Reader Question: “The Numbers”

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 07 2007

Are “the numbers” for different pseudonyms kept completely separate? I’m considering writing both contemporary and historical fantasy series, and anticipate that the audiences and sales might be pretty different.

Yes and no. Nora Roberts is a good example. It would be silly to keep her J. D. Robb pseudonym completely separate because it only benefits her if bookstores take more books based on the sale of her Nora Roberts titles. However, were J. D. Robb a bomb, then yes, the numbers would certainly be kept completely separate because you don’t want orders of her Nora Roberts titles to be based on books that are bombing. So, let me clarify: yes they are kept completely separate, but they aren’t always kept a complete secret.

The benefits I can see to writing them all under one name:
*might lead readers to the other series (wider “brand”)
*greater name recognition
*not having to build multiple careers

And all of those are true. The con to writing them all under one name is that contemporary and historical fantasy authors don’t necessarily cross over and fans of your contemporary books, for example, might flock to everything you write and be hugely disappointed when they buy a historical fantasy, something they just don’t like. This disappointment could, in turn, effect the decision to buy any future books from you.

The benefits I can see to writing them under different names:
*readers know what to expect (narrower “brand”)
*bad numbers from one series might not make another hard to sell
*maybe a little more career protection

And those are all true as well.

Also, could an options clause cover both pseudonyms, or would it most likely only cover one?

That would depend entirely on how the option clause was written or worded. It would cover anything you write under any name, unless it specifies only one name. But of course it could also specify only one sub-genre or one series.

Yes, of course it’s all theoretical so far, but I have to know what I want before I can figure out how to get there!

My advice, for what it’s worth, is if you are just starting out it is worth considering two names. If one of your sub-genres becomes a huge hit it won’t take long for readers to learn (and publishers to advertise) that you are the author of both.


10 responses to “Reader Question: “The Numbers””

  1. Avatar Annalisa says:

    Thank you for addressing this question! (And thank you to whoever posed it.) I’ve been wondering the same thing myself, as I would like to write in more than one genre someday. I like how you laid out the possible advantages and disadvantages to both.

  2. Thank you and very well said. This is certainly important information and points me in the right direction.

  3. Avatar Demon Hunter says:

    I plan to start with a dark ubran fantasy series, then write what is considered horror/suspense. Is that a big leap? One agent told me yes, and another said no. I’m confused.

  4. Avatar jfaust says:

    Demon Hunter:

    It really depends how the series are written and marketed. Does your urban fantasy have suspense? is your suspense/horror dark? I think the two are closer than some like to think.

    Sorry for being so vague, but you would know better than I how close the books are based on your ideas.


  5. Avatar Demon Hunter says:

    My urban fantasy has KIND OF a Blade/Buffy feel to it, with a little suspense to it, mostly action. I think the transition would be grand but it depends on the agent I can snag with it! Thanks for answering my question!

  6. I just want to say that this is a great and informative blog, Jessica. I love the Q & As from previous threads. Very helpful.


  7. Jessica,
    What factors make for the divide? I know that some readers simply get turned off by some genres, but if the genres are roughly similar (i.e., not mainstream romance and horror) and you have a consistent writing style/voice throughout… wouldn’t that carry over a lot of readers?

    Orson Scott Card (who I’m not about to compare myself to) has written everything from hard sci-fi (Xenocide), to YA sci-fi, to YA sci-fi thrillers (the newer Ender’s Shadow books, I think fall here), to fantasy (Enchantment), to historical fantasy (Alvin Maker), to various religious books about Mormonism.

    Now, certainly one shouldn’t base one’s own career decisions on what a famous writer like this has been able to accomplish, but I was just wondering what you think about this approach in general? My impression had always been that, since his stuff was clearly in different parts of the bookstore, and since his bibliography at the start of books always broke them out into series and/or only listed books from the same genre of the book that you’re holding, that this never created too much confusion.

    My desire is to write books that are fantasy, science fiction, horror, and perhaps even straight literary/mainstream fiction. All of my writing has some elements from each of those genres anyway, so it’s not like readers would be taken completely by surprise.

    Is this simply an outmoded way to look at things (OSC has been around for a while), or is it just author/publisher preference (or reader dictate)?

    Thanks for the continual great blog posts!


    My blog on writing

  8. Avatar jfaust says:


    I’m not sure I can give you an exact divide since it would depend on the stories you are writing, your tone, etc. Someone writing literary fiction and SF wouldn’t necessarily have to use a pen name if the stories themselves would appeal to the same or a similar reader. The best thing to really do in this situation is discuss it with your agent or editor and not really worry about it until then. If you are well-established it often doesn’t matter what you do.

    However, some choose to write a pen name for more reasons than just writing in different genres. For very prolific writers, those people who can finish a good, publishable book every 3 months, a pen name can often help avoid reader fatigue–that point when readers want to spend money on someone other than John Fastwriter.

    As per your example of Orson Scott Card (and I don’t know his career so can only speak on what you say) it seems that his writing falls into one basic genre–it’s all SF or fantasy and, interestingly enough, a lot of SF/Fantasy books do have religious overtones. Therefore it doesn’t seem like he’s ever straying too far from the true nature of what he’s penning.

    The other thing to consider is when he started branching out. Comparing yourself to another writer is tough unless you know the exact course of a career. Nora Roberts for example didn’t start her JD Robb persona until years into her already very well established career. Carl Hiaassen did the same with his children’s books. It’s certainly different to start out trying to write in very different genres versus attempting new things once you have a solid career.

    From what you’re saying about your own writing desires it doesn’t sound like your genres are all that different. It’s not like you are trying to write erotica and inspirational (which is being done btw).


  9. Jessica,
    Thanks so much for the insights! I hadn’t ever thought of it in quite those terms. Sounds like I’ll probably be okay with what I’m hoping to eventually do.


  10. Avatar Kelly Jones says:

    I wanted to say thanks for answering my question. I know questions like these depend on too many factors to have a perfect “general” answer, but it seems much harder to find career-building advice in books (or blogs) than advice on that first publication.

    I’m not there yet, but thinking about it now helps keep me motivated and on target.