Friday, 23 July 2010

Coffee Break: Names & Pigeon-holes

In protest against the local coffee shop which has now apparently been designated as a crèche, I've decided to set up my own writer's café. So please form an orderly queue and get it while it's hot.

First things first. In case you haven't seen it, may I please draw your attention to the new feedback page. Thank you. Now on with today's chin-wag.

I'm reliably informed that publishers like to build a marketable brand from an author and their books. This means that their name will become associated with that brand and hopefully sell more copies. This is fine; this is business and it's what happens in many other areas of commerce.

But what about authors who want to write in more than one genre? The publishers are not going to like it when their best-selling romantic novelist suddenly produces a three volume epic Sci-Fi space opera, it would compromise the branding. So what to do?

I'll answer that question, but first let's have a look at the results from last week's blogstorming session.

Brainstorming cartoon.

A widower is left a fortune by his wife. She never told him about the money. Why?

  • She was a professional fraudster.
  • It was her 'running away money'.
  • She was Lord Lucan's secret daughter.
  • She was a jewel thief.
  • He might spend it all.
  • She was a Russian spy.
  • She was a *gasp* secret writer and he didn't know.
  • She invented 'Marmite' but her husband hated it and she didn't like to upset him.
  • Money was not a subject ever to be mentioned, too vulgar and a construct of the capitalist west. She was a very screwed-up old-fashioned liberal but counted Marx as her best friend. From childhood she would only suck the thumb of her left hand. Her mother wore a Maggie Thatcher hair helmet and constantly beat her in order to spare her while goading her to recite, "There is no such thing as family". It proved too much and she became a serial killer whose hallmark was to mutilate the right hands of her victims. Eventually she ended up as the subject for a Midsomer Murders special and so was finally committed to a special hospital.
  • She never told him because she never told him anything, they never had a proper conversation, not once in thirty years and now she's dead he's going to Cuba with a lingerie model called Ginger.
  • She wrote (very successful) erotica under a pseudonym.
  • She was saving up to pay a hit-man to kill him.
  • He would want to know where she got it from.
  • She was worried it would spoil their relationship.
  • She was a bigamist and the money is her inheritance from her 'other' husband.
  • She visited Haiti in her youth, a witch doctor cast a voodoo spell over her, she turned into a zombie and had actually lived for 400 years secretly selling the spell to the rich and famous before the spell ran out and she finally copped it.
  • She knew he would have a problem knowing his wife had more money than he did.
  • She was the secret lover of a member of the royal family.
  • It was left her by his mother who hated him, to give her a fresh start alone.
  • It was none of his business anyway (she was a feminist).
  • She printed 20 pound notes in the garden shed in her spare time.
  • She was a bank robber and had a sawn off shot-gun hidden in her knickers drawer.
  • She was an escort or a high-class prostitute in her spare time.
  • She stole it, or won the lottery and didn't tell him.
  • She was paid to marry him, and to stay married because of his position in an internet security firm.
  • Not her money, screw up by solicitor, and then the people turn up that want their money back.

Many many thanks to you all for your excellent contributions. I will eventually reveal which one I choose for my story. In the mean time, feel free to add more.

Now we return to the question of breaking out of your branded genre. If you didn't already know then you've probably guessed by now that the answer is to use one or more pen-names. There are plenty of famous examples of this, including our own Sue Mongredien who writes children's book under her own name but romantic fiction as Lucy Diamond.

So my question to you is: what genres would you like to write and what pen-names would you use?


Leatherdykeuk said...

Oh dear! I've buggered this up already. I have the USA edition of AUC coming out, a book of poetry out, an gay male historical erotica out and a BDSM murder mystery coming out,all under my own name.
Phew! Good job I'm not popular!

HelenMHunt said...

I have thought about this a bit, due to the fact that I do always seem to have lots of things I want to write which aren't necessarily compatible.

I'm not keen on using lots of different names in general, which is why I stick to my own at the moment for all my writing. It hasn't been a problem so far and I think lots of people write short stories and also write non-fiction under the same name without it being an issue. In fact where it appears in the same magazine eg My Weekly, it may even be an advantage.

The issue you've raised in your post - that of novel writing and branding - is the one where it might become a problem though.

My first novel was a kind of cross between romantic comedy and crime. At the moment it needs too much doing to it to be publishable, so I've retired it and now I'm working on a much darker piece of women's fiction. So, I suppose in the future there might be a case for using a pen name for one of them.

If I ever did use a pen name I would still want it to feel like mine, so I would probably go for something like my middle name and my maiden name.

Very interesting question.

Karen said...

I really can't top any of those excellent story suggestions!!

If I wrote in another genre it would be a psychological thriller and I'd call myself Chloe Finch. No idea why expect it sounds a bit like Nicci French - one of my favourite authors in that genre!

Debs said...

I love those suggestions, especially the more interesting ones.

I write romantic novels and also, I call them sagas, but they're not based in England, and so I'm not really sure what to call them. How's that for excellent pitching? Not.

As for names, I have thought about this, as I do write two types of books, and have mulled over several names. I would probably use my maiden name of Troy, I suppose.

Denise said...

I'm already considering whether I'd use my maiden name, since it's the same as a popular SF writer and sitting next to him on the shelf might be useful!

This might be fraught with other traumas though as family might wonder why their name isn't being used. I should be so lucky to have such future worries!

Cathy said...

I've been considering writing children's fiction in the future and would use a different name for that to keep it distinct from my adult work. I'd probably use my maiden name and I quite fancy Cat as the first name, to make me sound much younger than I am ;)

sheepish said...

I would love to have written the Sheep detective novel under my own name but was beaten to it!!! so I shall have to have a pen name as who would want to read anything written by a woolly back. Seriously though this is an interesting question and I shall be interested to see what other racers think. My own work is so far from being published that worrying about what name to use is a long way off.

Rowan Coleman said...

I've written in two genres under Rowan Coleman Women's fiction and teen fiction - both of which could loosely fall under the title chick - lit. And as Rook Hastings I've written teen horror, which I love. The interesting thing I think is getting the so called branding right. its a tricky business. Sometimes its not right at all, the second go might work a bit better but not as well as everyone hoped. The re-brand might flop. Branding, becoming a brand name is almost as much as a lottery as getting published in the first place. There's a lot of 'suck it and see' quite a lot of copy-catting in the style of covers and very rarely a bold move to strike out in a different direction and hope it works! I've written 16 novels, all of them comparitively successful but I wouldn't say I've achieved anything near brand status...yet.

Liane Spicer said...

Liane Spicer is strictly for romance. That one's a combination of a pet name my son coined for me and another that people mistake me for in the street. Mistake me for a member of a family with that name, I mean.

I'll use a version of my real name if I publish my mainstream work, and will probably have to find another pen name for the eco-thrillers I have in mind.

As for the memoir - probably my own name, unless the members of my family (and my ex-husband) who're mentioned in there have strong objections.

This name-branding business is slightly annoying, really. I can't think of many other professions where you have to resort to using fictitious names. Show business is one. Prostitution is another. Are we in good company or what? :/

Kate Lord Brown said...

Love the probortunitys. Names are funny - I ended up using maiden/married because an agent told me early on 'brown is boring'

Like Liane's comment about the writer/showbiz/prostitute similarity :) maybe we should have a host of names - what's the old one about how to discover your hooker name - first pet's name and first street you lived on? I'd be Pippa Fillongley ...

DOT said...

I have a double-barrelled name. While on the one hand it is distinctive, on the other it gives rise to a variety of immediate associations, like I must be posh (true), conservative (not true), hidebound (ditto), remote (ditto), reactionary (ditto) schizophrenic (true).

Look at Alexender McCall Smith: not only does he write but he also lectures. You never know who you are talking to.

It's very confusing and I have yet to resolve what to call myself.

Rebecca Stonebridge said...

To be honest, if I got published I wouldn't have a clue what I'd use. I would like to use my real name as it would brilliant to see it in print.

But since I keep my real name off blogs I'll just stick to Rebecca for now ;o)

I'd use R Stonebridge for my crime novel, Rebecca Stonebridge for my chick lit and Becky Stonebridge for my childrens book. Sorted!

Bluestocking Mum said...

I've thought about this for so many years now I have it all planned - my 'proper' name for the contemporary women's fiction and my Nan's maiden name - Lorraine Burridge, for the Romantic novels/sagas.

I just have to mere task of ensuring that at least one of those names is recognised, one of these days...

Anonymous said...

Some great answers. I especially laughed at Liane's. And Rebecca, if you ever use your real name I'd probably die of shock ;o)

I've just realised that, despite being brilliant and wacky ideas, some of the blogstorm answers don't fit the original statement. The widower was actually left the money, so if she'd wanted to keep it for her own purposes then why leave it to him in her will? Perhaps I'm being too pedantic.