Lewis Perdue and Paul Levine are just a few of the authors who have referred me to the Wall Street Journal piece on novelists who have to adopt pseudonyms to stay in print.
Now that retailers can track books sales speedily and efficiently with
point-of-sale technology, the entire publishing world knows when an
author’s commercial performance takes a dive. For these unfortunate
scribblers, such a sales record makes it hard to get good advances and big
orders from bookstores. So some are adopting an unusual strategy: adopting
an alias — even one of the opposite sex…
Two decades ago, the book industry largely relied on guesswork as it decided
what to publish and sell. Editors could keep promoting promising authors,
even if sales were weak. When they finally wrote a "breakout" title, their
catalog of older books would become valuable.
These days, publishing
veterans talk about "the death spiral" of authors’ careers. A first novel
generates terrific reviews and good sales, but with each succeeding book,
sales get weaker and the chains cut their orders until they don’t stock any
"You’re only as good as your last book’s sales to much of the
retail market," says New York literary agent Richard Pine, a principal in
Inkwell Management LLC.
This practice of authors having to change their names to defeat the computers at the chains has been going on for some time. For example, Gar Haywood became "Ray Shannon" and hasn’t made a secret of it. Neither has Jeremiah Healy, who lately has been writing books as "Terry Devane." Terrill Lee Lankford, a frequent commentor here, tells WSJ that he resisted pressure to follow their example.
Terrill Lee Lankford’s literary agency was urging him to take a pseudonymeven before his book, "Blonde Lightning," hit the shelves this summer. He
declined the advice. His earlier title, "Earthquake Weather," was a
critical, if not commercial success. But since it wasn’t a big seller,
orders from bookstores for the follow-up were lackluster. Mr. Lankford’s
editor at Bertelsmann AG’s Ballantine imprint was enthusiastic about the
sequel but the author’s agency said his name was a liability.
Lankford says switching monikers is unethical. "If somebody didn’t like my
book under my own name it would be wrong to sell another book to that person
under a different name," he says. "Just to defeat the computers at Barnes
& Noble and Borders isn’t a good reason for doing this."
He may not think so, but author Reed Farrell Coleman isn’t taking a chance. His next book will be written by "Tony Spinosa."