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Sunday, May 31, 2015

What’s in a Name? On Author’s Names and Creating an Author Brand


When I taught novel and short story writing for Writers Digest Schools back in the 1980s, many of my students asked me if they should change their auctorial names. Either they had very common birth names that wouldn’t stand out on bookstore shelves or they possessed very unusual names that revealed their religion, ethnic heritage, gender, or were too long to easily fit on a book’s cover and spine. Since I had only recently begun using my own name after employing a variety of pseudonyms on much of my published work for a variety of reasons, I urged students to choose one name, preferably their own name, and stick to it throughout their careers. I had learned that what matters more than the name itself is the quality and quantity of work associated with a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a bouquet of bright-colored sweet-smelling roses matters most of all.

Literary history, like music history, is filled with one-hit wonders. Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee come immediately to mind. Some writers pen a masterpiece first-time out and never write anything again because they feel nothing else they would write could surpass or even come close to their masterpiece. Some writers have only one story to tell, and that’s okay.

But the publishing game depends on selling lots of books. Publishers, like readers, seek out brand names they can trust to deliver consistent product each and every time. We choose those brands we know over no-name generics from displays in bookstores, grocery stores, and online retailers. We know what we like and we like what we know.

Two of my favorite writers are Henry Kuttner and Catherine Lucille Moore. Both were prolific authors who wrote under pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. Not unlike Alice Bradley Sheldon who wrote under the pseudonyms of both James Tiptree, Jr., and Raccoona Sheldon, Moore chose the androgynous name of C. L. Moore to disguise her gender in the male-dominated genres of science fiction and fantasy. Moore proved that a woman could write sword and sorcery as well or better than most men regardless of name. But Moore and Kuttner would be better remembered today if they had penned everything under their own names, or one consistent pseudonym, than writing under so many different names.

Some brand-name writers choose pseudonyms when writing outside their genre or writing in styles different than their fans expect. Stephen King wrote novels as Richard Bachman, Dean Ray Koontz as D. R. Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, Brian Coffey, Owen West, and Richard Paige, and Joanne Rowling wrote novels as J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith. Their already-established reputations were enhanced when it was revealed they were capable of writing outside their known genres. Though their pseudonymous novels sold reasonably well on their own, they became best-sellers only when the authors’ true names were added to the covers. Brand names sell books. Period. End of sentence.

My own birth name is too long to fit comfortably on book covers. There are far too many Paul Andersons in the world, and I don’t want to be confused with the legendary Poul Anderson (I was once on a panel at an sf convention where Poul Anderson was GOH and I was listed on panels as “the other Poul Anderson”). I have writer friends named Paul Michael Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson. When I was a kid, I was teased for having the same name as Olympic weightlifter Paul Edward Anderson. I now use my full birth name on books, and my current publishers break up my name into two lines on book covers to accommodate the length. I no longer deal with publishers who won’t.

Friends like Mort Castle call me P. D., and Wayne Allen Sallee affectionately calls me PDA. My parents called me “Dale” or “Paul Dale” because my father was Paul Anders Anderson. Most of my male cousins on the Anderson side of the family were given Dale as a middle name to commemorate our Dalecarlian or Dala heritage from the Swedish province of Dalarna. I set my Instruments of Death series of police procedurals in the fictitious town of Riverdale in Dale County in honor of my Dalecarlian heritage. In Mysterious Ways, the forthcoming sixth novel in the Winds series, I honor Dalecarlian magic and explain the origins of the Dala Horse.

Paul Dale Anderson disappeared completely from bookshelves for twenty-some years while Paul Dale Anderson, MS Ed, MA, BCH, CI did medical research, wrote journal articles, and worked on doctorates. When I reappeared as a fiction author after the death of my wife, few genre readers remembered my name.

That became painfully apparent when I began book tours last year. Although some fans and book collectors asked for autographs on old copies of my published novels and anthologized stories and John Everson and Bill Gagliani even asked me to read one of my published stories at their late-night panel on erotica and horror, some fellow panelists had no idea what I wrote. Despite serving as an elected Vice President of HWA and as a trustee who signed the original HWA charter, HWA members at registration couldn’t find my convention name badge and gave me an anonymous blank attendee badge. My name was misspelled on the mass signing list and on panel placards. It took nearly the duration of the entire World Horror Convention for people to begin recognizing me. Only two people asked for my autograph during the Friday night mass signing, but by the end of the convention a few dozen more asked me to sign copies of my books (including one collector who had acquired copies of all my out of print titles).

I am the invisible man, the man nobody knows. My name is too long and too confusing with other writers to remember. Many of my contemporaries have died or no longer make the convention circuits. I am a ghost.

Part of the problem is I’m shy. I’m a writer whose comfort zone is sitting alone at the keyboard. I don’t aggressively ask people to buy my books. I’m the quiet guy who observes. I know you, but I don’t want you to know me.

I write about you. Sure, some of me appears in my writing, but I’m really writing about and for you. See if you don’t recognize yourself in my stories.


            I’ll be signing trade paperback copies of Abandoned and Darkness at the Nebulas in Chicago next Friday and at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest on Saturday. Paul Dale Anderson is prominently displayed on the covers of both titles. I don’t care if you remember my name. I do care that you read and remember my stories.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Buy My Books

My passion is reading and writing. I love to read more than anything else in the world, and I love to write just as much. I love to read my own stories as much as—often more than—I love to read stories written by other writers. That’s incredibly helpful when I revise a story for publication. I read the story over and over again, revising as I read, until the whole story feels right to me.

 I always purchase copies of my own books to hold in my hand, sniff the paper and ink, and treasure the words. I’m always amazed at what emerges from my imagination. Did I really write that? Is the writing as good as other works I’ve read? Does it hold my attention from page one to the final “The End”? Am I as passionate about the story on the last page as I was on the first? Will I do as well or even better with the next novel I write?

            If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. When one of my stories brings tears to my eyes and a satisfaction to my heart, I know how a genii feels when he grants three wishes to someone.

            What makes passion meaningful is the combination of suffering and ecstasy inherent in all worthwhile human endeavor. You’ve got to be willing to endure the bad along with the good. We learn by doing. We grow by choosing. We live by gaining and losing. We evolve by being involved. There is great risk to life. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Passion means giving it all or nothing with no holds barred. Grab onto the golden ring and never let go. Follow your dreams through hell and back. Love every minute of the struggle. Persevere. Go for the gold. Dive right in and become immersed. Emerge scarred but exhilarated. Be willing and eager to do it again.

            Imagination is so wonderful and powerful that it carries us away to other worlds. It enables us to be many different people at the same time. It allows us to enter the hearts and minds of beings so completely different than us that we can barely comprehend their alien reasons for acting as they do until we realize that a part of them is a part of us and vice versa, and maybe they aren’t so different after all.

            Reading and writing are my passions. Telling stories is my purpose in life. Some of my stories satisfy one type of reader and have no salience for other types of readers. My Winds series (Abandoned, Winds, Darkness, Light, Time, Mysterious Ways) offers novels of supernatural suspense to readers who wonder about the meaning of life and death, who peek at the past to understand the future, and who seek truth in fiction. My Instruments of Death series (Claw Hammer, Daddy’s Home, Pickaxe, Icepick, Meat Cleaver) offers fast-paced pulp-style murder mysteries with dedicated detectives and modern forensic scientists to readers who worry about the here and now. My stand-alone novels and short stories are hard looks at flawed characters. There’s something for everyone in what I write, but not all of my novels and stories will please everyone. Pick and choose what you like.

 Buy my books and share the passion. Claw Hammer is on sale for Kindle this week. Only 99 cents for a good read.



Friday, May 15, 2015

The Real Secret to Success as a Writer of Fabulous Fiction

The way this whole writing thing works

© 2015 Paul Dale Anderson


If you haven’t figured it out yet, let me save you time and heartache. There is only one way to get rich as a writer.

Well, actually, that’s a lie. Writers tell lies for fun and profit, you know, and I’m no exception. There are probably as many ways to get rich as a writer as there are ways to win the Powerball Lottery.

But there is only one quick, easy, and sure way to get rich as a writer.

I’ll reveal that secret to you shortly. It took me nearly seventy years of writing in multiple genres and writing under multiple pseudonyms to learn the secret.

I read every writing manual and book I could find. I attended every writing conference I could afford. I wrote my heart out religiously every single day, and when I wasn’t actually writing I was thinking about writing. I became a master craftsman. I communicated with other writers and with editors in person, by snail mail, and via e-mail, telephone, and IM. I became an editor myself for both major and small press publishers. I submitted manuscripts via slush, agents, Submittable, and in person. I pitched in elevators, over lunch, and in bars. I became an active member of SFWA, MWA, HWA, ITW, and the Author’s Guild. I participated in panels and workshops at Worldcons, regional cons, and prestigious conferences. I was a Guest of Honor more than once. I earned my living as a professional writer who waited patiently for advances and royalty checks to roll in so I could pay rent, buy food, and make monthly health insurance premiums or pay medical bills. I dutifully filled out my Schedule C every year for forty years and even incorporated and filled out a separate annual return as a subchapter S corporation. I knew the writing business like the back of my hand. I weathered the death of a spouse, the death of a beloved agent, the deaths of friends and family members and mentors, and I personally survived a diagnosis of a deadly cancer that should have killed me decades ago and didn’t because I hadn’t finished writing the Great American Novel yet. I survived the digital revolution and learned to use Word and Scrivener and Adobe Creative Suite In-Design. I learned to create and market e-books and audio books as well as how to write fabulous fiction.

So what is this valuable secret I learned along the way? What is the one, sure way to get rich as a writer?

Stephen King knows this secret. So does Dean Koontz. So do I. And soon you will, too.

During recent book tours for my Winds series of supernatural thrillers and my Instruments of Death series of police procedurals, I met thousands of successful writers doing mass signings in bookstores and at conventions. I appeared at workshops and on panels alongside NY Times Bestselling Authors. I attended the Bram Stoker Awards, the Nebulas, the Hugos, the Anthony Awards, and the World Fantasy Awards. I spoke with thousands of professional writers and hundreds of thousands of dedicated readers and wannabe writers. What was the single stand-out factor every one of those people I met had in common?

Few had either the time or cash to pay $24.95 for six hundred plus pages of well-written fiction, but they were all eager to devote more than twice that to attend week-long conferences where they readily purchased non-fiction about the art and craft of fiction writing. They spent hours combing blogs and websites of well-known authors searching for clues to success. They bought multiple fiction books by writers who had published short articles or short books on the art and craft of writing and didn’t buy the books of authors who had not. Not only do successful authors make lots of money from writing about writing, but they make money from selling their fiction to people who have read those non-fiction works and personally identify with the author.

Not only does writing a book about writing generate significant revenue from that title alone, it makes your novels sell like hotcakes. Many mid-list authors earn more from their non-fiction books on how to write than from sales of their multiple novels. Combining both works magic. I’m willing to bet that Stephen King earns nearly as much from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (which is superb, by the way, and every writer should read it) than he earns from novels that have not been made into motion pictures. When Steve was just starting out and not yet a household word, he regularly contributed articles on writing to Writers Digest and The Writer. He shared what he learned as he learned it. It was a kind of Pay-It-Forward type of thing. And it worked. It helped establish Stephen King as a brand name.

Don’t get me wrong. You still have to write great fiction and plenty of it to become a best-selling author and stay at the top of the charts. But thinking about and writing about the process of writing is an important part of the process to becoming a successful author. Writing success doesn’t manifest until your words appear on paper or are otherwise published. The more words you write the better your writing becomes. The more works you have in print and available for sale, the more you sell. It’s really as simple as that.

But, first, readers need to know your name and know what to expect from you. Writing about what you go through to produce your fiction gets your name out there and also tells readers what to expect from your fiction. It’s a win-win for everyone. Name recognition goes a long way to establish you as someone worth reading.

I’ll tell you more secrets in upcoming blog posts. Here are a few hints of what’s next to know if you want to be a best-selling author.

Sleep and wake up with ideas – the silver dollar trick of Tom Edison.

The marketing rat race.

Selling yourself – Isn’t prostitution illegal?

Becoming a brand name.

Only 2 ways to get rich as a writer: sell to the movies or write about writing.

The difference between being a great writer and a successful author.

How to use the trance state to write great fiction and entrance your readers.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Axes to Grind

Because I love to read widely in a variety of genres, I often find myself crossing genres in writing my own novels and short stories. Axes to Grind, the sixth novel in The Instruments of Death series from Crossroad Press, is both a police procedural and a supernatural suspense story. I didn’t intend it to be that way when I began writing the novel, but elements of the preternatural suddenly appeared. That’s the way the cookie sometimes crumbles.

            Axes to Grind introduces Merritt County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Edmonds. Dan will appear in later novels of the series that tie together murders in northern Wisconsin with murders in Illinois, but this story belongs to Dan Edmonds and Sandy Beech and it can be read as a stand-alone novel. None of my usual suspects make guest appearances. You can probably guess that the instrument of death is an axe. Both the title and the cover give that away, but there are a few surprises along the way that readers won’t suspect.

            When I was researching northern Wisconsin for both Axes to Grind and Winds, my supernatural thriller series featuring completely different characters, I uncovered an unusual number of Bigfoot sightings within a three-county area of north-central Wisconsin. Of course, I had to include that fact in one of my novels. Axes to Grind seemed the perfect vehicle. Maybe someday I’ll write a novel about Bigfoot, but Axes to Grind is primarily about demons—personal demons and mythological demons. It’s also about trust and belief and searching for clues outside of one’s normal experience. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

            The developing relationship between Dan and Sandy takes center stage in my drama. I like both of these characters a lot. There’s probably a little bit of me in Dan, and Sandy is the kind of girl I’ve always been attracted to. She’s open and honest and more than a little na├»ve. She’s the kind of girl who’s stronger than she looks because she has an inner strength that sustains her. Not all of my characters survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that come their way, but I hope Sandy not only survives but thrives. She’s my kind of people.

            Axes to Grind is the sixth novel in the Instruments of Death series, and there are many more novels yet to come in the series. I have nineteen novels already written or planned. There may even be more.

            I love to read and write about forensic science. I also love to read a good mystery, whether I write it or somebody else writes it. My own expertise is in educational psychology and cognitive science, but I met more than a few pathologists when I worked at the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) and I was allowed to play the fly on the wall as doctors talked about interesting cases. I try to combine what I personally know with what I’ve observed and overheard. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I’ve enjoyed telling them. Stay safe, and don’t venture alone into the woods after dark. You never know who or what might be waiting for you.

I lived in Chicago and worked at the American Society of Clinical Pathologists’ Chicago headquarters, directly across West Harrison Street from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, when I wrote Claw Hammer. My ASCP job was to sell continuing education classes to pathologists, and I got to sit in on many of those classes because I was the person who registered pathologists and medical technologists for various courses. I set up microscopes in classrooms at conference centers, ran the overheads and slide projectors, hawked new books published by the Society or the College of American Pathologists, and hosted elaborate cocktail parties for the Docs at national medical conferences. One of those ASCP classes featured the latest techniques of tool mark analysis available to forensic pathologists interested in identifying the instrument of death, and I was fascinated to learn about the variety of ways people quite often used common household implements to kill beloved family members and friends.

That class reminded me of several terrible tragedies that had happened to grade-school classmates of mine in my own hometown of Rockford, Illinois. I recalled awakening one dawn to the sound of sirens when I was only about eight or nine. I learned that a neighbor had allegedly gone crazy during the night and killed his entire family—all but one daughter who survived–with a claw hammer. The milkman, the same milkman who had just delivered milk to my house, discovered the bodies when he entered the neighbor’s house to put milk in the refrigerator as he normally did twice a week. In those Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver days of the early 1950s, people were very trusting and nobody ever locked their back doors. All that changed, of course, after an entire family was killed in our close-knit suburban neighborhood. It never dawned on us that locking the doors would do no good if the killer lived inside the house and had keys.

Not long after that first tragedy, the mother of another female grade-school friend was electrocuted in her bathtub. Supposedly, a radio fell off a shelf and added 110 volts to an afternoon bubble bath and fried the lady like a lobster. Police arrested the lady’s husband and charged him with her murder. My young friend had to leave school to go live with her grandparents. I never saw her again.

One of my favorite uncles, Eric Ekebom, was a Rockford police detective sergeant and I remember asking to see his gun when I was too young to know any better. He told me he hadn’t had to use his gun even once in more than twenty years on the police force. He did carry a gun, he explained, but he said he really didn’t need one because “Good detectives use their brains and not guns to catch criminals.” I’ll always remember that. Eric was the detective who reorganized the Rockford Police Department’s record bureau in the 1930s. He became the police department’s forensic and identification expert, and he served as the President of the International Association for Identification, the largest forensic organization in the world, from 1956 to 1957.

When Pinnacle Books bought two of my novels and wanted them delivered right away, I wrote a rough draft of Claw Hammer and sent it off with the expectation I would have time to revise and polish the manuscript. I had one day between the time I received the page proofs and the deadline for getting the completed novel back to New York in time to make the publishing window. I over-nighted the proofs back. I have never missed a writing deadline in my life. In the old days when I was learning the newspaper business, we published what we had in order to make a deadline even if we didn’t yet have the full story. “Go with what ya got,” the editor called out as the daily deadline approached. Some stories were incomplete or inaccurate. We knew we always had the next day’s edition to round out the details or publish a correction. I’m glad Claw Hammer endured to see a next edition.

Claw Hammer was my first published psychological horror novel, and since its original publication in 1989 I have written nine additional suspense-thrillers/police-procedural novels set in imaginary Riverdale, Illinois. Riverdale is a combination of my native Rockford with areas of Aurora and Oak Park, plus images from a dozen other northern Illinois cities where I’ve lived and written novels. Carl Erickson, the homicide detective from Claw Hammer, also appears in Pickaxe, Icepick, Sledgehammer, Box Cutter, and Pinking Shears. After Carl retires, Troy Nolan and Andy Sinnott take over Carl Erickson’s roles, both detectives appearing in Pickaxe, Icepick, and Meat Cleaver.

My comfort zone is sitting at my keyboard inside my own house writing novels and short stories or reading novels and short stories for review. When Gretta M. Anderson, my wife of 27 years, died three years ago, I abandoned the real world for multiple fantasy worlds where I could control the outcome of human interactions. Writing kept me relatively sane. Andy Sinnott is a lot like me. But you already guessed that, didn’t you?

I write not only for me and to maintain sanity, but I write for people just like me who love to read a good mystery. I try, first and foremost, to tell a good story because I love good stories. Some of my stories get really weird, and many of my characters bleed and feel pain and some die. I view the world as a dangerous place where bad things happen to good people. Not all of my stories have a happy ending. Meat Cleaver is a mixture of happy and sad because the novel closely mirrors real life.

I am neither a medical doctor nor a forensic scientist, nor am I a police officer or a civil engineer. I have, however, worked with medical doctors, forensic scientists, police officers, and civil engineers, and I have two earned master’s degrees and most of a doctorate. I have done extensive medical research for more than twenty years. I always try my best to be accurate in my descriptions of medical and police procedures. I also served time in the military, including tours in construction engineer units, and I am familiar with a variety of firearms. Nevertheless, my novels are works of fiction that spring from my imagination, and I do take liberties with verisimilitude in order to tell a good story. For me, story comes first. If you want fact-filled books, I can recommend textbooks you might find interesting. If you want good stories, read my novels.

Meat Cleaver, the fifth novel in the Instruments of Death series, was released as an original e-book on May 4, 2015. I’m thrilled that Crossroad Press wants to publish the entire series for e-book readers.