Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Names, I've Had a Few

*but then again too few NOT to mention*
I’ve been aware for some time that I don’t have a fandom as such – I have multiple fandoms. Some number of fans read everything I write that they can locate, no matter under which name, no matter what the subject matter. They will as cheerfully tuck into Darkship Thieves as into Plain Jane. This is the type of fan I am for say... Heinlein or Pratchett. A variant on these fans are the ones who buy everything I write, because they’re fans of the sf, their kids read the fantasy, their sister reads the mystery and their spouse likes the historicals.

These fans are not a problem, of course, except perhaps for their scarcity. (Well, that and I live in fear of writing certain things, like erotica because some of you – you know who you are – would read it, enjoy it, and send me witty comments. And helpful pictures drawn on the back of napkins.)

But then I have fans – rabid, vocal fans – who read only my mystery, or my science fiction. I don’t know any who read only my fantasy, though there might be some. For all I know I might have fans who read ONLY my vampires, which would be sad, because I have only published short stories with vampires.

The publishing industry’s view of this is that this means I should write/market/brand only one thing – I should make sure I’m known only for science fiction. Or mystery. Or...

I’ve never subscribed to this. (Oh, I could be dramatically wrong, I guess.) First, because as a reader I read everything, down to and including, in a pinch, the classifieds or the instructions to assemble a machine I don’t even own. I enjoy almost all fiction and a vast array of non fiction. If you ask me which of those is my passion, I’d have to say “all of them!”

I mean, I’ll confess and openly too that I’m a LITTLE more prone to enjoying science fiction than the other genres, but you wouldn’t know it from my buying decisions. A riveting mystery beats a hum-drum science fiction every time.

So I fail to see why, as a writer, I shouldn’t write everything I have riveting ideas for.

Second because as a writer I find that writing something different is often as good as a holiday. In fact, if you try to make me write only one thing, I probably would stop writing after two books. (I had a heck of a time finishing my third Shakespearean fantasy because at the time it looked like I was locked into “literary fantasy” the rest of my life. And my mind doesn’t like a mono-diet.)

Third because I don’t understand how my writing several different things – at least in the business model quase ante, where most of what you bought came from bookstore shelves – can “dilute” my market. Sure, some people will know me for science fiction, some for fantasy and some for mystery, but absent some sort of prejudice among readers (which I, at least, don’t have) I fail to see what difference this makes. For one, books will be shelved in different areas. So, for instance, my mystery readers will never even see the science fiction.

That was the idea at least. now with the turmoil brought on by ebook publishing I’ve made slight revisions.

I still want to write everything, except maybe men’s adventure, erotica and children’s books. (No, not together. EW. You’re sick.)

However if the market is going to be even fifty percent electronic and split among several distribution centers, one has to take in account that some of the sellers are spectacularly bad at giving descriptions and/or samples of the book.

I would hate for someone who loved Darkship Thieves to download No Will But His expecting science fiction. (Okay, this is a very naive reader. And for the gentleman in the back leering at me, NWBH is the fictionalized biography of Kathryn Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII. That was her chosen motto.)

So, this late in the game, I’m thinking I REALLY need to brand, so people addicted to one form of my fiction don’t accidentally stumble into another. At the same time, I’ll have to remain absolutely open about my misdeeds under various pen names – I already have them on my first page, but maybe I’ll add them here – so those rare, eclectic readers will find all of them. (Sarah’s names! Collect all four![Sarah A. Hoyt; Sarah D’Almeida; Elise Hyatt AND a one-off under the house name Laurien Gardner, though I’m right now negotiating to sell books under Sarah Marques – you decide which one is the fourth.)

(Of course, I’ll always keep in mind you people need your fix of already-started series, natch. In fact, I don’t think I’d have more than four series going at once because of how long I’d have to make the fans wait. And I swear I’ll try to continue the musketeers mysteries despite publishers – I’m negotiating to sell Death Of A Musketeer to NRP and if it sells well there will be more. PLEASE stop threatening to come over and make me write it.)

What do you think? Should I brand more specifically? Limit my wild flights of fancy that make me want to write stuff I never wrote before? Or – now that we’re less likely to be limited by what the gatekeepers will buy – just continue writing as much as I can and in what is pressing at the time? What is your opinion on this whole branding issue? Can a writer write too much for you? (I’d buy a Pratchett daily, if he could write them, but I might be weird.)

29 comments:

Mike said...

Seriously? Personally, I look for authors that I like, and then usually try to find everything I can that they have written, because if I like them in one genre, the odds are that I will like them in another. Yes, I might decide that your middle grade male adventure stories aren't for me, but it sure isn't going to poison me for your other books. On the other hand, not being able to find what someone has written because it's under another name, hidden in the YA shelves, splintered by genre, or otherwise buried does irritate me (or used to, before ISFDB, Amazon, and others made it easier to find things).

Bookstore shelving... I used to scan the whole SF section. And the mysteries, because some of my writers had stuff over there. And then they tossed in the horror section, and I discovered some things had gotten hidden there. And the YA shelves. Last time I was in a US bookstore, I ended up having to practically go over the whole store to make sure I wasn't missing something, which made the genre shelving useless. I wished they had cross-links, to let me know where they were hiding some of the output of some authors -- and still would have missed some things, because someone decided that a certain author was a YA author, not an adult?

I guess what I would like is a simple way to find an author's output. Yes, highlight the "speed bumps" when they change genres, but I'm more likely to read across genres if I like an author. I will admit, I'm more likely to try a new author if they are writing SF & F, but once I find someone who tickles the right stuff, I'll happily read mysteries and what not (well, a formula romance might make me wince and think twice, but that's mostly prejudice. Heck, Janet Kagan wrote Uhura's Song, which convinced me to buy a Star Trek novel... maybe I should try a formula romance, too?).

Branding? How about using something besides your name to do it? I mean, the author's name to me identifies a style of writing, an approach to characters and plotting and story more than anything. Genre, series, etc.? How about adding rockets to the spines... er, make that rocket icons to the thumbnail or something? Frankly, a consistent set of rockets for SF, a unicorn's horn or something for fantasy, maybe a heart for romance, a magnifying glass for mysteries, etc. would be helpful.

4thguy said...

Did you consider having a phrase "YOUR NAME writing as PEN NAME"?

MataPam said...

Hmm, once you get enough stuff up on NRP or elsewhere, is it possible to get a one page ad? Any searches for any of your stuff pops to the page with columns "Historical Fiction as Sarah D'Almeda""Science fiction as Sarah Hoyt" and so forth, with each book title a link back to the details, samples and purchasing?

As NRP grows, if they attract a number of prolific writers, something along the line of author's pages could be useful, and possibly necessary. Do any of the big one do any such thing? Amazon's Kindle or B&N's Nook store?

Brendan said...

The good thing about writing multiple genres is that people who discover you in one genre can then discover you in another-cross pollination as it were. Give them a chance and they may start reading all your stuff or they may just keep reading you in {genre of choice}. There is no real way to lose.

Anonymous said...

I've always heard authors advise to write what you want and figure out where it goes later. They, of course, are concerned with a good story, and chances are that if you write what you like, it will be good.

Publishers, being concerned with brand, want what they can get with a solid brand name. They would love it if you wrote in the same universe forever as long as it continued to sell. And, for some authors, it might. It is not the artist's way however to recreate the same thing over and over. They like to branch out, experiment and push the limit.

I think it comes down to two different mindsets, the one concerned with making money and the one concerned creating new things.

Yes, I love series books. I'm comfortable with the universes, like them, and it all becomes one big story after a while. But if I recognize a name in another genre, I'd try it just because I know they can at least tell a good story.

Linda

Chris L said...

Hi Sarah,

Two names that spring to mind from my reading list are Roald Dahl and Dan Simmons. Both write cross genres, though I don't enjoy all their material equally due to my own tastes.

This certainly doesn't make me think any less of them as authors. I guess the same is true of Iain (M) Banks.

Mike's idea of providing a simple icon for each genre would be a quick and easy way for someone scanning your titles, to make a judgment call on what to buy.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Mike,

a)getting the publisher to put the appropriate symbol is... and interesting trick. "Jump through the hoop, publisher, jump".

b) Unicorns? EW. I wouldn't buy it, even if were mine. I don't do unicorn and fairies type fantasy. Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

4th guy -- for stuff the publishers bring out? Eh. They wouldn't let me. Remember, they think I should ONLY write one thing.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam,

Amazon has that. Far from infalible, but...

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Brendan,

See, that's what I think. I've nothing to lose. so some people won't pick up everything, but the number of people who cross over are added to the number of people I would naturally attract per genre. So I get at least a little bump.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Linda,

admirable common sense. Wanna talk to some publishers for me?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris L

You'd be amazed how many contracts are designed to prevent the writer doing that...

Kate Paulk said...

I'm hardly a good sample, given that I'll read the toilet paper if there's words on it (Yes, there is a very good reason I don't keep books in the bathroom). I'd pay for PTerry's grocery list (and I'd bet he makes interesting asides on it, too).

Because I also don't like spending money on an unknown quantity, I have a (very small) list of authors I'll buy sight unseen. PTerry is on that list. So is Dave. So is Sarah. (As the saying goes, "In God we Trust. All others pay cash"). If I can't get a sample or browse it, I tend not to risk it.

So hell yes, tell me that Freddy Smith also writes as Diddly Whoop Jones. If I like Freddy Smith, I'll buy his other name.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Kate,
I'd buy Pratchett's grocery lists with footnotes, too.

I read everything also, and I DO keep books in the bathroom, usually research.

But I found long ago that other readers, particularly (no offense) mystery, tend to find other genres (like fantasy) "just weird."

T.M. Lunsford said...

I think limiting yourself would only work for a little while. One of my favorite things about your writing style, Sarah, is the diversity of it. Prior to meeting you and reading your books, I really only read romance. While that is still my main fare, I'm not afraid of branching out to read mysteries or very, very occasionally sci-fi/paranormal/fantasy books. This is slowly seeping into my writing as well (however reluctant I was at first). Branding works for some, but I think as long as you don't hide behind your pseudonyms, it really doesn't matter as much in the digital world.

Stephen Simmons said...

Sarah, I think I've produced a "fairies" piece you might not find icky. Ask Amanda, she has it ... and I have a unicorn idea on tap that I haven't had time to get to that's almost up Kate's alley ...

I've been pondering this idea for a while now, because I'm much the same way. I read any words that are within range. Upside-down, sideways, backwards, or any combination of those -- doesn't matter. The ingredients on the cereal box, the names on the newspaper's masthead, it doesn't matter. They're WORDS, and my eyes are open ... and my writing is starting to show a fairly wide "range", too. My most common stuff seems to be humorous fantasy, but that is by no meansall of it. And people looking for humor wouldn't want to styray into some of the other ideas I have jotted down in the margins, waiting to have time to get back to them ...

Jim McCoy said...

Sarah,

In the words of Public Enemy..

Dowhatchalike!

I buy my favorite authors regardless. I mean your Daring Finds books were the first mysteries I had read since I outgrew the Hardie Boys. Seriously.

It does make me a bit batty when I have to look for eight thousand separate names for the same author, but I guess I can deal with that. It just gets annoying when I can't find things.

I get what the publishers are telling you, but as long as you're selling well enough, I'd bet they'll still publish you as long as you're selling. But that's just me.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Taylor,

Thank you. Weird that I'm only now venturing into reading romance, no? And I won't hide my heteronimous personas. Well, unless there's a REALLY good reason.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Stephen,

Um... you know, until Mike Resnick invited me to one of his "This is my funniest" anthos I didn't even realize I had no humor published. WRITTEN, yeah, but not published. Now I have Daring Finds. The problem is I have to be in the right frame of mind to write humor, otherwise I become profoundly weird and "Sarah, only you think that's funny" type of weird.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Jim

Thanks. Some compliment there on the mysteries. And I think I need to find a way to have all my names up front, though I'd really like to winnow them down to four.

Mike said...

Couple of random quick thoughts (sorry, today is a work day). First, the "golden age" SF writers typically didn't do series -- lots of one-off novels, tons of short stories, often a lot of variety. The notion of series -- that was Tom Swift, Jr. and Appleton territory, with ghost writers churning out even more formula.

Then we hit Star Trek and other "series" and the epic fantasy folks started churning out trilogies and longer. Doorstop megabooks invaded. And suddenly writers got asked to stick to their series. Do it like Asimov, Heinlein, etc. (who didn't feel constrained to only write their universe, but...).

I think variety is good. Keeps the writer awake, and the reader. Clearly the publishers disagree.

Second odd thought -- I think I saw someone complaining that their bookstore had put the X genre back into the general fiction shelving. That's where the icon/publisher's mark really pays off, is when you are trying to find the SF in the general fiction. If indeed brick-and-mortar are going back to more indiscriminate shelving, then publishers need to figure out some way to make it easy for me to find my preferred poison. And if we're going to have screenfuls of thumbnails, we're really going to need some kind of quick identifier.

Not unicorns? Okay, what's a good icon for fantasy? A whirlwind? A magic wand? Inverted star (devil worship, y'a know?). Actually, just a plain star might work. Need something quick and easy to recognize, though, like the rockets.

Back to work.

Brendan said...

Kate,

I may have a slightly different policy towards buying books than you. If I find an author I like I keep buying their stuff until they write their third clanger. After that I need really good word of mouth before I touch them again.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Mike,

well, dragons or griffins -- stylized, natch.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Brendan,

weirdly, with me depends on the author and how much he's "paid off" for me before. If find writers MIGHT write three "clangers" in a row, and suddenly recover. Or, for instance with PTerry, I have issues with some of his characters (Rincewind.) I still read it, but...
And Heinlein ranges all the way from "Wow" to "eh. Okay" but I read all of them. Mind you, thought experiment "if All Pratchett had written was Rincewind would I be his fan?" Remains unanswered. Probably, but on level I'm Anne McCaffrey fan.

Brendan said...

Sarah,

Anne McCaffery is actualy one of my key offenders that brought about my policy. I stuck with her books a lot longer than many authors since I loved her books so much, but her sins against writing and good story-telling became too agrivous for me to continue throwing good money after bad.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Brendan

Actually I quit after ONE sin -- Norilka's story, which told a story already told in another book...

Dave Freer said...

Hmm. Speaking from both sides of the fence: Reader - I really want to return to the universe and characters I loved. For the 2 hours-2 weeks it took me to read the book, their world absorbed me. I care about them (publisher - we'll capitalise on this). Writer - I just spent 16 hours a day for 3 months - a year that it took me to write this with those characters and that world. I need OUT (publisher. Tough shit. How soon can you have the next ready? That's not quick enough.)
I like writing new things. It keeps me fresh. That actually is good for readers and me. It's just more work for publishers.

Brendan said...

Dave,

I prefer authors to try new stuff. When they just keep piling story after story into the same universe I wonder if they are taking the easy way out or if their imagination is going stale.

Synova said...

I think that it is important not to run into the problem of someone paying for and down-loading a book thinking that it is one genre and sort of story when it is really another, as you mentioned.

Other than that... as long as you write fast enough...

;-)