Interview with Author Gail Cleare

gailMany years ago, I participated in an online writing community that has since closed. Authonomy had a section of comment boards where different topics were discussed and one of the most helpful of those were the critiquing groups. They were organized by genre and Gail Cleare ran the Women’s Fiction Critique Group. When the site closed down, it was this group that many of us were most distraught to lose. And so we didn’t. We moved the group to another forum where it continues to run under Gail’s care.

I was able to read her new novel for that group and I’m thrilled to announce it’s being published today! Gail talked to me recently about her life as a writer.

When did you start writing and when did you start calling yourself a writer?

I wrote my first poem when I was ten. It was selected to appear in the literary journal at my school, the first time a fourth grader’s work had ever been chosen, and that was it for me—I wanted to be a Writer. I wrote stories all through high school, won two big contests, studied the craft in college, had my poetry performed in live theater in Boston, and then…remembered I needed to earn a living. So I wrote marketing/PR copy for many years, while dreaming of having the time to write novels because then I would be a real Writer. Instead, I raised three boys and settled for writing ads and content for AOL until 2010, when the stars aligned just right and I wrote my first full-length work, DESTINED, a novel of the Tarot. That’s when I started calling myself a Writer, though I had been a writer of another sort for my entire career.

Talk to me about your writing process. What is your preferred writing environment? How long does it take you to complete a book? At what stage of writing do you find outside feedback helpful? How do you sift through differing advice? When do you think about the audience your book appeals to? 

I write in a blue room at the very top and back of my house, sitting in front of a double window that looks out over many acres of fields and forest. Birds fly by at eye level. It’s lovely. My first book took only five weeks for the first draft and I worked on it every day, straight through. THE TASTE OF AIR has been rewritten three times and took a total of five years, with several stops and starts. After the first draft, I took started looking around for an online writing group because I needed feedback, and I found HarperCollins website for authors, Authonomy. Unfortunately, that site is closed now, but it’s where I originally started the Women’s Fiction Critique Group (WFCG), which has since moved to WriteOn. I find it incredibly helpful to be critiqued by other serious writers in the same genre. If you get a dozen or more opinions all at once, you can see the trends and understand which comments are personal taste vs. which views are held in common, and clearly identify flaws in the work. At that point, I make a judgment call and go with whichever path seems both practical and likely to take care of the unresolved issues. I think about the audience for the book all along, starting from the first draft of the first chapter. I shape the voice and the story with that in mind.

You run an online critique group for writers of women’s fiction. What has that group meant to you as a writer?

Yes, I mentioned the WFCG above. It has meant an enormous amount to me, in terms of making friends like you, Katie, who I met there on Authonomy, and because access to the group mind has been invaluable. We share reviews, information, experiences, leads, jokes and sympathy. There are several writers’ groups locally where I live, but they are for all genres. I am much more interested in having my work critiqued by authors who like to read similar books, rather than by writers who enjoy science fiction or detective stories, for example. By going online, we’ve been able to collect WF authors from around the world, and many current and past members of the group are doing really well, I’m glad to say.

Your new novel, The Taste of Air, is being released today. What is the book about and who should read it?

The Taste of Air is the story of two sisters who discover their mother has been hiding a secret life for over forty years. When Mary Reilly turns up in a hospital hundreds of miles from the senior community where she lives, Nell and Bridget find out she has a lakeside cottage in Vermont, a Westie named Winston, and a set of complex relationships with people her daughters have never met. The family drama plays out from the middle of the 20th century into the present, revealing the sacrifices all three women have made and the secrets they carry.

If you ever wondered what your mother is really like, you should read this book. It’s a family saga with mystery/historical elements, exploring the woman’s journey through three strong main characters. Readers of Sarah Jio, Kate Morton, Susan Wiggs and Luanne Rice will enjoy this story.

What’s your next project?

I’m working on the second draft of something much lighter called “Love & Chocolate, a romance with recipes.” It’s the story of a young woman who has been burned by a bad marriage, and tries to protect her heart by substituting chocolate and cybersex for the real thing. Every chapter ends with a chocolate recipe, or a bit of cocoa trivia. This book is nearly finished and I hope to have it out next year.

I’m also working on a sequel to The Taste of Air. A young girl introduced at the very end of the first book becomes the main character of the second, and the saga of the Reilly clan continues.

More information about Gail Cleare can be found on her website.

12 Surprises I Found Marketing My Debut Novel, To Hunt a Sub

quirksMarketing To Hunt a Sub, my debut novel, is a whole lot different from my non-fiction pieces. In those, I could rely on my background, my expertise in the subject, and my network of professional friends to spread the word and sell my books. Fiction–not so much. For one thing, I don’t have expertise in the topic I wrote about. Nor do I have prior fiction novels that have buttressed my reputation. So I did what I have always done when preparing for the unknown: I researched. I read everything I could find on how to market a novel, collected ideas, made my plan, and jumped in without a backward glance.

Well, now that much of the marketing is done, there are a few pieces I wish I’d done differently:

  • I participated in the Kindle Scout to mentally kick-off my campaign. That took longer than I expected which set me back a few weeks.
  • Uploading my manuscript to Kindle was easy, but took more preparation than I’d planned. The preparation was along the line of ‘tedious’, not ‘complicated’. No brainpower required; just time.
  • Many fellow bloggers offered to help with my blog hop, and I wish I’d kept better track of that aspect. I did have a spreadsheet, but I didn’t include enough detail.
  • I wish I’d included interview questions in the blog hop articles. Several bloggers I follow did this, but I skipped it to save time. I wish I hadn’t.
  • I should have used Facebook and Twitter more. Here’s what Stephanie Faris, efriend and published author of the Piper Morgan series, says about a Facebook account:

Facebook is where you’ll find your friends and relatives. You’ll also find your fourth-grade teacher, your kindergarten best friend, and pretty much everyone who has ever mattered in your life. These are the people who are most likely to buy your book and tell everyone they meet about it. All you have to do is post a picture of your book and your real supporters will ask where they can get a copy.

Stephanie actually suggests the same sort of approach for Twitter. I have a Twitter account, but I forgot to use it enough!

  • Take that a step further: I should have FB’d and Tweeted the posts of my blog hop folks. Duh–that seems so obvious now.
  • I wish I’d reached out to my local library and bookstores to see if there’s appetite for a book signing or chat. Well, I could still do that!
  • I didn’t follow up well enough on fellow bloggers who offered their help. Thankfully, many of them reached out to me–emailed me with questions or confirmation of dates. I wish I’d reached out more.

A few essential pieces that I gleaned from the experience of fellow bloggers and/or just seemed logical but–surprisingly–everyone doesn’t do:

  • Kindle Scout was a good first step because it forced me to create the necessary marketing pieces for the ultimate campaign–blurb, one-line summary, pristine document, and polished cover.
  • Visit the blog hop host and respond to comments.
  • Take blog hop visits one step further: Visit the blogs of those who comment. Join their conversations. Be a friend.
  • Read the books of your blog hosts. Usually, they’re Indies–between $0.00 and $2.99. That’s a small investment to promote your book and often, you come away with excellent entertainment for a few days. Then, review them. Add the review to not only Amazon, but Goodreads which has become the go-to location for readers and writers.

What tips do you have for marketing a new novel? What’s worked best for you?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

How to know you’re ready for KindleScout

KindleScout is a program run by Amazon that allows you to submit a complete novel for a chance at a contract. The campaign runs for thirty days during which time you use social media and whatever connections you have to get votes. The goal is to show Amazon editors that you have a product worth selling. If your book attracts enough attention, they’ll read it and if they like it, they’ll publish it.

I’m running my own campaign this month for my women’s fiction novel, Finding Charlie. There’s a lot that I considered before going this route and I thought it might help other writers to share the process.

To start with, there are important things to consider before you sign the contract that’s required at the beginning of the campaign. Signing means that if they select you, you agree to their terms – there’s no contract negotiation and for the course of the campaign, you can’t enter into any other publishing agreement.

In some respects, this is not a great contract. The advance of $1,500 is (unfortunately ) more than most self-pubbers make, but it is not a lot of money for the kind of control you’re giving up. I would not recommend this program for writers with a first book who are hoping to build a career. As a hybrid writer with one traditionally published book out already, I see KindleScout as one of several ways I can get my work out there.

Before submitting your book to KindleScout, here are some things to think about:

  • Is the book complete and edited?
  • Do you have a professional cover?
  • Have you tried other avenues for publication and determined this is best?
  • Has the book been read and enjoyed by more than just your mother?
  • Do you have some sort of social media presence?

I’ve written and rewritten Finding Charlie over the course of the last two years. It won the crowd-sourcing competition at Authonomy.com in September and I have dozens of beta readers who have given helpful and encouraging feedback. I queried many literary agencies and had several positive responses that ultimately went nowhere. In the process of self-publishing my second novel, I’ve started to get a hang of this social media thing.

So, I feel ready. We’ll see if it works! Check out my campaign where you can read an excerpt and decide if Finding Charlie is worthy of your vote: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1ZEZ9K2DLCYOB

31+ Ideas to Market Your Novel

marketing woahsAt a recent #IWSG confab, I was whining to online friends about the difficulty of marketing my books. I got a long list of great comments, both on the blog and via emails from writers who have suggestions that worked well for them.

I shared these on my blog and now want to share them with you so we can build the conversation, I chose a Google Spreadsheet for its ease of viewing and curative approach. If you’re familiar with Excel, it’s quite like that, but easier to share out and collaborate on.

Using this method, we can:

  • read everyone’s thoughts
  • share ideas by clicking the link and adding contributions to the bottom of the spreadsheet (it’s set to share and edit)
  • repost the spreadsheet to your blog where you collect ideas from your readers. Those will automatically be updated on this post’s spreadsheet (and Today’s Author readers’ contributions will appear on your blog). If we can repost this to lots of blogs, the list should become a comprehensive litany of what we writers do to get the good word out.

What have you done that’s worked? What are you going to try? Just click this link:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1GLOj04FF6OPkgzGInGFK78vExz_Yjto_ECLCfq9EBRg/edit?usp=sharing

…and append your ideas to the bottom row. And, please reshare either by reblogging this post or grabbing the spreadsheet and sharing that way.

I can’t wait to see how much we’ll all learn from each other!

 

More on marketing:

4 Reasons You Want a PLN and 13 Ways to Build One

Top Ten Marketing Tips for Your Ebook

5 Top Steps to Market Your Books this Summer


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Follow your heart?

Not long ago, I had a three book deal with a traditional publisher. Even though sales for the first book were great, they didn’t do anything to promote my second book and I decided to get out of my contract with them.

In the months since I launched A Long Thaw on my own, I’ve wondered whether that was the smartest way to go. Some writers I knew told me I was crazy to walk away and I wasn’t sure if they weren’t right. Other people encouraged me to “go with my gut” or “follow my heart”. I might have rolled my eyes at the platitude but ultimately, that’s what I did and I’ve been second guessing myself ever since. I wanted control over how my work was marketed but I didn’t really know if I could do it by myself. Back in March, I proclaimed to my blog audience that I was going to: “rerelease the book my publisher didn’t promote and see if I can do a better job.”

I’ve spent these months working. I got book reviews and beefed up my Amazon page and did guest blogs and ran twitter contests and facebook promotions and deals on kindle. I was never sure if any of it was working. But I just counted up my sales and the reports are in: I’ve already sold more books in the past four months than the publisher managed to sell in an entire year. I guess I’m done wondering if I made the right decision. This is turning me into someone who gives the annoying “follow your heart” advice. It can be hard, but sometimes it’s all you have to go by.

If you’d like to take a look at my debut, Monsoon Season, it’s being sold by Hachette. My next book, Finding Charlie, will be out in the coming months.

How to Write a Novel with 140 Characters

twitter novelI’m a teacher, have been for 35 years. I teach a lesson to my Middle School students that uses Twitter to improve their writing skills. There’s a lot this popular social media tool can bring to the education world:

  • it’s non-intimidating. Anyone can get through 140 characters
  • it forces students to focus on concise, pithy writing. Wasted, fluff words are not an option
  • it’s fun. Students want to try it because it’s the ‘forbidden fruit’.

I also have a class that kickstarts the author in students, getting them set up to write and digitally publish the book that festers inside of them (well, statistics say 73% of us have a book inside kicking and screaming to get out).

What I haven’t done is blend the two: Write a novel on Twitter.

Anna over at Imaginette reminded me that I should. She’s not the only one, either, who thinks Twitter is an excellent forum for novel writing. Japan popularized it as the microblogging novel or the micro novel. Wikipedia defines it as:

…a fictional work or novel written and distributed in small parts

Just to be clear: We’re talking about squeezing all those novel parts that we writers slave over…

  • plot
  • pacing
  • character development
  • theme
  • story arc
  • scene

…to name a few must be accomplished in 140 characters. Is that even possible? I’d croak a resounding ‘No!’, but the Guardian persuaded twenty-one accomplished authors to try their hand at this. Here’s a sampling:

James Meek

‘He said he was leaving her. “But I love you,” she said. “I know,” he said. “Thanks. It’s what gave me the strength to love somebody else.”

Ian Rankin

I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

Blake Morrison

Blonde, GSOH, 28. Great! Ideal mate! Fix date. Tate. Nervous wait. She’s late. Doh, just my fate. Wrong candidate. Blond – and I’m straight.

David Lodge

“Your money or your life!” “I’m sorry, my dear, but you know it would kill me to lose my money,” said the partially deaf miser to his wife.

Jilly Cooper

Tom sent his wife’s valentine to his mistress and vice versa. Poor Tom’s a-cold and double dumped.

Rachel Johnson

Rose went to Eve’s house but she wasn’t there. But Eve’s father was. Alone. One thing led to another. He got 10 years.

Andrew O’Hagan

Clyde stole a lychee and ate it in the shower. Then his brother took a bottle of pills believing character is just a luxury. God. The twins.

AL Kennedy

It’s good that you’re busy. Not great. Good, though. But the silence, that’s hard. I don’t know what it means: whether you’re OK, if I’m OK.

Jeffrey Archer

“It’s a miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “It was God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied.

Surprisingly good. Are you inspired? Here are some tips on Twitter novels from Be a Better Writer:

  • Think token action, dialogue and description. Not this: He sat and looked at the pistol for a full ten minutes before he grasped it and experienced the icy weight of his first semi-automatic. Rather: Gun in hand, he shot.
  • Think installments. Releasing the novel over time increases suspense. Douglas Sovern released 1600 tweets at the rate of about 5 to 12 a day.
  • Think multimedia and add links to images, video, articles or anything else that will add meaning to the story. A Twitter novel allows you to combine text with other media.
  • Think movement. Every tweet should advance the plot. You don’t want your readers ignoring tweets out of boredom.

I’m well over 140 characters, so I’m done. You can get ideas by searching #twitternovels.

–first published on Today’s Author

More on writing genres:

10 Tips for Picture Book Writers

10 Tips for Steampunk Writers

18 Tips for Memoir Authors


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

After the Writing: Producing a Novel for Publication

Inquisitor - RJ Blain - Small CoverI’ve been shamefully quiet on Today’s Author lately, although there has been a pretty good reason for it: I released my third novel on May 16, an urban fantasy thriller titled InquisitorMay 16 also happened to be my birthday. I’ll just say I was really busy. There’s a lot that goes into the production and finalization of a novel, and I’m going to give you the ins and outs of it. When you release your first book, I hope you have smooth sailing!

We all have different opinions on lists. Put aside yours for a moment. If you’re a fan of lists, rejoice. If not… you’ll need one. There is a lot that goes into producing a novel, and unless you’re a super genius who never forgets a single detail, you’ll want a list. More importantly, you’ll want to stick to the list. It really will help you release the best novel possible. To simplify things, I’m going to give you a very basic list of things needing to be done to prepare a book for e-book and createspace print editions. My personal list was about four times this long…

Initial Preparation

  1. Edit: Copy Edit – Proof Edit – Homonym List Check
  2. Cover Art: Acquire Image – Typography/Layout – Back of Book Blurb
  3. Format: Print Version – E-Book Version
  4. Promote: Paid Options – Free Options
  5. Edit: Homonym List Check Round Two
  6. Copyrights: To Purchase or Not to Purchase?
  7. ISBN: Amazon or Purchase?
  8. Distribution: Decide on Amazon, Draft2Digital, Createspace, Lightning Source, Lulu, KoboSmashwords, etc…

Editorial

Final rounds of editorial, even if you have hired a proofing editor, is never unwise. Editors are humans, and they make mistakes. However, once you have proofed your novel, you shouldn’t change anything unless it is a confirmed error and you triple check that you have not introduced a new error. Proceed with caution.

Do your homonym checks twice. There are many lists on the internet with the most common homonyms. Yank one, then confirm the usage of each one in your novel. You’ll probably still miss something, but at least you’ll clean up a lot of them. Homonym errors (they’re versus there) are among one of the most common types of mistakes found in ‘final’ versions of a novel.

P.S.: My complete check of homonym errors took me approximately 6 hours… but was so worth it.

Formatting, Cover Art, Copyrights, and the Nitty Gritty

If you’re self-publishing your novel, these are decisions you’ll have to make on your own. Do you create your own cover art? If so, make the cover look professional. Ask for help. If possible, license artwork. There are many cover art solutions you can acquire for $50 or less. Cover art can really increase your visibility–or damage the book’s chances for success. Covers do matter. As for Copyright and ISBNs, these are personal choices. But, I’ll tell you a very quick story…

I had a very bad incident with one of the self-publishing firms. They violated my copyright, and didn’t honor a request for removal. Without ownership of the legitimate copyright, I probably would have had a lot harder time getting them to adhere to my request for removal. Because I did own the copyright, I was able to send a letter stating as much. The company decided it was in their better interest to uphold their contractual obligations. I didn’t have to take it to court. That copyright paper is worth a lot, because when you have it, you have full control and power over your novel. I needed it, and was glad I had it.

Not everyone needs to own the full copyright. The book is still yours, and it is still copyrighted, even if you don’t pay up to have the official documentation. The documentation just makes it easier if something goes wrong.

Promotion

Paid promotion isn’t for everyone. It’s high risk, and it may not pay off at all. Free promotion, however, only costs you time. Simple ways you can promote for free include finding sites to write guest posts for, contacting book bloggers to get reviews written for your book, and making yourself visible on social networks.

Distribution

It’s ultimately up to you how you distribute your novel–take a look at all of your options. Then decide which choice is best for you and your book. Exclusive on amazon can be a great boost with the free book, countdown deals, and lending library promotion options. Smashwords and Draft2Digital can get you into a lot of venues with great ease.

Formats needed for Launch

  1. PDF: Print Version – Consumer Version
  2. Doc: e-book source version (amazon), e-book source version (smashwords)
  3. MOBI: Consumer Version
  4. ePub: Consumer Version
  5. ARC Versions of all types, excluding .doc
  6. Cover Art: Print version – Front Cover only

And finally… patience.

Releasing a quality novel isn’t easy. You want it now. You’re excited. But have patience. Take your time. It’s better to delay the book than it is to release something lackluster.

Take it from me–I learned this lesson on my first book, and it really isn’t worth walking in those shoes just for the sake of walking in them. If you can’t afford proofing editors, call in a lot of favors from your friends. If you can’t afford cover art, barter for some, twist arms, or ask for help on making a good one on your own.

There are always options, and many of them are free.

Good luck, writer.

May the odds be in your favor.

November: A Novel Month

To be bound by a designated entry point, a predetermined finish, and a trivial concern for quality—at least at the initial stage, for the first draft—doesn’t necessarily sound like the finest makings of substantial art (although I don’t know if during this yearly November event you’re asked to do that). Because during your involvement in National Novel Writing Month, ‘NaNoWriMo,’ you are required to achieve a quantity of words that translates to a novel-length manuscript.  The amount is the goal. You’re asked to write continuously, to reach daily checkpoints, and to work without pause and heavy reflection; being overly watchful of your prose may hinder your progress.  It’s daunting, especially because we surely want to write something good and to move on from a sentence, a paragraph, a page of something that we aren’t fully satisfied with requires trust.  And that isn’t always easy.

Although I don’t like the idea of writing a novel in a month’s time, I can see it’s value for others and, therefore, the effort deserves to be celebrated.  Just as January 1st marks the beginning of our newest weight-loss journey and Monday marks the beginning of, well, anything we hope prompts good change, November offers the writer a digestible meal in an otherwise overwhelming feast.  If anything, your involvement in NaNoWriMo will help teach you about your own process, that maybe you are the type of writer that needs to write daily, without self-editing, to just spill it all out.  Or maybe you thrive on a patient year focusing on one longer piece where a month’s time results in the satisfactory completion of ten damn good pages.  Either way, you learn, about you, and that’s a very good thing.

And November is just the start, really.  You will hopefully go back into your novel, repeatedly, to polish it.  Often, the best writing comes in the revision stage.  So if the month works for you, what a great springboard. You’ll have 50,000+ of your words to work with. It’s a commendable endeavor and talking with others that have endured NaNoWriMo before can offer some beneficial pearls. (Maybe even some folks here on this site.)

But it isn’t for me and may not be for others. Hemingway said, “I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.” Having to write a certain amount of words in a day may not allow that approach. And moving on too quickly when writing something I’m deeply engaged in just doesn’t work for me.

That, though, may not be you, which is good. Our craft process takes different forms and you need to be dedicated to yours. So dig your heels in and be kind to yourself daily, throughout. Take some time, perhaps before bed, to softly reflect on how the day’s writing went. What worked well for you? What will propel you the next day? What practice might you scrap?

What’s in a Name?

The recent news that J.K. Rowling was outed as the author of Robert Galbraith’s novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, has me thinking about the importance of having A Name as a writer. I know Ms. Rowling isn’t the first author to have written under a pseudonym, either before or after becoming successful as a writer.  Stephen King comes to mind immediately (Richard Bachman). Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb) is another example that comes to mind. Theodor Geisel is possibly my favorite to have written under multiple names (Dr. Seuss and Theo LeSieg). But why do they do it?

I’ve never in my life seriously considered writing under a pen name.  Partly this is because I mostly like my name and partly I just never came up with a good alternative.  Tucker Spencer? Too southern. Moonblossom Beladosia?  Too hippie.  Vito Lucchesie?  Too 1970’s mobster.  Indigo Maroon?  Too colorful.

I have often wondered why authors would choose to write under more than one name.  I understand the need to write under a pen name when there’s issues of freedom of speech or repression.  I specifically mean situations like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, where they are already successful and choose to write secretly under a different name.  Anecdotally, I’d heard that King wrote as Richard Bachman as a means of trying to figure out if his success was due to talent or to luck, though I’ve never actually seen this statement attributed to him directly. On his webpage, King answers the question pretty clearly:

I did that because back in the early days of my career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept…

Dr. Seuss wrote as Dr. Seuss when he also illustrated his books, and has Theo LeSieg when someone else did the illustrating. I have always known he was both authors and read his works under both names.

I’ve never read any of Nora Roberts’s works but I understand that she writes under the name J.D. Robb for a specific series (“In Death”) and then at other times as Jill March and as Sarah Hardesty…

J.K. Rowling, now that she’s been found out, said that she wrote as Robert Galbraith because she:

I wanted to see how it would feel to write a crime novel without the pressure that goes along with my name.

I can actually see and have an understanding for this concept of writing under a different name to try something else.  If fans come to expect a certain style or genre from an author, would they accept something different that doesn’t fit into the expected mold?  I can easily see that there might be riots and peaceful sit-ins if I were to suddenly write a story which didn’t include any coffee in it… I mean, it’s what I do, right?

In any event, I’ve mentioned four (or is it ten?) different authors, each with their own reason to write under different names.  But I’m still left to wonder what their real reasons are, specifically Rowling’s reasons.

The media frenzy around Rowling’s Big Secret and the subsequent skyrocketing of sales for The Cuckoo’s Calling have me wondering if it was really all just a marketing ploy, wherein it was always intended that the information would be leaked. Ms. Rowling and her publisher are, of course, denying it and perhaps they are telling the truth.  But still, the numbers certainly tell a story:  The BBC reported that around 1,500 copies of the book had been sold before the announcement and that within hours sales had increased by 507,000%. Another report mentioned that 43 copies of the book were sold in the UK in the week prior to the announcement and then 17,662 copies in the week following the announcement.  Either way, the announcement turned the critically acclaimed book from a commercial also-ran into a best seller, seemingly overnight.

I have attempted to find marketing for The Cuckoo’s Calling from before the announcement of the author’s true identity and I have failed. I, of course, had not looked for anything before the announcement because, well, I’d never heard of the book.  Now – after the fact – all I find is material with Rowling’s name on it.  I also am aware that there were some favorable reviews and that the book was praised by Val McDermid… but again, I had no idea the book existed, and apparently I was not alone in this state of ignorance.  So I’m left with questions:  was the book underperforming in terms of sales because of a lack of marketing?  Is the new-found success it is having due to the “free” publicity it is getting in the media? Does the name on the book really have that much impact on the performance of the book?  Would Rowling’s other book, The Casual Vacancy, have suffered poor initial sales if it had, the name of an unknown, say, Rob Diaz, on the cover?

Fans of an author, or an actor or a musical act will typically buy new material from that author, actor or musical act just because of the name on the cover or in the credits.  I’ve done it myself and I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with supporting the artists whose work you enjoy. So I’m not really upset that this book is selling well now that the name is out there… yet I am still unsettled about it.

Frankly, I can feel my thoughts on this whole situation flying all over the place. I don’t like feeling duped and I don’t like feeling like it’s impossible to find success if you don’t already have success. The whole situation with this book which, in all honesty, I never would have read before but now feel compelled to read because of who wrote it is just making me more confused than ever about what we, as emerging writers, should expect to be able to accomplish in or around this industry.

On the other hand, the acknowledgement that Robert Galbraith’s novel was rejected leaves me feeling a bit less hopeless.  Sure, Robert Galbraith is an unknown, debut author but ultimately he – I mean she – was still J.K. Rowling, an author whose work I admire and enjoy.  If her work could be rejected before it was eventually accepted, then there’s still hope for me, perhaps, at some point down the road.

At this point, a part of me feels like I should send out my initial queries for my next two novels – The Intergalactic Coffee Pot of Rage and Discontent  and Fifty Roasts of Coffee – with the author name of Slade Steele stenciled onto the cover.  Then, after a short time, I can announce that Slade Steele is actually Rob Diaz, the guy who writes about coffee.  Slade Steele may be a strong, highly marketable name, but clearly the public will only trust one author when it comes to fictional tales about superhero lattes.

In all seriousness, I’d like to hear if you have written, or considered writing, under a pen name?  Why or why not and what circumstances might make you change your mind? And what is your opinion – was the whole Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling thing a genius marketing ploy or was it truly an attempt to allow an established author to just try something new and different?