|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?