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December 26, 2010

We are thrilled to welcome our very first guest blogger: ecothriller writer, Karen Dionne. As of the imminent publication of her second novel, Boiling Point, Karen will also be known as K.L. Dionne­­—and therein lies the subject of her post for BIRTH OF A NOVEL.

Karen’s first book, Freezing Point, “a complex story of environmentalism, greed and potential Armageddon”, brought her acclaim as “the next Michael Chrichton”. The reviews for Boiling Point, described as a “heart-thumping, timely thriller that rings with surreal authenticity” are equally stellar. It will be released on December 28th.

Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers Association, where she currently serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology. She is also Managing Editor of the International Thriller Writers’ newsletter and webzine, The Big Thrill.

As a group of women writers, we were particularly interested in the identity dilemma Karen faced as she prepared for the next stage in her career. We join her in welcoming your comments.




Authors publish under a pseudonym for a variety of reasons. Some trade their given names for a name that’s easier to remember or pronounce. Some choose a name that will list them closer to the beginning of the alphabet, like my friend “Avery Aames.” Some choose a new name to appeal to the readers who buy the kind of books they write – youthful-sounding names for the young adult market or sexy ones for writers of romance. Authors who happen to have the same name as an existing author have no choice but to pick another. And some choose to write under a new name simply because they hate their own.

Other authors publish under a pseudonym for less frivolous reasons: to distance themselves from a poor sales record for their previous books, or because they’re writing in more than one genre, or because their subject matter could cause complications for their family or their career.

One of the most common reasons for an author to publish under a pseudonym is to disguise their gender. Before my first novel published, I considered using my initials instead of my given name for this reason. I write science thrillers inspired by the work of Michael Crichton, and thrillers – especially science thrillers – are decidedly male territory.

But by the time my first novel sold to Berkley, “Karen Dionne” had achieved a fairly significant Web presence: I’d cofounded a writers organization, Backspace, organized half a dozen Backspace Writers Conferences, and was an active participant on a number of writers sites and email lists. I had nearly 5,000 email addresses in my address book – writers and others associated with the publishing industry with whom I’d corresponded.

No one at my publisher brought up the issue of disguising my gender, and so my first novel, Freezing Point, about a solar energy company that uses microwaves from orbiting satellites to melt Antarctic icebergs into drinking water, was published as “Karen Dionne.” Both of the foreign territories that bought the rights to the book, the Czech Republic and Germany, also published Freezing Point under my full name – this despite the fact that of 140 or so novels listed under “thrillery” on my Czech publisher’s website, I’m the only female author.

My second just-published science thriller, however (Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming involving geoengineering), is published as “K. L. Dionne.” My publisher asked for the name change, reasoning that more male readers would buy Boiling Point if it they didn’t know the book was written by a woman.

I’ll admit, I didn’t like the idea. It’s one thing for an author to choose to use a pseudonym; another when the suggestion for a name change comes from someone else. I worried that publishing under two names would create a disconnect between books that are meant to be linked. Boiling Point brings back two characters from Freezing Point, and the titles clearly indicate the books are part of a series. My publisher suggested a tagline below my new genderless name, “By the author of Freezing Point,” so readers of the first novel would know I was the author of the second, which seemed like a reasonable compromise, and so I agreed.

Will publishing my second science thriller as “K. L. Dionne” instead of “Karen Dionne” make a difference in sales to male readers? There’s no way to quantify the results. Still, I’d love to know the answer. So men, what do you say? Would YOU buy a science thriller from an author named “Karen”?




4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 27, 2010 11:50 AM

    What an intelligent discussion! My bet is that losing the gender identity will be a good move for sales and, as writers, we have to consider that. After all, getting our words read is what this business is about. Best of luck with the novel, Karen. It sounds fascinating.

  2. December 27, 2010 6:38 PM

    Thank you, Gretchen! I hope you’re right! Thanks for the good wishes and the nice words about my novel!

  3. December 28, 2010 8:43 PM

    A lot of food for thought in this post, Karen. Thanks for sharing your experience. Have you crossed paths with John Murphy, who published his MURDER YOUR DARLINGS under the name J. J. Murphy?

  4. December 30, 2010 12:31 PM

    Very interesting post. I find terribly discouraging that we, women writers, still have a disadvantage because of our genre.

    I want so much to believe that the times of Georges Sand are over. Obviously they are not.

    Maybe that is why I write Fantasy. For I don’t like the real world very much.

    Good luck with your book Karen! Let’s hope your success will help women’s search for equality.

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