To Be, Or To Be Somebody Else
That depends. When I first started writing I made the decision to write everything under my real name, mostly because my ego was very tightly tied up in the whole thing, and for many years that seemed to work well. I wrote; I published; my ego saw my byline in many places and was made glad.
In retrospect, however, I wish I'd used a pen name. This is because:
- I never envisioned that there would be a day when I would be embarassed to have my children find and read certain of my early stories.
- I never envisioned that there would be a day when I would work for a VP who was a biker wanna-be on weekends, and who actually *had* some of that borderline biker-porn I wrote in my early years, thought it was cool, and would bring it in to the office to share with the rest of the executives.
- I actually did envision cyberstalking -- it was integral to the never-finished second "c-word" novel -- but I never envisioned how easy it would some day be for just any putz to make the leap from your name to your home phone number, street address, map and directions, and a satellite photo of your house clear enough to show the color of the doghouse roof.
Further, I did not understand until too late that a byline is a brand name, and while I hate to repeat myself, readers really do like to find books and stories just like other ones they've already read and enjoyed. When they opened up a can of Bruce Bethke, though, they could never tell what they were getting. Funny? Serious? Hard-clanking cyber SF or dark contemporary horror? While this led to some truly entertaining fan letters (e.g., "I had a hard time appreciating the humor of 'Interior Monologue' at first, but..."), it made me hard to pigeonhole, and loathe it or hate it, the market loves pigeonholes.
Ergo, if I were starting out now (or trying to reanimate a dead career), I believe I would follow the example illustrated by the blogosphere, and not just use a pen name, but use at least seven of them -- one each for mystery, comedy, horror, hard SF, fantasy, political/social commentary, and apolitical non-fiction -- and freely switch back and forth between identities as my various "careers" waxed and waned. If nothing else, maybe this would help me elude The Curse of the Poor Numbers.