I got this email today:
I have a question regarding your entry on authors changing names. Don’t
authors need to do tours and talks to publicize their books? I’ve heard that
much of a book’s success depends on the author’s own initiative to do
publicity. But if they’re using a pseudonym, isn’t this impossible? It would
only take one person to reveal him/her.
A good question…with lots of answers.
In many cases, the pseudonyms are an open secret (for instance, Jeremiah Healy makes no secret that he’s "Terry Devane" nor does Gar Haywood hide that he’s "Ray Shannon") and the authors go on the signing circuit anyway. The only ones who are "fooled" are the computers at the chain stores.
Other authors turn their pseudonym into a marketing tool, creating some mystery and buzz around the book. They require booksellers to drop shop books to a third party for signing so that the mystery of who they are remains intact. "Boston Teran" and "John Twelve Hawks" are recent examples, "Trevanian" is an older one. Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and Robert Ludlum also wrote books under other names as well as their own. So have pulp authors like Marvin H. Albert (aka Albert Conroy, Ian McAlister, Nick Quarry, Tony Rome, etc.) and Harry Whittington (aka Whit Harrison, Blaine Stevens, Ashley Carter, etc.)
Others just avoid the signing/promotion circuit and hope for the best…which, of course, could work against them and undermine the chances of their new identity increasing their sales or, in the case of already famous authors, matching the success they enjoy as themselves.
Finally, there are writers who make their living as ghostwriters…writing books for celebrities, politicians, other authors, or house names (names created by the publisher so that several writers can contribute to a series of books without the readers ever knowing). Don Pendleton hasn’t written an EXECUTIONER/MACK BOLAN novel in decades.
James Reasoner, for example, has been writing westerns under other authors’ names and house names for years. Donald Bain writes the MURDER SHE WROTE books under his own name as well as a NY Times bestselling series under someone else’s name (a someone who widely promotes the books he or she doesn’t write). Reportedly, Robert Tanenbaum doesn’t write his legal thrillers (Michael Gruber did for many years)…but that doesn’t stop him from going on booksigning tours anyway.
In short, there are lots of reasons for writing under other names and lots of ways to promote your books despite the illusion.