In this blog post I’m going to discuss why a bestselling author might chose a new pen name. It’s not for the reasons you think.
You may or may not have noticed, Gentle Reader, that my San Andreas Shifter books are written under the name…
G. L. Carriger
The Sumage Solution, is a big departure for me in content, style, and setting. 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 has more sex than my other writing has in the past.
- It’s certainly got worse language.
I dithered for a while about what to do about this. You see, I worry about reader betrayal… a lot.
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.
Why does reader betrayal 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 probably expect a 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.
- Both have saturated color use.
- Both use san serif fonts
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, all tell you, the reader, something about what is inside.
You may not know exactly what you’re 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.
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.
After that, of course, it’s 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, Gentle Reader, 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 is how my traditional publishers did it across three series:
Here’s how I played with my own themes for my self-published stuff.
I kept the san serif font and the slashes from the first series. I kept a central figure (or figures).
- 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 I Made My Name BIGGER
When self-pubbing I’m banking on name recognition. Also, it’s more common in romance to up the font size for well known authors (and my novellas touch on romance more heavily). And, I do it because I’ve noticed over the years that male genre authors get this kind of name glorification a lot, 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.
Thus 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,
- Kristine Kathryn Rusch gets cerbrial on this subject over on Business Musings: Brand Image (Branding/Discoverability)
- Jane Friedman on How to Choose and Set Up a Pen Name
- Self on Cover Art & Its Purpose In Life
- Self on coming up with a NONFICTION cover
BOOK DE JOUR
- Tired of the hero’s journey?
- Frustrated that funny, romantic, and comforting stories aren’t taken seriously?
- Sad that the books and movies you love never seem to be critically acclaimed, even when they sell like crazy?
The Heroine’s Journey is here to help.
Multiple New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a clear concise analysis of the heroine’s journey, how it differs from the hero’s journey, and how you can use it to improve your writing and your life.
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
“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
Want more behind the scenes info? Join the Chirrup!
You made it so far!
Here’s an extra bit, from a true Carriger on the name Carriger!
“You pegged at least the Texas branch’s pronunciation with the hard g, which is the main one nationally as far as I can tell. To be fair to the Carriage Ur people, it’s a made up name to begin with, dating to Tennessee in the latter 1700’s. The original family name was Kercher, originating in Germany and Austria. However, my ancestors there were carriage builders and for some reason changed the name to accommodate transactions with their clientele. The Carriger street* you got the name from dates back to Nicholas Carriger who made it out West in the mid 1800’s and from what I understand had a part in founding Sonoma. Pretty sure they had a vineyard. All in all we’ve been here since pre-Revolutionary times.”
* also a river in Sonoma