One of my writing friends, Amy, told me about a self-published author she met. The woman – let’s call her Sheba – apparently supports herself and her husband publishing sci-fi and non-fiction. She sold 40,000 books last year.
She researches and outlines, learns about new subjects, watches headlines for new topics. Her biggest hits are “lunch reads” with word limits of 8-12,000 words, appealing to people accustomed to reading the internet. Her constipation quick read was one of the books that sold the best.
Sheba admits she is not a very good writer. She writes fast and does little editing. If she finds typos later, she might take the book down to fix the errors, but only if the errors are glaring. Sheba advises never to read your reviews.
Here’s what really caught my attention: She has 10+ pen names.
Self-published, full-length novels can sell for .99 as an ebook, so a lunch read shouldn’t cost as much. Sheba’s selling her books at .99, 2.99, and 3.99. Even at .99, her lunch reads are overpriced (in comparison to full-length novels).
With a pseudonym, Sheba doesn’t carry the “scarlet letter” of bad author from book to book. People buy her books not knowing that previous books of hers received bad reviews. Her advice? “Insulate yourself with pen names otherwise you might as well be playing on the freeway.”
Don’t get me started on her careless attitude on proofreading.
Sounds to me like Sheba writes crap.
I may not be completely sold on the merits of indie publishing, but the indie books that I have read are written by honest people who truly care about what they write and how well their work is received. Yes, they’d like to make money but they care about the way they are making their money.
My friend, Amy, has queried two novels. I have read them both, and they are worthy of publication. Solid writing; fun, interesting characters; smart plotlines. Even though she received partial and full requests, nothing more has happened down the traditional publishing route.
When Amy told Sheba that she was considering traditional publishing, Sheba told Amy to get a pen name and go indie.
Amy is considering it, and I can see the allure. Testing the indie waters with a pen name, so as not to mar her real name. If her book tanks, then she saves herself a lot of embarrassment, right? And if it soars? Then she can remove her disguise and admit proudly that she’s the real author. It’s an option for writers who are worried about how their books will fare in the public eye.
For Amy, this could be a solution to her publishing dilemma. Her books are quality writing, where no one would feel cheated. And if she uses a pen name, at least she’d be doing it for legitimate reasons.
Such a scenario brings to mind JK Rowling of the Harry Potter series fame. Afraid boys wouldn’t buy books written by a woman, she was marketed as a male author. When her true identity was revealed, were boys disappointed? Did she lose readers? If she did, it was barely a scratch on the surface of her fame and fortune.
Then, apparently, she did it again with Cuckoo’s Calling, publishing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. Sales were minimal until it was revealed that Galbraith was really Rowling.
In no time, sales shot up. Rowling explained she wanted to “publish without hype or explanation.”
Other famous authors have published under pen names. Nora Roberts, Michael Crichton, and Agatha Christie are a few examples.
Obviously, pen names come in handy. Authors can hide behind them to allow their work to be judged without prejudice. If Rowling and Roberts and any other writer feel their gender, race, age, or inexperience (or experience in Rowling’s case) would hinder sales, then I can understand the desire for anonymity.
Maybe Sheba’s simply a savvy businesswoman. After all, this is a subjective field and not everyone is going to agree on whether a book should be published or not.
But if this so-called author is using pen names because she knows her books aren’t very good, then maybe she ought to try harder at the craft.