Question of the day: What are your thoughts on writing under a pen name? Do I let the agent know ahead of time?
I know several authors who write under an assumed name, and I think, if your reasons are good ones, it makes a lot of sense. But it can't just be because you're writing a memoir and you don't want your mom to read the sordid details of your sex life. Or whatever.
The authors I know who have assumed pen names have done so because they wanted to rejuvinate their careers. I actually tweeted a bit about this a few weeks ago when a friend announced that she'd be publishing "a debut" under an entirely different name, and I think in her case (which is the same as the other cases I know of), it's smart thinking if she (or anyone else) wants to start fresh. Why would anyone want to do that? Well, because publishers and booksellers can pigeon-hole your book into a mid-list book or even less than that, and once they start thinking of you in this way, it's a very difficult cycle to break out of. Rare is the book that has a middling advance, a small print run and not a ton of marketing that truly hits a home run. Like it or not, a lot of a book's success is predetermined, not just by how much effort publishers are going to put into it (which is often based on the size of the advance) but by how many books your earlier books have sold. If you've sold 5k, book sellers aren't going to order enough to stock their shelves to make it a break-out book. If you've sold 100k, then they will.
You can see, surely, how this is a self-fulfilling prophesy, and how assuming a new name indeed gives you a chance to start over without the additional baggage.
That said, you also lose your fans, since you really can't alert them to the sale of the new book without outing yourself. So you can also see why this isn't something that you do lightly. It's something that has to have real consideration, and something, quite obviously, that you'd need to discuss with both your agent and your publisher. If your publisher believes in you as an author but recongizes that your brand has taken a beating, maybe it's something to go for.
Obviously, there are other times you choose a pen name (i.e, testing out a new genre), but for the most part, I'd stick with your real identity. Oh, and yes, you'd need to tell an agent of your intentions, since he/she would need to know who you truly are! And also, your contracts, etc, would be made out to your legal name. It's not like you're letting this identity take over your life. :)
What do you guys think? Has anyone ever considered taking a pen name? I'm curious!