Mark Terry

Monday, December 27, 2010

Guest Blog: KL Dionne

December 27, 2010
I would like to welcome my friend and fellow novelist KL Dionne, AKA Karen Dionne, to the blog today. I met Karen a few years back at an author event in Romeo, Michigan. She introduced herself and said she had her first novel coming out a year later. Then last summer we were on another author event together at the Romeo Public Library (and for shame, neither of us brought a life-sized cut-out of ourselves to put outside the library, like one of the other authors did).

Karen's 2nd environmental thriller, BOILING POINT, comes out tomorrow! Her first novel, FREEZING POINT is also available. Check 'em out! Now, here's, er, KL.

Men! Would you buy a science thriller from an author named ‘Karen’?

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 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”?


Blogger Mark Terry said...

And Karen, my thoughts on this are that when we see initials now, most people know it's a gender issue, so I doubt it makes a difference. Although, WEB Griffin?

As for KL, I was wracking my brain to figure out what male names start with K: Kevin, Kyle...

Best of luck with Boiling Point!

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I rather wish I had used a pseudonym to separate my "writing self" from my "real self".

I have heard about men being reluctant to buy this or that book by a woman but it seems weird and inexplicable to me. I won't buy a book that seems clearly aimed at stereotyped women -- a cute kitty needlecraft mystery -- but authorship doesn't matter. Isn't that second grade behavior? Of course, virtually every sf book I read as a kid was by a man, purportedly. But I didn't think any less of Madeleine L'Engle than "Mr" Andre Norton.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a mid-thirties male and an avid reader of science thrillers. For a standard, Mack Bolan's Executioner-esque thriller, I will admit, a female name has been known to make me wary. However, I've tried a number of them and found no correlation between gender and good thrillers. for a science-focused thriller, I would almost prefer a woman. Crichton was king back when the majority of scientists/doctors were men. The pendulum has swung the other way since then, and I expect a woman writer to almost know MORE then her male contemporaries about science and the environment.

Again, I'll ashamedly admit to some gender bias when picking a story. But science and enviro thrillers? Bring on the many smart women who destroyed the curve back when I was in school.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Camille Kimball said...


The reasoning of publishers is not for mere mortals--otherwise known as the people who write the books--to understand. Having said that, I do think the initials give you a mysterious presence. You could be anybody, probably someone working in a CIA or MI6 lab, someone who really knows some cool secret stuff. The question of male or female's now all about the mysterious possibilities.

On the other hand, whether stores will learn to stock them together must be a whole new level of nightmare. I might just want to throw myself into a volcano over that one.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Camille Kimball said...

Kevin, Kyle.....Kermit, Kit, Kurt, Kerr, Keenan, Keegan, Keaton, Kearney, Kirby, Knute...

Can't get much more macho than Kit Carson!

8:22 AM  
Blogger Karen Dionne said...

The life-sized author cutout! *slaps forehead* I forgot about that!

I'm actually somewhat pleased to hear that the gender of a science thriller author could influence sales, because as Camille notes, changing the name under which I publish midstream has been a logistical challenge. One issue that's come up is that number of the online booksellers aren't able to link my two titles - most notably Barnes & Noble - which means that folks who read and enjoyed the first book who do a search on "Karen Dionne" either online, or in a bookstore, might never know there's another. Another problem is in regard to marketing and publicity - it just isn't possible to go back and change all the various memberships and listings for "Karen Dionne" to "K.L." Lesson learned: before you begin publishing, make sure you're using the name you plan to stick with.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I know of several female freelance writers who take on male pseudonyms because they get more jobs and a much higher rate of pay. I don't begrudge them that in the slightest; I'm going to side with feeding the kids every time.

I hate to play the gender and feminism card, but I think this is just one more facet of the problem that men are often taken more seriously than women. Just like if you're a woman with a medical problem, you should take a man with you to your doctor, because studies show you will be taken more seriously. (Again, just another small facet of a larger problem.)

Your publisher is correct. I am not sure if your publisher is right or not, though.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Alan Orloff said...

"Would YOU buy a science thriller from an author named “Karen”?"

I have, and I will again (the KL won't fool me!).

Good luck with BOILING POINT--I can't wait to read it! (I loved FREEZING POINT.)

11:43 AM  
Blogger JaxPop said...

I would never buy a book written by a woman! Actually, I'm kidding. I have, I do & I will.

The first book I ever read for enjoyment (as opposed to something required for a school assignment - I hated reading as a kid,) was written by a woman. S E Hinton ring a bell? Hell, I didn't know she was a she 'til many years later.

Good Luck & Happy 2011.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Camille Kimball said...

Well, Karen, that's definitely a nightmare. Online linking between KL and Karen. Ouch.

Oh, all the things we WISHED we'd known before we published that first book! Ay yay yay!

3:10 PM  

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