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Posts Tagged ‘pseudonyms’

The PrinceNames are interesting. They are (in general) the one permanent thing about us that someone else has chosen. Our parents, knowing nothing about us, saddle us with these monikers, and we grow up with them. How do they change us? How might we have been different, had we been given a different name? And for those who change their names, why do they change them, what do they change to, and why did they pick the new name?

Perhaps because of this fascination (along with the fact that I have trouble remembering the names of people I meet), names sometimes get stuck in my head. Names like Heiliger Dankgesang and Sandra Day O’Connor will drop into my head from nowhere and stick around for days, like that annoying song stuck in your head.

The other day, it was Yngwie Malmsteen. I mentioned this and was immediately told that the guitarists name was actually Yngwie J. Malmsteen (to distinguish him from all the other Yngwie Malmsteens out there), which led to a discussion of middle initials, which led to the question:

What does the R.A. in Kurt R.A. Giambastiani stand for?

Well, it isn’t rheumatoid arthritis.

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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiQuestion:

When is a “debut author” not a debut author?

I recently saw an ad for a new book by a “debut author.” Amazon was flogging this book hard, and the publisher had placed adverts in the trades and bought ad space on websites and magazines. Much buzz was being generated about this “debut novel” from a brand-new author.

Thing is…I’m acquainted with this “debut author.” I’ve met her a couple of times, at signings and readings. Signings for her books. Readings of her books. This author is a very nice person and a very good author–I’ve read her work and enjoyed it very much–but she is not a “debut author.” She’s just branching out, writing under a pseudonym.

Pseudonyms are a common practice in writing, and there are many legitimate reasons for using them.

  • An author doesn’t want to be directly identified. A pseudonym creates a buffer between the author and the reading public.
  • An author has failed with his own name, and his track record makes him the literary equivalent of “box office poison.” A pseudonym provides a fresh start with a clean slate.
  • An author has succeeded with her own name, in a specific genre, and her name is now associated with that genre; but now she’s branching out, writing in a different genre. A pseudonym allows her to “rebrand” herself, and write in multiple genres without confusing (and possibly alienating) her faithful readers. I mean, if the latest Stephen King book was filled with epic poetry, some readers might be pissed off (at least in theory).

But it is not the pseudonym that bothers me; not at all. It’s the publisher’s use of the “debut author” label. Yes, this is done all the time; yes, it’s a common marketing practice. There’s nothing illegal about it, certainly, but still, it bothers me. First, it is vaguely insulting. I mean, are readers so dumb that they can’t figure out that Stephen King’s latest (hypothetical) book, titled Odes to Mothers: A collection of epic poetry in the Gothic style, is probably not his usual fare?

It is also unethical, dishonest, and disingenuous. This isn’t a “new voice” in the literary world. In all likelihood, this author’s style is going to be similar to past works, regardless of genre or what name is on the cover.

And more importantly, what does this do to all the other, real debut authors? Does this cheapen their work in comparison? Does this harm their debut? Will people miss their book, in all the noise about this other “debut?” Will buyers think less of the title because the publisher hasn’t put the same kind of oomph behind it?

This is just publishing at its most cutthroat, at its most businesslike. It’s a marketing tactic, designed to maximize ROI, nothing more. It isn’t that the buying public is getting a lesser quality work; on the contrary, these ersatz “debuts” arguably provide something of higher quality than legitimate debuts, so the public is not cheated. But a person can be duped and not be cheated.

Why do we accept dishonesty, if the outcome is not harmful?

k

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