The Pen Name Kerfuffle

So I had a few thoughts on pen names and the obligation (if any) of authors to disclose that they are using such. These thoughts stem from a small controversy over a recent Locus article in which Kim Harrison, author of the best-selling Rachel Morgan/Hollows series,  revealed that the name – and much of the persona – is a nom de plume. Since the rest of this may end up not being a very nice article, I will tell you here that Kim also writes mainstream fantasy as Dawn Cook. Go look her up. I read The Decoy Princess, not knowing it was the same author, and really enjoyed it. Once you’ve done that, if you still want to hear my opinion, come on back.

Let me state plainly that my personal opinion is that those people who are accusing Kim¹ of being a liar are acting like entitled, conceited, selfish little witches². Note that I say acting like because I don’t know these people personally, so I can’t say that they ‘are’ anything. I can only base my opinion on what I’ve seen and heard of their behavior on the internet. And that behavior has been appalling.

Regardless of her reasons – which I understand to be a combination of personal family safety issues and the trends of the market³ – the use of a pen name (or not) is an author’s choice and has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of what’s between the pages. An alias can be used on a book for any of dozens of reasons, and all of them are valid. Yes, including the “she just wanted to dress up and mess with people” one.

But you know what? I don’t believe that last one of Kim at all. I’ve been following Kim’s work since Dead Witch Walking first turned up on book store shelves. I’ve watcher her interact with fans online for years and even met her in person several times. I will say I do not know her, but I feel that I have learned enough to say that Kim has been one of the kindest, most genuine authors I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting.

Now, as a (part-time, mostly unpublished) author myself, I’ve spent time drawing my own conclusions from the pen name debate. I considered using one and ultimately discarded the idea. Why? Because the truth is much too easy to find on the internet. If I someday do end up selecting a nom de guerre for marketing or other reasons, I foresee being mostly open about that fact. However, the ultimate decision is a personal one, and I would expect my fans to respect that.

I find this current trend of outrageous entitlement in regard to an author’s life and behavior appalling and offensive. We purchase their books for the stories, people. Authors are not selling us stake in their personal lives. The money we spend on the book(s) entitles us to the words on the cover and the ones between the pages and nothing more. To quote Neil Gaiman: “[Authors are] not your bitch.”

If an author wants to play Xbox 360 all day instead of writing the next book in their series, discuss their sex lives on the internet (though I don’t recommend that one) or even pretend to be someone who’s not backed up by the information on their birth certificate°, well then guess what? You don’t get a say on that. Feel free to take your diatribes off to a corner of the internet where you can kick and scream. That’s what it’s for, right? But personally attacking the author on his or her website, mailing list, Facebook page or anywhere else they have an online presence is not only disrespectful but makes you look like an idiot. One in which I will take great joy in mocking.

So jump off your high horses and try not to break your necks on the way down, my dears. Once you’ve gained your equilibrium again, come back here later this week for an article on the best new authors I’ve just read (and now you should, too).

¹ I will continue to call her Kim because that’s how I was introduced to her work.
² I’m trying to be nice, but you can insert your own word choice here, if you like. And no, I’m not talking about the kind of witches who live in the Hollows.
³ David B. Coe wrote an excellent and informative article on why market conditions may pretty much force an author to use an alias. Find it here. Which I was going to link to; but it has since disappeared from magicalwords.net.
° I will conceed one exception to this rule: books marketed as being ‘autobiographical’ which – aren’t.

2 responses to “The Pen Name Kerfuffle

  1. I would also like to add that many of the celebrities we know and love, such as actors, musicians, and artists, also use “pen names”. A lot of them give reasons like, “My agent said ‘Apple’ wouldn’t sell movies so I changed my name to Dave.” What makes it such a big deal that authors do it too? If I were to publish a novel, I wouldn’t want the name on my credit cards all over every bookstore you walk into. I agree, Kia. People need to get over themselves.

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