Branding is a word bandied about by marketing experts today. New authors looking to make their mark in the literary world worry about the image that will be attached to their name. J.K. Rowling chose to use initials to disguise her gender when she first began publishing the Harry Potter series. I had considered doing this very thing myself. Every reader attaches Stephen King to the horror genre, Danielle Steele to romance, Isaac Asimov to science fiction. But establishing a brand name for yourself can be a chess move that you have to live with after letting go of the piece.
I was delighted to hear Deborah Harkness talk about her decision to publish under her real name when she was at Bookmarks this year. If you didn’t know, Deborah is a New York Times bestselling author of Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. She’s also a university professor, historian, and author of nonfiction with a highly respected wine blog.
When her boss at the university heard that she was releasing a vampire and witch novel, he had hoped she would do it under a pen name. But Harkness had invested a huge amount of time in researching 16th century Europe and the practices of the period. She’d also uncovered a real person connected to the world she was recreating in fiction and took license to fill in the holes of his missing past. With the extensive research and powerful discoveries, she was not about to hide behind a pseudonym simply because she chose to tell the story with witches and vampires. She’d worked hard and was proud of the result.
Her name is now aligned with fantasy writing, as well as her academic accomplishments. She giggled when she told the audience that she often meets other genre authors who chose to disguise their identities to protect their academic reputations. Standing in line at the bank she’s heard a few hushed voices admit to her back, “I write historical romance (science fiction/westerns/bodice rippers) under a pseudonym.”
And these authors were scientists, doctors, educators, and a host of other professionals.
Deborah Harkness had a reputation to preserve, but she took a chance and flew her genre colors proudly, at the risk of alienating the academic world she’d served for decades.
If you are a new author and trying to decide whether or not to publish under your real name, you can ask yourself many questions. Is there another author with the same name or one that sounds too similar? Will my readership grow if my gender is disguised? Do I want to publish in more than one genre simultaneously?
I deliberated some before publishing my first paranormal suspense under my real name. And after hearing Deborah’s story, I think you need only ask yourself one question.
Are you proud of your work?
If so, why wouldn’t you want your name aligned with that?