August 23, 2013

A violet by any other name

Earlier postings on what makes certain covers and titles tick leads me to another major factor in what makes a book sell. 
The author’s name. 
And I don’t necessarily mean the long-established or big-time names that everybody already knows or will know due to big publicity or media exposure, but names of authors in general and whether the name itself drives decisions by the bookbuyers.
Again using J K Rowling’s recent use of Robert Galbraith to write a crime novel is interesting. She must have decided a couple of solid traditional Scots names would shout crime (think Ian Rankin, StuartMcBride, Val McDermid). 
A bit like that other phenomenal bust-out of Scandinavian crime writers since Stieg Larsson. It must a disadvantage for authors of other genres from Scandinavia when everyone assumes they write dark crime set in icy places.
And of course everyone who knows anything about the history of Harry Potter will be familiar with J K’s decision to go for initials rather than her name of Joanne because the publisher thought it would be better for a book aimed at young boys!
How ludicrous it seems, but in spite of all the advances in equality, it’s a well-known fact that publishers still don’t like female authors’ names on the covers of books that might appeal to males and so must use initials or a non-gender specific first name.  (I myself fell foul of this attitude quite a number of years ago and I’m sorry to see it still persists!)
One name that to me never seems to fit with what she writes is Lynda La Plante. Before I knew anything about her as an author, I remember my assumptions on first seeing her name somewhere. 
Oh, Linda with an Y - and La Plante sounds invented therefore she must write romantic or tacky erotic fiction - her books will have covers with swooning women and bare chested blokes with flowing hair …
Oops - how wrong was I? Lynda has written some of the best crime fiction around and is most famous for her Prime Suspect series.
So how does an author make their name memorable? Would Wilbur Smith have done as well if he’d been the more prosaic John, James or George? Smith definitely needs to be jazzed up to get noticed, as with that other Scots writer, Alexander McColl Smith and literary star Zadie Smith.
As with Lynda, alliteration is good in making one more memorable, e.g. Ruth Rendell, John Jakes, Bill Bryson, Clive Cussler, etc.
If you write in English but have a surname of foreign origin e.g. Polish, Ukrainian, etc, it can be a hazard if people can’t pronounce it. Certainly someone like Gabriel Garcia Marquez may be well known enough for it not to be a problem, but Marina Lewyzka and Chuck Palahniuk seem to have found success anyway although I have a sneaking suspicion that many people still stumble over them when inquiring at the bookstore counter.
And as for my choice in a name that really intrigues me, I can’t go past that of the new young author from Zimbabwe, NoViolet Bulawayo. If a writer is going to use a pseudonym, why not do something totally different and make it fresh, original and memorable?
I will avoid any allusion to shrinking violets but I also like the fact that her current book has a fabulous cover and the apt title of We Need New Names. 

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