lets authors really sell themselves in a unique point way. The idea alone sparks intrigue, and through the ages, pseudonyms were used for many different reasons,  by many different authors, all across history. Many other articles on the subject tell of the patriarchal aspect of pseudonyms and I don’t disagree. But pseudonyms have provided man authors wiggle room for their literary alter-ego.


In the early days of American publishing, women were heavily incentivized to go under men’s names just to get the novel out the door. While vehemently cruel by today’s standards, it did allow the female powerhouses to act in secret until their identities being revealed shook the literary community to a point of admiration. For example, Charlotte Bronte, of Wuthering Heights fame, had to use a pseudonym in order to even get her works published. The writing community knew her style and prose so well that the effort seemed almost meaningless as they immediately lauded Bronte upon release. The point still stood tall that regardless of the roadblock set by the publishers, her work outdid their assumptions. Not everyone was in Bronte’s position, but the hardships of her time did pave a way toward a brighter future for publication for women.

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Modern usage of the fake name is thankfully more voluntary than it might have been in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Gone are the days of when women had to publish as men to even be considered.  Instead of pseudonyms used as a thin veil over a female author, it’s more common for pseudonym usage to be circumstantial. Meaning that it’s become a marketing tool above all else and the reasoning can be quite bizarre in some instances. Famously Stephen King wrote several non-horror novels under the name Richard Bachman. His reasoning: he wanted to see if people would take a liking to his work without his name doing the heavy lifting. It worked, until the truth came out, and sales shot up drastically. Regardless of the result, it still served a meaningful purpose to King and any other writers willing to come up with a flashy title beneath their title.


I’ve never considered using a pseudonym, but a few of my contemporaries worry they’ll need to. Thankfully, it isn’t because they’re women, their names just read a tad too plain to hook readers in for a purchase. Marketing strategies are never the best part of the creative process, but if one avenue is particularly inviting, it’s the pseudonym. We live in an age where such a thing wouldn’t do much to conceal a birth name, as the internet made the concept all but impossible. Either way, its an option for an author to enhance their book to give it something special on top of everything else. Many brave people paved the way so that pseudonyms are now purely a marketing strategy, unrelated to prejudice. No artist should have to play with a different persona unless it serves the work, or the artist, or both. It’s for the best that it remains that way, so that writers can be busy creating, without forcing an alter-ego speed bump.

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