How to Write

Anonymity and the Author

So, anonymity and the author? And more importantly, the question as to whether it’s possible to be an anonymous author in the modern age? But firstly, you may ask as an aspiring author why would you want to be anonymous? Why wouldn’t you want your name to be recognized?

            And, yes, that’s fine. If you enjoy the idea of having your name in the limelight—making it special, signing it with pride at the end of your hard-work, then do it. I am speaking today for people in my position; the people who dread the idea of having their name recognizable, the people who feel that pit of sickness in their stomach every time they think of gathering attention for their very personal works, the people who love their works but have little confidence themselves and the people who want to keep an element of privacy in their lives. For whatever reason you’d prefer to be anonymous, in this post I’m going to talk about whether, even if you really want to be, you can actually be anonymous.

            Okay—so, this may be an odd choice but the first (well, I suppose second now) thing I’m going to talk about is an old episode of ‘Arthur’, the children’s cartoon, I remember from when I was younger. In this episode Fern, an aspiring author and Agatha Christie/Mary Shelley lover, seeks advice about writing from a ‘Lemony Snicket’ style character who gives her the advice that the most important thing for her to do is go by a penname (Agatha Shelly is what she chooses) and remain anonymous. She finds this hard because when people criticise her work she can’t argue back with full effect, but that’s not the reason I’ve brought this up.

            In the episode this ‘Lemony Snicket figure’ leads a double life. He appears to remain anonymous because he lives an adventurous life with many enemies to hide from, but this is all something that has escaped from a child’s imagination, surely? Yes, it was written by an adult but is that kind of life practical from an author’s perspective in reality? The answer is—most likely, no.

            The truth is, as taught to me at University, that although you can remain anonymous as an author—if you actually want to sell your books, it’s preferable that you don’t attempt it. You need to go out and sell your book by selling yourself. You need to do readings, talk on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, go to events, book clubs, book signings and promote everything that you’ve written and everything you’re writing. This is what I was taught at university and is the main thing I dreaded as a professional writer. It was the part that put me off being a professional writer, more than criticisms or the hard work ever could. I still dread it to this day.

            But, sadly, I think that they’re most likely right. A long time ago (okay, not that long ago, but long from the perspective of someone who’s not been around as long) you could promote yourself through your work and a penname, without the need to attend anywhere to sell yourself. The Brontes’, George Eliot, even Jane Austen—they all had pennames at some point in their lives, many of them men’s so of course they couldn’t show up anywhere to promote themselves—according to the world they were all men.

            You may ask then, why could they get away with not selling themselves in the past? I think the answer’s quite simple: money and status. They were all wealthy or related to someone wealthy. Their main readers were wealthy as the middle class either didn’t exist or had just come to exist. There was a limited choice of books, since so few could read (let alone write). In the modern western world and beyond we all at least have some formal education (in most places at least) and as seen from the stories told by the poorer folk in history we’ve always had some capability of imagination. This combined to mean that there is a lot more competition in the modern world and, with authors who have less money, we actually need to sell our work to live.

            However, my friends with a pit-in-your-stomach, don’t lose faith in the power of anonymity. Just think, what do you actually know about me? I share my name, some stories, but for the most part I am anonymous still. I have an obscure penname and the power of the internet at my fingertips. If you need it, use it. You may not be able to do traditional publishing; self-publishing may be a hard push if you have to sell them yourself—but use the internet. Share yourself, anonymously, on story-sharing sites. I have a friend who posts stories on Tumblr, collaborating with other authors who are also on there. Write FanFiciton and post those (you are more likely to find followers with this one too).

            Can you make money doing it this way? Well, that’s still to be seen (she says, attempting to do this herself), but why not give it a shot anyway? Eventually, maybe, we’ll all be able to stand tall and throw ourselves into the limelight but for now, let’s stay a little bit anonymous and find our footing.

I could’ve made a pun about ‘lime’ light– but I have some restraint (sometimes).

Bullet Points:

  • I wanted to be anonymous. You don’t have to be ashamed if you do too, or if you want to be known either.
  • Look up ‘The Power of an Author’s Name’ by Foucault. It states his belief that the author’s name is actually what sells the book, more than the actual books themselves. Think about it—people buy Dickens for the author, not for the titles they don’t know whether they like or not.
  • I was told at university it’s no longer possible to be anonymous.
  • Needing to market in person.
  • Power of the Internet for an anonymous author.
  • Is it an archaic practice? (George Elliot, the Brontes—many females used to use male pennames. Pseudonyms do still exist though).
  • J.K. Rowling kept her name for a different genre, P.L. Travers didn’t.

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