• Beth Kephart
  • Should we tell the truth about who we are when selling our novels?
Should we tell the truth about who we are when selling our novels?
Written by
Beth Kephart
February 2012
Written by
Beth Kephart
February 2012

Julie Bosman's New York Times feature on author Patricia O'Brien intrigues us.  O'Brien had sold five novels, the story goes, but could not sell a sixth, entitled The Dressmaker, thanks to the sales of her previous titles.  O'Brien's agent suggested a pseudonym.  O'Brien agreed.  Within just three days The Dressmaker had sold for a very nice sum under a new author name, Kate Alcott.

There was some lingering subterfuge to attend to, of course.  Some funny back and forth—a new email address, scanty personal details—with an editor who believed she had bought the work of a first-time author.  But it wasn't until it was author photo time and the first blurred photo that the author sent was deemed no good that the gig was finally up, the truth spoken.

As one who teaches memoir and advocates for the truth in the form, it's hard to know how to feel about this.  I mean, we're talking about fiction, after all.  And the pseudonym business surely isn't new.  And I'm certainly one of many writers who wishes deeply that the sale of her future books were not so tied to the sale of books she already wrote.  We aren't always responsible for what happens to our books out there—can't insist on publicity, can't do much about where our books sit within our publishing house's priorities, can't dictate whether or not ads will be taken, whether or not a tour will be financed, whether or not the book resonates at this particular time, whether or not a lot of things.

But when I try to imagine keeping the charade going post sale—interacting with an editor under false pretenses, say—I wonder if I would have had the gumption to keep going, editorial letter after editorial letter, conversation after conversation.  I suspect I'd be one of those who would have early on had to blow her cover.  Working with an editor is personal, in the end.  And novel writing can be akin to confession.

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  • Ling Lee Hinkle

    Interesting.  I didn't read about the article in NYT.