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?