I don't understand pen-names.

I mean, I get why someone might write as "by a Lady" or adopt a name of the opposite gender, or just publish under a different name to keep their private life private. I can also understand why a ridiculously famous author might want to use a pseudonym to "try again" and go without the expectations and constraints of previous work.

 

I can even sort of get why pseudonyms are used for genre separation. I can see why Agatha Christie, one of the best-known mystery writers of her generation and beyond, would want to publish non-mysteries under Mary Westmacott.  Ian M. Banks, aka Ian Banks, used the initial to differentiate mysteries and scifi.  Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels aka Barbara Mertz published scholarly stuff under her real name, gothic under Michaels, and mystery under Peters. That one is beginning to get iffy, but she explained it in an interview as if it just sort of happened by accident. (As far as I remember, Michael, Peter, and Elizabeth were her kids' names.)

 

But I don't understand this trend of constructing a collection of pennames.  Several authors I follow, who are, probably not coincidentally, with the same agent and are published by Orbit, appear to be in the process of collecting pennames.  As a reader, I find it frustrating and baffling, because it makes it awfully, awfully hard to keep track of their books.

 

For example, take Mike Carey. I'm a total fan of Carey's Fix Castor urban fantasy series. I'm working on tracking down that Steel Seraglio book. Knowing a book is by Carey puts it on my TBR by default. It seems to me that for Mr. Carey, any publicity and previous fame is useful. So why is he now publishing urban fantasy under the "pseudonym" of "M.R. Carey"?

According to Orbit,

M. R. Carey is a pen name for an established British writer of prose fiction and comic books. He has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles. His creator-owned books regularly appear in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list. He also has several previous novels and one Hollywood movie screenplay to his credit.

First, this is an epic fail of a penname. Not only is the last name the same; the initials even match. Second, the blurb, mentioning all the comic stuff, is almost identical. Third, it's using the same photo as for his Mike Carey identity.  Yet Orbit is treating this "established British author" as a secret? It reminds me of those musicals where a false mustache or new hat suffices for a new identity.

 

And in any case, can you really imagine a potential buyer going, "Wow, this looks like a cool book. I've never heard of the author, but gee, I'm glad it's not the same as Mike Carey, because somehow I read his books and had a bad enough experience with him that I'd never read another one. Gosh, I'm so glad it's written by this obviously-completely-different 'M. R. Carey' fellow that despite my arbitrary hatred for Mike Carey, I'll buy a book by M. R. Carey right now!"

 

And then there's Kate Griffin, aka Catherine Webb, aka at least one other alias. I've given up trying to figure out her pennames; as far as I can tell, she has--or will have--at least four by now.  And some of them are apparently Top Secret. Hmph.

 

And didn't Nora Roberts and alter-ego J.D. Robb publish in the same genres?  Same with Dawn Cook and Kim Harrison, yes?

 

 What is the rationale for all the added confusion?