To be me or not to be me…

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 19.10.2013

What did Will mean by that? ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ A lot of people think he was harping on about living and dying. Maybe he was. I’m asking myself the same thing. Not about living and dying but about my writing, or more precisely my self-publishing. Actually my focus is a little different. It’s more like this: ‘To be me or not to be me, that is the question.’

Not for the first time, I have to ask myself, what the hell am I on about?

I wrote and self-published the Romney and Marsh Files under my own name. No problem. Call it vanity if you like. I like my name and I believe it’s unique. Thanks mum and dad. Then I came to self-publishing my Acer Sansom novels and I did pause to wonder whether I should put them out under my real name. Why? Because they are not like the R&M Files. They are in a different genre. I have written them differently. The R&M Files are studded with my own brand of what I think is funny. There is no humour in the Sansoms. They are different reads regarding content, structure, pace and style. So what? So, naturally, I have been/will be actively encouraging readers who have enjoyed the R&M Files and who follow my blog or Twitter account or Facebook account or my Amazon author page to download the Sansoms. And I have good reason to believe that many have. (Thanks by the way.) But just because someone likes a British police procedural with toilet jokes does not mean that they will enjoy a serious thriller in a different style. And if they don’t enjoy the change it will probably lead to Amazon comments that come across as less than impressed. And we all know how important good Amazon comments and ratings are to sales of self-publishing nobodies, not to mention self-esteem.

And of course, I’m writing this because it’s happened: just yesterday two three star comments that both said the same thing. Liked the R&Ms, but weren’t so keen on the new stuff. Bugger. One even referred to Dirty Business as ‘boring’ in comparison. Ouch!

But what can you do as a struggling self-publisher? A great part of being successful is building a following and a platform. If you go changing your name every time you self-publish a book with a different set of characters in maybe a different genre you’ll be starting over again from scratch as a nobody. The mountain of recognition is steep and high and the climbing is not easy. Ask anyone who’s having a go at it.

So should I have put the Sansoms out under a pseudonym? To be me or not to be me, that was the question. (Was because it’s too late now for anything other than reflection where those books are concerned. The dye is cast.) And in the not too distant future, I will be self-publishing another book with new characters which is different in style again to both the R&Ms and the Sansoms. But its biggest difference is that it’s written in the first person whereas all my other stuff is written in the third. Should I put that out under my own name and risk less than favourable comparisons to previous work?

Once again it seems a case of swings and roundabouts. Because my name is familiar to some readers now through the R&Ms the Sansoms are being downloaded and given a try. Sales go up and the books become more visible in those all important charts, which leads to the possibility of new readers sitting up and taking notice and looking at Amazon comments before they buy. And there have been some very encouraging comments (several by readers who have tried the Sansoms after the R&Ms so it’s not all doom and gloom. Thanks to you. You know who you are.). But no one really takes any notice of those, do they? Everyone believes that these are comments of friends and family and the product of comments factories in Taiwan where reviews can be bought by the tonne. We gravitate to the one, two and three star comments looking for ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and a dose of schadenfreude.

Of course, it’s not all negative. There are positives. If readers try the Sansoms and like them they might decide to give the R&Ms a try and like those too. More downloads equals more kerching and more visibility. But what if readers who come to the Sansoms first then go on to be underwhelmed by the R&Ms and leave feedback to that damaging effect? Sigh. There we are again.

I suppose what it comes down to is faith. Faith in one’s writing that it is good enough. And I do have faith, more in the Sansoms than the R&Ms, actually. And vanity of course; I like seeing my name on book covers even if I have to pay for it myself.

I have had one question answered through this thoughtful experience. I have often wondered why some traditionally published covers say things like, ‘X writing as Y.’ Clever really, but probably not as useful a ploy with ebooks. Too much writing on the thumbnail images. And it means very little if you are a nobody in publishing terms.

One thing I am now certain of: my trilogy of erotic dinosaur porn during which an Olympic squad of young and busty lady beach volleyball players accidentally fall through the fabric of space and time into a parallel dimension to find themselves in the Cretaceous Period with a bunch of randy reptiles looking for something a little less scaley to have some fun with will not be self-published under my own name. Working title: Fifty Scales of Grey. Just my luck if it turns out to be a massive hit.

8 thoughts on “To be me or not to be me…

  1. Oliver if you publish under another name how would I know it was you, unless it said x writing as y.I think you should be really pleased with both sets of books. I loved them. God I sound like a stalker, sorry I’m not. I’m just a readaholic who likes your books. Keep up the good work!!!

    • Good point. I can’t think of a decent pseudonym, anyway. Plus, I’m too vain to let a fake name take credit for my writing. Thanks for your kind words. I’ll shut up and get back to my typewriter.
      Best wishes.

  2. Hi Oliver,

    You’re you, don’t hide it. As you have said, in not so many words, you are proud of your books and rightly so. And anyway, Oliver Tidy would probably be as inspired a pseudonym that anyone could come up with!

    Your blog is as touching and real as your books. And as for grammar “mistakes” they lend character. I’d unashamedly say “meant to do it” Real people don’t talk right. 🙂

    I just discovered you and after reading your first and I’ve downloaded the lot. You personify the self publishing genre and have my utmost respect.

    Thank you so much for all your time, effort and sincerity.


    • Hi Dez
      I appreciate your time and trouble to get in touch with such an encouraging and touching comment. Thank you.
      Glad you enjoyed the first book enough to go on and download the others. That’s great news. I hope you’ll let me know what you think of them.
      You’ve paid me some wonderful and humbling compliments, which is very generous of you and part of what make the effort of writing and self-publishing as well as maintaining a blog presence all worth it.
      Best wishes.

  3. Hi, Oliver, I was attracted to your R&M books by the fact I came from Kent…! I took a chance on whether I would like the books on a whim. I then read the Sansom books because I liked your writing and was interested to see if I could engage with you writing a different style. If I hadn’t liked the Sansom books, it would not have taken away from the fact I did like the R&M books. As it happens, I did like both series which was a bonus! I agree with Pauline, if you now go and give yourself a pseudonym, your regular readers will potentially miss the books and you would be starting from scratch again Remember the saying, you can’t please all of the people all of the time! Looking forward to the next book, whatever that may be. Kind regards,

    • Hi Deborah
      Many thanks for a great comment. Another voice of reason from the blogoshpere. Comments like yours, Dez’s and Pauline’s are part of the reason I blog. Of course, you are all right. And how true also that one cannot please all the people all the time.
      Thanks for your kind words and time and trouble to engage.
      Best wishes.

  4. Great post OT. As you probably know Tin Larrick is a deliberately-anonymous pseudonym, and on several occasions it has proved to be an obstacle, certainly where publicity and self-promotion are concerned, as it means I’m more or less limited to online stuff (not that I’m turning down book-signing tours by the bucketload or anything). When Devil’s Chimney failed to find a publisher the ebook option was suggested by my agent, who was at pains to insist that if I take this route I must use a pseudonym. Fair enough, I thought, but I’m still not quite sure why. Lord knows that if Book #3, by some miracle, finds a trad home I will be publishing under my real name even if it means risking the slow and steady progress establishing myself and a readership. I’m quite looking forward to coming out of the closet, as it were, but also hopeful my readers won’t desert me at the same time. What’s in a name, and all that.

    To me it’s less about author name than it is about branding (although some would argue the two are interchangeable). I think you’ve already tackled that issue in your cover art and subtitling – it’s quite obvious to even the meanest intelligence that the R&M books are distinct in style, theme and content from the AS books, even if the author name is the same. Maybe you could make the distinction more acute in your blurb and product descriptions, but I don’t think so. If people buy the AS books on the strength of the R&M books but then find it’s not quite their cup of tea – well, I guess that’s a risk we take. They have at least bought it, and otherwise might not have done. Meeting reader expectations, requests and feedback is, I’m sure, a constantly evolving and rather untidy process – witness the fall-out from Helen Fielding killing off Mr Darcy in the latest BJ book (allegedly, of course). You keep people on their toes, which has to be a good thing I reckon.

    All that said, the ‘Oliver Tidy writing as Cornell Higgs…’ idea might not be a bad shout, just to make it really obvious. I just know that, having come a certain way along the pseudonym-road, I am itching for the opportunity to use my real name!

    • Typically, great response, Tin. Thanks for your two-penny-worth.

      I think your point about branding is spot on and if the cover art communicates that then it’s doing it job.

      And you’re right, of course, if people are buying new books on the strength of a reading experience then that’s a great thing too. When all is said and done, it’s a risk for both reader and writer. You pays your money and you takes your chance.

      All things considered, I’m not sorry for sticking with my name with this project. (The dinosaur porn might be something to think about though. I mean, everyone has their limits. And my mum might never speak to me again if she turned up to her patchwork club at the church hall one Wednesday evening to have someone shout across the room, ‘I see Oliver’s got a new book out: ‘Tyrannosaurus Sex’ I think it’s called.’ Cue pin dropping.

      Do you still query agents or intend to or are you still firmly with one?
      Best wishes.

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