By Guest Author
Posted May 1, 2012
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by Emily Devenport
I’ve had three pen names during my writing career, so, “Why did you change pen names so often?” is a question I’ve been asked a lot. People may assume an author would do that because her first books weren’t successful, and she wanted another shot with a new name. That’s not a bad assumption, but I changed my pen names for only one reason: my publisher wanted me to. And not because they were trying to fool readers — at least, not at first.
My first six books sold pretty well. When I changed my pen name from Emily Devenport to Maggy Thomas, my publisher was actually trying to fool the book store chains. The chains had an unfortunate policy of ordering only as many copies of a midlist writer’s new title as they’d recently ordered of the last book. I don’t mean total sales. I mean the last order. So even if they sold 30 copies of your title at a particular location, if they ordered one or two copies in the last few months before the new title was released, they would order one or two copies of the new one. Not only did that give you no opportunity to grow your audience, it actually caused your sales figures to shrink.
Despite this, the name change was not a casual decision. I knew I had fans who wouldn’t know where to find me anymore. But I got the impression that refusing to change my pen name could be a deal breaker. So I became Maggy Thomas. My 7th title, Broken Time, was published under that name. It was nominated for the Philip K. Dick award, and it got some fabulous reviews. But it wasn’t a “lead” title – it was just another midlist mass-market paperback release for that year. The sales figures weren’t the worst, but they weren’t the best, either.
Fortunately, my editor still believed in me. So when it came time to sell the next proposal (for Belarus), she had a new strategy to sell me to her bosses. She told them I could gain more readers if my name was “gender obscure,” meaning that it could be a man’s name or a woman’s. The theory was that it would attract male readers as well as female. That’s how I became Lee Hogan.
Yes, that time around they were trying to fool the readers.
That strategy worked fairly well, at first. But the economy started to tank the year the next book, Enemies, was released. And then the 9/11 tragedy happened, striking right at the heart of the publishing industry. That industry was already in trouble, and in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crash, 80% of writers who were signed with various publishing companies (including me) were let go.
Understand: this doesn’t mean we got pink slips. It’s never that straight-forward in the entertainment industry. What happens is that people just stop returning your calls. My agent was very honest with me about what was happening, and she is still willing to vet any contracts I may receive. I have no idea whether that will ever happen again, given the changes in the publishing industry and the rise in ebooks.
But I don’t feel bad about it. I actually managed to get nine titles published with NAL/Roc, and I got my professional credentials. I was privileged to work with great editors. Still, I have to admit, having three pen names was a pain in the neck. I made fans with all three names, and trying to direct them to my new titles, Spirits Of Glory and The Night Shifters (now using my original pen name, Emily Devenport) has been a real challenge.
Trying to attract old fans is not the biggest challenge facing an indie ebook author. It’s daunting to swim in that electronic ocean — professional writers are lost among the multitude of newbies, many of whom are publishing books that should never see the light of day (or of a reader screen). Even experienced writers are sometimes too delusional to hire a professional editor (many of whom work freelance these days). But I would still rather take charge of my own career and plot my own course through the ebook publishing scene than do what some professionals have contemplated — adopt a pen name to fool the publishers.
This has actually worked for one or two people. But it’s a terrible idea. Publishers don’t like being deceived. I understand why authors would consider doing it — the stigma attached to self-publishing seems especially poisonous to writers whose books were published in New York by “The Big Six.” It’s a stamp of validation that doesn’t currently exist in the world of indie e-publishing. But trying to fool publishers with a new pen name is an act of desperation, and decisions based on desperation seldom turn out well.
There are other reasons why some writers might consider using pen names, even when they’ve been self-publishing. Lack of success under your original pen name might cause you to try to reboot your career with a new one. But some writers adopt multiple pen names so they can venture into new genres. This happened under the old publishing model too — book stores tended to put an author’s works all in one section, regardless of the genre. Publishers wanted to make sure that an author’s children’s books would go in the Children’s section, and mystery books would go in Mystery. How necessary that is for ebooks and web sites remains to be seen.
So — will I ever adopt a new pen name? I doubt it. If I did, I’d just have to build my audience all over again, quite a bit of work in this age of social networking and book blog reviews. I’ll take my chances as Emily Devenport. Patience, perseverance, and good work are the best strategies I can recommend for anyone these days, regardless of what name they decide to put on their books.
Nine of Emily Devenport‘s novels were published by NAL/Roc before she started publishing ebooks. She wrote under three pen names and was published in the US, the UK, Italy, and Israel. Her novel, Broken Time, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick award. She has published three new ebooks: The Night Shifters, Spirits Of Glory, and Pale Lady.
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