Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Author pseudonyms: helpful or harmful? Just wondering...

Warning: a long and rambling post ahead... but honestly. I'm really curious about this.

I've been thinking a lot about this, because I see it happening more and more often. It always bothers me when an author takes on a pseudonym to publish a book in or outside their usual genre. I feel cheated, because sometimes I’ll miss a book by a favorite author. Without the name recognition, I don’t always pick up books by new authors. I admit it. I only have a limited amount of money to spend, and the majority of my book-buying money goes to tried and true authors rather than first-timers, even though I do also buy and read new and new-to-me authors. I commented in my Overview of 2010 post about how sad I was that Leslie Parrish was having so much difficulty getting her books sold because they seriously rock the house, and I wondered if the pseudonym was hurting her because she lost out on the name recognition (she’s also well-known Harlequin author Leslie Kelly). The answer I’ve heard from many authors is that their publisher recommends/requests/requires the name change when branching out to a new genre – even if it’s still within romance. Something about reader expectations, blah blah blah.

I have to wonder if this is a smart move. We are living in an age where publishers will drop an author immediately if their first book doesn’t sell well. I would think that they would want to take advantage of any name recognition they can. When you send an established author out into the world with a new name, not only are they a new name, but they are a new author with a first book. It does nothing to increase their credibility.

Many romance readers are incredibly savvy. We read the OBC blurbs. We follow our favorite authors on Facebook, and twitter, and we read their websites and blogs. Not only are authors allowed to have more than one type of voice speak to them, they usually have no say in the matter, LOL, and as consumers, we should be able to understand that. On the other hand, many romance readers are also impossibly old-fashioned (GASP – S.E.Ecks? Nooooo! Say it isn’t so!!). They like what they like, who they like, and the way they write it. These folks are disappointed when an author changes genres, and whine to the high heavens about the immorality of sex in romances today (because real people don’t ever have sex with the door open, or before they get married, or in any way other than missionary). And there are many who fall somewhere in between. Just like in any other area of life, you can’t pigeonhole romance readers into a type. So why cater to only one portion of readers (the please don’t ever ever change a thing portion)? If those folks aren’t going to follow an author into a new genre anyway? Why not cater to those who will, and get the extra name recognition and sales out of it?

Here are some examples of pseudonyms I've been thinking about:
Sylvia Day/ SJ Day/ Livia Dare: I adore her historicals. I’m not a fan of urban fantasy, so didn’t read the SJ Days or the Livia Dares, but if she wrote those as Sylvia Day I wouldn’t hold it against her. In fact, I noted in my review of her latest historical that I simply (ok, impatiently, LOL) waited out the UFs knowing this book was coming. Not sure why the UF had to be released under not one, but two pseudonyms.

Leslie Parrish: This is the pseudonym for bestselling Harlequin author Leslie Kelly. A Kelly category is pretty much guaranteed to be a success, cause well, she rocks. But as Parrish, she had a really tough time breaking into romantic suspense, which sucked cause, well, the books rocked. Was it because Parrish was a “new” author with a "first" book? As a reader, I’m more likely to take a chance on a known author spreading her wings than an unknown newbie (although I read plenty of those as well). Personally, I think sending her out into the romantic suspense world as a new author hurt her sales, where her name recognition could have helped them. Sure, some readers would have read the first one and decided to stick with her categories (those "No, don't ever ever change a thing" folks  - and indeed, some did and needless to say were NOT happy). But how many more would have picked up that suspense book, simply because Leslie Kelly wrote it, and loved it – and then bought the rest?

Beth Williamson/Emma Lang: I really don’t understand the reason for the pseudonym here at all (Emma Lang), also requested by her publisher as I understand it. Emma Lang writes western historicals. Beth Williamson? Yup. Western historicals (although she has several hawt contemporaries out there as well). So here, this seems to be a perfect opportunity to take advantage of an author’s name in a genre where she’s already known. Why wouldn’t a publisher want to capitalize on that?

Toni Blake/Lacey Alexander: A successful dual genre, dual-named author. Her Toni Blake contemporaries are wonderful. Her Lacey Alexander erotic romances are also terrific. She’s also one who was able to keep her dual identity secret for a long time. I’m not sure if her print or her e-books came first, but it’s definitely easier, IMO, to break in as a new author into the digital world.

Jessica Bird/JR Ward: Does this one even count? I only ask because there seems to be no more Jessica Bird. JR Ward reigns in that relationship, and I guess given her success, rightfully so. Once the BDB came out, Jessica simply disappeared. But here's an example of a pretty successful category romance author breaking out into paranormal, and hitting a home run with a new identity. Would it have happened anyway, had they been released as Jessica Bird? I tend to think so, but at this point, who can tell?

Nora Roberts/JD Robb: Perhaps the most successful dual-named author of them all. I read on her site that the In Death series was originally only supposed to be a trilogy. I wonder if that was why she originally went with a pseudonym for the futuristic suspense books, either in case they weren't successful, or out of fear that her readers wouldn't accept a new genre. Was it her choice, or her publisher's decision? Nora? You out there? It would be very interesting to hear more about this. And once the books were successful, then I assume she was stuck. She even has a different author photo on her Robb books that looks much more appropriate for a suspense/thriller/futuristic author than a romance author (I'm sure that amazingly awesome leather coat is the same one that Eve wears). I think the NR/JD Robb brand is what every pub house is after when they ask their author to use a pseudonym. But really, how likely is that to happen again, where a highly successful author continues to write in both genres under both names? There's only one Roarke, people. (I'm sure there are other success stories, so if you know of any more, please share!)

Megan Hart: Here’s an author who is successful in romance. And yet, she hasn’t changed her name for any of her latest releases, some of which are not really romances. She made no bones about it to her readers – I recall her saying over and over – “Hey, this isn’t a romance – but I’d love for you to take a chance on it.” IMO, this hasn’t hurt her brand as a romance author in the slightest. When she does write a true romance, her romance audience will read it, even if they skip the speculative fiction. (If you write it, they will come.)

Many other authors have also successfully changed genres without changing their name. Coming to mind immediately are Tami Hoag, Lisa Jackson, Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter, Heather Graham, Linda Howard, Iris Johansen, Mariah Stewart, and Karen Robards (can you tell I read thrillers - a lot?). Interestingly, they all switched from romance to suspense - and Graham dabbles with the paranormal (in its truest definition). And yet, Kelly wasn’t given the same opportunity. Interesting to me.

James Patterson and John Grisham both wrote books for YA readers (my boys both enjoyed them – youngest really enjoys the Maximum Ride series). Nobody asked them to change their names (I assume).

As a reader, I pick and choose which books I buy, even when an author releases a book in the same genre as she usually writes. I appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt for my own intelligence. Oftentimes, a book just doesn’t sound all that interesting to me, so I skip it. Doesn’t mean I don’t go back to that author next time. I eat up Teresa Medeiros’ and Kathryn Smith’s historicals, but after I read the first vampire historical from each of them, I passed on the rest. But when they each released another straight historical, I was the first to go buy it (I think I actually squeed aloud when Kathryn Smith told me about her latest series at the RWA Literacy signing in SF). Take Anne Stuart – she writes contemporaries, suspense and historicals. Just because her ‘genre’ changed, her writing remains constant. Dark, morally ambiguous heroes and almost TSTL heroines that make you want to smack some sense into them.

I look at authors like Lauren Dane, who writes contemporaries, futuristics, and paranormals concurrently. Or Shiloh Walker, who also switches from contemporary to paranormal. Or NJ Walters, who switches between vampires, shifters, and contemporaries easily. Common denominator: all these folks got their start in digital publishing, and continue to publish there. (And someone please tell me why NJ isn't a huge star in the NY scene? Huh?) Wonder if that’s the key here. Are digital readers more willing to follow authors and move between genres than their print counterparts?

What do you think? Does it help or hurt an author to use more than one name, whether they are switching genres or not?

16 comments:

  1. I don't buy the different audience argument one whit and for me as the reader? This simply makes it a pain in the ass to keep up.

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  2. I don't buy the different audience argument one whit and for me as the reader? This simply makes it a pain in the ass to keep up.

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  3. I wonder some of it has to do with erotica vs romance? Otherwise, I'm with you. I don't understand why authors choose (or are forced) to change their name when they're already well known. Especially since, as readers, we're pretty forgiving and open to trying new stuff from our favorites.

    Like Jen said, it's a pain in the ass.

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  4. I write romance under this name (Seleste deLaney)--often erotic romance--but I hope to always keep my adult titles under this name. However, I also write YA under another name (Julie Particka). The two names are not secrets, but they do help readers (and parents of my YA readers) from accidentally picking up my Blood Kissed series and finding sex on page one of the first story. If my YA readers pick it up on purpose, that's one thing, but I would hate to have someone do it accidentally.

    Having said all that, I'm not well-known. I began publishing under both names within the last twelve months, so readers will get used to both of me at the same time.

    As a reader though, I don't like it if a name change is secret. I'll follow loved authors wherever they go, so by all means tell me where the heck you're going! And publishers forcing established authors to change their name (basically) within a genre I just find silly. Readers are smart enough to recognize if the new book by their favorite western romance author is set in NYC and the blurb mentions vampires or demons...it probably isn't a western.

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  5. One who I didn't understand is Susan Lyons/Susan Fox. This really freaked me out because all her books are erotic contemporires, though they are with different publishing houses, I think. And what really drove me batty is that it was done mid series, so I missed a couple books because in a series because I didn't know they were from her.

    Reference Nora Roberts/JD Robb, from what I remember hearing about the name change (and it's been awhile so my recall might be wrong) is back in the 90's when these books came out her publisher was afriad because they were so different from her romances and it wasn't until the J.D. Robb brand became so well-known in it's own right that they agreed to put Nora Robers writing as J.D. Robb on the covers. Also, I think because Dame Nora is so prolific (at the time she was still writing series as well as J.D. Robb, her trilogies, plus her stand alones) felt that her name would dominante the bookshelves and wanted a little more variety.

    Also (I know I'm saying a lot of also's), even though a lot of use are on twitter and blogs we still represent a small portion of the romance buying public. I know a lot of people who read romance but are the die hard addicts like most of us who frequent the social networks and blogs.

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  6. Wow...Okay... Pseudonyms. As an author, I think different authors do it for different reasons, and it's not always their choice - there were several instances here of a publisher making that request.
    For myself, I chose a pseudonym several specific purposes, not least of them the one that Holly mentioned- erotica/romance. And also e-book vs print. There are some... reservations... that people and publishers have about both. I don't hide the fact that I'm both V. J. Devereaux and Valerie Douglas, though.
    For myself, like Nora Roberts/J D Robb, or some of the other authors mentioned, while it may have been instituted by the publisher it's now almost branding of a sort. If you pick up a NR book or a JDR book, you know what you'll get.
    I chose to write erotica under V. J. Devereaux so that people would know that when they picked up a Devereaux novel, it would be seriously hot. (The covers help, too.) A Douglas novel may have some hot sex in it *grin* but the you'll know the language won't be as graphic. That was my choice. When I get published as Valerie Douglas, I'll hope my erotica fans come with me into my realms of fantasy.
    With the men, given that their books don't have the romance 'stigma' (ie.. it's not REALLY a novel. Nicholas Sparks, anyone?) but even Stephen King wrote under the Bachman pseudonym in order to write his not-horror stories.
    Sorry to go on so long.

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  7. I do think part of the name change is the name reflecting the sub-genre. Historical authors seem to have more formal names - Eloisa James for historicals & but if she wrote say light comtemps it might be Ellie James.

    We seem to see a lot of the initial names - JR Ward/SJ Day, in PNR/UF. Is it suppose to be more edgy maybe? IDK

    I do wonder, since many romance readers read across the sub-genres, if it really is a good idea to switch to a new name when writing in a different sub-genre for an author who has an established fan base?

    I read all the romance sub-genres so I'd follow but I'd prefer they stick with one name for me to remember. :)

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  8. I would argue that most online romance readers are incredibly savvy. The rest of them? Uh, no. When I was still "out there" working with the general public, these were the folks who would ask me when SoAndSo's next book was coming out. And it was usually a Big Time Author with a Big Time Web Site where that information was readily available. These are the readers who don't check copyright dates and get ticked off with me (because, you know - it's somehow under my control) that the "new" Nora Roberts book they just checked out to read is actually a 2-in-1 reprint from 1987.

    Just sayin'.

    Now all that being said.....

    I understand authors and publishers making a name change when it's a new genre. I get that. It makes sense to me. But the ones that don't make sense? You hit a perfect example - Beth Williamson and Emma Lang. Both western historicals. Both on the steamy side. I mean, WTH?!

    Then there are the authors who don't take a pseudonym. Notice how a lot of them write erotic? I wonder if the perception of Megan Hart readers is that they're willing to read "risky," so there's less "fear" of a backlash when Hart writes something "different." Likewise - Emma Holly. Started out writing erotica with romantic overtones - now writes steamy paranormals. Not to imply that those who DON'T read the steamy stuff are not "risk-takers" - but just that those of us who do might be more....uh....open to trying something new should the author take off in a new direction?

    And now I'm rambling. And probably offending people.....

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  9. Hi Lori and all,
    This is a great topic. When people ask me why two pen names (or three, which is a whole 'nother ball o' wax), my answer isn't simple.
    I've been published as Beth Williamson for more than 6 years and I will continue to publish as Beth.
    I was asked in mid-2009 to publish my Brava books under a different pen name. It was a sales decision made with the editorial dept - it was at the time when Kate Duffy was sick (my heart still hurts from losing her).
    I had a decision to make, keep publishing with Brava and put forth the effort for two pen names. Or move on and find another publishing house. I love Brava, the authors, the editors, the books, so I made the choice to stay with them.
    I had my website built to keep the two pen names as linked as possible. I hand out my business card with one side Beth, the other Emma. It's more effort, but to keep them in sync, it's worth it.
    If I was asked to do it over again, I don't know if I would've said yes. There is no do over button and I am living with that choice, and still publishing Brava books.
    If you see me at a conference and say "Emma!" I likely won't answer because I probably won't hear it. LOL. Just call me "Beth" and I'll keep writing and publicizing all my books as best I can.

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  10. I think authors mostly do it to differentiate between different genres/subgenres.

    The newest one I've seen is Anne Stuart writing as Kristina Douglas - KD has a new angels series out. I only know that they are the same because I subscribe to Jenny Crusie's website and she had a very funny interview with KD in which JC kept saying that she sounded just like Anne Stuart and then KD says, "I am Anne Stuart". Her website just says it's a pen name for a famous author. I'm not sure if it was Ms. Stuart's decision or the publisher's though.

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  11. I'm not a fan of using different pseudonyms.

    Sure if you write YA and adult books I get it. Then it's definitely a smart move.
    But with authors like Eden Bradley (aka Eve Berlin) who writes erotica under both names or Jenn McKinlay (aka Lucy Lawrence) who writes cozy mysteries under both names I just don't get it. Why make things more complicated for the reader?

    Yes, the pseudonym worked with Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb but I think she is an exception.

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  12. Hey Lori :)

    Funny you're bringing up this topic, since I think there is a contest about guess who Regan Hastings (author of Visions of Magic) really is :P

    IIRC, I did read somewhere the reason why NR had to take another pseudonym was because she was being too prolific. I think back then, most authors didn't release as many books per year.

    Also, like Kaetrin mentioned, Anne Stuart is having a new series out with a pseudonyms.

    Seems like sales, number of releases, genres and publishers are the reasons for the pseudonyms.

    I don't know, sometimes, it's a great surprise to find out that an author has more books LOL. However, I agree, it's a bit of a bother ^_^;

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  13. Hi Lori,
    The author who has frustrated me the most with pseudonyms is Jayne Ann Krentz aka Amanda Quick aka Jayne Castle. Krentz is contemporary, Quick is historical and Castle is futuristic. She has a delightful series called Arcane Society and lately she has been doing trilogies that has one story in each genre. Frustrates the heck out of the filing system in my library. I really like to keep a series together but I file all my books alphabetically BY AUTHOR. Harumph.

    Oh well, nothing we can do about it once the publishing house has made a decision - for whatever reason.

    I will say that it makes a great deal of sense in Seleste's situation - separating erotic from YA. Although, I'll confess, as a YA I would have loved to have stumbled on a little erotica. LOL

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  14. No one's mentioned one of biggest reasons for a name change: sales records follow you. If an author sells a book in a different genre, she may well be asked to write under a different name, particularly if sales under the previous name are mediocre. A publisher might not want to risk an author's disappointing track record under one name affecting sales for the new book.

    It's not always the author's choice.

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  15. Lori, thanks so much for your nice comments, I really appreciate them!

    For me, the decision to take a pseudonym was two-pronged. First, because I wasn't just jumping from category romance to single title, I was going from light, funny, SEXY contemporaries to very dark, brutal romantic-thrillers that some romance readers have claimed aren't romances at all. (There was a big, meandering thread on All About Romance to that effect after Fade To Black came out. I still wonder if it had some effect on sales of that book because it seemed to go on forever. Ugh.)

    The second reason is exactly what Carolyn said--sales numbers. I had a very brief Leslie Kelly single title career with HQN and it didn't go well. While my category books sell extremely well, my single title contemporaries had not. So when a new publisher went to try to "sell-in" single titles to the bookstores and distributors, they would go back not to my cataegory sales numbers, but to those single title numbers, which were bad. Meaning their orders of the new book would be extremely conservative.

    Not getting books into the bookstores is a huge blow. And believe me, the plunge between my Black Cats series and my Extrasensory Agents series is what killed my Parrish career. It wasn't how many readers bought it, it was how few bookstores/outlets carried it. My print run plummeted to the point where fewer copies of Cold Sight were printed than I had sold of the Black Cats books. So it's going to be really hard for Leslie Parrish to bounce back from that.

    Believe it or not, if I want to try writing single title again, it might have to be under yet another pseudonym!

    This business ain't for sissies, that's for sure.

    Thanks again for your support, I truly appreciate it!

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  16. So interesting to hear from authors and their reasoning. Brings up the fact that a hobby for us is very much a business for them. But I think the basic premise, "Please publishers, readers don't want their authors to have too many names unless there is a really good reason." is a good one.

    Yes, YA and erotica need to be kept separate (I'm a mom, I have separate places in the house to store them :). And sure a bad sales record might call for a new start or a very different genre might call for a different name, but I'm overwhelmed by the number of examples you've listed here and as a reader, am annoyed. :)

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