07 May, 2013

I Spy With My Little Eye Someone Beginning With...

A rose by any other name would sell more books?
What's in a name? After discussing the importance and difficulty of a finding a good title for your work last week, it got me thinking about names of authors as well. There's a lot of luck involved in selling your work and some people say it starts with your name. It's supposedly much better to have a name towards the start of the alphabet (I married well there!) so people come across your books as soon as they start browsing the shelves. Do you think there's any truth in that?

A little while ago my friend Suzi, talked about which authors she'd find herself next to on the shelves when her book is published. There isn't a mainstream bookshop in our village, so last time I was in civilisation I took a peek in Waterstones. I already knew who would come immediately after me in the alphabet, but I was intrigued to find who would preceded me. It's Mary Balogh.

Confession: I had never heard of Mary Balogh. Apparently, she's a best-selling author of historical romantic fiction, and she looks jolly friendly on her website (even if the links are written in Comic Sans). So she seems like a good neighbour to have. Have you read any of her books?

As to who comes after me, it is of course the great writer Iain Banks, who has won more awards and had more bestsellers than I have space to tell you about. For the last few years I've half-jokingly told myself that all (all!) I need to do is get myself into bookshops and people would stumble across my books by accident while looking for books by Iain Banks. This suddenly became very poignant, as I'm sure all my UK readers will know, when last month Mr. Banks announced he has terminal cancer and is unlikely to survive a year. He will be a great loss to British literature as well as to those who know him, and I'm sure his books will live on for decades.

Iain Banks actually writes under two different names. Iain Banks is his mainstream novel name, and the fiendishly secretive Iain M. Banks is his sci-fi novel name. This is the sort of pen-name I understand. If you write in two genres, it makes sense to differentiate between them so as not to confuse your readers. Tom Holt, author of wonderfully flippant speculative fiction, also writes historical fiction under the name Thomas Holt. I'm sure there are many more examples.

There are other reasons a pen-name seems to make sense:
  • your real name is the same as a more famous author
  • you started writing under your maiden name and want to build on that platform after marriage (this isn't really a pen-name, I suppose)
  • your name is very long (has a lot of syllables) or difficult to spell/pronounce (and therefore remember)
  • you need a gender-neutral name - although, I don't think there is much need for this anymore. Initials can "neutralise" your name if you think it necessary - think J.K. Rowling (though the K, of course, is an invention as she doesn't have a middle name).
However, I don't get it when somebody chooses a pen-name at the start of their career for no real reason. It seems an unnecessary pretention to me. Do you/ would you ever use a pen-name?

I'll finish with my favourite pen-name story - that of the author Richard Bachman. Most people probably know now that Bachman is the pseudonym of Stephen King. He created it when he wanted to bring out more than one book a year, and to see whether his books were selling because of his name or whether he really had the talent to attract new readers. Unfortunately, he was outed as Bachman too early to draw conclusions, but I admire him for giving it a go. I don't think I'd want to know!

So, who would you be next to on the bookshelves if you had a book published? Do you know any good pen-name stories?

17 comments:

  1. I just found out my book would be shelved next to Clare Vanderpool, author of Moon Over Manifest. Not a bad place to be shelved—I would like that very much. :-)

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    1. Not bad! Nice to be next to somebody you've heard of!

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  2. Of course, my book(s) would be AFTER Iain Banks, so between us we'd sandwich him.

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    1. First the Bankses take over the shelves of Waterstones. Later - the world!

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  3. Ahhh, what do you have against comic sans? I think they could be a little bigger, but I like them. :)

    Well I guess you can look up who's next to me on the bookshelf via your link, so...

    I'm not sure about pen names. Both my maiden and married names are fairly original. My parents went with the very uncommon spelling of my first name, so that helps. But my married name is easier to spell than my maiden name. So who knows.

    I see myself mostly doing contemporary, but could do YA and adult, so I'm not sure if that'll be an issue. We'll see.

    And if I started publishing erotica, I'd definitely writer under a pen name. ;)

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    1. Comic Sans is like the font everybody mocks because it was used to death in the 90s and early 2000s. It's considered the least cool font in the world now - there's even an organisation called "Putting the Sans into Comic Sans". But I was only teasing - I'm not much of a font snob!

      I'm interested that you see yourself as mostly doing contemporary. I thought you were a YA writer at heart? (And writing erotica is definitely a good reason to try to be anonymous!)

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    2. OMG, I'm so uncool. I use it on my blog. :) Oh well.

      I had to go look up some articles since I've never heard this. It's kinda funny. I can understand not using it for formal stuff, but hey, my blog is informal. :)

      I actually just started using it a few months ago since I finally learned how to change fonts in html. So I was going to play around with that a little more. Just haven't figured out which font to try next.

      The first 6 novels I wrote were actually adult contemporary. Then I did a YA. Except I didn't really plan it. I just had the story and wrote. Then I started reading YA--which I hadn't done since I was one myself.

      Now YA is what I've been pretty much writing. I will go back to my adult (contemporary) stories someday, but I'll concentrate on YA now.

      And I think it'd be cool to write a horror sometime, YA or adult, I don't know. No ideas yet. But I have plenty of other stuff to work on.

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    3. I think it was just that everybody used it for everything informal for about 10 years so it became a sort of joke, rather than the font itself being terrible. Stick to your guns if you like it. Maybe it will come back in fashion!

      Wow - I didn't realise you'd written so many novels. Awesome!

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  4. The problems I'd like to have are that when my other novels get commissioned / contracted, someone thinks my wildly successful fantasy novel is too 'different' from the mainstream genre books, so they ask me to adopt a pseudonym. That or they'll think I'm the bloke out of Casualty! I'd probably go for John Davidson or David Johnson.

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    1. I shall look out for John Davidson and/or David Johnson's best-selling novels in years to come. And I shall smirk at knowing the secret identity.

      I'd like to say I haven't really thought about it, but I totally know what pen-name I'd use if I was super-successful and needed a fresh start. Obviously I can't write what it is here, or I'd have to kill everyone who read this blog.

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    2. Ah, that's my first mistake...

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  5. I remember reading years ago some survey claimed that authors with names near the start of the alphabet tend to get selected from bookshelves more than those at the end. Maybe they tend to be nearer eye-level, and you have to grovel on the floor of a wall-to-ceiling bookshelf to get at W, Y etc.

    Anyway, it means you will outsell me once you get published, Chloe, if only by a small amount. I'm thinking of writing under the pen name of Alan Aaron...

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    1. We might be on the same shelf!

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  6. Hello,
    My wife and I write together, so we decided on a pen-name using our first two names: "Cathie John". It seemed the easiest way to reflect our working relationship. Using both our names would take up too much space! ;)

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    1. Hi John. That's a really lovely way to find a working name :) John works nicely as a last name too!

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  7. Hi, Cloe. Hope you don't mind, but this is the only way to touch base with you. Cathie and I have relaunched our writing efforts and just posted our novel ("Little Mexico: An Original Sin City Novel") as an eBook on Amazon. We originally self published it in paperback in 2000. I realize you may want to remove this entry as an inappropriate comment to your posting, but, again, this is the only way of contacting you in the event you may be interested in being informed of our efforts. Thank you and all the best

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    1. Always happy to hear from someone who has commented on the blog before. Good luck to you with your book!

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