Apparently you only have one chance in publishing. A book is not bought because of its content, but because of the sales of previous books by the same author. Even if the new book has promise. If you’re previous books didn’t sell as well as whatever publisher were expecting them to sell, you’re out of luck. Publishing is more a business of numbers than anything else.
At least that’s one of the things I took from an article in The New York Times about an author who needed to disguise herself to succeed. The article described how Patricia O’Brien, who’d already published several books, used the pseudonym Kate Alcott to submit her new novel in order for it to be judged not by her name or her previous sales – but by the content in the book.
You know, the things by which any editor should really judge a book. There’s a pernicious tendency in publishing to reject someone just because a previous book didn’t measure up. Apparently it’s one strike and you’re out.
As O’Brien/Alcott’s agent Esther Newburg is quoted as saying in the article, “I realized that the book was not being judged on its merits… It was being judged on how many books she has sold. I needed somebody who couldn’t look on BookScan. And no, I didn’t feel guilty at all.”
Nor should she. If publishers are going to play only by numbers and not by words, then authors should be free to do what they can to get their work noticed free of prejudice. For publishers it’s contempt prior to investigation.
The Dressmaker, the novel by the pseudonymous Kate Alcott, was bought for what publishers consider a generous sum nowadays (not six figures, and definitely not seven figures – those kinds of advances go to celebrities or to women who’ve been imprisoned in Italy on murder charges). But already some 35,000 copies of The Dressmaker are in print. A good number.
Still. Will her next book be by Patricia O’Brien or by Kate Alcott? Or by someone else?
If you’re an author who’s developing a platform for your ideas, to spread your message and build your audience, then using a pseudonym might not be necessary. By expanding your reach through your platform you should be able to reach a big enough number of eager readers under your own name. Myopic and desperate and fearful editors who only judge books by what you’ve done before will see that you’ve got a loyal tribe who’ll buy your books.
You’ll be making a name for yourself. Your own name.