I know a writer. He’s not a committed indie. In fact, he has a pretty big London agency behind him and is actively seeking a traditional deal. However, he’s writing in a very crowded market (crime), and until he gets a publishing contract he’s busy self-publishing his novels. He regularly has two or three titles in Amazon.co.uk’s top 1000 eBooks, and at least one of these has peaked at a sales ranking in the single figures. By my reckoning, he’s earning a pretty decent living from these eBooks, so you might argue that he doesn’t really need an agent or a trad deal at all.
That’s as maybe, but what really intrigued me was that he let slip that he also (self-) publishes under a ghost-name.
Ah, well… bit of a secret… testing things out… just a bit of fun…
And no, he wouldn’t say what.
Then it struck me. I know another author who is secretly (ok, not that secretly; I know) publishing eBooks under a pseudonym, again in a different genre, and again as an experiment. Then there’s the case of the Fifty Shades of Alice in Wonderland¸ first in a trilogy of erotic novels by Melinda DuChamp, purportedly the pseudonym of a long-serving writer of romances (or should that be ‘thrillers’?).
Point is, everybody’s at it. And it’s not surprising. Most writers, I guess, have an MS or two which, for one reason or another, they would prefer not to publish in their own name. Perhaps the genre represents too great of a leap: if Barbara Taylor Bradford had a techno-dystopian sci-fi adventure under the bed, she’ll probably never publish it as a BTB title; and that bisexual cowboy slasher-horror novella that Philip Roth is rumoured to have penned right after Portnoy was never going to hit the shelves under the author’s real name.
An author might also be embarrassed to be associated with a piece. This doesn’t necessarily mean the work isn’t good within its own parameters. Many of us have worked as ghost-writers, and one is not always terribly proud of the genre into which a commission falls. You can pour all your literary talents into ghosting the biography of a twenty-five year-old TV soap opera starlet, for example, but all you have at the end of the process is another 200 pages of ephemeral stocking-filler, to be stacked high in Wal-Mart for a few weeks then pulped. (You have the fee as well, obviously.)
In this sense, self-publishing your own material is a bit like having yourself as a client. You can stay at one remove from what you produce, just as you do after you’ve sat in a Holiday Inn for fifteen hours with Lucy McDaytime then cobbled together her fascinating life-story. Getting a bit of distance between you and what you write is not for the stuff you’re most proud of, clearly, but then again writers have to eat. So, if an opportunity arises, anonymity might not be a bad thing.
How many writers sprinted to their laptops in 2012 and churned out 50 Shades rip offs? There’s nothing wrong in trying to make money from fiction, but you don’t necessarily want to stake your entire reputation on the slim chance that your ham-fisted stab at mommy porn will make you rich. Self-publishing allows a writer to make this kind of stab in the dark (which, incidentally, is the title of my own erotic novel), and as such is potentially a new means of supporting yourself as a writer.
In fact, I think writing and self-publishing under an assumed name should be obligatory. Like one of those assignments you get on a writing class, we should all choose a genre that is completely different from our normal area of work and force ourselves to produce a finished piece of work in that genre; then stick it on Amazon and see if/how ranked lovers of that genre respond. Your customer review average would, naturally, be your grade on that module of your MFA.
So, get to it. I know I have. Or perhaps I haven’t. In any case, I’ll never say. That’s the point. I think.