Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms: Part 4

Here’s part 4, and our last installment of, Why Authors Use Pseudonyms. I hope you enjoy.

4. One of the major reasons why writers write under pseudonyms is because the publisher wants it and they are paying for the writer’s work. For example, publishers of western series books tend to use a “house name” for all books in a particular series, even though the individual volumes may be written by various authors. Using the house name ensures a certain uniformity to the series that makes it easy for fans of the series to find the next volume, perhaps written by a different author. This is the primary reason why I’ve written under pseudonyms. This often aids the author greatly in sales as well. For example, say there’s a house name like “Jake Logan,” which there is. The first three are written by Joe Smith and sell well, and then the fourth is written by Bob Jones. Changing the name in mid series would cause all kinds of havoc in the way the books were shelved or listed, and create confusion for the readers.

Some publishers insist that the individual authors of books within a series do not reveal that “they” wrote any one particular book, although often they ease up on this constraint as time progresses. I know quite a few authors who have written, for example, in various western series such as “The Trailsman,” which is published under the name Jon Sharp, or “Longarm,” which is published as by Tabor Evans. In many cases these authors were not to reveal their particular involvement at the time of writing, though that constraint has since been eased and many of them will now reveal which particular books they wrote. This is great for me because I tend to collect certain writers’ works more than I care about getting every volume of the Longarm (well into the 400s for individual volumes) or Trailsman series (past 300 volumes).  

Most of the pseudonymous books I’ve written have been for Wolfpack Publishing under the house name of A. W. Hart. For example, I wrote book seven of their Avenging Angels series (The Wine of Violence), and book 3 of their Legend of the Black Rose series (Vengeance of the Black Rose.) Although these were published under the name A. W. Hart to represent a certain kind of action-adventure tale, I was credited as author in the “About the Author” section at the end of the book. I certainly appreciate Wolfpack for doing that, and I’m certain these books sold more under the Hart name than they ever would have under my name because other excellent writers coming along before me had already established the quality of the A. W. Hart Brand.

The “House Name” concept is actually very widespread in publishing, much more than most readers realize. Not only is it used on Western series, but often on SF and Fantasy series as well, such as The “Richard Blade” series, the “Casca” series, the “Traveler” series, and many more. In fact, I could easily do a lengthy series of blog posts on such series, but for now I’m done with Pseudonyms. Thank you very much for reading.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms: Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of our series: Why Authors Use Pseudonyms. Let’s get right to it.

3. Writers who write across different genres may use pseudonyms to avoid potentially alienating certain readers. Quite a few people tend to read in only one genre—say Westerns. And this can be a problem for a writer who works in other fields. Say a reader who likes my western stories recognizes my name on a horror novel and decides to read it, thinking he’s going to get the same kind of tale. He soon finds himself...well, horrified. He doesn’t like the blood and gore. He’s not going to read anymore horror novels under my name and he may well push my westerns away as well.

This has happened to me and is one reason I decided to start writing westerns under the name Tyler Boone. My westerns, although often violent and bloody, have nowhere near the gore that appears in many of my horror stories. Nor are my westerns populated by topes like vampires and werewolves. (I’m not sure what I’m going to do if I ever decide to write in the subgenre called “Horror-Western.” I did one flash fiction like that and it caused some issues with readers who wanted more straightforward western tales.)

With likely even more dramatic results, imagine readers of a particular western author picking up a romance novel by him—under the same name. I bet he’d lose readers. True, he might possibly gain some other readers, but if they are romance readers they’re not going to want his straight action adventure westerns.

This use of a pseudonym does have the potential to backfire. Dean Koontz wrote under pseudonyms in his early days for this kind of reason and he later said he regretted it and it cost him momentum. But, for the most part, Koontz was not writing in as dramatically different genres as romance and horror, and since we can’t rerun the experiment we’ll never know whether it actually hurt his career length sales. I do know that I’ve also had a few readers who liked my work under the Gramlich name not recognize me as a modern western author under a different name. So, it’s not a simple matter.

 Part 4 is up next:

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of why authors might use pseudonyms instead of their real names. Let’s not waste any time:

2. Whether we like it or not. Whether it’s fair or not. Some of our given names are going to work against selling our product, without having anything to do with the quality. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, (and sometimes even today), women who were writing SF used male names to publish under. Andre Norton and James Tiptree, Jr are two examples. I didn’t know Tiptree was a woman until I was in my 30s. Others just used initials so they wouldn’t clearly be identified as women, such as C. L. Moore or—more closely to the modern day—J. K. Rowling.

It wasn’t all one way. Robert Jordan, of Wheel of Time fame, wrote romantic fiction under a female name (Reagan O’Neal) because it seemed that women were less likely to buy romance by a male author, just as male readers of SF often wouldn’t take a chance on a female author. It made good sense for authors trying to sell in those markets to use names that would not bias potential readers against them. Of course, this isn’t fair. But it’s real.

And, just like actors have often changed their names to make them more easily pronounced (Rock Hudson) and to avoid prejudice, some writers with very long or foreign sounding names may use pseudonyms to help sales. This brings us back to Robert Jordan, whose real name was James Oliver Rigney Jr. Would he have been as successful under the Rigney Jr name? We’ll never know, but you have to admit that for most English speakers, Jordan rolls off the tongue easier than Rigney and is likely more memorable.

Name recognition is an incredibly important thing in writing and publishing. The British author known as Lee Child, of “Jack Reacher” fame, is actually James Dover Grant. Grant isn’t hard to pronounce or remember for English speakers, but “Lee Child” has a certain flair that James Grant lacks. The first letter of the last name is even important for how things get shelved. “Jordan” would be shelved before “Rigney” in the SF section of bookstores, “Child” before “Grant” in the thriller section. I’ve seen research that suggests that names beginning with “C” through about “L” seem to get the best positioning in bookstores, close to the eye height of most browsers and either toward the beginning of the display area or right in the center. I don’t personally know that to be true but consider some of our best-selling authors—Mary Higgins Clark, Harlan Coben, John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Charles Gramlich. Uh, wait, how did that last name get in there? Please ignore that typo! Unless, that is, you really want to read some Gramlich.

Please stay tuned for installment 3 of Why Authors Use Pseudonyms. 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Why Authors Use Pseudonyms: Part 1

I get asked quite often why I’ve had work published under names other than my own. A thought that often accompanies this question is: “don’t you want to see your name in print?”  Well, there are numerous reasons why someone might use a pseudonym in publishing. The topic is complex enough that I’ve decided to do a short series of blog posts about it. Here’s the first one, with more to follow.

First, I’ll address the “name in print” point. When I first aspired to write and publish, I definitely did want to see my name in print. And it was very exciting and ego pleasing and confidence building when it happened. But, I’ve actually had my name in print hundreds of times now and my goals have changed. What I want more than anything today is to see my “work” in print, and to have it read, and to see how people respond to it. And sometimes, the best way to get these three things is to publish under a pseudonym. Here are the reasons why:

1. The material you’re writing may get you into trouble with family, friends, coworkers, or a job. I’m not specifically talking about writing porn, but that’s in there. When I was growing up in rural Arkansas, and even in some places today, writing science fiction or fantasy was frowned upon, dismissed, and even banned. And the people who wrote such material were gossiped about and sometimes even harassed for doing the Devil’s work.

My own mother wouldn’t display the books I gave her when I first started getting published, and I’m pretty sure it was because she didn’t like the content and the covers. None of this was pornographic, mind you. In fact, my fantasy and SF works firmly honored the good over the bad and upheld all the moral thinking I was taught growing up. It’s just that it often did so beneath the trappings of aliens and monsters and strange settings.

If your writing is going to cause fights and problems with your family, or conflicts with jobs and coworkers, and you’re not fully ready to handle the emotional turmoil, write under a pseudonym and don’t tell anyone.

There are plenty more reasons why authors might use pseudonyms. We haven’t even gotten to the reasons why I’ve used them yet. But more is to come in installment 2 of this series. I hope you enjoy.