Tag Archives: Authors

Maybe you’re just trying too hard.

21 Jan

I follow many people on Twitter, but one that always sticks out to me. She’s an indie author who likes to change her pseudonym every couple of months, and from the number of posts she makes on it, I think she’s trying too hard.

Personally, I love Natalie–that’s her actual name… or at least, her most consistent–but as she writes on so many different platforms and genres, she focuses on the strangest things. Maybe that’s just because she has a far different situation than me. I’m a fat middle-aged white father of teenagers in Arizona. She’s a handicapped black single woman in her 20’s in Indiana. So she has different priorities and concerns than I do.

There are plenty of authors with pseudonyms–take one of the most popular young adult authors–Shannon Messenger. It might be her real name, after all, it’s really hard to tell anymore… but I seriously doubt it. Same with Constantine Storm or P.N. Elrod or my personal favorite, Liam Hearn. “Liam” is actually a professor from Australia who didn’t want his academic research to get mixed up with fiction writing. I’m guessing Mr. Storm just wanted a cool name that would sell books. Shannon’s probably more worried about stalkers.

The sad truth is… I doubt it matters. If you’re worried about stalkers, I fear it’s not going to help. If someone really wants to find you in the digital age, it doesn’t take that long. Someone somewhere is going to slip and your actual location will appear. My favorite internet comedy group–yeah, I know exactly where their office is. One of my favorite authors–yeah, I know exactly where he lives. Why? Because they had to register themselves somewhere public… and that requires an mailing address. It took me all of five minutes. And no, I’m not going to tell you.

A name like “messenger” or “storm” grabs my attention on the bookshelf, sure, but I still haven’t bought any of their books. My kids bought her books and they demanded I read the first two. Still don’t like them, although they do get better, her young adult series simply isn’t for me. Duh. The ones who have something to protect I understand better–you have a reputation or one name works better than two authors. I personally like the guy who shortens his name from Jacob Holowach to Jacob Holo because it’s easier to say and sounds cooler. (Actually interviewed him about three or four years ago, before he co-wrote with David Weber.)

When writing romance novels, I did write under Adrienne Alexander, the name of a retired realtor in Chicago. I had this thought that romance readers want to see a woman’s name on it, but in the end, since none of them ever got published, it doesn’t matter.

Personally, I want to stroke my ego, have my name on the book. So yes, Marcus Johnston is my actual name. It’s generic enough that a Google search comes up with several other people (including a photographer in Scotland) before you get to me. You’re more likely to find Marcus Johnson than the one with the “t.” Believe it or not, I actually change my name professionally (Marc Johnston, M.Ed) because it gets me more work. Why? That’s a post for another day.

What do you think? Do pseudonyms have any purpose in the modern day? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Let me know in the comments below!

Improving Your Author Visibility

14 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

In yesterday’s post I explained how editors, when faced with several excellent stories competing for one open slot, may take the author of the tale into consideration.  Specifically, we look at the author’s popularity (through number of previous publications and social media following) and their demographics.  While these criteria do tend to slant in favor of popular, established authors over talented but unknown beginning authors, there are some things new authors can do to balance things out.

Have a Social Media Presence

The more social media followers you have, the more might buy a book or magazine that published your story, and thus the more sales the publisher might make.  Editors pay attention to these things.  At the very least, have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but more platforms is always better.  If you have a separate author page on Facebook, that’s even better. Presumably all that followers that page are interested in your writing, as opposed to a personal page where a large number might be acquaintances with no interest—or even knowledge—of your writing career.

Have an Author Website

If an editor is going to research you as an author, make it quick and easy for them to find all the information about you that they need.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, detailed, or even ad-free—seriously, we don’t care about that.  There are plenty of places where you can build a simple website for free (although it’ll probably have ads).  A blog is a bonus, even if it’s not updated regularly.  If you have a common name like John Smith, make sure the landing page of your website introduces you as “John Smith, a fiction author of (genre name)” so that we can instantly tell we’ve found the right person, instead of wondering whether or not John Smith the Accountant from Wisconsin is you.

Link to your Social Media Accounts from your Author Website

Editors rarely have the time to check all social media platforms for all authors who submit manuscripts.  Personally, I check for a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and that’s it—so if most of your followers are on Instagram or TikTok, I’ll probably miss it.  However, if you make it easy for editors to find all of your social media accounts by having prominent (i.e., toward the top) links to them on your website, we can quickly and easily count ALL your followers.

Have a Bibliography on your Author Website

Sure, we editors may often consider an author’s number of previous publications a measure of their name recognition or popularity, but… how do we know what you’ve written?  Personally, I use Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org).  No one location will have a list of all your publications, though, especially since there are so many obscure magazines and e-zines out there.  So help us out and have a page on your website dedicated to your complete bibliography.  Categorize them by novels, short stories, and poetry.  Include not just the story’s title, but also the anthology/magazine it appears in, the date, and (if known) the publisher.

To conclude, all these things will help make you more competitive (or at least appear to be) compared to more establish authors.  My final bit of advice is that taking these steps does require a time commitment—possibly a major one.  If you’re serious about building up your fiction writing career, it may be worth your time.  On the other hand, if you only jot off a story every now and then and occasionally submit it here and there on a whim, it may not be the best use of your time… at least, not yet.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them quickly.

Editors Evaluating Authors

13 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

I mentioned in my original guest post that when a magazine or anthology editor has read through the slush pile of submissions and eliminated the bad and mediocre stories, there will almost certainly be more excellent short stories than can possibly fit in that anthology or magazine issue. Consequently, editors have to whittle down the excellent submissions based on criteria that have little or nothing to do with the story’s quality.  I also mentioned in last week’s post how editors keep an eye out for stories that contain interesting variations on the publication’s theme.

This week, I’ll mention three other things that editors research to choose between equally excellent stories.  These criteria, however, aren’t about the story, but about the author.

1. Previous Publications

Readers are more likely to buy a book or magazine when the cover displays an author name or two they’re familiar with.  Although it’s hard to gauge an author’s popularity, one metric is the number of their previous publications.  The more stories an author has published, the more likely they are to have name recognition and a following.  So if I’ve got two excellent stories I can’t decide between where one author has three publications and the other has thirty, I’ll probably go with the more established author.

2. Social Media Following

This may not apply to big publishers like Penguin/Random House or Simon & Schuster, but for small and indie publishers (and there are thousands) this is crucial for sales.  You see, when an author gets a short story published in a magazine or anthology, they almost always post about it on social media when the book is released.  A small percentage of their followers go on to buy the book.  Therefore, the larger a social media following an author has, the more sales will be made in the first week after release (which is vital to the book moving up the search rankings on Amazon).  Consequently, if I have to decide between two equally excellent stories where one author has 500 followers and the other has 5,000, I’ll probably pick the author with the larger social media following.

3. Demographics

This is sex, gender, race, ethnic and/or religious minorities, sexual orientation, and physical and/or mental disabilities.  There has been a lot of backlash over the last several decades against genre anthologies being dominated by straight white cis men.  Consequently, many editors (not all, but a lot) these days at least try to have some degree of diversity among their authors.  So sometimes if I have to decide between two equally excellent stories by authors with a similar number of previous publications and near-equal social media followers—but one author is a woman or minority—I’ll choose that author.  It doesn’t happen very often, true, but it does occasionally come into play.  Now, keep in mind this isn’t just about politics—people with different backgrounds and experiences often bring different viewpoints and perspectives to the fiction they write (which goes back to the need for variation in an anthology’s theme).

You may have noticed a bias built into this selection process: popular published authors are more likely to get published again, while unpublished or new authors—even talented ones—are less likely to get published at all. And you are perfectly right. This is exactly why it is so hard for new authors to break into the fiction-writing field.  But the good news is that there are some things a new author can do to help level the playing field in their favor.  I’ll get into that in tomorrow’s post.

But what do you think? Do these points make sense for you? What tricks have you used to get past the gatekeepers? Let us know in the comments below!

In Memoriam – H. Paul Honsinger

29 Aug

What do you do when the story ends? So often, you get invested in someone’s universe and then you find out they will never finish it. So I wish to introduce you to and honor the great H. Paul Honsinger, a great sci-fi author who I never got a chance to meet.

He was a retired attorney, but also sold cars, counselled wayward youth, and did many things in his checkered career. After he retired, he decided to pursue writing, and created a great character named Max Rochambeau. Of course, when you grow up in Louisiana, you meet a lot of coon-asses (Cajuns).

The Man of War series is a great series of books. If you’re a fan of Patrick O’Brien, you will recognize the origins very clearly – he took the captain / doctor concept that the Master and Commander series and translated it into Outer Space. It’s a great space opera and you really enjoy the crew and the story of them fighting against impossible odds.

Now certainly I didn’t agree with all his artistic choices. For example, he built the universe so that women weren’t serving – he explained it well, but I think it certainly detracted from the story. However, as my father-in-law said, “If you don’t like my story, write your own!” So once you accept the limitations of the universe, it’s a great ride.

The sad truth is that he lived in northern Arizona near Las Vegas and actually attended conventions in Phoenix… but I decided to skip the one he attended. Now I won’t get the chance to thank him and tell him how much I loved his work.

Which author do you wish you had met? Let me know in the comments below!

You say you want a revolution?

28 Jun

When I was bored with my current library, I decided to turn to the authors in The Royal Manticoran Navy and found this interesting story from Leo Champion, an indie author from Australia.

Our hero is a kid named Jake Linder, who leaves an overly regulated, rich, and boring Earth to seek his fortune in the stars. Instead, he gets hijacked by pirates and sold into slavery on the backwater world of Verana. One day, as he’s on a suicidal work detail, he decides he’s had enough to blindly following orders, and fights to live as a free man.

The next thing he knows, he’s started the Veranian Revolution, an entire planet rising against an empire. Jake becomes not just a soldier but a hero. He gets caught up in a galaxy-spanning conspiracy. He finds the love of his life, and lose her! It’s a wild, interesting ride!

Champion does a great job of balancing two main plotlines and a couple minor ones, so that you get Jake’s perspective on the front lines (with some really good, gritty but not depressing war realism), Damien’s perspective as the leader of the independence movement (so you get the cool diplomacy and problems of political struggle), and you get the minor plotlines that cover conspiracies, backstabs, space combat, and all the things that you want in a space opera.

This book happens to hit me where I’m itching because of the other book I’m reading…

That’s right, I’m double-fisting my books reading two books at the same time. I’m a madman! 🙂 What happened is that my son is really into Hamilton: The Musical. (Which is like saying a fish is really into water.) So when I went over to a friend’s house and he had it on his bookshelf, I asked to borrow it. Really amazing detail about the American Revolution, our early government, and the political backstabbing and nasty press that reminds me that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (That means I’m pretentious.)

So if you’re into Sci-fi, especially Military Sci-fi, check out Leo Champion and his other works! If you’re into American History, check out Ron Chernow… although he doesn’t need as much press, so go to Leo’s page first! 🙂

Now what do you think? What’s the biggest obstacle to revolutionary success? Write a comment below!

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