Books are something else, right? They give us a glimpse of various stories and situations that make our imagination run wild. Authors also have their mark and we can easily tell what the novel will be like by simply knowing who the author is. And just like any celebrity, there are certain authors that we follow and idolize and collect all his/her books. Most of the time we don’t really care that much as to the author’s gender because it is the book’s contents we are really interested in.
Today, there is news making its round on the web about male authors using gender-neutral names to hide their gender from their readers. But just what is all the fuss? And why are these male authors even doing this? What triggered them to hide their gender from the public? Is it really necessary in order for them to sell books? This are age-old questions because apparently, they’ve been doing it for centuries already and for good reason.
Riley Sager is a debut author whose book, Final Girls, has received the ultimate endorsement. “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this,” Stephen King has said. But unlike Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girls, Luckiest Girl Alive and others, Final Girls is written by a man – Todd Ritter. This detail is missing from Riley Sager’s website which, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, refers to the author only by name and without any gender-disclosing pronouns or photographs. (His Twitter avatar is Jamie Lee Curtis.)
Ritter is not the first man to deploy a gender-neutral pen name. JP Delaney (real name Tony Strong) is author of The Girl Before, SK Tremayne (Sean Thomas) wrote The Ice Twins and next year, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (AKA Daniel Mallory) is published. Before all of these was SJ (AKA Steve) Watson, the author of 2011’s Before I Go to Sleep.
It seems more of a marketing strategy why these male authors are hiding their identity especially if they are writing about romance. It is easier to sell a concept or a story in this case if the readers aren’t prejudiced about the author’s gender. And in a way, this strategy actually works in attracting attention and readers alike. The public is often curious as to the real identity of the author and it keeps them glued to whatever story the author is up his sleeves.
Anonymity can be liberating. The pen names Currer and Ellis Bell, respectively, allowed Charlotte and Emily Bronte to use influences from their local neighbourhood to craft Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. George Elliott, the famed writer of Middlemarch, was actually Mary Anne Evans. The aliases allowed these women to break into a literary market that was rigidly male-dominated at the time, giving us some of the seminal works of 19th-century western literature. In the decade that followed, Charles Dodgson disrobed the identity of a mathematician to write Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland as Lewis Carroll. The gender-neutral initials of EL James allowed the writer of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy to engage with a particularly notorious topic. And closer to home, Rabindranath Tagore composed poetry in the literary language of Brajabuli as Bhanusimha, a name he found in the torn leaves of an old library book.
The removal of a name tag brings on the freedom to shift genres, write from the perspective of a different gender, or tackle topics that are particularly sensitive or experimental. This makes the pseudonym itself a powerful and useful tool. But it’s troubling to think of how we, as readers, often make writers feel like they can’t use their own identity for their work.
Perhaps male authors feel more independence when shifting genres when they believe their readers aren’t prejudiced about their work. They feel at ease exploring or talking about more sensitive matters in their novels or stories when they aren’t bounded by certain expectations or prejudices from third-parties and the general public. And there are actually lots of readers out there that choose the type of books to read just by seeing the name of the author. It’s why you can’t blame authors why they are using generic nom de plumes. Even female authors are actually doing it too. That way, they aren’t limited to express their creativity without compromising potential book sales.