On our panel today we have three authors: Steven Piziks, Steven Harper, and Penny Drake. Mr. Piziks is known for his media tie-in books and short stories. Mr. Harper is known for his science fiction novels. Ms. Drake is an upcoming writer of romantic thrillers.
Will the real author please stand up?
All three of them are real, of course. They’re all me.
Authors take pen names for a number of reasons. These days, the most common reason is numbers. Bookstores have a deadly and terrible method of ordering books–they always order fewer than before. If Big Box Books ordered 1,000 copies of New Author’s first book and they sell 800, they’ll order–get this–400 of his second book. That’s right–400. Let’s say 300 of those sell. That means they’ll only order 150 of the author’s third book. And we all know that Big Box Books don’t restock if a book sells out, either, so there’s little chance of a book to break out and turn into a major seller.
At this point, the publisher will say, “Look, dude–your books aren’t selling. We can’t offer you another contract.”
“But . . . but . . . it’s not my fault! My books have a high sell-through rate!” protests the author. “The bookstores just don’t stock my stuff!”
“Sorry,” says the publisher. “Nothing we can do about that.”
“You could push my books more. You know–give them a publicity budget, maybe pay to put them on an endcap by the cash register.”
“BWAH HA HA HA HA HA! You’re all right, kid! It was nice working with you.”
But Big Box Books orders everything by computer, and computers are stupid. They have no idea that Author One and Writer Two are the same person. So Author One adopts a pen name for his next book, and the computer for Big Box Books order 1,000 copies again. Ta da! That’s how Steven Harper was born.
Sometimes pen names are born through audience expectation. I wrote a romantic thriller named Trash Course for Carina Press, the electronic arm of Harlequin. It comes out in a couple of weeks, and you can preview it here. Unfortunately, men are largely persona-non-grata among romance readers. A man can’t truly write from a woman’s point of view, goes the reasoning, and many romance readers shy away from anything written by a man. Out of this, Penny Drake was born.
Some authors adopt pen names for privacy. Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example, wrote several novels of lesbian fiction under a false name because at the time she was living in a community that would have made life difficult for her if they’d known about it.
Occasionally authors adopt pen names because their real names are difficult to spell or pronounce. Readers don’t like having to search for a name or having to stammer or stutter for a clerk: “I’m looking for the new book by Joel Sczymanski.” “How do you spell that?” “Uh . . . ”
What other reasons have you come across?
–Steven Harper Piziks
Books available at Book View Cafe:
Full selection available at http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Steven-Piziks/Steven-Piziks-Novels/