Benjamin Tate on his blog brought up my post which was referring to his interview with Jim Hines on Hines’ blog on the subject of computer-fooling pseudonyms, and I couldn’t comment back because he’s on Live Journal and Live Journal won’t let me. (Don’t you love the Internet? It’s like a Whack a Mole game.)
Anyway, Ben — may I call you Ben? — explained that he’d kept his previous identity secret not because his publisher insisted but because it was fun. Which I’m totally cool with. Why should Stephen King have had all the jollies? And his previous author identity, for those interested in getting both sets of very interesting looking books, is Joshua Palmatier.
But my main complaint remains. Joshua Palmatier I’ve heard of. Joshua Palmatier was getting good buzz. Joshua Palmatier I sincerely hope will continue to attract attention as Palmatier and as Benjamin Tate, which the author will gradually be marketing together, just like Debbie Miller, Sarah Monette, etc. Which is as it should be. I’m all for authors having as many pseudonyms as they like or serves their purposes and then marketing all of them. I don’t even have a problem with K.J. Parker having fun hiding identity and gender.
The problem is that Ben was forced to use the new name to fool a computer. The rest of us — and that is actually going to include those booksellers who are using the computers — know exactly what is going on, but we have to play footsies with a software program. It’s this idea that continually reinventing authors names so that the computer will be happy is somehow going to be a good thing for booksales. Fans do like new things, so sales from a “new” author may do well, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the booksellers about their computers. But an author building up an audience over time also can do well, in fact often better, and this has been the more regular model of the business. Instead of creating a career, a lot of mid-list authors are being forced to create an octopus. In the Internet age, this may work. I hope it works. But the rationale for it — that we have to trick the computer — is a bit of illogic that would have made Douglas Adams — who understood both illogic and computers — smack his forehead. If the only one who is being tricked is the computer, seriously, what is being accomplished other than to turn author names into a new fashion accessory?
And how long are authors going to get to do this before BookScan realizes that their usefulness to booksellers is being compromised by pretend new authors, and starts tracking down the authors’ not so secret identities for their sales reports? At that point, authors may not be able to market all their pseudonyms together and pool their gathering audiences. They may have to hire actors to portray their alternate selves, not for giggles like King, but because sales projections require an illusion to hold up the illusion of predictability in the fiction market. I’m not attacking DAW, I think they’re a great publisher, but is it really a good idea for publishers to keep playing this game, even when the booksellers know it’s a game? Is this leading anywhere healthy for fiction publishing? This is what worries me.
So apologies to Ben if I put him on the spot and accidentally misrepresented his situation. But the larger issue at the silliness of this situation remains for me. I guess the answer is, support your multi-name authors. Buy their books under their old name as wel as the new. And perhaps when the economy improves, we could stop being slaves to a really dumb computer. Because it’s making SFF and fiction publishing look like a 1950’s SF novel. Or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.