Author 007

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 10 2009

I have written a controversial realistic fiction novel. If I want to keep my identity not discoverable, what’s the best way to do this?

I have to admit it’s really hard for me not to simply reply to this question with, “Don’t tell anyone” and leave it at that.

I won’t do that though. I’ll force my fingers to continue writing.

Let me start by telling you that in the age of Google it’s pretty dang hard to keep anything a secret these days. Does anyone remember Primary Colors by that anonymous Joe Klein? When that book was published in 1996 by anonymous it became a game to see who could figure out the author’s real name first. I remember analysts comparing the writing to journalists and columnists everywhere. It was nuts, and later it was revealed that Joe Klein was in fact no longer anonymous. That being said, you can certainly do whatever you feel you need to if you want to remain underground, it just might be tricky.

First of all, your agent is probably going to need to know who you are. After all, the checks from the publisher get sent somewhere and the IRS is going to need to know to whom. So if for no other reason than it’s a legal issue you’ll probably have to reveal yourself to your agent. And then, if you really don’t want your publisher to know the real you, you can probably have everything go through your agent and only have your publisher refer to you by your pseudonym. Seems extreme for fiction though.

For media events you can wear a disguise and use your agent or a publicist to set those things up (and I know this is sounding snarky, but I am being honest here) or simply do everything by phone or online and refuse to make appearances (which could be tough if the book hits big).

Ultimately, pick a pseudonym and use that name. For now anyway that will keep you anonymous.


27 responses to “Author 007”

  1. Avatar CKHB says:

    In the day and age of Google, I think it's also pretty hard to write something truly controversial.

    I mean, what's the topic here? Homosexuality? (Brokeback Mountain) Abortion? (The Cider House Rules) Pedophilia? (Lolita) Serial killing? (Darkly Dreaming Dexter) Something that arguably criticizes the church? (DaVinci Code)

    I can't imagine a fiction title that would warrant anonymity these days.

  2. I wonder if that question is being asked to garner interest from agents? Because, I have to agree with CKHB – it's 2009 – what could be so controversial?

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I can't imagine a fiction title that would warrant anonymity these days.

    Unless it's an extremely thinly veiled telling of actual events which could have people screaming libel. However, in a case like that, I would think the best option would be to make the veil thicker, as well as more tangled, in terms of the story itself.

    A tangentially related question that I've wondered about for ages: does anybody know how Nora Ephron got away with writing "Heartburn," which she openly acknowledged as a skewering of her exhusband, Carl Bernstein?

    I agree that in this day and age, anonymity would be virtually impossible to pull-off.


  4. Avatar M. Dunham says:

    This reminds me of a quote whose source I cannot remember: "If you want to write your ex-husband into a character and are worried about bring sued, give your character a small penis. Then he'll never admit it was him."

  5. To M. Dunham, Bwahahahahahah!!!!!!

  6. Avatar Mira says:

    Well, actually this is relevant for me, so I appreciate it.

    I'm considering a humor novel, and in many ways it would be nice if the MC was never identified as having an author…..

    But I agree. Very hard to do nowadays.

  7. Avatar Lehcarjt says:

    I'm wondering (just for the sake of curiosity and not because I write controversial material) if turning one's pseudonym into a C-Corp legally and then having the copyright, publisher payments, and tax liability go to the C-Corp would hid one's identity. I've heard that a person can have a C-Corp owned by another C-Corp owned by another C-Corp and on and on and on is a way to hide identity and keep things legal.

  8. Avatar Lehcarjt says:

    I just read Mira's comment and have to post again.

    If a book has no author, how does the real author (behind the no author) start a following for further books? My understanding is that no one is interested in one shot wonders unless they are celebrities already.

  9. Avatar Jim King says:

    I was less put off by "controversial" than I was by "fiction novel."

  10. Avatar CKHB says:

    M. Dunham, it was Anne Lamott who said it, in Bird by Bird!

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    "give your character a small penis"…
    I believe that was Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott. Not sure if she originated that little gem or if she was quoting someone else.
    Either way, I'm sure it's effective.

  12. Avatar Mira says:

    Hi Lehcarjt

    Well my idea would be to blog and create a following as the MC, rather than as myself.

    The MC could have more than one book.

    I think, in some ways, that might be more successful than if the author is ever identified.

    I'm trying to think of an example….surely there are characters that have never had their authors identified….?

    Maybe not. Like I said, very hard to do in this day and age. But there could be definite advantages to it.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Agree with Jim King's comment on "fiction novel."

  14. Avatar Dawn Maria says:

    I use a pseudonym and it gets tricky when I apply for residencies, writing contests and conferences. Any tips on this?

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    And sometimes that kind of strategy backfires.

    A few years back, there were two "hot" books for the summer. One was called THE TRAVELER, but the pseudonymous "John Twelve Hawks" — a reclusive, "off the grid" individual who seemed to buy in to the whole supernatural big brother element of his story. The other was THE HISTORIAN, by the personable, photogenic, well-spoken and eager to publicize Elizabeth Kostova.

    One became a huge hit, the other kinda vanished. Partially because it was impossible to do as much publicity for a book whose only hook was "the author doesn't want anyone to find him" and partially because people heard all this crap about the author and got visions of the Unabomber in their heads.

  16. Avatar hannah says:

    Mira–sort of like "A Series of Unfortunate Events?"

  17. I understand picking a pseudonym to maintain some sense of privacy, but it's pretty easy to find out the real identity of an author. (Heck, half the time it's listed on Wikipedia.) However, most people probably won't go digging for it, so if you want to use a pseudonym to avoid too much publicity in your everyday life, go ahead. If you're seriously afraid of people finding you out…umm, perhaps you shouldn't publish anything you don't want to own up to.

    I also have to agree with others that nothing is that controversial anymore, at least not in new ways. Some debates will continue forever, so if you've written a book around one of them, you can expect to get some hate mail–but I think every author does, and if you have a pseudonym, it's unlikely you'll have to deal with it much in the rest of your (real) life. Very few authors get Salman Rushdie-style death threats against them.

  18. Avatar Laurel says:

    If you have written a fiction novel and are currently seeking an agent/pursuing publication, it is very likely you are already on the path to remaining anonymous. It is working well for about 98% of queriers. More like 99.9% of queriers in the "fiction novel" genre.

    Excellent strategy.

  19. Hannah, I had the pleasure of meeting the infamous Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler, a few years back. He was the most brilliant person I've ever had the pleasure of having a one-on-one conversation with.

    Regarding this post, yes he's known as Lemony Snicket, but it's easy enough to discover who he "really" is. Sounds to me like the questioner wants to remain anonymous.

  20. Avatar Mira says:

    Actually, let me try that again…

    Yes, my friend met Daniel Handler. He was very charming to her. 🙂

    Hannah, my idea is alittle different than Lemony Snicket, but similar. Mine would be both the MC and the narrator combined. But the genre would be humor, which is alittle different than fiction. In fact, the anonymity could be part of the joke.

    But it's just an idea I'm toying with. It's interesting to me that people don't like the idea. Personally, I like the idea alot, I just think it would be hard to pull off.

  21. All of this seems like really good advice. I think that remaining anonymous is made easier when no one knows you're trying to hide your identity. If everyone thinks your pseudonym is your name, they won't be searching to find out who you "really are".

  22. Writing anything controversial should never be a death sentence for any manuscript.

  23. Avatar Anonymous says:

    There are things about this that make me uneasy. "Fiction novel" being at the top of the list.

  24. Avatar Buffra says:

    "Fiction novel" gave me pause, but not the desire to remain anonymous.

    Perhaps because of my own experiences, I can understand wanting to distance myself from it. Not so much because of fear of large-scale controversy — I agree that's unlikely — but because if I write about something personal, that others might realize is personal, I might not want to be associated with it.

    I'm surprised that so many people find it so strange.

  25. Avatar Anonymous says:

    There are times when pen names are necessary to keep you anonymous. If you're crossing genres, which I do, you can't be associated with what you're already known for. The fans you have will get annoyed, and the ones you want to reach will get even more annoyed.

  26. Avatar Piper Afloat says:

    As a multi-genre reader, I've always wondered about that, Anonymous. I find it annoying to have to work to track one author across different genres!

    I haven't turned my hand to writing a "fiction novel" since early high school, but I am looking for useful variations on my pen name so I can write in different genres without pissing readers off. How different should they be?

  27. Avatar Julie says:

    A tangentially related question that I've wondered about for ages…..
    Online Marketing of your brand