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We are talking about fiction, correct? If the entire book is make-believe, then why does it matter if the name is real?

Nonfiction, where the author's ethos is an integral part of the book's credibility, is a different story.
 

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I only write under one name nowadays, but if I ever have the urge to write under a pen name again, I’ll use whatever gender, race, and sexuality I want for my fictional pen. I’ll claim to have cats or dogs or like hunting when I’ve never shot a gun in my life.

If someone reads my book, loves it, and then suddenly changes their 5 star review to a 1 star because they find out *gasp* I’m not having sex with the people they thought I was and I haven’t had a cat in years, then that’s their own personal demons they can deal with. Talk about first world problems... lol

I wouldn’t ever lie about my background if I were writing non-fiction, because that can be seen as fraud. But when I’m writing fiction, I can be Dr. Suess, Dr. Suzette, or Dr. Whatever-I-Wanna be.

 

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I've had two novels and novella with a female protagonist in the urban fantasy category commercially published by a Harlequin imprint. My very well-known editor pretty much required a more gender-neutral pseudonym (I'm male). For them, it's just branding and marketing strategy. I still listed my legal name on the copyright page and in my author bio. Almost no one notices. I get referred to as "she" in online discussions all the time, though there's usually that one person who will inevitably chime in with "she's a he" if the discussion goes on long enough.

I think the vast majority of readers don't care, and another fraction is accepting of some ambiguity. If you construct a fictional biography to deceive the remaining fraction that does care that you're someone you're not, especially if that someone is part of a marginalized group, then I think you've crossed an ethical line. Not that crossing ethical lines is uncommon in marketing, of course.

I don't really judge people for their biases. I have some. I enjoy SFF written by men more often than I enjoy SFF written by women, and yet some of my favorite SFF authors are women. If Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden puts "Robin Hobb" on the cover of her excellent SFF novels to save me from my own biases, I should probably just thank her for it. If she'd constructed a whole fictional male persona and biography for "Robin Hobb," I'd feel differently about it.
 

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Lynn Is A Pseudonym said:
Those feelings of deception are not feelings I ever want to put any of my readers heads. But if that's okay with you, then I guess that's just who you are.
The trick is, don't let the readers find out that you've never had a cat ;D

Really, though, if an author is going to go through the trouble of creating a fake persona to go along with a pseudonym - something I wholeheartedly endorse - it's kind of self-defeating to subsequently reveal to your readers that it's all fake.
 

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Lynn Is A Pseudonym said:
I'm sure it's not happening by choice. Most of the stories I've come across are similar to the Josh Lanyon story. It comes out, whether you want it to or not.
Things really don't just come out by magic though. Things come out when people let them out. Yeah, some people just aren't any good at keeping a secret I guess. But if someone is privacy minded to begin with, it's not really that hard to not let things come out.
 

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sandysocks said:
I'm actually pretty surprised at the amount of people I've seen say it's unethical to have a persona for a pen name.
Who are these people? Are they the ones with the straw man factory? They are never around to speak up for themselves.
 

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she-la-ti-da said:
I think what it all comes down to is, what is the intent?
No, that's not what it comes down to.

It's no one's business why an author uses a pen name.

Edited. Drop me a PM if you have any questions. - Becca
 

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JRTomlin said:
I think that was the issue with Lanyon. She created a fake gay male persona. You may not see any harm in it but when it came out it lost her a lot of fans. Considering the large number of women who write in that genre (for those who don't know, she is mainly known for M/M romantic mysteries), I find the pretense a bit puzzling. She was more hurt by being exposed as having lied than she would have been writing as a woman.

Maybe there is nothing wrong with creating a 'persona' for your pen name, but it's a good idea to be aware that fans can end up angry/offended when it is exposed.
I have a long term close association with a hetero guy who writes as a Lesbian and is very successful with his work. I have sometimes heard him mutter "They'd lynch me if they found out." He does have - and is very close to - a Lesbian sister.
 

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Wow. I guess I never thought this topic could be so controversial. I write under a pen name. I want my writing separate from my professional life. There are people at work that I don't want knowing that I write books. A Google of my real name brings up things in my professional life and I want my books separate from that. What I have not done is create a pen persona. When I post a picture of a cat on social media, it's my cat. My author bio is authentic to the real me. Not all of us using pen names do so with nefarious intentions.
 

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. said:
If I found out a writer lied about having a cat and was using stock photos I wouldn't think it's the worse crime in the world, but I would much rather prefer to read and support honest authors, and the same is true with other artists and businesses. I don't think it's necessary to lie to be successful, and I don't like being lied to no matter who it is or how big or small the lie is. So if I find out someone is being dishonest then I'd rather find another writer's books to read.
Hmm, I lie about my cat. The cat died and I didn't want to tell my readers because I have posted lots of pictures of my real cat with my books in the past and even written blog posts from his point of view. The cat lives on in my mind ... it doesn't feel dishonest, but I guess it is on the premise above?
 

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Evenstar said:
Hmm, I lie about my cat. The cat died and I didn't want to tell my readers because I have posted lots of pictures of my real cat with my books in the past and even written blog posts from his point of view. The cat lives on in my mind ... it doesn't feel dishonest, but I guess it is on the premise above?
Aww, that's so sad.

I think they're more talking about making up a cat, though, not failing to disclose a death.
 

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Russ Munson said:
Uhh..cuz I'd prefer not to read a book about brain surgery written by a brick layer.
Maybe not if it was non-fiction. But in fiction... well, we make stuff up for a living!
 

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Lynn Is A Pseudonym said:
Personas are an attempt to have it both ways: Don't give anything away, but get to interact with people as if you're sharing lots of stuff.

I don't think pen names are unethical in the least. But author personas that are made up of fake facts are meant to deceive other people so that the author can get or maintain a market position for personal financial gain. There's just no reason for them to exist that doesn't hinge on deception for profit.

(I originally wrote so much more, but decided why bother. The people who do it aren't ever going to see the side of the people who feel deceived by it. It just doesn't mean anything to them.)
It's no more deception for profit than using a male pen name to write military sci-fi or a female pen name to write romance. Unless the author uses the pen/persona in some other way - to elicit information from readers they wouldn't otherwise give, to ask for donations, etc., there is no harm to the reader. You either enjoy the book you buy or you don't, same as it would be with any other writer's. It's just branding. Companies do this all the time - releasing products under a spin-off company or label with different branding and advertising so it will sell better.
 

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KelliWolfe said:
It's no more deception for profit than using a male pen name to write military sci-fi or a female pen name to write romance. Unless the author uses the pen/persona in some other way - to elicit information from readers they wouldn't otherwise give, to ask for donations, etc., there is no harm to the reader. You either enjoy the book you buy or you don't, same as it would be with any other writer's. It's just branding. Companies do this all the time - releasing products under a spin-off company or label with different branding and advertising so it will sell better.
She's talking about personas, not pen names per se. Big, big difference.

My own test--would my readers care if they knew? Or, to go back to my gold standard--how would I feel if the truth were published in my hometown newspaper? If my kids knew? If my friends knew? If my mom knew?

Or, if you're just focused on profit, you can stick with, "would my readers care if they knew?" In romance, at least feel-good romance--you bet. They are interacting with you via your newsletter, via social media, because they feel a connection based on what you write. If I didn't actually have gardens, baby chicks, a sick sister, it would be a huge betrayal, because I write feel-good romance about honorable people. My characters would seem cynically created, and my readers would feel like rubes. They'd feel cheated and lied to. They have given me a wonderful career. What kind of ingrate would I be to betray them like that?

Everyone will choose for themselves. Perhaps if you write abuse romance, or thrillers of the more conspiratorial sort, your readers will be more cynical. Mine are looking for a cynicism-free zone, and so am I, so that's the path I follow. I know and they know that real life is full of liars. That's why I write books where good guys win.
 

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Lynn Is A Pseudonym said:
It is definitely the interaction aspect that does it. But I cannot honestly think of one persona that isn't meant to interact with other people except for maybe Galbraith. And the fact that Galbraith claimed military experience set a lot of people off for reasons other than the interaction issue.
I personally keep my fan interactions to a minimum. I no longer post my email addresses, and I don't do FB or Twitter or anything like that. I have basic blogs set up for my pen names, but the only posts I do are for new releases, cover reveals, and other announcements of that sort. I do respond to comments on the blogs, but since they are public it keeps the topics mainly related to "When is the next book coming out" type questions. I *love* my fans, and I love it that they're excited about my books, but my books are fiction - they aren't *me* - and I don't feel the need to get involved on a more personal level. I write in genres that I like and I do my very best to write books that readers will like, and I don't really think I owe anyone more than that. YMMV, of course, but that's where I'm coming from with my viewpoint on this. I realize a lot of people operate very differently, and that's where the gray areas start cropping up.
 

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KelliWolfe your last post to me sounds like a pen name not a made up persona.

I listened to a podcast not that long ago where a military science fiction writer had corresponded with one of his readers and named a character after him.  He later found out that the reader had passed away and had been bed ridden for several years and had actually mentioned the writer in his eulogy.

Two hard core ex-military men who had a genuine connection and where real human connection, along with the books, really did matter and make a difference to both of their lives.

I really wish people did not screw with readers. At least stop pretending and claiming that it doesn't matter. If it didn't matter then people wouldn't make up personas in the first place.  Making up a fake persona to make people think you are more like them or someone who they will emotionally relate to, elicit sympathy from, etc. is not the same thing as a pen name. 

It matters and you think it will make you more money.  Own it.


p.s. "Purely political" - heterosexual marriages are not in legal jeopardy so no reason to get ever get "political"- and yes it very much does relate to pen names and the topic of this thread when people blithely talk about how a-okay it is to masquerade as LGBTQ but they don't face the same consequences in real life.  I guess I'm not supposed to mention a real life political event that just happened and pretend we live in a bubble.  All I did was mention it.
 
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