Ghostwriter Diaries – On Pseudonyms

Notebook

The novel I ghostwrote earlier this year will be published soon, under pseudonym. Today I learned what that pseudonym is to be. It’s a strange feeling, acquainting yourself with someone who doesn’t exist ā€¦ yet who is in many respects your own self. Like looking into a mirror and seeing a stranger staring back.

The pseudonym is anonymous, so if you pick up the book you won’t know it’s me behind the curtain. That’s okay. I didn’t write the thing alone – I was just the blunt instrument wielded by the editorial team in order to excavate the prose like precious ore from unyielding rock. Still, I do feel some sense of ownership; the character in the mirror might not look quite like me, but there’s a passing resemblance. A second cousin, maybe.

It’s tempting to present this pseudonymous personality as a kind of Frankenstein’s monster – a chimera fabricated from aspects of the various individuals involved with the book’s creation. But the character in the mirror doesn’t look monstrous to me. On the contrary: this fictional writer of fiction seems to possess a certain elegance. There’s an engaging twinkle in the eye, a mirthsome twitch in the lip. I know this person, and this person knows me. There’s a shiver-down-the-spine kind of familiarity to the whole encounter. It’s spooky.

Well, why wouldn’t it be? After all, I’m looking at a ghost.

Comments

  1. Pseudonyms are great if a work is not directly linked to an author – and by that, I mean that the author is not a part of the story. Most of the time they are not. That’s not to say every author should use a pseudonym, but I definitely get why it would feel right or useful. I am not a true author. I once self-published a tale, but it was such a fiasco that I would never do so again. Not under my real name, which is sometimes actually recognized by people (and I am truly a nobody, just like people presumably do not know the ghostwriters behind a work). It is a nice feeling to hide behind a name when that name entails nothing but your own personality – a pseudonym does not have to hide a thing, if that makes sense.

    • Writers use pseudonyms for many different reasons. My example is a product of the book packager process, whereby no one person is responsible for the novel. The pseudonym represents the collective. Some writers use pseudonyms because they’re prolific: some publishers like to limit an author’s output to, say, a book a year; using a pen name is a way to get round that. Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman as a way of testing the influence his fame had on book sales (quite a lot as it happened – Bachman sold a lot more books once the cat was out of the bag). JK Rowling did the same thing when she switched genres and wrote as Robert Galbraith. And sometimes it’s just about putting on a different suit of clothes. Adopting a name is like putting on a mask – you see things differently through a new set of eyeholes.

      Oh, and as well as thanking you for your comment, I must also take you to task: nobody is a nobody šŸ™‚

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