Hi. Barb here. Sitting on the porch in Boothbay Harbor enjoying a lovely breeze and a lovely view.
Every year I have a little task I perform for Level Best Books. Our contract with authors asks two questions:
Your name as you wish it to appear in print:
Your story’s title:
So my little task is, I look at the copyright page, the table of contents, the front page of every story and every author’s bio, and I make sure all the author names and story titles match the contracts.
You’d think this would be a simple job, a “no brainer” almost, resulting in few changes, wouldn’t you?
But instead, it often results in a manuscript with so much red ink it looks like it was in a knife fight.
Authors forget their names all the time.
Authors may want their byline to be a formal name (with or without a middle name or initial), a nickname, initials instead of a first and middle name, or a pseudonym. Often, much thought has gone into this choice. They may wish to disguise their gender, or use a different name for short stories than for their novels. Or they may share a legal name with a well-known author or a celebrity from whom they must distinguish themselves.
Yet, authors routinely forget all this and provide one variation on their name in their story byline, a different one in their bio, and a third in the contract.
A rose by any other name…
This is ironic because for crime fiction authors, Author name = Brand equity. Once we have any sort of a fan base, our name is the most important thing we have.
Here is a tiny look at the Thriller Author Audience Expansion Roadmap, presented in January 2014 and commissioned by the International Thriller Writers organization.
- # 1 determinant of Thriller* bestseller success, by far – Author Brand Equity – the size and loyalty of an author’s audience.
- Fiction author fans are at least 15 TIMES more likely to buy a given fiction title than a book buyer not familiar with the title’s author.
*Thriller=Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, Romantic Suspense
The author name = brand equity concept is true for all authors, but is even truer for crime fiction authors, because our audience is even more apt to choose books by authors they love than the readers of other types of books are–literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, etc.
So getting your name right would appear to be job one.
So why do the authors I follow use so many different names?
Sometimes I say, “All my friends are like drag queens. They all have at least two names.”
The reasons authors publish under different names are varied.
1) They may write in more than one genre, and be concerned that readers of one type of book will be unhappy if they pick up the other type based on author name.
2) Their publishing contract may prohibit publishing other books under the same author name–even it if is their legal name. My contract actually says this, and I am told the rationale is that the publisher is spending time and money building my brand and don’t want me to go out and squander it by publishing something terrible. They also don’t want some other publisher taking advantage of my brand equity–equity they have contributed to building. For me, this is the most irksome clause in my contract.
3) The work may be “work for hire.” With work for hire, the publisher hires you to write a book they want. They retain the author name, and can hire someone else to write subsequent books in the series if they wish to. Since no one wants to end up in a situation where a publisher owns his legal name, these books are almost always written pseudonymously.
4) The author’s prior books may have under-performed. So supposedly (and I say supposedly because I have no independent way to confirm this–but I have been told it over and over [There is enough myth and legend in publishing to create a new set of Arthurian tales]) book buyers at Barnes and Noble and other chains, like Costco and Walmart, buy books based on the author’s past performance. So a publisher may suggest to an author who is starting a new series, or who has written a potential “break-out book” that they use a different name. Because having no track record is better than having a modest one, apparently.
However, in this day and age, when authors are urged to have a social media presence and cultivate fans, the B&N buyer may be the only person on the planet who is fooled by this second name ruse.
So far, all my books and short stories have been published under my legal name, Barbara Ross. This is more a testament to the immature nature of my publishing career than anything else.
But, otherwise I am as guilty as all those Level Best authors. On this blog, I routinely post and comment as “Barb” even though my author name–i.e. my brand–is “Barbara.”
Why do I do this? I have no idea. In real life, when people ask, “Are you called Barb or Barbara?” I answer, “Either,” though the truth is closer to, “I have no idea.” I think when my name is spoken, my brain hears something akin to “Hey, you!” and processes neither Barb nor Barbara (nor honey, Mom, or any of the dozens of nicknames my mother had for me.)
At some point in life, decades ago, my name became Barbara but I started signing all correspondance–letters, memos, e-mails, “Barb.”
And so I continue. As consistently inconsistent as the rest of us.