Friday, August 5, 2011

Think like a Publisher...even down to your name

This will be another of my drive-by posts, as I'm still buried deep in several projects. Luckily for me, Andrew Jack has done a really great interview with me and I can draw from that.

Andrew asked me what the single biggest mistake self-publishers make. A great question! I think the answer is they don't switch their mindset and "think" like a publisher. If you don't do this then you'll die from a thousand paper cuts as little mistakes will add up over time. The most notable area that are not taken into consideration are:
  • Title of Book
  • Name used by author
  • Pricing
  • Branding
My interview with Andrew used book title for an example, and you can go over there to see what I said on that. But let's look at something else...Name used by author.

J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, K.W. Jeter, M.J. Rose, A.C. Crispin...many people use their initials instead of their names. In most cases this is used to "hide" the sex of the author (usually women who are writing characters or themes that seem more masculine). Another reason to do so would be because many authors with your first/last name already exist.

For me, I'm not a fan of this technique - it distances the author and reader - plus it makes it difficult for fans or reviewers to reference the person. I never know if it is a he or a she and calling someone K.W. when writing seems cold and impersonal. In general, think long and hard before you do this. Having good reasons, and still doing so is fine - just make sure you have that internal thought with yourself.

Using Pen Names
Again used to hide your identity. In many cases, it is for one of the following:
  • Not wanting your friends/family to know you've written something: like Erotica
  • People forced to because of non-compete clause in a traditional publishing contract
  • People writing in multiple genres and don't wish to confuse their audience
  • People already named someone very popular
  • People trying to trick people into buying their book when actually looking for a more popular author, or to get their books "near" a popular author on bookstore shelves.
Again, this is putting a wall between you and your fans and if possible I say use your own name. But...if you think like a publisher you have to worry about discoverability and you may make conscious decisions based on this.

When Michael started writing, we searched on his name and were shocked. Did you know there are:
We couldn't use M.J. as someone was already using that (and for the reasons stated above), so I thought..well heck we'll just add the middle initial (which we did) but that still wasn't enough as there is already another Michael J. Sullivan !!

I happened to be on the phone yesterday, helping another indie author who needed advice on marketing of their books and she mentioned that she knows the Necessary Break guy. I laughed and told her that the next time they speak to tell him that Robin says, "He owes us money!!" That's because he's gotten a ton of sales through the name confusion. How do I know? Look at the cross-selling. My Michael is the #1 cross selling author with him and the first six books on his kindle "also bought list" are Michael's plus the other two show up later on, and most of the others are fantasy books that are in my Michael's genre. He's really benefited by the name confusion.

From a pure marketing perspective, we should have changed Michael's name before launching, but he REALLY wanted to use his own. The moral of the story is we thought long and hard before deciding what to do. We did our research, reasoned the alternatives and then made the decision. So think carefully about the name you will be with you from a branding standpoint forever


Rob Cornell said...

Another reason to use a pen name: If your real last name is long, ugly, and unpronounceable from just reading it on a book cover.

This is the reason I used one. My fist name is really Rob, but my last name is not Cornell. Not only do people pronounce my real last name incorrectly all the time, you should see the creative ways it has been misspelled.

I'd never get any sales because people would get stuck with trying to search for "That Rob...something...guy."

Suzanne said...

Robin, thanks for another great post. I've tweeted the link to that interview and labeled you an expert again. Deal with it. ;-)

I used a pen (last) name because my real full name was already taken everywhere by a children's book author and a real estate agent. My audience is definitely not children, and I didn't want potential reader confusion. (Remember what happened when Judy Blume went from publishing children's books to adult books under the same name?)

In choosing "Adair" for my last name, I've moved myself to the top of the alphabet, a significant marketing move. Potential readers don't have to bend over to find my books on a bottom shelf, and at conferences where authors are often listed alphabetically, I'm either at the top or near the top.

Suzanne Adair

Lexi said...

Very sensible of you, Suzanne. My real name is Lexi Dick; fine for a jeweller (my day job), not so good for an author. So I made up Revellian to come first in Google.

Alas, I didn't think about book shop shelves till much later. Too late now...

E.C. Belikov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Gaughran said...

I briefly considered changing my name, purely because "David Gaughran" is unfamiliar, doesn't roll off the tongue, and most people don't know how to pronounce it.

However, I also knew that it would be unique, and that (along with affording my parents some modicum of pride for their wayward son) trumped all other concerns.

It worked. Even though I haven't sold a huge amount of books (yet, I hope), I still "own" the Google results for my name. My friend checked, and I think you have to get to page thirteen or fourteen before you find a reference to another David Gaughran.

(And for the record, I neither fathered an illegitimate child in Thailand, nor perished climbing Mount Everest.)

What this means is that I don't have to invest time or money in SEO. Any clicks on any of those results will lead to me or my books.

I hoover up all searches on my name. None get lost. Even if they don't click on my blog or website (which owns the top few), they will get to my Goodreads, Amazon, or Facebook pages, or an interview or guest post I did elsewhere.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Robin, it was an easy decision for me. There are many Robert Robinsons in the world. But very few of them have a full name of Robert Burton Robinson. It's a bit long to fit across the cover of a book, but it works. And besides, everybody knows how to pronounce it. ;)

Margaret said...

Had I known that there was a Margaret Lake in Washington with great hiking trails, I would have found something else. I never thought to Google my name. It's too late now.

I've been using Margaret Ann Lake on Twitter and other places. If I had known, I would have used Margaret Ann Lake from the beginning.

Jane Crosbie said...

Loved this post Robin. Before I published my book I asked good friends to help me contstruct a new name - what a huge revolt I faced. They were furious because they like the honesty in my work. "So much for the honesty you write about" they said "when you can't even put your own name to your own words. You gutless coward." One person even said they would not buy my books if I didn't use my own name. "Where's the authenticity in that?" he said. i use my own name and myself and personality in my brand because that is what my readers want and they have told me I will lose their support if I don't. It is the hugest compliment. They want me .... just li'l ol me ..... and no-one else. So they want you ..... and li'l ol you ..... just remember that.

J.A. Marlow said...

Add to the reasons:

Sharing part of your name with a hideous genocidal maniac of historical notoriety. Ugh. No WAY was that name going on any of my creations!

Thank goodness for the option of having a pen name!

Robin Sullivan said...

Glad to see so many people actually have gone through the process of thinking this portion through before launching their writing careers - I think many people overlook this completely.

E.C. Belikov said...

Came back to see what other people were saying and got sad thinking you deleted my comment Robin. Then I saw that it says I did it. *Scratches head* Not sure how I did that.

Oh well, I don't really want to bother with it again. Anyway, always love reading your thought provoking posts Robin. Thank you for being so straight forward and helpful with your knowledge.

MJRose said...

Very interesting post but you really guessed wrong as to the reason I use initials. I'm very happy to be a woman and I've had my picture on every book and on my website and have never hidden my sex. The reason I didn't use my first name is because no one can remember it or pronounce it and every one thinks I've spelled it wrong and corrects it and I didn't want people to (hopefully) hear about my book and go into a book store and (hopefully) say - I want that book by... ummm... ummm. her name is....

Robin Sullivan said...

@MJRose - good point - it's not the "only" reason for using initials. There are some that do but pointing out that your name is hard to remember or pronounce is another good reason for using the initials.

Robin Sullivan said...

E.C. One of the first (maybe first) posts on this thread was a comment that said "deleted by user". So I took it off completely just because there wasn't anything there. To date I've never removed anyone's post - and have no plans to unless someone said something truly harmful to someone other than myself.

I've got thick enough skin...and believe in freedom of speech enough to take any bad things directed toward me but if someone were to really tear into someone else in a very bad way then I MIGHT delete that.

Michael J. Sullivan or MJ Sullivan or :) said...

Actually I haven't benefited much Robin if you look at my sales compared to the amazing sales your husband has compiled. For the record, I've been publishing books since the 1980s and have tried MJ Sullivan, Michael John Sullivan, Michael J. Sullivan. I even thought of trying M. John Sullivan. LOL. It's just a common name. Recently, I got an email asking about foreign rights for your husband's series from a publisher. I passed the email along to Michael. I hope it works out for him.

Robin Sullivan said...

Thanks for stopping by "the other" Michael J. Sullivan. What I meant by "benefiting" is that the "also bought" is dominated by both Riyria Revelations titles and other fantasy titles whereas your work, as I understand it, is a time traveling novel with religious underpinnings.

So my guess is there have been people who bought the book thinking that my Michael wrote it.

This all is of course no fault of your own. You've been "at this" longer than my Michael and published with a much larger publisher. It's just "one of those things".

And thanks for forwarding the overseas translation request. Michael already has deals in France, Spain, Germany, Russia, Czech Republic, and has a few more in final negotiations so we are keeping our fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

I had some long discussions on what exactly I would do for my name. In the end I settled on my full name because it brought up nothing on google, so now when you google me the top links are my blog/amazon/smashwords so that was quite lucky, and the second reason is that I couldn't think of a last name I liked so I stuck with my own.

Did wonder if I wanted to use some mixture of initials but in the end just decided it was easier to use the full name, I also use it for twitter, though one of the drawbacks is that is is kinda long >.<

There are no other authors using Alan James Keogh (don't know about Alan Keogh, but there are a few other Alan Keogh's in Ireland knockin' about who came up first on google so it was easier adding the James)

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Anonymous said...

Career rebirth specialist Frankie Hejduk retires
Career rebirth specialist Frankie Hejdukretires
Steve Davis
Apr 19, 2012, 3:16 PM EDT
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Few players enjoy more career rebirths than Frankie Hejduk, who retired officially today from the game he played professionally for 16 years. Along the way the laid-back, longtime U.S. international played in two World Cups and missed one more, in 2006, due to injury.
Career rebirth No. 1: Some time in the late 1990s, he got serious about soccer, converting himself from California surfer dude getting it done on high VO2 max and athletic ability to a guy more dedicated to his craft. Without the metamorphosis, Hejduk may have been on a fast track to the ordinary.
Career rebirth No. 2: He fell out of favor at Germanys Bayer Leverkusen and transferred to St. Gallen in Switzerland in 2002 a move that signaled things definitely going in the wrong direction. So Hejduk booked it back to MLS, signing with Columbus in March of 2003. It spurred something more out of the tireless defender, who had an All-Star campaign and eventually spent eight seasons in Ohio.
Career rebirth No. 3: Injuries kept Hejduk out of the 2006 World Cup and limited his time for the Crew. He was 32 by summer of 2006 and could have begun downshifting. Instead, he got healthy and contributed mightily as Columbus built a strong side around Guillermo Barros Schelotto and claimed the 2008 MLS Cup.
Career rebirth No. 4: He was 34 when he directed a header into goal in that MLS championship victory under Sigi Schmid. Now would be the time to begin downshifting, right? Well, heres what the U.S. Soccer site says about the big role Hejduk played in 2008 and 2009. As he [url=]nike air max 95[/url] help shore up a weak spot in the national team pool at fullback:
2009: Marked his 14th year with the U.S. Mens National Team by making four appearances, all starts, and grabbing one goal and one assist Lent his veteran wherewithal to three final round World Cup qualifiers in 2009, including the 2-0 win against Mexico on Feb. 11, the 2-2 draw with El Salvador on March 28, and the 3-0 demolition of Trinidad Tobago on April 1 Scored the equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw with El Salvador, his seventh career goal and second in World Cup qualifying Also added an assist in the same game, setting up Jozy Altidore
You could even say he had a fifth rebirth in 2011. Released from Columbus, Hejduk ended up providing veteran cover for the Galaxy. He played in just six matches but was there in the end when Los Angeles claimed its 2011 championship.