Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Importance Of Being Cricket

Today’s blog post is about pen names and why people use them. Or at least it is why I use a pen name since I’m sure there are almost as many reasons for using pen names as there are people who have them. One reason might be that you don’t like your own name and want something snazzier, or maybe the name you have doesn’t fit in with what you write. For example if your name is Suzy Sunshine, you might not be taken seriously as a hard-core thriller writer. Much better to use a pen name like Susan Banyon.

By the way, I am making these names up. I don’t know a Suzy Sunshine or Susan Banyon, although I’m sure both these names exist and likely belong to lovely people. But I digress.

My honest-to-goodness real-life name is Janet Miller. I wasn’t born Janet Miller but since I took my husband’s name when I married a great number of years ago, most of my adult life I’ve been known by that name. And when I first started writing my nice little romance novels about people on space ships and vampires who kept companions as blood donors, I put my real name on the books. They had sex in them but not too much and I wanted everyone to know I was a writer.

And then I got laid off from my day job and after a worrying search, took a new job at a larger and potentially more conservative company. A few months after starting my new job I sold my first book to Ellora’s Cave, a prominent erotic romance publisher, where the small press authors were actually making money. And that led me to a dilemma. Did I dare put my easily findable name on erotic romance novels and risk my job?

Cricket's latest Hollywood
After Dark book
The answer was to pick a new name, something that would at least give me plausible deniability to anyone who felt I might be risking the reputation of the company with my sexier stories. And thus Cricket Starr was born. Cricket was the name we had for a pet guinea pig when I was a teenager, and Starr was from Brenda Starr, who was a comic page character, a glamorous and intrepid reporter. The name seemed to be right for my books, humorous and I hoped a little classy, and for a long time I sold very well under that name. I had a good audience, solid reviews, and more than a few awards for my Cricket Starr books. But outside of Ellora’s Cave, my name wasn’t as well known and when the bulk of sales moved from the publisher’s website to the online stores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, my sales dropped off.

Recent books published under the Cricket Starr name haven’t done well at all. And this leaves me with a new dilemma. Do I continue to write erotic romance as Cricket Starr and hope that the name will eventually catch the public eye, or do I switch to a new erotic name? Do I even think that continuing to write erotic romance is a good idea since my non-erotic work is selling so much better?

But even if I do stop writing erotic romance, what do I do about the twenty-plus titles that currently have Cricket Starr’s name on them? Some actually are Janet Miller-style books, some sex but not erotic, that I never intended to be erotic romance novels. All Night Inn, Tasting Nightwalker Wine, and Christmas With Sarah are three examples. The author name was changed when the Cerridwen imprint was folded back into Ellora’s Cave. Those books I could switch back to Janet Miller books, and will if I ever get the rights back to them.

But the rest I did write as erotic books and to change the sex level would require rewriting the entire book. Not only do I not want to do that, I’m proud of those books as they are. They have sex, but they also have character development, unexpected plot twists, and a lot of humor, for all that they are erotic books. They’ve won awards, including two PRISM trophies as well as pins, plus Golden Angels, review site Top Picks, and a coveted four and a half star Top Pick from RT Book Lovers. There isn’t anything wrong with the books as they are. They are hot, sexy, fun-to-read erotic shorts, novellas, and novels.

So is it the name Cricket that is turning off prospective buyers? How does one figure something like that out and what to do if that is the case? 

Anyone have any ideas?

Janet Miller/Cricket Starr

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