George Orwell critiqued totalitarianism in government. Hunter S. Thompson explored—and lived—the drug culture. Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic, was perhaps one of the darkest American authors ever published.
Good writing, almost as a rule, challenges its readers. There will be individuals who do not understand or do not want to understand what you are attempting to do with your writing, and they will judge you. It is unconscionable how many readers will assume that authors have the same traits as, or are advocating the traits of, some of the most despicable characters in their fiction. It is unconscionable, but that will not change anytime soon. People’s judgment of your work can cause wedges with family members, friends, publishers, and, most notably, with employers or potential employers.
Writing, at its heart, is all about conflict. By and large, most of the professional world requires the presentation of a clean-cut image. If you are writing about sex, violence, racism, or any other subject that is impolite in conversation (and cast a wide net with this), you might want to consider writing under a pseudonym so as to protect yourself from any harm in the public sphere. Employers can and do Google search potential employees. If your name is John Rogers, you might not have much to worry about, but if your name is a bit less common (like mine!) than you might want to consider if writing under a pseudonym is appropriate.
Some might say that is a cowardly approach. I wouldn’t say so, as many writers can and do make a living from their work, but that requires diligence, consistent writing, networking, editing, and publishing assistance; still, the vast majority have to rely on other means than their fictive works. My own writing tends to be extremely subversive. However, I am a freelancer and entrepreneur, aside from being a writer, so I don’t feel any discomfort if someone were to look up my name and see it attached to works of a transgressive nature. Even while I was in the workforce in a traditional job in academia, I knew who to mention my writing to and who to avoid speaking about it with. This is pretty easy to gauge and I’m sure you’ll be able to discern appropriately.
Of course, whether you choose to use a pseudonym or not is up to you. If you are unsure, ask yourself the following six questions and then decide:
- How edgy is my writing?
- Is there a significant likelihood of damage coming to my finances, family, or person if I were to publish under my own name?
- Do I want the privacy that a pseudonym provides or do I prefer the spotlight?
- How memorable is my given name?
- How literary does my given name feel?
- Do I write in multiple genres and thus want to keep my audiences separate?
Regardless of whether you choose to use a pseudonym or not, I wish you the very best in your literary endeavors.
Publisher, The Literary Game