Facebook, pen names and "lack of integrity"

Posted by Paul Samael on Saturday, August 29, 2015 Under: Self-publishing


Like many authors, I write under a pen name.  But because it involves pretending to be someone other than I really am (in name at least), I did hesitate a little before I took the decision.  After all, in some situations, using a false identity would be regarded as a bit of weird thing to do, if not downright creepy (e.g. middle aged men pretending to be teenage girls etc).  But then I told myself to get a grip, because there’s nothing particularly weird about using a pen name – lots of authors do it for perfectly legitimate reasons, which cause no harm to anyone.

I was reminded of these misgivings when I read that Facebook had recently got into a spot of bother with a German data protection regulator over its real name policy.  The regulator objected to the fact that Facebook had prevented a user from using an alias - and then revealed her true identity without her consent.  Facebook maintained that the alias breached its real name policy – apparently Mark Zuckerberg thinks that using an alias displays a “lack of integrity”.  The assumption seems to be that if you’re not using your real name, you must be up to no good – when of course there are many perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting to use an alias.  In this case, the user wanted to avoid attracting attention on the site in a professional capacity – arguably a similar concern to the one that seems to have motivated Zuckerberg to buy up all his neighbours’ houses (honestly, the lengths some people will go to in order to protect their privacy…).   

Of course, many authors use pen names for similar reasons e.g. to avoid confusion or embarrassment with their work identity, or because they write in different genres which they want to keep separate.  But at least when it comes to pen names, there is a Facebook-approved way to get around the real names policy (up to a point).  You first have to create a profile under your real name – but once you’ve done that, you are allowed to create a “page” under your pen name.  Pages are different from profiles; they are mainly intended for businesses, brands or organisations, rather than people, but they also have a category for “artists, bands or public figures” which you can use for your pen name.  Once you’ve set up your page, then as the page administrator you can create a username for your page – which will hopefully enable you to post to that page under your pen name (provided that username is available).

Getting back to the reasons why authors use of pen names, I’ve just finished reading a collection of short sci-fi stories (Her Smoke Rose Up Forever) by James Tiptree Jr – or Alice B Sheldon, as she was in real life.  When her true identity as a woman (in a very male-dominated field of literature) was eventually revealed, it seems her productivity dropped off quite significantly – suggesting that her gender-bending pen name was important, somehow, to her creativity as an author (many of her stories are concerned with sexuality and the differences between men and women).

My own use of a pen name is similar in a way because it helped me to overcome my fear of publishing.  Somehow, the prospect of having vitriolic criticism directed against a pen name didn’t seem as bad as having it directed against the real me.  And using a pen name also meant that if my foray into self-publishing turned out to be a disaster, I could quietly terminate my alter ego, whilst keeping open the option of having another go under a different name at a later date (once I’d worked out where I’d gone so badly wrong).  As things have turned out, the positive reviews have (so far) outnumbered the negative ones, so perhaps I needn’t have worried – but without a pen name, I’m not sure I’d have got over my fear of abject failure sufficiently in order to publish in the first place.

There can also be a number of other advantages to using a pen name instead of your real name;  in my case, I chose a name that didn’t seem to be particularly common, especially for writers (Google “Paul Samael” and you’ll find that apart from my authorial alter ego, not a lot else comes up).  That certainly helps to give your authorial identity a degree of uniqueness, which is probably no bad thing in a very crowded marketplace.   The other reason for the choice of name was a kind of in-joke based on a passage in my novel (for the curious, see page 101 of the PDF version).  But if you can’t be bothered with such pretentious self-referential shenanigans (I suspect they reveal a serious “lack of integrity” on my part), you could just adopt the Alice B Sheldon approach and name your alter ego after a brand of jam/marmalade….Anyway, I can recommend her short story collection – it’s well worth a read.

Photo courtesy of Photopin.com.

In : Self-publishing 


Tags: facebook "choosing a pen name" "writing under a pen name" "why have a pen name" 
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About Me


Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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