by Will Viharo
Back in the golden age of pulp magazines, writers like Kenneth Robeson (real name: Lester Dent), author of the Doc Savage series, and Maxwell Grant (real name: Walter B. Gibson), author of The Shadow series, earned their livelihoods churning out original if formulaic novels month after month under their nom de plumes, while pursuing their “serious” literary careers in more prestigious markets.
While today’s ambitious indie novelists can’t be expected to keep up that breakneck pace, much less turn a reliably lucrative profit via literature in a multi-media-saturated 21st century, producing popular content under pseudonyms is one option for authors that want to broaden their audience while retaining the integrity of their “brand name.”
There certainly isn’t (or shouldn’t be) any inherent “shame” in so-called “exploitation” genres, like romance, horror, mystery, and science fiction, though authors who come from a more academic background may be confronted with class-based bias from those who turn down their noses at such mainstream-mongering “trash.”
However, despite any subjective snobbery, there is both a built-in audience and a larger potential for earning some hard cash in these genres if an author decides that mere dedication to his or her craft isn’t quite enough of a reward for their artistic or commercial efforts.
When you finally sit down to write that novel, with the ultimate aim of either self-publishing it or submitting it to agents and publishers, you need to first decide on your overall goal and agenda.
Are you writing for love or money?
Ask yourself: Is this work merely a creative expression of your heart and soul, which may or not resonate with an audience outside of your friends and family, or are you expecting to actually make a career or modest living - or at least a little grocery money - out of it? (Hint: most agents and at least big publishers are only interested in the latter).
If you’re going the DIY digital route, you can cut a lot of corners by writing and immediately publishing a book (or better, yet a series of books) categorized as “Erotica,” whether the protagonists are randy unicorns or horny teenagers. In fact, they don’t even have to be very long – 20,000 words will often suffice, as opposed to at least 60,000 for the standard genre (or traditional) novel.
If you promote it properly, there is a much better chance of you selling a substantial amount of cheaply priced (.99 cents) eBooks than if you attempt to pitch your memoir or more serious, “literary” novel to a global audience that has no idea or interest in your personal or professional identity.
This is simply due to the fact that when it comes to “disposable” reading material, intended for rides to work on the train, long plane rides, or poolside distraction, most readers don’t care about the author (or publisher) so much as the subject matter and entertainment value.
Research what's popular
If you decide to jump on board, say, the booming teenage vampire bandwagon, do your research first. Find out which other authors have successfully mined this field, both to discover what readers expect most from this type of material so you can strategically target your audience, and also so you’re not accidentally (or blatantly) “stealing” any concepts or plot lines that may have already been established.
It could be you have no ethical problem publicly peddling Erotica or other less “respectable” genres under your real name, in which case there’s no need for anonymity, and in fact you take pride in this particular work. (Case in point: E L James.) It depends on your long-range game plan as a career novelist. If your “reputation” is of no concern to you, or you actually want to be known exclusively as, for instance, a horror author, retaining your real name will allow you to boast about your achievements to your loved ones and peers.
To be or not to be yourself
But if your desire short term is purely to turn a quick profit, with the hope of self-financing your more serious literary interests without “tainting” your preferred authorial name, then you can be the Kenneth Robeson or Maxwell Grant of today. In fact, if you self-publish, you could also publish as often as you wish – not just once a month, but once a week, depending on how prolific you are.
More over, you could also conceivably build your own reputation as a commercially viable author of bestselling genre novels, under your own name, and then use that cachet to broaden the artistic horizons of both your fans and your own work, once you’ve earned their trust.
It can feel very emancipating to be your own boss as a writer. But just remember: the readers are their own bosses, too.
My wife Monica once made this apt distinction between an artist and a businessperson: an artist creates whatever he or she wants, and tries to find others who share their interests, while a businessperson finds out what the people want, and gives it to them.
And there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t be both.
Do you write under an assumed name, and how’s that going for you?
PHOTO: WILL HART