A certain young man wrote a blog post in which he makes a lot of decent points I agree with...to some extent.
Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, this set off a fire storm of people complaining about ANY author who takes a cross-sex pen name, who doesn't tell readers the full and complete truth of themselves... You get the idea. The old "pen name bad"..."author bad"...deal. So, I decided to share my post on the subject.
Should an author have to use a legal name? No. Pen names can be traced back to at least Regency era...and
probably earlier. Heck, it's even legal for people to copyright their
work to the pen name, to file a DBA (Doing Business As) so you can get a
bank account and PO Box in the pen name... It's common business
practice to use one, if you want to.
It's no one's
business why someone HAS a pen name. I've seen authors take them to
avoid being fired from businesses that have Draconian rules about
writing, to avoid being skewered for writing horror or romance or (God
forbid!) erotic work in their Bible Belt areas, to avoid stalkers, to
separate genres they write, because their original pen name or legal name is held up in some ridiculous old contract that says that name can't write for another publishing house, because their own names match a personality
or well-known writer they don't want to be confused with, or even because their own names are hard to spell
and pronounce and are not memorable. Pen names solve many issues.
there are still some biases, especially in conglomerate press, when
(for instance) a man writes romance or a woman writes hard science
fiction. Or, in some circles, women who write MM. Rolling eyes. Even
when you luck out and find reasonable publishers who don't care (and
some still have the dinosaur editors who do), some authors have built up
an audience over decades with a cross-genre name, from back when it
mattered more, and do not want to change now. A good example was a gent I
met who worked for Harlequin under a female pen name for well over a
decade and was afraid he would lose his audience if he published under
his own name and outed himself. It's a valid point, IMO.
the person have to tell you their real sex? No. See above for one good
example why. We could get into James Tiptree, but let's stay in this
century for a bit. Remember that Rowling was told to use her initials to
hide that she was female, or she would have no audience for Harry
Potter, since it was a YA with a male lead, and she was a female author.
Beyond all the things I've said so far, I've seen trans authors who
were skewered for presenting themselves as their own identity (IOW, the
one they live and present as at all times). To me, this smacks of
bigotry and nothing more. This person has M on IDs, has a male name,
presents as a male...but we're going to call him a female to complain
about the pen name? In a sentence to show my disgust... Some people need
to grow up.
Should you have to tell the full and
complete truth in your bio? No. Bear with me here. I'm NOT saying to
claim you won awards you didn't or have degrees or experiences you don't or something
similar. And don't put yourself out of your depth; stick with things
that are essentially true or close to the truth. For consideration, if
you live in a small town in the Bible Belt and need to hide that? Don't
say you live there. Say you live in a large town closeby. Somewhere
you've visited often and can find your way around. Or say you live where
you were born and raised. You don't want to give enough information for
someone to figure out where you work? Say you hold a job (no details
like company) that you actually HAVE held in the past. You live with
your two kids, and you don't want some nutter coming after your kids or
trying to use them to find you? There's nothing wrong with saying you
take long walks with your dog, which you still do, and not mention the
family. There's nothing wrong with any of this.
it okay to use a fake picture? This one is stickier. DO NOT use pictures
of someone without their express permission to do so, and take NEW
pictures of them, so people can't Google that precise picture. Why is
this permissible at all? Seriously? Conglomerate press has been doing
this for decades or more, hiring on models to "be" the author for
photos, and no one complained before now. Some people are private. I
don't begrudge them having a fake picture, but do something like getting
your spouse or a friend to agree to be your model, for pities sake.
mind you that this limits your ability to do personal appearances, but
it doesn't KILL it. Remember the Harlequin author I mentioned? He had
his wife be his public face in pictures. When he did signings, he would
sit at the table with her, playing the role of her husband and biggest
fan, to answer any questions she couldn't remember off the bat. She
"officially" was the author for the signing. It worked well for them,
and readers still got to meet the "author", in a manner of speaking.
Personally, I wouldn't feel catfished at all, in such a situation. He
wasn't given a lot of options when he started out.
I'm thinking of the so-called "autobiography" by James Frey (A Million
Little Pieces?) that caused a stink several years ago. If you are
writing something that is supposed to be TRUE, don't outright lie. It
should be common sense, but it seems it's not. Now, in the case in
question, people tend to forget that the only way the publisher would
sign the book was if they billed it as autobiography and not as fiction,
so they forced the issue of the fake sex and history. That is
completely unethical, of course.
Oh...and if you don't want to use a photo of yourself on social media, use one of your book covers...or switch your book covers off once in a while. Or use a picture of your cat or dog (especially if you write children's/YA books about animals). Or use a piece of artwork made by a friend...with proper permission and attribution, of course. There are ways to make it clear you are not the photo you are displaying.