A few weeks ago, I was sitting across the table from my editor at HarperCollins India. After the usual pleasantries were dispensed with, she got down to business. Among other things, she said that I have to get a pseudonym.
That puzzled me. I’d always thought that pseudonyms were taken on by authors who are writing objectionable or embarrassing stuff. None of the books that I’ve written had religion, politics or sex in it, and I am actually proud of whatever I’ve written so far, so I didn’t quite see where she was going with it. Was she proposing that I begin to write porn to sell a few thousand copies?
As it turns out, there is another reason why authors use pen names. There is a process called ‘genre creep’, where an author who is writing in different genres is liable to a) confuse readers, and b) end up in a situation where his own books are competing with each other. To prevent this, writers have traditionally stuck to the one-name-for-one-genre strategy. Examples: Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Nora Roberts.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that I am in that league, but over the last few years, the numbers have sort-of added up against my name. Three books are in print (the ones you see along the side). Two are currently being edited, with one due out in September. Two are under contract. Three are under submission. One has just been accepted based on an outline and a sample chapter. That’s eleven books for which a publisher has already said yes to or will in the near future.
As you can see, I am turning out to be a bit of a headache. Hence the pseudonym idea.
But I will tell you my honest opinion. I don’t like it. One of the great kicks of writing books is to see your name on the cover, and by writing under some other name, you get the feeling that the book is not quite yours. Also, what about the extended efforts you need to put in to push each name on its own rather than write a lot and wait for the domino effect to kick in? After all, all of the writers I mentioned above have long since ‘reclaimed’ their names. Most often, on their covers we see a sentence such as: ‘Nora Roberts, writing as J.D.Robb’.
That helps, I suppose, in making sure none of the Nora Roberts fanbase miss the book. I could do the same, but that would be presumptuous. If I put something like that on one of my books, people are liable to ask: ‘Fine, but who is Sharath Komarraju in the first place?’
So there are decisions to be made. A big meeting with the publisher is being scheduled to discuss ‘what to do with me’. Most likely I will have to start hunting for pseudonyms soon. Only God knows how it will all work; we shall see, I suppose.
But what are your thoughts? If you can put yourself in my shoes, would it bother you to write under a pseudonym? And as a reader, if an author dabbles in different genres, will it confuse you as to how to place him, even in these days of social media where authors closely engage with their readers? And for those among you who have written under a pseudonym, what’s the experience like?
And as an aside, can you (please) suggest some cool pen names for me? With a name like Sharath Komarraju, playing the anagram game is a waste of time. Trust me. I’ve tried.
Image courtesy: Daniel Dalton’s Web Page