Friday, June 19, 2015

Writing: Dr. Harry Kraus on Pseudonyms and Genre Switch

NOTE: Yes, enough people left comments on my recent post for me to give away a book. Click the highlighted link above to see the question. The random selection process has settled on Shirley D, and her signed copy of Fatal Trauma is on its way. Thanks to all who commented.

Dr. Harry Kraus is a talented surgeon, an excellent writer, and a committed Christian, and I'm proud to call him both colleague and friend. He recently posted on his own blog about his experiment writing under a pseudonym in a different genre. I've asked Harry to tell us about his experiences in that regard.

Harry, tell us about your “River Hays experiment?” What did you do, and why?

I had several stories that I wanted to tell in an authentic way, but to do that would  involve adult situations that would offend some of my more conservative Christian readers. For example, the first "River Hayes" novel involved a back-story about the use of female slaves in America (prior to the Civil War) for sex. This was a common practice. I wanted to tell the story about Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with a slave, Sally Hemmings, a female who was a slave, yet a half-sister to Thomas's wife, Martha. I've read other novel accounts about the relationship of Jefferson to his slave and I don't buy the romanticized version. Sally was never on equal footing with this powerful, older, white man. Yes, she bore him children, but she was 15 years old when he began to use her for sex. The telling of this story demanded more graphic content which I was afraid would offend Kraus readers.

What’s your opinion as to why this failed? If you had it to do again, would you do it differently? 

It failed for numerous reasons. The first is that the books don't seem to fall neatly in one genre. My books appeal to women, but are not classic "women's fiction." My books are part thriller, part romance, and part historical. At the first reading, my agent called it "brilliant."  But alas, she's been unable to sell the manuscripts. A second reason is the tightening of publishers's belts in the new era of e-publishing. This makes publishers a bit more reluctant to take a chance on a new writer. Granted, I'm not a new novelist, but I was trying to win new readers without my Kraus name. A third reason is that my writing was not literary enough to be called "literary," but not plot driven fiction or genre-driven enough to be pop fiction.

You’ve had novels released by a traditional publisher, which would make you a “hybrid author” should you decide to self-publish. Do you think that “indie-publishing” might be a valid option in your case? 

I am currently planning on revising the manuscripts to take out any offensive language or adult content while trying to preserve the needed story content. I will put the stories out myself on Kindle under my name. The first, One Drop of Me is the story I mentioned above. It takes its title from the fact that it only takes one drop of black blood to make a person a slave for life.  The second, The Scar Thief, is the story of a plastic surgeon who has a love for erasing the congenital scars of her young patients. If only she could deal with her own! The third novel is the story of an American surgeon in Iraq who falls in love with an Iraqi woman from within the context of the battle of Fallujah. It is entitled Between the Gods and Men. The title refers to an esteemed place where some surgeons think they live (NOT you, Richard) and to the crazy place where battle surgeons find themselves: literally standing in the way of life and death for so many.

What’s your assessment of the current state of publishing? Do you see changes in the present state of the publishing world?

Certainly e-publishing is having a huge impact. Publishers are gun shy of taking risks. Quality is suffering in much of the indie book world. I'm not sure how all of this will play out, but I'm confident that readers will continue to have great material to enjoy and that the best novels have not yet been written!

Harry, thanks for telling us about your experiences. The arguments continue about traditional vs. independent publishing and the current state of the industry. Stay tuned for more.

Meanwhile, my question for my blog readers is this: Do you think the author's name on a book guarantees a certain type of content? Should writers use a pseudonym if they write in a different genre? Let me know in the comments.

Tweet with a single click: "Is an author's name a promise of sorts for a certain type of book?"  Click here to tweet.


Cathy Rueter said...

I think there is something to be said for using a pseudonym for writing in a completely different genre than expected.

Case in point: When my kids were small, one of our favorite writers was Michigan Chillers author Johnathan Rand. These tales were perfect little 'around the campfire spooky' type of stories for my boys. Not too scary and not too wimpy. After hearing Mr. Rand speak at a school function I learned he also wrote adult fiction as Christopher Knight. I later bought one of these Chris Knight books, thinking it was going to be the 'nice little thriller' that I was used to reading to my kids. Boy was I wrong! Scared the living daylights out of me! Glad I hadn't known about this pseudonym of the real person (Christopher Wright) early on or my kids wouldn't have been allowed to read his children's books!

Best of success to you Dr. Krauss as you navigate this new course for your books.

Richard Mabry said...

Cathy, Richard Mabry here. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have reservations about trying to establish myself yet again as a writer in another genre, but I wish Harry the best should he try that again. When I first began writing, I discussed writing in a different genre, and my agent reminded me of the difficulties associated with gaining a second audience. I guess it works if your name is JK Rowling and everything you write is great enough that it's snatched up, whatever name you put on the cover. Your experience affirms what I've heard a couple of years ago at ACFW--your name on the cover of a book is a guarantee to the reader. We do depend on author brands, don't we?