Monday, July 2, 2012

Pseudonyms

Charles posted about maybe publishing his Westerns under a pseud, and collected some comments. I started replying, and as often happens, I ended up with a lot more verbage that is usually polite to post on someone else's blog, especially when I'm coming from the POV of headdesking at what some of the commenters were saying. I've also seen similar discussions elsewhere -- it's not just Charles's crowd -- so I'm posting here instead.

There seems to be a line of thought that says that you *should* publish everything under your own name, that if you write multiple genres, then the real readers, or your real fans, or anyone worth considering, will read whatever you write, or at least give it a try and then figure out for themselves which of your genres they like and only buy/read those. Or something. The thought seems to come from some principle of Writer Against the World, or Artiste Refusing to Sell Out, or some similar ego-war where giving in means losing. Or something.

In actuality, this is about marketing. Sorry, I know I just lost all the artistes, and most of the fierce individualists, but I'm talking to the writers who want their work read (and maybe even paid for) by lots and lots of people.

Anecdotal data, collected from a wide range of sources as opposed to just one writer and their close friends, as well as info from the big NY publishers (who do a LOT of things badly, but do have a buttload of marketing trends data) shows that a large fraction of the audience reads only one genre, or maybe two, and does not want to read another genre. I've run into people like this who will get angry about feeling OMGTricked! into reading a genre (or subgenre, or whatever) that they don't like because one of "their" writers (as if they own them) decided to write something different under the same name.

As a reader, I'll at least try just about anything by a writer I like a lot. So will a lot of other people I know. Strangely enough, most of these folks are writers -- people who are just that interested in fiction in general, and who are constantly aware of skill and style and craftsmanship, enough so to be able to appreciate a good story no matter what type it might be. There are many readers, however, who aren't like us.

Saying, "Well, I personally am different, therefore that's not true," or "I know hordes of people (which is actually like six or ten) who disagree with that, therefore it's not true," is an argument centered around ego, not data. Sorry, but it's true. Your or my personal feelings, or experiences with our friends, don't constitute a valid data sample.

Now, if there's something that strongly ties your work together -- frex., if all your fiction is pulp-style adventure, even if some is Western adventure and some is horror adventure and some is heroic fantasy adventure -- then you can build your name brand on that, because your target audience is fans of pulp-style adventure fiction.

If you're writing deeply scary horror, and rollicking adventure Westerns, and funny-ironic heroic fantasy, though, those are going to appeal to different audiences, for the most part. It'd suck of someone who loves funny-ironic fiction read one of your sleep-with-the-lights-on scary horror stories, and mentally crossed everything published under that name off their list.

This is marketing, folks. It's about getting your stories in front of the people who'd enjoy reading them, and be willing to hand you money for them. You're not in a battle of will with your readers, it's not an ego-fight, and publishing under multiple names doesn't mean that you lose, or you're selling out, or you're letting Those People dictate to you, or whatever. It means that you're taking action to make it easy for the folks who'd enjoy reading a particular group of your stories to find them. There you go, that's it.

And depending on what-all you write, it might also be about sequestering one or more of your genres from people who disapprove of those genres and would cross your name off their list because of that. Anything erotic is going to lose audience for your non-erotic adult fiction, and forget about children's or YA. Even within the same genre, people who write erotic romance and inspirational romance use different pseuds, because writing one will interfere with selling the other.

Saying, "Well, any reader worth having won't think like that," is... well, fine. If you're okay with chopping a chunk off of your target audience, then go for it. But realize that's what you're doing, and don't gripe about how your sales numbers never look like those of your friend with four pseuds, or like the more popular writers in your genres. (Unless you hit the big-time and become the next Stephen King or something, but counting on that is ridiculous as a business plan.)

If you write more than one genre, or more than one subgenre with distinctly different audiences, and there's no one strong style that ties it all together, give serious consideration to multiple pseuds. This isn't about ego -- it's about readers and sales. People who think there's some awesome heroism about being a starving artist sticking to his principles to the end can, well, do that. Me, I want to make it as easy as possible for people who'd like my stories to find them. Using multiple pseudonyms isn't any kind of failure, or selling out. It's a tool available to help you achieve your goals. Use it or don't, but be aware of what you're doing before you throw away a useful tool.

Angie

8 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

When I first started I really really wanted to see my name in print. Now not so much. For those who know me, like the people who visit my blog, I can always make it clear that a pseudonym book is by me. that way I can have the best of both worlds. At least that would be my hope.

Angie said...

Charles -- that's exactly it, that unless your pseud needs to be a state secret (like if you're writing erotica under one name and children's books under another) you can be perfectly open about the fact that both (or however many) names are all you. It's the differentiation that gives your fans the ability to easily see which of your books they're likely to enjoy. And people who aren't already pretty serious fans won't bother going to your web site to find out who else you might be.

I think you'll do fine with this. I just wanted to thwap some of the commenters with a dead salmon :/ and chose the path of diplomacy by taking it back here. [wry smile]

Angie

Rune Rathborne said...

I have one friend who I'm very sure burned her name when she published m/m erotica under the same name as her fantasy and paranormal fiction.

Another friend (also a published writer) just sold a novel to her favorite publishing house because her agent convinced her to use a pseudonym. And she'd submitted to them before.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to keep my m/m erotic romances separated from my mainstream fantasy writing. Not to mention that I live in a very conservative region and my day-job is in a more or less conservative field. I'll get away with fantasy/paranormal, but erotic m/m would lead to questions and debates I would prefer to avoid.

If I ever decide to do something with the m/f romance ideas I have I might publish them under yet another pseudonym, because a lot of m/m-reader wouldn't be interested in m/f. And why annoy my readers.

And I’m totally behind the marketing aspect. Dean Wesley Smith has also written about it and from a purely business-side it totally make sense. It's basically brand-names. One product is sold under one brand-name and the other product is sold under another brand-name to avoid confusion.

Sam Mills said...

I agree. I write, and I read a wide variety of genres, but I *still* go to my favorite authors with expectations based on their previous works. Even though I understand it from the other side!

If I love an author I won't even read the back copy (spoilers!), so I generally don't have advance warning that they've switched genres on me. The trouble is: you need to REALLY impress in the new genre to make me forget what I was looking for in the first place.

Angie said...

Rune -- sorry, had to dig your comment out of the spam bucket. :/

Not surprised about your friend, unfortunately. There are still way too many people in our culture who think sex = filth.

My situation was similar to yours; I probably would've published my m/m romance and erotica under my own name, since I hadn't thought a lot about it at that point, but my husband had a government job before he retired, and there was a small but non-zero chance that he could have a hard time at work if folks there found out what I was publishing. A pseud solved that problem nicely. At this point, if I ever write het again, I'll probably use a separate pseud for that too, because as you said, there's some overlap between the two, but not all that much.

Dean's a great example of how to make this work, and Kris as well. If I can ever get my butt in front of the keyboard as many hours as they do, I might be able to keep four or more pseuds alive and healthy at the same time too. [wry smile] I think that's another problem people have with it, though; you really do have to produce a certain amount of product per year per pseud to keep the readers aware of it, and a one-book-per-year writer can't do that, or even come close. This is a case of myths heterodyning off one another.

Angie

Angie said...

Sam -- exactly! Expectations are important, and even if you like both genres, expecting one and getting the other can jolt you in a way that's not at all pleasant. I wrote about expectations a few years ago, and talked about how expecting A but being sold B can cause a negative reaction, even if the buyer usually likes B. That's definitely an issue here, and one which sorting your genres or subgenres by pseudonym can fix. If you're willing to do it and don't see it as some kind of selling out. :/

Angie

Suzan Harden said...

Sometimes, those writers with long-term careers don't quite get the concept of branding. Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote a scathing essay on using your own name instead of hiding in one of her really early Sword & Sorceress calls for submission. I admire MZB and really took what she said to heart. Twenty years later, I'm beginning to how bad some of that advice I sucked in as a newbie was not the smartest business advice.

Angie said...

Suzan -- I remember that. [nod] I think at that point in time, MZB was particularly ranting about women who published SF/F under male pseuds, or neutral initials. Even now, SF is considered a "boys'" genre, and in the days of James Tiptree Jr. and CL Moore and Andre Norton, the female writers were sort of perpetuating that notion. She had a good point, at that time in history and in the context of that particular issue. It's like cheering now when GLBT people come out of the closet -- and realistic, positive portrayals of GLBT people in fiction and media -- because only by normalizing themselves in all areas of society will they find eventual acceptance. MZB wanted to normalize women who wrote SF and fantasy. Or at least, that's the impression I got from her, over a number of years.

I agree, though, that applying her advice to all contexts and situations in the writing and publishing business isn't necessarily a good idea. [wry smile]

Angie