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In the past year, my writing career has improved considerably—enough, even, to call it a career.  With my talented and hard-working husband/publisher, we’ve put ten books up on Amazon Kindle. Having used our own covers, product descriptions, product positioning and pricing, we were surprised and delighted by how well these books have performed.

Looking back, I realize the dream I chased for so long (Big Six publisher, six-figure advance, feted in New York) is gone for good.

Here’s a trip down memory lane: my experience with a Big Six publisher:

1) Agent makes the deal.  Editor calls to say, “We love you!” You say, “So you’re putting it in hardcover?”  Long pause.  “We’re thinking mass market paperback.  That’s the way to reach people. Hard covers are too hard to sell.  You’ll see–this is going to be huge!

2) Two months go by.  Editor asks for a handful of revisions and decides to change the title of your book.

3) Eight months go by.  Editor sends photo of the cover.  “Here it is!”  You ask, “Why did you put a werewolf on the cover?” You receive only stony silence, and despite the fact that the book doesn’t have werewolves in it, you soon grow to love the cover.

4) Publisher sends copy edits.

5) They assign you a publicist. The publicist writes a few lines down on one sheet of paper, describing you and your book.

6) The publicist misses the point of the book, so you ask her to change it.  You never hear from her again.

7) Book comes out.  There’s a flurry of excitement.  Will PW review the book?

8) Sadly, no.

9) You go to the local Barnes & Noble.  (Borders is closed.)  There you go look for your book, and you find it, spine out, two copies.

And there, at last, is that wonderful moment when you are standing in that bookstore, holding the book of your heart. You’ve arrived!

Absorb that wonderful feeling.  Revel in it.  Photograph the occasion.  Because in three weeks time, that book will be pulped and turned into a beer carton.  It will disappear off the face of the earth…

Until it crops up as an ebook.

*If you didn’t get a high six-figure advance

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The publishing industry is in upheaval with major changes, but one of the more subtle changes is the declining use of pen names. As more authors take charge of their own publishing and online marketing, they choose to skip the pen names when they write in various genres, in an effort to capitalize on the brand success of the name they’re already selling under.
This makes sense to me and it’s why I’m publishing my futuristic thriller, The Arranger, under the same author name as my police procedurals. Essentially, the books are all crime stories, and in this case, they even share a major character, so I never considered using a pen name. Some marketers would argue this is a mistake, but I disagree.
In fact, even if decided to write in a completely different genre, say fantasy, I still don’t think I would use a pen name. Here’s why. Marketers at major publishing houses established the practice with the idea that books should be categorized and shelved by genre and that readers were easily confused. They worried readers would buy a book in a genre they didn’t want just because it had their favorite author’s name on it.
This seems like an insult to readers. If the cover art and book description are doing their jobs, then readers will know exactly what the genre is and what to expect from the novel—regardless of the name on the cover. Readers have also come to expect authors to pen stories in various genres. It is neither surprising, nor confusing to them.
In addition, writers are blending story types and making up their own genres. Paranormal historical mystery, anyone? Or in my case: futuristic crime thriller. I’m not sure pen names were ever useful, but if they were, readers are long past it. In the age of the internet and open access to writers, readers learn everything they need to about an author and their various books with a quick visit to their website.
What about readers browsing in bookstores? Does a pen name prevent them from buying a futuristic police procedural written by J.D. Robb instead of a romance by Nora Roberts? I don’t think so. At least not more than once.  I know there are instances in which a pen name could be useful, such as if the author wants or needs privacy, but those cases are rare.
To minimize any possible confusion, I labeled my novel with a subtitle: A Futuristic Thriller, and I created a different style of cover. It will be clear to my Detective Jackson fans that this novel is different from my police procedurals.
I also have two other standalone thrillers, so most of my readers already know that I write non-Jackson books. Of course, I want my Jackson fans to try the new novel, which is partially why I sent Detective Lara Evans into the future to tell this story. (I also think she’s a lot of fun, but that’s another blog.)
Some of my police procedural readers will check out this novel and some will pass. That’s okay. I’m hoping new readers who’ve never heard of me will try it too.
As a fairly new author, I have to capitalize on my name recognition. My name is my brand. Without the support of a major publisher, it’s all I have, and I use it everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, chat groups, etc. I never use amusing nicknames like thrillergirl or crimefighter. They might be fun, but they don’t tell readers who I am.  I’m not likely to ever use a pen name either, for the same reasons.
What do you think? Are pen names useful to you as a reader or writer?

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