May222017

Why G. L. Carriger? On Pen Names, Cover Art & Reader Betrayal

So let us talk a little bit about pen names, shall we Gentle Reader?

G. L. Carriger

My next book, The Sumage Solution: San Andreas Shifters #1, is a big departure for me. OK, perhaps not that big. It’s still me, full of silliness and fun. It’s urban fantasy, but it’s set in contemporary times, in America. It’s not steampunk. It has more sex than my other writing has in the past. It’s certainly got worse language.


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I dithered for a while about what to do about this. You see, I worry about reader betrayal… a lot.

Reader Betrayal

Reader betrayal can take many forms. At its root, it is that sensation one gets if the book you’re reading does something totally unexpected in a bad way. Like if a book you picked up thinking it was romance suddenly doesn’t have a happy ending.

Now, why does this happen?

Well, it can be a flaw in story: you’re reading one thing when the author suddenly takes a dive and turns it into something else. That is the author’s fault. (This is what I call the “scream and hurl” scenario.) Or it can be a flaw in expectation, you thought it was one kind of book, despite the cover and blurb trying to tell you otherwise, and you read it anyway.

Far more common these days is visual marker caused betrayal. This means that you picked up the book expecting one thing because of the cover and then got something completely different from the words within. Controlling these expectations is a serious business. It’s done many ways: visually through cover art (image & text), but also via author name, and cover copy/blurb and description. (There are also things that can’t really be controlled like algorithms offering “similar books you might like.”)

For example, if I showed you this cover:

You’d expect one thing. Dark gritty urban fantasy. Possibly noir tropes in use. If that’s the kind of thing you like, you might then take a look at the book description and decide to buy it.

But if I gave you this one:

You’d expect something else. Upbeat, cheerful, youthful, pulp-ish.

Both covers are based off photos. Both are single person images, saturated color use. But the kind of image chosen, from dress to facial expression, and the tweaks then made to it, from color choice to the overlay of type and font in use, all tell you, the reader, something about what is inside.

You may not know exactly what you are being told, or how to control your own response, but trust me, you’re reacting. The thing that worries a savvy author the most is NOT “does this cover depict what’s inside my book” but “does this cover accurately portray the spirit of my book?”

If you picked up Fairy Debt and did not get a fun little light hearted read about a fairy in silly times, you would be angry with me as the author. You would feel betrayed.

Print edition proofs arrive in office.

Why talk about covers when I should be discussing pen names?

Because most of the time, covers come first. Covers are the single most important thing when selling a book or establishing a brand as an author. Initially. After that, of course, its up to the author to pull the reader in and make them want more.

Which brings us to author name recognition.

After a certain point, if lucky, an author starts to accrue loyal readers. These are the readers who write to say they love you. Who regularly leave book reviews. Who vow to buy “anything you write.” These readers follow an author’s newsletter (if really lucky) and get excited when a new book comes along.

These readers are you, eyeballs reading this blog post right now. I LOVE YOU.

You know what to expect from me as an author because I have tried to give you something quite consistent over the last few years. Yes, it jumped around from YA to adult to novella, from espionage to romance to adventure, but the spirit of the Parasolverse has been unchanged.

Cover art plays into this too, keeping a theme going is pretty darn important:

Here’s how I played with my own themes for my indie stuff:

Romancing the Inventor

Do you see the similarities, and to which books? Can you understand why I might want to make some of the changes I did between my novels and my novellas? (Perhaps that is a whole other discussion if you’re interested.)

One of the things I’d encourage you to notice is that I made my name bigger than the title for the first time when I produced my own stuff.

Why?

Because when self-pubbing I’m banking on name recognition. Because it’s more common in romance to do this for well known authors, and my novellas touch on romance more heavily. (And, because I have noticed over the years that male F/SF authors get this kind of name glorification treatment while the rest of us, erm, do not. That gets my goat because it smacks pretty darn strongly of sexism.)

So, why go through all this trouble to establish name recognition, only to change my name… slightly?

G. L. Carriger

Because we are back to the first part of this post: reader betrayal.

My new non-parasolverse m/m urban fantasy is just different enough for me to worry. Even knowing that I could give you a very different cover, which I have done, I worried that my name was now strong enough to sucker readers into expecting things: gentleness, steampunk, sweet romance, Victorian food & clothing.

I worried that if it says “by Gail Carriger” readers would expect exactly the kind of thing they had gotten from me before. The Sumage Solution is just different enough for readers to get mad at me. Not because I don’t write urban fantasy or paranormal romance well (This book is oodles of fun. It makes me so happy.) but because it’s not what readers expected from Gail Carriger going in. Which isn’t really my fault.

Except that it is. It is certainly my responsibility.

I have established Gail Carriger expectations with 17 or so books now. So it’s up to me to shift those expectations. So I’m publishing The Sumage Solution under G. L. Carriger. Still me. Just tweaked. This way, going in, readers pick up the book and perhaps go:

“Huh, I wonder if this is still Gail? I wonder why Gail is doing this? Perhaps it’s not quite the same thing as before.”

It wasn’t an easy decision, I’ll tell you that much.

And, I hope you like her.

Still and always yours,

Miss G

Want more?

{Gail’s monthly read along for May is Radiance by Grace Draven.}

PROJECT ROUND UP

  • Poison or Protect Audiobook.
    Status: Battling ACX. (AKA Audible/Amazon)
    Can one gentle Highland soldier woo Victorian London’s most scandalous lady assassin, or will they both be destroyed in the attempt?

UP NEXT

The Sumage Solution: San Andreas Shifters #1 by G. L. Carriger
Contemporary m/m paranormal romance featuring a snarky mage and a gruff werewolf. Hella raunchy. Super dirty. Very very fun. Spin off of Marine Biology.

Can a gentle werewolf heal the heart of a smart-mouthed mage?

GAIL’S DAILY DOSE

Your Moment of Parasol . . .

Longchamp, France. 1900 via Edwardian Time Machine tumblr

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Gail Carriger Sketched by Howard Tayler

Your Tisane of Smart . . .

“The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”

~ Albert Einstein

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  

“Writing a book is like telling a joke and having to wait 2 years to know whether or not it was funny.”

~ Alain de Botton

Book News:

The Reading Chick says of Prudence:

“The style of the characters meld completely with the storyline, that it all seems completely believable, in a rather fantastic way.”

Quote of the Day:

“People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.”

~ Logan Pearsall Smith

Questions about Gail’s steampunk world? There’s a wiki for that!
Share & Enjoy!

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21 Responses

  1. Richard Herring said:

    A nice explanation of covers and name branding but I still wonder about the ‘L.’ – what does it stand for? Does it stand for anything at all? Not that it needs to, of course.

  2. Andrea said:

    I love that you care so much about your fan base, that you obsess over how not to betray us. This post, and your earlier post on cover art, are so enlightening. The glimpse into how you’ve made these decisions is fantastic. This bit of insight has also made me respect you as an author, and the brand you’ve created, even more. Thank you for your work and all of the care you put into, not just the writing, but the publishing as well.

    1. Gail Carriger Post author said:

      Why thank you so so much. It’s nice of you to notice and approve. I don’t want anyone to feel manipulated, particularly as I want my readers involved and to feel like I am doing this with their best interests at heart, because I am. Or I feel like I am.

    2. Jo said:

      I absolutely agree with your thoughts expressed here, and I dare say you express them better than I could.

      Thank you Miss Gail!

  3. Andrew Stackhouse said:

    I was actually really curious about why you changed your author pen name for “The Sumage Solution.” Your explanation actually soothes some of my worries. I was worried you were doing it so that your name sounded more masculine (I’ve noticed many m/m authors do that so as to obscure the fact that some of them are women), or to distance your main brand (the Parasolverse) from something that could be considered less savory. I hadn’t really thought about an author worrying about reader betrayal. How could people read your stories and not be okay with stronger LGBTQ themes? But I suppose it’s prudent to worry about readers who may be okay with side characters being LGBTQ and a main character being LGBTQ and more explicit.

    I can’t wait for this book to come out though. I’ve been reading you since “Soulless” first came out. I found it while shelving books at Borders and have been hooked ever since. I’m hoping I’ll be able to use this book to get more of my friends to read your books. 🙂

    1. Gail Carriger Post author said:

      I also worry about my YA readers. Some of them may be too young by parental standards (or their own tastes) for this book.

  4. Libby Dodd said:

    Very nicely explained.
    Hell hath no fury like a reader betrayed!
    I’ve noticed absurd book reviews where the reader is damning the book because it wasn’t what they wanted. Even when the blurbs and reviews made it clear that it was not what they claimed it was supposed to be.
    I’d really like to smack those people.

    1. Gail Carriger Post author said:

      You and me both! But I do also have a feeling that something went wrong, after all they shouldn’t have picked up the book in the first place if it wasn’t right for them.

  5. Pingback: A Gail By Any Other Name, What Should The “L” Stand For? - Gail Carriger

  6. Jason said:

    I see it no less than appropriate, for the reasons you listed. I look at it the same way Iain Banks used Iain M. Banks for his Sci-Fi books, but Iain Banks for other Fantasy.

  7. Lyndsey said:

    On the subject of pen names, I always wondered why you chose Gail Carriger, which I love, by the way- it sounds very intriguing and romantic. I was just curious if there was a reason beyond it sounding intriguing and romantic?

    1. Gail Carriger Post author said:

      Oh! “Gail” is the name of the steam train that my grandfather came back from WWII on. Carriger is a river in Wine Country that flows through my favorite vineyard.

  8. Heidi said:

    I’m honestly relieved that they will be more graphicly sexual. That’s what made Souless so amazing, for me. The prim and proper and then bam! Crass, in contrast, well written sexy stuff! Yes! The mix was awesome and man, you could write those scenes as well as Anne Rice in my opinion. The rest of the series I did enjoy, but it missed the very adult nature of the first book. I thought, why is she pulling back? Here’s someone that has such an amazing talent with writing sex scenes…why are we panning away when it’s getting good?!? I blamed the publisher. They made her.

    So, I’m thrilled that it will be edgier. You are good at that too.

    How’s that for an example of “reader betrayal”? I overcame it. 😉

    Yes, this is a tangent on one small part of your point.

    I enjoyed your perspective as an author regarding the difficulties of marketing and the fickle nature that it is to be selling things to humans.

    1. Gail Carriger Post author said:

      Thank you! This means a lot to me because I find the nookie the hardest to write, so this was a big challenge for me. To try getting even more steamy. I hope I justify your faith in me!

  9. Wendy Callahan said:

    I have purchased and will continue to purchase anything you write. Ever since “Soulless,” I’ve been hooked. I love how you’ve been conscientious about your branding in your indie pubbed work. As far as I am concerned, it all comes together. 🙂

  10. Kathryn {SilverWolf} said:

    Thank you for your explanation (Iain Banks also came to my mind), and for telling us why you chose ‘Gail Carriger’.

    I started with the first three “Parasol” books in 2010, and was then one of those desperate readers who get into a state of “but I NEED the next one NOW”! (I also have this problem with Phil Rickman).

    I have to say, I really liked the way you wrote the sex scenes in “Poison or Protect”, and THANK YOU for giving us more of Major Channing in your indie novellas (can we have even more of him?! Please…).

    1. Gail Carriger Post author said:

      You are most welcome, I figured it was the polite thing to do. Try to explain. Thank you so much for saying something about the sex scenes, I find them the hardest thing to write so I appreciate you liking them very much. I’m not making any promises, because I haven’t firmly decided yet, but there is a good chance I may be working on Channing’s story next. You certainly get a nice little peek into his personality in the upcoming Romancing the Werewolf. I like sneaking little hints as to the complexity of her character as each new books comes along.

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