I hope everyone had a lovely holiday. It would have been perfect if that halfcourt lob at the buzzer had gone through the hoop last night. But we're still proud of Butler for doing a helluva job showing the world why we've always loved the school. (For those of you who don't know of this blog's connection to tiny Butler, Alicia has a degree from Butler and taught there. I lived close enough to the campus to walk my dog on their beautiful grounds and attend plenty of games in the fieldhouse. Great place.)
So let's take a look at some of the questions from last week.
L Violet said,
I've read that a pen name becomes the property of the publisher. You alluded to that when you said "The primary advantage of using your own name is that nobody can keep you from using it again. Or ever."
It sounds as if you're agreeing that a pen name belongs to the publisher, not the author. Therefore the pen-named author would not be allowed to use her popularity to sell books the name-owning publisher doesn't want to buy. Is this true?
No, that's not what I meant. Sorry for the confusion. What I mean is that if your name is always your name and you always have a legal right to use it. Pen names are assumed names and you might not get to use the one you prefer. A publisher can reject your chosen pen name. But your legal name? It's yours.
This is not to say that they won't try to talk you into a pen name. They might, if your legal name is not a good brand for this type of book.
It used to be that publishers would try to own the rights to an author's pen name, but that particular contract clause is pretty rare now.
Do publishers ever REQUIRE an author to use a pen name?
It's been known to happen. Usually it's in the author's best interest, and obviously so. A good example would be an author who had poor sales. The brand name is tarnished, but that doesn't necessarily mean the publisher will abandon the writer. It might make more sense to abandon the brand name. This gives the sales team more flexibility with the house accounts, many of which place orders for new titles based on past sales.
And do publishers ever help you select one?
Yes. Some houses go so far as to provide a list of proposed pen names to the author. Other houses ask the author to prepare a list, and then they collaborate on the selection.
We have a very light touch when it comes to this sort of thing. Most of our authors use pen names. If they come to us and ask for input, we provide it. We've even coordinated with other houses that wanted a pen name distinct from the name the author was using for her Red Sage titles. I don't recall ever asking an author to change a pen name or abandon a real name, though.
An estimate of 90% pen-names really surprised me. I wonder, is that generally the case across all fiction genres, or is that just particularly high for romance?
That's just for my house, for my authors. I can't begin to guess at a romance-wide number. My hunch is that pen names are more common for erotic romance authors, many of whom are schoolteachers, grandmothers, churchgoers -- you get the idea. They want to be able to control their author identities and protect themselves in an age of increasingly shrill rhetoric. (Next time you're in a roomful of erotic romance authors, ask them to share their coming-out stories. My personal favorite involves a woman stopped for speeding. On the seat beside her was a box full of slash videos she was using for research. Awesome.)
Yes, there are more questions, but time is short today as I cope with post-holiday overload. We'll do more tomorrow.