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WORD: 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 launch, she shared her views on gender, genre fiction and the publishing industry as a guest of WORD'N'BASS.com. Her full column follows.

Karen DionneAuthors 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 career.

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 male territory.

But by the time my first novel sold to Berkley, "Karen Dionne" had achieved a fairly significant Web presence: I’d cofounded a writers organization, Backspace, 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 and Germany, 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 named "Karen"?


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