Humorous mystery writer Jeff Cohen blogged today about the Leno/Conan O'Brien controversey, then told us what happened to his last series, and all about his new one. With a new name.

From his blog today on "Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the LIving Room:"

Let me take a roughly analogous (but much more thrifty) situation: My Double Feature Mystery books for Berkley Prime Crime did not, alas, draw a huge audience. I don't know what the actual numbers are--I prefer to be sheltered from such humiliation--but they weren't great; I know that. And so, given the realities of the publishing business, Berkley has refrained from requesting a fourth Double Feature novel, and did not tender me a contract for one.

I think that's where I made my mistake. Given the O'Brien/Leno template, I should clearly have held out for an agreement where I would be paid a lot of money (clearly not $30-million--I'm not greedy) for NOT writing books for Berkley, which would therefore benefit by not publishing books that wouldn't sell very well.

A win-win situation, surely.

Meanwhile, however, Berkley HAS bought a three-book series called the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery novels, from some newcomer named E.J. Copperman. I applaud this action, as Copperman is a very, very close friend (if you catch my drift), and deserves a loyal and LARGE audience. Clearly, I would be a petty, mean person to deny E.J. the chance to succeed.

And, of course, Jeff Cohen would be free to write books for other publishers, or other books for Berkley. This doesn't exactly follow the Leno/O'Brien paradigm, but I'm not one to burn bridges if I can avoid it. The people at Berkley have been nothing but lovely to me, after all.

So what do you guys and girls think of a name change. As I understand it, booksellers are more likely to try a newcomer than a name in the computer who didn't sell well last time.

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Yes, I've heard that. For me it would be a last resort. I may not have a publisher, or the numbers, but I do have a very good reputation and some people tell me they love my books and are grief-stricken at the thought they'll not get another Akitada adventure.
But when your pseudonym becomes rich and famous, all those people in high school who called you a loser won't even know it's you. That's the problem. ;)
That's the only reason an author would object, right? Vanity? Pseudonyms have always been part of the landscape.
I'd have no problem doing it, but it brings another point of frustration with the publishing industry.

Books may "fail" for any number of reasons. it wasn't good enough. (Then why was it published in the first place?) Bad timing. Unreasonable expectations. (On whose part?) Didn't earn out the advance. (Unless agents go into contract negotiations with loaded guns, at least some of this responsibility rests with the publisher.) Lots of hype and the book tanked based on any or all of the above criteria. (See "Unreasonable expectations" above.)

So the book goes into the dumper and no one will touch you. Not just your publisher (I could understand that) but others will rely more on the toxic stench of your initial "failure" more than they'll trust their own "judgment" because your "brand" is tarnished. Shit rolls downhill, and you're the one in the ditch.

As I commented on someone's blog recently, I don't mind what has to be gone through to get published; it's what has to be gone through after a contract is signed that's making me wonder about the whole process.
Dana, if I'm a retailer of books -- that's my livelihood -- I want to stock my store with product that moves. Yes, I need variety. I need to be ready for the buyer who comes in to browse. But mostly, I need books I can sell -- bestsellers, popular authors with a nice back list, books I personally like, maybe some the publisher tells me are going to be hot. What I would say No to is the author whose books I have stocked in the past but didn't sell. I returned them, true, but they took up space and time not earning me a profit and being shipping back. I don't care whose fault it was -- the writer, the publisher, the distributor. I just know that author doesn't seem to sell books in my store. There are plenty of authors.
No argument, Jack. My frustration comes from the fact it's not the author who oversells a book, but he'll suffer the greatest measure of consequence.
The publisher doesn't necessarily "oversell" the book. He could be getting out a very appropriate amount, backed by appropriate promotion. But if it doesn't sell, it doesn't sell, and as Jack says, it doesn't have to be anybody's fault -- sometimes it just doesn't work. I think the notable point in Jeff Cohen's story is that his publisher thought enough of him to say, "All right, let's try it a different way," and signed him up to a new three-book contract!
That's what I told Jeff. Be happy!
On the flip side, back in the days of the pulps, there would be a "House Name" with about half a dozen scribes writing material for.
Perhaps I should think about this again. It strikes me that poducts in the grocery store sell because they taste better than others. To some extent, brand name loyalty enters into this also. But there are a hell of a lot more authors competing for attention than breakfast cereals. It's impossible for an author to get "sampled" enough to prove that his stuff is great. The only exception is the new author. Not only booksellers prefer newcomers. A certain amount of curiosity makes reviewers read and write about the newcomer's book before mentioning someone who's been around. Reviewers love to be the first to have "discovered" a new talent. And this works for the lucky few. Note what happened to Larsson (who also managed to die in a timely manner). So perhaps becoming someone else and being a "new" author is not such a bad idea.
One thing a writer with multiple pseudonyms can do is have the pseudonyms write blurbs praising each others books.


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