Today a friend of mine announced on facebook that she has a new "author name", and someone asked why an author would write under another name. As an author who uses a nom de plume I have decided to try to give an answer to this question.
There are many reasons for a pseudonym. The reason Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot) and the Bronte sisters wrote under men's names was so that their works would be taken seriously. As recently as 1997, Joanne Rowling was told that boys would not buy a series of books written by a woman so she became J.K. Rowling.
Alice Mary Norton wrote Science Fiction from 1934 until her death in 2005 as Andre Norton, Andrew North, and Allen Weston. Science Fiction was seen as a man's bailey-wick. Alice Bradley Sheldon also wrote Science Fiction in the '60s and '70s under the name of James Tiptree Jr. for the same reason.
Samuel Clemens wrote under the name of Mark Twain, why isn't clear, there are several theories. I think perhaps it sounded more adventurous than Sam Clemens.
Others like Nora Roberts, aka J.D. Robb, and Jayne Ann Krentz, aka Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick, use different names to differentiate between the genres or sub-genres they write in. (An interesting note, at one time Jayne Ann Krentz wrote under seven different names, but now she only uses the three listed here.) Some of these name changes are at the request of publishers.
There are some book series that are produced by book packagers. The company puts together a series idea with a free lance writer or writers. The books are written under one pseudonym even though there could be multiple authors in the series.
Stephen King was too prolific. When he was first being published his publisher believed a writer should only come out with one book a year, so he convinced Signet, his publisher, to allow him another name to write under. Thus Richard Bachman was created.
Throughout the history of writing there have been authors who either wanted to remain anonymous to society or have a more marketable name. An author named Illiterate Buttwipe probably would not be your first choice for a book of poetry, limericks maybe, but poetry . . .
I know several erotica writers who publish under a nom de plume. They are not ashamed of their work, but they are teachers, business women, mothers, daughters. They use another name to shield their families and protect their jobs.
Many writers, romance writers especially, have become targets for stalkers. (Did you know that romance books are a big hit with men in prison?) Many authors adopt a pen name for safety reasons.
Does an author's name matter? After all Shakespeare wrote:
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet;
While that might be true, would you buy a love story by an author named Glorious Stinkypants or a mystery by Crude Privy?
Just as boys would not be anxious to buy a new book series by an unknown author named Joanne, most women do not want to buy a romance written by a man. There are men writing and selling marvelous romances, such as Howard Lowry aka Leigh Greenwood. The gender of the writer shouldn't matter, only the quality of the writing, but unfortunately, a book is judged by its cover and a very big part of that cover is the author's name.
Happy reading my friends.