Thursday, March 29, 2012

What’s in a Pseudonym?

“You’re just a number.” You’ve no doubt heard this cliché. Often it is used to describe situations in which people feel they are not being treated as individuals, but rather as entities.

Welcome to the publishing world, circa 2012.

Similar to its well-known brethren, which tracks the viewership of television episodes, Nielson BookScan provides sales statistics on book titles. Logically, editors use this information—sales figures for previous titles—when deciding whether or not to purchase an author’s new work, as one’s sales record might dictate potential for future commercial success. End result: an author is instantly transformed to “just-a-number” status. Considering an average hardcover book sells about 4,000 copies, BookScan is not usually considered a mid-list author’s ally.

This is from a writer who has published four novels with a university press, so I know whereof I speak. University presses can be somewhat prestigious homes for books if the author is an academic, but they rarely produce the sales figures that impress the “big six” publishing houses in New York.

So what is an academic to do (say, just hypothetically, one who has, say, oh, I don’t know, maybe three daughters soon to be college age) if s/he wants to break free of past sales figures and sell a novel to a large New York house and therefore have a chance at greater commercial success?

It is standard policy for the mid-list author to declare doom and gloom when speaking about the publishing industry. It is often a mantra. Yet I have always considered writing fiction to be one of the few hobbies/occupations/callings in which the practitioner may simply reinvent him or herself—and even do so from one book to the next. Where Stephen King became Richard Bachman to see if his books were only selling due to name recognition, John R. Corrigan can become K.A. Delaney to see if his new book could be sold on its own merits rather than on past sales figures.

The glass needs to be continually half-full in the business. If not, you cannot face the blank screen each morning. A pseudonym can be a fresh start.

2 comments: said...
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Frankie Y. Bailey said...

The pseudonym question. . .I've thought a lot about that one. I have this book I'd like to try in another genre. You've got me thinking again about the pros and cons.