Thursday, November 17, 2005

So, What's In a Name Anyway?

The other day, I was talking with a writer friend who is thinking of taking on a pseudonym after having published eight novels under her own name. She thinks she has no choice. The sales figures for her last couple of books weren’t so great, and her editor rejected her proposal for her option book.

Or proposals. She submitted three of them. All rejected.

Her agent suggested she consider a name change and starting over with a new publisher, which would pay her a much lower advance. (Ouch.) The agent pointed out that since bookstores can now track book sales with point-of-sale technology, pre-order sales figures on new books by the same author drop dramatically when that author’s last book didn’t sell well. That smarts. I mean, sometimes the reason a book doesn’t sell hasnothing to do with the author or the quality of the writing.

Now, as if that wasn’t depressing enough, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how the use of pseudonyms by authors trying to rebound from poor sales figures is on the rise.

(Okay, the Diana Diamond/William P. Kennedy example was hilarious. I wish I’d caught his appearance on Regis and Kelly in that blonde wig. )

So what do you guys think? Would you, as a writer, consider changing your name and adopting a pseudonym if you were told it was the only way you could publish again? And how do you, as a reader, feel when you find out that a writer has done that?


Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Interesting post and with some very scary parts, too. Your friend's position isn't a good place to be and hopefully things will turn around for her soon! But there other, more positive reasons for writing under a new name. I am now writing for two houses and I chose to use a pseudonym for these new books. They are Scottish-set paranormals and I shall continue to write my Scottish medievals for my first publisher. These new books are not a replacement subgenre, but an additional one. And I chose the new name - Allie Mackay - for the sole reason that I wanted a catchier, more Scottish-sounding name than my real one. I'd wanted to do so when I first sold, but kept my married name because I knew my husband's feelings would have been hurt had I not done so. But now, with a new opportunity, I decided to go for it and the choice was fully my own - and one I wanted. The new name also has personal significance for me as both "Allie" and "Mackay" are old family names, something I hope will bring me good luck. I have mentioned the new name and books on my regular website and also in newsletters to my mailing list readers. When I set up a website for Allie Mackay this spring, I will also mention just 'who' Allie Mackay really is. So it is not a secret or meant to be. I simply wanted a name that - I hope - sounds catchy, Scottish, and also one that is a bit more appropriate for books that are lighter in tone than my Scottish medievals. My real name is quite a long mouthful, after all! So I am very excited about the new one.

Allison Brennan said...

Yikes, don't scare me.

Seriously, I've heard of this happening to other writers, where something happened and their books lost their resonance with readers, so perhaps after the third book didn't move to the next level, whatever. I can see the need for writing under another name, especially if you're switching genres.

I'd always said that I would keep my own name for whatever I write. My agent's also pretty adamant about it. We'll see what happens down the road . . . I never say never.

IF I was in the same boat as your author friend, I would probably write under another name if the choice was the be published or not be published.

Good luck to her.

Nancy Morse said...

I have written for several different publishers and have never been asked to change my name for any reason. I may not be the most famous or prolific romance author, but there must be readers out there who know my name. If I were asked to write under another name, I would first object and state my reasons. If it meant being published or not being published, however, I'd probably go with the pseudonym. You have to write these things for the sheer joy it gives you to write, because if you don't sell, then at least you've satisfied something within yourself. But hey, the bottom line is, don't we also write them to reach others and, dare I say, to make money?

Anonymous said...

Boy, I feel for your friend, Faye. And when you said that low sales figures doesn't necessarily reflect on the writing, you are so, so right!
I have read romance for several years now, before I was published, and I remember how frustrated I would get when I found a wonderful author, then suddenly she wasn't publishing anymore. I know it was because their sales were low -- but since I loved the writing, I blamed the low sales on the marketing and poor distribution.

Anyway, I, too, would change to a pseudonym if that would help me sell, AND I would get on with a publisher who is good at marketing/distribution!

Please tell your friend not to get down with the rejections. All of us have gone through these times, and if you haven't yet, you will! :)

JoAnn Ross said...

Fortunately, although I've been through some roller coaster years, I've never been in your friend's position. However, I was recently thinking about doing something way different and discussed whether or not I should take a different name with my agent. He was adamant against it. He said that it's impossible to keep a secret and when booksellers and accounts find out, they're not, as a rule, very happy about it. I would suspect they'd be even more unhappy if they thought the change was an attempt to make an end run around slipping numbers. (It was, btw, possible to avoid the numbers by changing names in the past; he doesn't believe it's possible now.)

I were your friend's agent, I'd be putting more energy into finding a publisher who'd appreciate her work and be excited enough about having her write for the house to be willing to do the work to turn those numbers around. It isn't easy. But it can be done.

Maybe she should be thinking about a new agent (and definitely a new house), rather than a new name.

Allison Brennan said...

Good advice, JoAnn.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, guys, for all the great advice for my friend. She is very depressed right now. (Not that I blame her.) She writes historicals, so it doesn't help that the historical romance market isn't as hot right now as it used to be.

And JoAnn, I agree 100% with her need to get a new agent. I also think she should spread her wings, ignore the advice of her ex-agent-to-be and write the book of her heart (to borrow a little PASIC phrasing. *g*)

I also think JoAnn's right about it being next to impossible to get away with using a pseudonym these days. It used to happen all the time, though. Years ago, I had a friend who was forced to change her name by her publisher. This was mid-90's. I felt so bad for her. She was a good writer - she even had the Rita win to prove it - but her sales were dwindling, and not all of that was her fault, either, IMO.

JoAnn Ross said...

Having spent some time in battered writer's Depressionland, I can definitely second the suggestion that she just go for it and write whatever book she wants. (Which, as someone once described, could possibly be the book of her voice, rather than the book of her heart, which isn't, as most of us unfortunately know, always marketable.)

But at this point, having been there, done that, burned the T-shirt, I suspect she's letting too many negative voices affect her creativity. Since they're already advocating things that aren't necessarily in her own best interest, she needs to look deep inside herself and listen to what stories her muses want to tell.

If it's any consolation to her, some of my strongest and most successful books have been written against agent and editor advice.

xoxo and white light to your friend from my mystical, magical Smoky mts :)