So you’re an author (or an aspiring author) who has an interest in writing erotic fiction. But many authors worry about using their real name when penning erotic pieces, for several reasons. Several famous authors who at one point, sooner or later in their careers, wrote erotica chose a pen name, including Harlan Ellison and Anne Rice. Some, like David Sedaris, write erotica under their own name.
However, the fact that it is known that these authors wrote erotica has a lot to do with their current day popularity. If you are considering using a pen name, be aware that it is not only acceptable but also the general practice. For many authors, the pen name is akin to the stage name; despite the lofty cerebral aspirations of writing, a lot of writing success is still based on marketing. While writers often wish that people did not judge a book by its cover, the truth is, we all do. We judge two hour movies based on thirty second trailers, and we remember actors’ names based on their catchiness. Authors are unfortunately, not immune to this, and choosing a pen name when writing erotica is actually an opportunity to start marketing before the book is even written.
However, there are many other reasons to consider when deciding if you should use a pen name.
First, there is separation between your real life and your written works. Many erotic fiction writers are women; and like it or not, some people cannot separate fantasy from reality, and thus a woman who writes erotic fiction might be thought of a sexually available and exhibitionist when is isn’t true. It’s sort of the same issue with the actors on the Sopranos – many people actually believe they are gangsters, not thespians. Actors who are well known for recurring villain roles have many stories of being reprimanded on the street by fans that could not separate the fact that the actor was not the character.
Thus, it is beyond mere prudishness that someone might choose to employ a pen name. It can be a method of separation between an author’s real life and the written word. Stephen King has stated that in the books he’s written which reveal details of his life, he has changed details and street names to prevent people from invading too much of his privacy. Men who write erotica might not face the same exact issues as female authors, but there is more than enough reason to create a veil of secrecy around your life. Be aware that writing under a pen name does not mean you can’t do radio interviews or podcasts, any more than an actor would. However, if your writing career advances to a point where you are as popular as say, Dean Koontz. You might want to consider changing your tactics then.
Another reason to use a pen name is because some authors may want to try different styles, and sell to different genres. A writer of romance may want to tackle fetish erotica, but may want to establish two distinct pen names to do so; authors are also artists, and often like to experiment, and it is easier to do so if readers are not aware of an author’s existing works. I suspect that the reverse is true for aforementioned authors such as Anne Rice, whose erotica probably remains a consistent back list seller simply because of her current day notoriety.
As an editor, I am often asked by new authors (or, at least new to erotic fiction), about using a pen name and they often express anxiety that the publisher will use their real name. They envision a racy title finding its way to the bookshelves with their real name plastered all over it, and they imagine the mortification they would feel if everyone they knew suddenly saw it. While this is a most unlikely scenario, I must state that no serious publisher would ever use an author’s name if the author did not want to, and that publishers of erotic fiction are more than aware that many authors want to use pen names. If you are paranoid, ask for a line or two in the contract about which pen name will be used and that your real name never be used without your written permission.
Also be aware that even if you write a best-selling erotica book, your name is not likely to be all over the New York Times best seller list and your name is not likely unique. A quick visit to the web site howmanyofme.com reveals that there are 221 people in the United States named Anne Rice and 1,563 people with the name Stephen King. There are even 19 people named William Shakespeare. The point is, just because it’s your name doesn’t mean people all over the world will even know it’s you. If it makes you feel better to use a pen name, do so, but also realize that it’s probably more for your mental awareness than anyone else’s.
Now one thing I personally recommend to authors is make sure that your contracts with any publisher list your real name, not just your pen name. Contracts should list both if desired, but the rights established and the length of the contract is assigned to you. There is some legal wrangling that can be done in many cases to get your rights when it is not accurately represented in the contract, but why worry about that? Get it in writing right up front. One publisher I work with, Sensorotika Press, has told me on several occasions that most authors never really look at their contracts, and that even though the publisher attempts to create fair, thoroughly defined contracts, authors constantly return to ask questions long after the contract is in place and in effect. The issue of authors and their contracts is too much for this article, but as it pertains to your pseudonym, this is a business for both the publisher and the author, and if the author feels more security having their pen name and the like in writing, then they should say so.