Pseudonyms: A Chat with “Benjamin Tate”

Each year, Brenda Novak runs an auction to raise money for diabetes research.  Last year, she raised more than a quarter of a million dollars.  Among the items and services up for bid are a short story/chapter critique by yours truly, as well as an autographed copy of The Stepsister Scheme.


Jon Gibbs recently interviewed Jig the goblin for the Find a Writing Group blog.  The interview is posted here.  I enjoy this sort of thing, and it was fun to get into Jig’s voice again.


Benjamin Tate‘s new book Well of Sorrows [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] is out this week from DAW.  My investigative goblins have discovered that Mr. Tate is in fact a pseudonym for another fantasy author.

Pseudonyms are common practice.  Sometimes an author will use them to write in different genres — someone who wants to write YA and erotica both, for example.  Other times it’s a way to reboot a career.  I shot Mr. Tate a few questions about his choice to adopt a new identity.

1.  Why did you (or your editor) decide to release this book under a pseudonym?

The decision came from the marketing department, according to my editor.  The problem is how the chain bookstores order the books that they put on the shelves.  What they do (in general) is look up the author and see how many of the previous books by that author sold in their store, and then base their order on those sales.  This is unfortunate, especially for a series, because while the third book of the past series may not have sold well, the start of a new series might find a different audience and do very well . . . but only if those books are available in the bookstore for the customers to notice and pick up.

Since WELL OF SORROWS is the start of a new series, it was decided that in order to get more books on the shelf, a pseudonym would be the way to go.  My editor talked to me about this for quite a while, to make certain I was OK with it, before we went forward.

2.  What was your reaction to the idea?  How do you feel about it now?

My initial reaction was despair.  I realized pseudonyms are a fairly common practice in the industry, but I think everyone (after reaching that first huge hurdle of breaking in) pretty much assumes their novel will become an instant bestseller and they will have legions of adoring fans.  I know I thought that.  How could someone NOT love my novels?  So I deluded myself into believing that the whole pseudonym thing wouldn’t be an issue for ME.

Then the first book hit the shelf, and while it wasn’t an instant bestseller, it wasn’t a complete bomb either.  By the time the third book hit the shelf with the same sales record (not great, but not bad either) I started getting the niggling feeling that I should be looking at the pseudonym.  But I still didn’t want to accept that outcome.  So when my editor brought it up, my heart fell . . . even though I sort of knew it might be coming and was relatively prepared.  (I’d picked out a name by then, for example.)

At this point, I’ve gone through all of the stages of grief and I’ve come to accept the name change.  While I would have loved to have been published only under one name, I’m much more interested in just remaining published.  I’m looking forward to trying to build a new and larger audience with Benjamin Tate, and I’m even having some fun with my old and new persona online.  I’ve accepted that it’s part of the business, and that it isn’t personal in any way. It’s simply a strategy to help develop and newer and broader audience for my books.

But it still sucks.

3.  In a way, you’re getting a second chance to be a brand new author.  What are you doing differently this time?

I’ve learned a few things with the previous book releases.  As far as writing goes, nothing much has changed.  I’m not trying to write in a different way or changing what it is that I write.  I love fantasy, all of my ideas are fantasy-related, and I’m not trying to bend them to fit what’s currently “hot” or anything like that.  The only things that I’ve changed relate to the promotion of my books.  I’m trying to do more online (such as this interview) in order to get the word out to the largest possible audience as cheaply as possible.  I’ve cut back on other things, mostly experiments in promotion that I tried and I’ve decided aren’t worth the effort or the cost.

One major thing is that I’ve set aside LESS time for promotion, since I feel it’s more effective to simply work on the next novel and make progress there instead.  Most of what I tried regarding the previous books just didn’t have that great an effect on increasing my audience or those who knew about the books.  So I’ve put my time into a better online presence (Ben Tate has a Facebook fan page, a blog at LiveJournal, a more professional webpage, is doing more interviews and such), and cut back on less effective promotional tools (such as postcards, magnets, conventions, etc).  I’m still using most of those tools; I’m simply not putting as much energy into them as I did for the first books.

4.  You’re still out there as . . . let’s call your secret identity Joseph Palmator.  How much work is it to manage both careers?  How do you balance everything?

Balancing the two presences isn’t as bad as I thought.  I’m still active at the same levels online and in person, except now when I have an idea I ask myself whether it’s something that would benefit Benjamin Tate more, or . . . my other identity.  Since Ben has the newest book, almost everything I’m doing related to writing or publishing has been under his name.  Everything else has been kept under . . . Joseph’s name.  And I’m having some fun playing the two for and against each other as well.  I’ve saved some time by hiring someone to do Ben’s webpage, for example.  So far, I’ve been able to manage both presences without too much additional work on my part.  I’ve found that nearly everything comes down to organization.  I’ve kept Ben as a separate identity, but I’ve made his life very similar to his predecessor, which helps keep things organized.

5.  Any final thoughts?

I guess the only thing I’d like to add is that there are levels to each pseudonym used.  Sometimes, the fact that a particular name is a pseudonym is to be kept completely secret, and other times it’s completely open.  I’m treating Benjamin Tate as an open secret:  I’m not making any huge announcements about who he REALLY is, but I’m not actively trying to hide it either.  I was told by my editor that revealing it isn’t an issue; in fact, she said I could announce to the world who Ben Tate really is once the book hit the shelves.  But I’m having too much fun with it at the moment, so I’ve put off the announcement.

In the end, it doesn’t matter why a pseudonym was used for a book–whether it was a change in genre for the author, an attempt to skirt sales numbers, an attempt to skirt the Ordering Computer at a chain store, whatever–the use of a pseudonym all comes down to finding the best way to market a book so it reaches the largest audience.

Thanks, Ben!  And best of luck with Well of Sorrows [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon](A summary of the book is available on Tate’s web site.)