News & Reviews
Men! Would you buy a science thriller from an author named ‘Karen’?
by Karen Dionne
Karen Dionne (pictured below) is the author of two environmental
thriller novels and
founded Backspace, a leading writers' website, annual conference and
message board. In 2008 her debut novel Freezing Point
was published by
Penguin imprint Berkley, which launches her second novel Boiling
point on Dec. 28, 2010. On the eve of her sophomore novel's
shared her views on gender, genre fiction and the publishing industry
as a guest of WORD'N'BASS.com. Her full column follows.
Authors publish under a pseudonym for a variety of
reasons. Some trade their given names for a name that’s easier to
remember or pronounce. Some choose a name that will list them closer to
the beginning of the alphabet, like my friend "Avery Aames." Some
choose a new name to appeal to the readers who buy the kind of books
they write -- youthful-sounding names for the young adult market or
sexy ones for writers of romance. Authors who happen to have the same
name as an existing author have no choice but to pick another. And some
choose to write under a new name simply because they hate their own.
Other authors publish under a pseudonym for less frivolous reasons: to
distance themselves from a poor sales record for their previous books,
or because they’re writing in more than one genre, or because their
subject matter could cause complications for their family or their
One of the most common reasons for an author to publish under a
pseudonym is to disguise their gender. Before my first novel published,
I considered using my initials instead of my given name for this
reason. I write science thrillers inspired by the work of Michael
Crichton, and thrillers - especially science thrillers - are decidedly
But by the time my first novel sold to Berkley, "Karen Dionne" had
achieved a fairly significant Web presence: I’d cofounded a writers
that had hundreds of members, organized half a dozen Backspace
Writers Conferences, and was an active participant on a
number of writers sites and email lists. I had nearly 5,000 email
addresses in my address book -- writers and others associated with the
publishing industry with whom I’d corresponded.
No one at my publisher brought up the issue of disguising my gender,
and so my first novel, Freezing Point, about a solar energy company
that uses microwaves from orbiting satellites to melt Antarctic
icebergs into drinking water, was published as "Karen Dionne." Both of
the foreign territories that bought the rights to the book, the Czech Republic
also published Freezing Point under my full name - this despite that
fact that of 140 or so novels listed under "thrillery" on my Czech
publisher’s website, I’m the only female author.
My second just-published science thriller, however (Boiling Point,
about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme
to end global warming involving geoengineering), is published as "K. L.
Dionne." My publisher asked for the name change, reasoning that more
male readers would buy Boiling Point if it they didn’t know the book
was written by a woman.
I’ll admit, I didn’t like the idea. It’s one thing for an author to
choose to use a pseudonym; another when the suggestion for a name
change comes from someone else. I worried that publishing under two
names would create a disconnect between books that are meant to be
linked. Boiling Point brings back two characters from Freezing Point,
and the titles clearly indicate the books are part of a series. My
publisher suggested a tagline below my new genderless name, "By the
author of Freezing Point," so readers of the first novel would know I
was the author of the second, which seemed like a reasonable
compromise, and so I agreed.
Will publishing my second science thriller as "K. L. Dionne" instead of
"Karen Dionne" make a difference in sales to male readers? There’s no
way to quantify the results. Still, I’d love to know the answer. So
men, what do you say? Would YOU buy a science thriller from an author
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