books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What if J. K. Rowling had used a Pseudonym? Should Authors Use Different Names for Different Genres?


Update: July 14, 2013.


It seems the critically acclaimed detective novel,
The Cuckoo's Calling was written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Here's an article in the Telegraph with details about the new revelation.  It got great reviews, but didn't sell much. But since the revelation, it's zoomed to #1 on the bestseller lists. Here's what Nathan Bransford said.

"...people are missing one of the other important illustrative elements of this story, which is that The Cuckoo's Calling was not a great commercial success. It had sold only 1,500 copies in Britain. Despite all those glowing reviews and being published in a commercial genre, it didn't catch on."

So the pen name got her kudos, but she needed to be J.K. Rowling to make the sales. Branding is all. Looks as if I was right when I wrote this last fall. 



J.K. Rowling, the richest, most successful author on the planet, has been getting some pretty terrible reviews for her new novel, The Casual Vacancy. I won't quote them here. I think the Guardian's dismissal of it as "Mugglemarch" is probably one of the kinder ones.

A number of readers weighed in on The Passive Voice blog about it, and author Mary Sisson left this comment " If I were her I would have released this under a different name. All anyone is going to do is compare the book to Harry Potter, and then get upset because it’s not Harry Potter."

Other commenters agreed, saying things like,"The trouble with writing a series of such staggering success right off the bat is that inevitably everyone will be saying, 'It wasn’t as good as Harry Potter'."

But in the first three weeks, The Casual Vacancy has sold over one million copies.

So what if she had published it under another name, and kept the publishers from leaking her real identity? Would anybody be buying a pricey book with a ho-hum cover, bad formatting, and an unenticing title--from first-time author, Jo Nobody?

Or what if she'd started from scratch with a new identity, querying agents and editors like the rest of us? I haven't read the book, but I did look at the "peek inside" chapters on Amazon. I don't think the opener would have made it past most of those interns who read agents' slush piles these days. She breaks almost every one of the standard rules for novel openers: She's got a "Robinson Crusoe" opener with a lone character getting up in the morning, musing and flashbacking on page one. Then she kills off the P.O.V. character on page two.

Does that mean I won't read it?

Nope. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Why?

Because she's J. K. Rowling, one of the world's greatest storytellers.

But if I heard the same stuff about Jo Nobody's book? I probably wouldn't bother.

So for me, the J.K. Rowling brand is the reason I'm going to read the book. And I'm pretty sure it's what motivated most of the million-plus buyers.

A pseudonym might have kept Ms. Rowling from getting those scathing reviews, but would it have got her any sales? Would it have kept her from being published at all?

It certainly would have kept The Casual Vacancy from that central spot in my local supermarket--usually reserved for exciting specials on seasonal Oreos and sugary cereal--instead of the back corner where they put their sad little shelf of books, along with the day-old bread and giant bags of dog food.

So what does this all mean for us mere Muggles? Should we use pseudonyms or not?

Lots of popular authors have done it. Stephen King sometimes wrote as Richard Bachman (complete with a phony book jacket photo reputed to be his agent's insurance agent.); Romance goddess Nora Roberts writes thrillers as J.D. Robb, and Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Katheryn K. Rusch write under dozens of pen names between them.

In fact, D.W.S. thinks authors who DON'T use pseudonyms are lazy and egotistical. He gives "not using a pen name" as his seventh way of "Killing Your Sales One Shot at a Time".

In another post, he gives the following reasons for using a pseudonym:  (I've paraphrased here.)

1) You write "too fast" for traditional publishing and you're only allowed one book a year under your current contract.

2) You want your readers know exactly what to expect from your brand (s).

3) Your writing might adversely affect your day job. (You're a youth minister who writes hard-core erotica.)

4) Your sales didn't live up to your publisher's sales expectations. (You've been told you'll never write in this town again.) 

5) You have family issues (You're telling the thinly disguised story of your Uncle Charlie's secret life as a cabaret singer named Chardonnay.)

6) Your real name is Stephen King.

7) You think this book isn't "good enough" for your brand.

8) You're writing work-for-hire in a branded series (Such as a Star Trek novel.)

Reasons #3, #5 and #6 are excellent arguments for writing under a name other than your own, but not for using MULTIPLE pen names.

Reasons #1, #4 and #8 only affect authors who are bound by old-school publishing contracts. These days, if you want to write fast, or don't fulfill your publisher's outsized expectations, you can simply self-publish. You can build on the brand name that you established as a traditionally-published author instead of going back to square one with a new name.

That leaves #2 and #7. Quite frankly, I don't get #7. Going to all the trouble of building a separate brand for a book you aren't proud of makes no sense to me. If the book isn't working, get an editor or collaborator or put the thing in a drawer and mine it for characters and short stories. I have at least a half dozen of them.

So the only compelling reason for MULTIPLE pen names is:

#2: You want to let readers know exactly what to expect when they pick up a book with that name on it.

But I feel you can show genre in other ways, like cover design. And you can put helpful text on there like, "Romantic Suspense by ..." or "A [Sleuth's Name Here] Mystery by..." in your metadata and cover text.

Even Dean Wesley Smith himself admits "sometimes readers will follow across genre lines. Give them the chance on a main website under a main name."

Certainly readers are crossing genre lines with J. K. Rowling. And other successful contemporary authors are luring their readers to cross those boundaries, too. Neil Gaiman writes everything from social satire to MG fantasy—and penned the screen adaptation of Beowulf--all under his own name. Literary prize-winner and Iowa M.F.A. Justin Cronin has recently moved from literary to horror with great success with The Passage.

Writing in multiple genres under one name is not a new idea.
  • Carl Sandburg wrote everything from poetry to historical biography to children's stories—all under the same name. 
  • Isaac Asimov famously wrote in "every category in the Dewey decimal system." 
  • Mary Stewart not only invented contemporary romantic suspense, but wrote some of the best high fantasy ever. 
And it may be that the digital era is changing things back to the way they were in earlier days. J.K. Rowling's success seems to show that brand trumps genre in today's world.

(And it also apparently trumps bad reviews.)

Plus the new publishing paradigm is blurring genre lines. And these days, position in a brick and mortar bookstore isn't the primary factor in selling books--name recognition is.

Writing in The Passive Voice comments on August 6th, epic fantasy author Tom Simon said:

"I’m highly suspicious of that advice about using pseudonyms for different genres; it may only be an artifact of the circumstances in which it originated. All data older than about three years is basically irrelevant to the new publishing model. It may be that the old advice still holds good — but if it does, it will have nothing to do with the original reason behind it. I would be very wary of assuming that the old practice is applicable in the new circumstances."

And: (my bolding.)

"I have not heard that anybody ever got mad because they bought Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and thought it was a science fiction novel. But a lot of people bought Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare who would never have heard of it if it hadn’t been for Asimov’s SF. Note that Asimov built his reputation in the days before chain bookshops and computerized ordering — in other words, before multiple pseudonyms became useful as a way of gaming the system. It may be that the situation nowadays is more like the situation in 1965 than that in 2005."

Echoing his sentiments, author D.G. Sandru said in the same thread:

"Once you’ve got an author brand built, you can take it anywhere….Nowadays in the virtual book store at Amazon, with millions of titles, with millions of author names, for unlimited time, having a different pen name will diffuse your brand name. I’m in the process of writing a paranormal thriller and a true story. What are the chances that people that read my YA Fantasy under D.G. Sandru will find my other two books under two different names? Very slim. I would have to make three marketing efforts for three different names. Or instead of dedicating 100% to one brand name I would dedicate 33% to each pseudo name."

But another successful self-published author is very much in the Dean Wesley Smith camp. Regency romance author Anne Gallagher has recently published her contemporary women's fiction under a new name: Robynne Rand.

I understand her reasoning: her Regency brand is strongly traditional. She might lose readership if Anne Gallagher readers pick up a racy Robynne Rand novel and get offended. The same is true for most authors who write erotica as well as another genre.

Because pseudonyms are working for her, I asked Anne to weigh in on this discussion.

Why I Use Multiple Pen Names
by Anne Gallagher/Robynne Rand

ARA: Why did you decide to write your novels under different names?

AG: I built my "brand" writing Regency romance under Anne Gallagher. I write sweet historicals (no hanky-panky). My romantic women's fiction under Robynne Rand is contemporary with swearing and adult issues. There's a marked difference between the two and I didn't want to offend anyone (my Aunt Elsie comes to mind) if they picked up Remembering You and thought it was going to be a light read like The Lady's Fate.

ARA: Are you finding that marketing yourself as two different people takes more time from your writing than you'd like? Is one name taking more time than the other?


AG: Marketing under either name has always been a problem for me. I don't like tooting my own horn and any kind of promotion/marketing does take away from writing time. Robynne Rand is definitely harder to market. Even though it's still me, Robynne Rand is a newbie author. She doesn't have a huge fan base, (although my reviews are excellent) and I can't bang out books one right after the other like I do with my historicals. In writing historicals, there's a formula (more or less) I can follow. With my contemporaries, they're more complex, involving a deeper character arc. And truthfully, that's really the #1 marketing skill, just keep writing, keep publishing. A fan base will follow.

ARA:What are the benefits of writing under a pseudonym?

AG: If branded correctly, people know what they're getting when they pick up your book. For instance, I love Nora Roberts. I know who she is, what she writes, and I'll read anything by her. I had no idea she was J.D. Robb for about a decade. And though I like her Robb books, I won't go out of my way to buy one. I'm just not into the genre.

When people pick up an Anne Gallagher book, they know it's a Regency with a predictable HEA (Happy Ever After ending--ed.)  I didn't want to confuse people thinking they were getting one thing when it was definitely another.

ARA: Do you have any advice for authors who are trying to decide whether to write under two or more names?

AG: Build your brands differently. Market yourself as two different people. If you look at my Anne Gallagher blog you'll see a lovely young lady reclining on a chaise under a blanket of blossoming trees. All very calming, looking very historical-ish. If you go to my Robynne Rand blog it's totally different, contemporary with a shot of the Mount Hope Bridge in Rhode Island.

And start as soon as you know you've chosen that route. My mistake was not starting the Robynne Rand blog sooner, before the book came out. Or getting on Twitter sooner. Not that Twitter spam sells books, but at least my presence there may have allowed people to get to know me a little better. They might not buy this book, but they might buy the next.

ARA: I guess I'm lucky to have a muse who pretty much writes in one genre. No matter what I've tried to write in the last three decades, everything turns out to involve murder and mayhem combined with fairly cerebral romantic comedy. When you pick up an Anne R. Allen mystery, you know there will be a screwball romance, some darker literary subtext, and probably at least one villain attacked with a designer shoe.

I suppose Dean Wesley Smith would say I'm just too lazy to write steampunk erotica, space westerns, and techno-thrillers in my spare time. However, this does mean I personally don't have to worry about pen names.

I do understand why Anne/Robynne made her choice. If I were in her shoes, I might have made the same one. But I recommend every author carefully weigh the pros and cons. It takes a crazy amount of work to establish even one brand these days and I'm all about writers keeping their sanity.

Book-buying habits are changing. I think the "different names for different genres" paradigm does belong to old-style publishing. Readers are beginning to "get" the new/old way of doing things.

I think if PEN/Hemingway Award winner Justin Cronin had published his horror novel under a pseudonym, he'd never have got the major ink in the New York Times that sets his work apart from every other vampire novel.

And if Jo Nobody had written The Casual Vacancy, I doubt Ann Patchett would have interviewed her in front of a crowd at Lincoln Center who got so excited that Ms. Patchett said she was "going to have to hand out sedatives."And certainly Jo Nobody wouldn't get to go on the Daily Show and convince Jon Stewart that the U.S. needs a monarch.

And I doubt she'd be working on her second million in sales in less than a month.

Personally, I'd rather tough out the bad reviews than give up the perks of an established brand. (Even if my brand doesn't quite have J. K. Rowling's clout.) But I'd love to hear from writers on both sides of the question in the comments.

Do you write under multiple names? Do you think it's worth multiplying your marketing work in order to keep from offending some readers? Have you written in different genres under the same name? What kind of results did you have? Do you know of other authors who have written in multiple genres with the same name?

99 cents for limited time!
BOOK NEWS: For some reason unknown to me or my publisher, Amazon AND Barnes and Noble have chosen to reduce the price of my first Camilla Randall mystery, THE BEST REVENGE, to 99 cents. Practically FREE! So if you've wanted to check out one of my rom-com mysteries and you like a bargain--here's a chance to grab one cheap. you can find it on Amazon US , Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble. Somehow it seems to have disappeared from Kobo. The ways of the Webz are mysterious indeed. But we will be trying to raise the price back to $2.99, so grab it while you can.

I WILL BE ON THE RADIO on Thursday evening, October 25th, 8 PM Pacific Time, talking with award-winning author Elaine Raco Chase on Triangle Variety Radio. Just click on the Triangle link and listen on your computer. I'll be talking about the real-life Hollywood mystery behind my mystery novel, THE GATSBY GAME, which is supposed to finally be available in paper this week. It isn't yet, and nobody knows what the hold-up is, but I've seen the proof and it's very nicely done. But as I said, the ways of the Webz are a mystery to us all...

If you're having trouble commenting, email me your comment at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it. I've had to block anonymous comments for a bit. I was getting over 1000 anon. spam comments a day and even though they didn't make it onto the blog, they were all landing in my email box. I was getting carpal tunnel syndrome deleting them all.

Also email me if you'd like to subscribe. It looked as if Feedburner was working for a while, but now it's on the fritz again.

Next week: Ruth Harris will give us 8 super-useful tips for improving your book. A must-read.

37 comments:

  1. Personally, it would be practically impossible to keep JK Rowling's pseudonym a secret for long. Even The Deathly Hallows got leaked, if I recall correctly, so I think even one person in the chain could blow the whistle.

    Still, I think The Causal Vacancy doesn't deserve the whiplash that it received. At least in my eyes, she got away with breaking the entire rule book out of sheer skill.

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  2. I think JoRo's publishers were very canny, keeping the book under wraps, charging a high price and getting loads of pre-orders.

    If people are hoping for a dragon, and you've only got a pig, it's best to sell it in a poke.

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  3. I know Hart Johnson has to use a pseudonym for a contract book and she doesn't own that name. Elizabeth Craig writes under two names as well.
    As for Rowling, that book wouldn't have done so well with another name on it. (And in the past few weeks, I've seen several bloggers review it and say they loved it.)
    As for me, I've worked too hard to build up the real me to switch now. If I decide to write fantasy, my readers will just have to live with it. (And they've told me I should anyway, so why not?)

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  4. I think JK Rowling knew that she wouldn't sell that many under a pen name and her publishers knew that too so they probably so urged her to use her name to make the sales.
    I understand pen names and I do intend to use them as I write erotica and YA so I think that is a given. I also agree if you like to write in different genres that there is nothing wrong with using pen names, readers know then what they are getting. And since I'm starting out as a newbie with them all it doesn't matter about building one brand name over another, I'll just concentrate on the writing and publishing it.

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  5. It's a mixed bag, but when I am reading a series that is still ongoing and the author is involved with multiple projects. I feel a bit cheated when they put out a book that is not part of the series I am reading. I now have to wait even longer for the next book I am interested in.

    Unless an author does everything from editing, formatting, cover creation and more, their pen names are going to be outed. All the "keep it secret" reasons are bogus excuses. Someone will spill the beans. It's human nature.

    As for anyone who is upset that the Casual Vacancy isn't Harry Potter should be slapped. JK should also learn that when you have a brand as HP. You might want to give people more of what they want.

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  6. I forgot to add that I don't think you are a lazy writer because you write under your own name. If a writer wants to write under one genre then they should be respected for that.
    Some writers like Neil Gaiman who I love has gotten away with writing under childrens and adult but whatever book you pick up of his you will instantly get his "flavor". It's there in everything he writes and that's what readers love about him.

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  7. I think you've convinced me not to venture into another name and another brand. I did it in the trad days because my editor wanted the collaboration between my DH and me to have a single female author. But times have changed so drastically. And my experience is that a lot of readers don't care or even know what 'genre' means. And, as you've pointed out, we can now control our cover, subtitle and product description.

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  8. Chihuahua--I agree that in reality, JKR couldn't have kept her real name a secret anyway, so building on her established rep was probably the most sensible from all angles. I also agree that skill trumps rules. When you're as good at storytelling as she is, you can get away with breaking them all.

    Lexi--LOL Whether or not you think it's a pig, they definitely put it in a poke.

    Hart Johnson and Elizabeth Craig are restricted by old-school publishing contracts. They didn't have a choice. But I'm thinking those old rules will go by the wayside, except for packaged series and ghostwritten things. Or when you're writing James Patterson's books for him :-) But you're right, never give up Alex J. Cavanaugh! Great name with great recognition.

    Vera--Erotica writers are the big exception--absolutely. You need two brands if you're writing stuff that's not suitable for both audiences. (I must say I consider Neil Gaiman a role model in many ways. I'd like to have, like him, style so distinctive it would make all books obviously "mine".)

    And I'm glad you don't think I'm lazy :-)

    SB, there is that disappointment when you're waiting for a series book and the authro publishes something else. I remember being very disappointed when a favorite mystery writer came out with a book of essays instead of the next exciting installment. But these days, sometimes a few short stories can fill in those gaps, so we can be forgiven.

    Alicia--I'm glad you agree with me. I think the times are changing so fast, you should brand your own writing persona as much as possible, because that's the one constant you can hang onto.


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  9. Urf, pen names are a tricky thing - I'm still sitting on the fence, but I reckon that, unless i started writing something drastically different, I'd keep the same name, and find a way to distinguish between the types of things you write, rather than your pen names. For example, if you do gritty crime alongside high fantasy, make it plain which side of that divide your new book is on. Seems easier to me. I'd certainly know to keep track of the books the author wrote that interested me, and wouldn't need a new pen name to follow for that purpose.

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  10. I've written YA fiction and inspirational non-fiction, and next February will see the release of yet a third genre for me. My name and 'Spunk On A Stick' covers them all and I'm sticking with it.

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  11. I'm still undecided about Cas Vac. I don't have a big desire to read it. My librarians have said a couple people returned it and said they couldn't get through it. I'm certainly not paying 20 bucks for the ebook. I'll wait until it eventually is on the library shelves and then give it a try. But I'm not expecting much so maybe I'll end up loving it.

    I've seen authors write in all different genres and other stay strictly one. Who knows if it actually hurts or helps sales. I'm not sure there is anyway to really prove it.

    And I don't think an adult lit. would've sold well. So she was absolutely right to sell it under name. She's earned that right. And I highly doubt she cares about the one star reviews.

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  12. Helen Walker sent this comment:

    "Actually, JK Rowling is a pen name. Joanne Rowling has no middle name and the JK portion was created to entice the male readership who might be less inclined to read a book series penned by a woman."

    Helen--I had read that the "K" was invented, but I'd forgotten. So thanks much for the clarification!

    Charlie--I'm with you. I'd rather try to keep everything under one name the way Mary Stewart did.

    L. Diane/Spunk LOL. I think that's wise.

    Laura--I'm waiting for the library, too. Or the paperback, whichever is available sooner. No way am I spending $20 for an ebook.

    I think the decision may depend on how easily offended your core audience is. And that's probably dependent on genre.

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  13. Core audience. You said it Anne. That's the big reason why I did it. And I understand why JK Rowling used her real name.

    It is a hard choice to make. It tooke me quite a few months to come to that decision. And I feel it was the right one for me.

    Thanks for sharing my view.

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  14. I give props to JK. She was tired of writing YA, so she didn't. And she and her publishers knew her brand was enough to sell the book, no matter what genre it was (except erotica, I'm sure. :)). She's venturing out into new territory, and she probably expected some backlash for it. It usually happens whenever authors switch genres. But...if they ride it out, eventually the authors will have multiple books in multiple genres, and, in Rowling's case, it won't just about Potter anymore...

    I don't think pen names are helpful across genres unless you are *certain* you are going to write in those genres permanently, like Robb...she writes in two genres, period. Someone like me, I have multiple genres I'm interested in, and my tastes range all over the place, more like Asimov. THAT will probably become a factor in my brand as my writing and career develop (similar to Gaiman...though I will never claim his genius :)).

    Just some thoughts...

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  15. A million sales is why Rowling didn't use a pen name. Good, bad, or indifferent, she wouldn't get that many sales with a pen name. Gotta keep the other $200+ million happy and give them some company. It's gets boring in the vault with no new dollars -- or pounds.

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  18. visiting here with a smile. take care.. have a nice day ~ =)

    Regards,
    http://www.lonelyreload.com (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..

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  19. I think Rowling SHOULD'VE used a pen name. You're the first person to raise the possibility, Anne and I think this is kind of a no brainer, now that I think about it. King did it with the Bachman books and now they are revered. But yeah, it was so different. She could've pulled out as 45 degree turn but not the 180 degrees she just did. You can't turn a tanker boat that fast.

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  20. Another great post Anne.

    This is something we (as in Mark and I) have almost come to virtual blows about on many occasion.

    Like you rightly state, I guess it depends on who you are and what you are writing, but in this digital age, unless you are a world-renowned best seller, then you automatically reduce SEO and your chances of your book being discovered by writing under another name, not to mention onward sales.

    We have finally taken the stance, that if we are CLEAR about what we are writing and who it is aimed at, we're going to make use of our brand and the blood, sweat and tears we have spent building a platform. Hell, we're even starting to go one step further and allow are characters to cross genres and books!

    Why waste all that hard work? ;-)

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  21. I think this book would have not been published with out J.K. Rowling's name on it. I picked it up at my store, read the first chapter and found it in need of editing. I admire her for having the courage to write in a different genre after having SO much success. I wonder if the bigger problem might have been that there was not an editor at her publishing company who had the courage to do the editing.

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  22. Anne—I remember when you were making the decision, and I argued against it, but I finally understood you had to do it because of the type of readership you have. Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the post!

    Veronika—I think you've hit on something. If you're experimenting, then you could really make a mess of things by writing each book under a different name. Instead it's best to brand yourself as "Veronika Walker: eclectic author" But if you know you want two different careers, then two different names will work better, the way they do for Anne/Robynne

    J. M.—J.K. Rowling has never been accused of being stupid about money. Yeah, I think money probably had a lot to do with her decision.

    Tamara—Thanks for the detailed review! Wow. That does sound like inferior writing. Without the emotional connection, no story is going to hold a reader for long. Hmm. And thanks for the translation from Brit of things like "shurrup". I didn't learn that stuff until I lived in England for a while.

    I've turned off the Anon function for comments because Blogger started sending me every single Anon spam comment into my email box—no idea why. They never used to send me the blocked ones. But I was literally injuring my wrist hand-deleting over 2000 a day. I didn't realize that also disabled the "comment with a URL" function at the same time. If more people complain, I guess I'll have to turn it back on—after my wrist heals… Thanks for jumping through the hoops to comment in spite of it.

    Mr. Lonely—That's suspiciously spammy. But I'm leaving it up because of the picture of cheesecake . But next time read the post if you are going to comment on it, OK?

    Ben—Maybe if TCV had more mass appeal it could have sold on its own, but from what people are saying, it sounds as if people would never have bought it with Jo(e) Nobody's name on it. If I had to choose between a million dollars and bad reviews and no dollars and bad reviews, I think I know which way I'd go.

    Saffi—You're a perfect example of how the new publishing paradigm makes it possible to genre hop. You have a bestselling thriller series, but recently you came out with a heartfelt literary Holocaust story, and it's reached #1. So you're living proof that genre hopping by an author using the same name can work!

    Christine—Since you're a bookseller and an editor, I respect your opinion. It sounds as if Jo(e) Nobody wouldn't have even got this book published. So the pseudonym thing would really not have worked for her.

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  23. Haha, Christine might have a point there...who wants to be responsible for editing JK (and, apparently, telling her it was mush)? :)

    Anne, thanks for the encouragement. I've never really understood Dean Wesley Smith (and wife's) reasons for publishing under SO many names...one, of course, two, sure...but five, six? However many he's got? That doesn't seem to be a brand to me; that seems to be chaos.

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  24. I was thinking the same things when I posted a few Sundays ago: http://ceschwilk.blogspot.com/2012/10/exposed-sunday-trouble-with-pen-names.html

    I think it is more about her brand than the writing. I like the HP books/world - but I can't say that the writing is all that brilliant. I think she would have had a harder time if she used a pen-name and her brand did help sell her latest creation, never mind it being a good/bad book on its own merits.

    Another friend and I talked about HP5 - that it was far too long and could have been edited. Who wants to edit JKR, indeed. I think her "star power" was reason for such things as her using her name - by herself as well as her publishers/editors/the machine that cranks out this stuff. I still plan to read the book, eventually - despite the bad reviews I've been reading on it!

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  25. Veronika--You're right. I can see that was probably part of the problem.

    C. E. Great post. Thanks for sharing the link. I'm mostly in the one blog/one name camp because I don't want to double my marketing work. But I LOVE the pen name generator. It named me Our Lady Bonbons. Or I could use the formula of pet/street/fav author and be Chuck Henrietta Vonnegut. That wouldn't be easily forgotten. :-)

    Anthea Lawson left this comment on the PV blog: Hi Anne, count me as another one who would have left a comment on your blog, but can't because of the WP issues...

    Since I write steamy historical romance and YA fantasy appropriate for ages 11+, I use two different pen names. Plus I have a pretty active volunteer presence and am a teacher, so *both* of those author names are pen-names. I'm fairly open about my writing life, but it's important to have at least some kind of barrier between the hot stuff and the YA.

    Your hypothetical Steampunk Erotica and Space Westerns would totally both fit under the same pen name/genre - and probably the Techno-thriller too. It all falls under the wider umbrella of SFF. ;)

    That said, I'm branching out into some SF myself, and will probably keep the YA fantasy pen name (since it's not steamy stuff). The points about an author being a brand are well taken, not to mention that it's all a new frontier out here in publishing these days. Fun times!

    Anthea--I guess I may have to go back to letting the 2000 Anonymous posts a day get into my inbox. Arrggh. I wish they'd give us more of a choice.

    I do agree that steam trumps the one-brand rule. You do NOT want your YA readers to pick up the erotica thinking it's a kid's adventure book. (I'll remember your advice if I ever write that erotic steampunk space western thriller.)

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  26. He he, this post made me do a leep back in time to when I was playing with pen names. (Also strangely inspired by Passive Voice and your how to blog series.)

    Anyway, I think I'll stick with one name. I don't seem myself ever going into erotica in a way that would require a pen name. And while my Sci-fi may be more sexy than my Fantasy, it's kind of expected in my brain (go figure).

    Thanks once more for for such an informative post. When I do start going cross genre's you can be sure the covers will reflect their flavors. After all cover art does matter (unless you already happen to be a super star lol).

    :} Cathryn

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  27. Anne, this is a great post and a reminder to anyone who doubts that the brand is our name ... not our genre. I fiddle with the idea ... some days I am convinced I need to use two names ... one for the mysteries and one for everything else ... other days I feel that I love my name and people will follow it and me (once I get out there :) ...

    What's in a name? Our blood, sweat and soul. I think I'll keep it :)

    About Rowlings ... I have the opposite reaction of many. I think no matter what she wrote the next time around, she'd get bashed by some. Not because the world expects her to reproduce the incredible results of Harry Potter, but because too many have been waiting to tear her down.

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  28. I'll be writing under my own name for all my writings; unless a Big Six agent/publisher states otherwise. Although I write in fantasy, womens fiction, erotica and thriller, all my stories have a basic theme. Which might be considered My Brand. Everything has a gritty, dark twist, and I have a fondness for the bad boy who isn't all bad; or all good.

    Not to mention I have enough troubles keeping my day-job self separate from author me, so having more than one author me could result in all of us needing therapy :) Stephen King, Gaiman, Patterson; they all write in multiple genre's with the same basic plot themes. I'll keep them as my role models.

    ......dhole

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  29. Cathryn, I do remember your pen name decision-making. I think you did well. I think it can be wise for many reasons to write under a pen name--but more than one is just so much more work. Which I like to avoid at all costs. Come to think of it, maybe DWS is right and I AM lazy...

    Fois--Love this "What's in a name? Our blood, sweat and soul. I think I'll keep it :)"

    Donna--I think those are pretty good role models. You're right about the therapy. :-)

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  30. Interesting post. Thank you! I agree with a lot of your points on taking pen names and considered it quite heavily before I took one myself.

    I had already published two books under my real name but it was religious fiction and I was moving away from that ... my last name was also impossible for people to remember or spell ... it hurt sales so badly on my first two novels that I was advised, by a NYT Bestseller that it was time to make the change, especially with switching genres.

    I haven't regretted it.

    I'm very open about who I am and what can be expected under each name. It's definitely something to consider from all angles before jumping into.

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  31. Anne, that's an excellent question and post (enjoyed the interview!)Building a brand is so contemporary, isn't it? Back in the 1960s, authors did pick different names for different genres. Let me take one example from French literature: famous author Romain Gary did that when he wrote a bizarre story set in an Arab immigrant home in a Parisian suburb that was totally unlike the rest of his work. Yet it was a huge success and only AFTER it became a success did people discover it was him!

    But that was before the digital age. I tend to agree with you: branding is more important than tailoring your name to a genre. With one exception it seems: if you write erotica (I have at least 2 friends who do and both are successful at it under a different pen name). Erotica doesn't mix with anything else, it seems. Though I'm not so sure...As for myself, I certainly use a pen name, it was part of my branding build-up, and though I like to write in different genres, I certainly won't go back and redo all the branding exercise over again, too much work!

    Which gets me to my last point: branding in the digital age takes way too much time away from writing, what with all the sites you're supposed to have a presence in. Visibility is the name of the game and when the Kindle Store has over one million fiction titles, that's a very tough game to play!

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  32. Marilyn Meredith sent this comment by email:

    I started with F. M. Meredith for my Rocky Bluff P.D. series because I thought men might be more apt to buy it—ha ha—the publisher put my picture on the back and ruined the whole idea. It does make it confusing at time.

    Marilyn--Too funny. I think a lot of writers used to do that. In fact I think J.K. Rowling used the initials (one of which was fake) so publishers wouldn't know she was a lowly female. But I think things have advanced enough that most readers know writing isn't done with sexual organs. :-)

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  33. Ryan--You make two very good points that I didn't touch on:

    1) Religion and politics are probably up there with sex as far as genres that require pen names. If you're writing strong opinions in either field and you want a more universal audience for other genres, a pen name is a good idea.

    2) If you have a hard to pronounce or complicated birth name, it's a very good idea to change it to something people can remember and can figure out how to Google.

    Claude--You're so right that the digital age has changed the playing field. The competition increases exponentially by the minute. As I said to one Google + friend yesterday, building one platform is taking all the hammers and nails I've got. No way could I do two of them in this world of FB, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads, Kindleboards, blogging and the rest. I admire the hell out of any author who can do it all for more than one brand name.

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  34. If I were Rowling I would have released The Casual Vacancy under a pseudonym, but out of pure curiosity.

    I mean, if I'm her, I'm already a Billionaire. So money isn't an issue. I'd just be curious to see if my newest book can stand on it's own merits, how it would be received as a stand-alone novel, instead of as a book "by the Author of Harry Potter"

    Yeah, somebody probably would have spilled the beans eventually. But I wouldn't care - my editors would be plotting it as a publicity stunt, most likely! - so long as it didn't happen until after I had seen how the book fared on its own.

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  35. Ellen--Interesting take on it. I wonder if she considered it. (I'm sure her publishers wouldn't have been happy.) I remember Nobel laureate Doris Lessing tried that experiment with one of her novels and couldn't even get a read from an agent. Definitely you're allowed a lot more room for creativity if you have a famous name.

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  36. The K in JK Rowling's name comes from her grandmother's name which was Katherine - I read that somewhere. I write my MG fiction under my own name and my sweet Regency romances under a pseudonym because I want to be remembered (er... I mean famous) for those MG adventures, rather than for any romance writing which I began for fun and to entertain my aged mum.
    I think writers should go for what suits them as creative people, and not worry too much about the pros and cons of pseudoymns. After all, doesn't Shakespeare say something about what's in a name, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?

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  37. I use my real name when I write contemporary romances, erotic romances, mystery/thrillers and non-fiction..it's never been a problem and the readers seem to like them all!

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