brother, can you paradigm? The author bio challenge

So I’m more than a little punch drunk, as the following will attest. It’s a draft of the author bio I have to get to my editor. Dopey puns kept occuring to me (thus the paradigm) and then I got overly chatty.

How do you feel about author bios? Should they be dry and short, or entertaining? Do you read author bios at all? Do tell.

Cheap Books in 1883

Cheap Books in 1883

Also, it is true that I spend a lot of time looking at old newspaper and magazine advertisements. Many mysteries are solved in those ads. For example, where did students buy their books? This ad is from the Columbia University student newspaper provides some insight. At this same time there was a Brentano’s Books on Union Square, but I imagine that they didn’t cater to the needs or the budgets of lowly undergraduates.


Sara Donati is a former academic and researcher who spends a lot of time haunting the intersection where history and storytelling meet. She does this by wallowing in 19th century newspapers, magazines and  and street maps along with a lot of historical research, and never gets bored with any of it. She is the author of the Wilderness series, six historical novels that follow the fortunes of a group of families living in the vast forests in upstate New York in the late 1700 and early 1800s. The Gilded Hour jumps ahead two generations to follow Nathaniel Bonner’s grand- and great granddaughters into the twentieth century.

Sara Donati is the penname of Rosina Lippi, who writes  contemporary novels and academic work under own name. Rosina lives on Puget Sound with her husband, daughter, two elderly dogs and a rambunctious cat. Sara lives with Rosina and her family, but refuses to answer the phone, do windows or make herself useful in any way at all.

about names and pen names

It has been a long time since I’ve posted about this, and I’ve had a couple questions over the last few months. So here goes: author names and pen names, what’s the deal?

At one point, a woman who actually got her work into print was a rare bird. Many early female novelists chose to write under a pen name — or were forced to by their editors and publishers — as a way to avoid coming into the public eye for reasons that ranged to modesty and privacy to sales. There’s a good article here that provides an interesting list of early women writers and their pen names.

Today people write under pen names for a wide variety of reasons, and sexism is still one of them. A man writing romance will often use a female pseudonym, in the same way  a woman writing techno thrillers might use a man’s name or just initials. Julie Ann Jones  – J.A. Jones – which one would be shelved next to Tom Clancy?

There are occasional cases of writers who are too prolific. Yes, I mean that they produce too much publishable stuff. Imagine such a problem, would you? Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates are two writers who fall into this category. They are both famous enough that they don’t have to resort to pen names. King did use a pen name at one point in his career; I don’t know about Oates. This reminds me of the Mathematician, who insisted we tell the Girlchild  the truth about Santa Claus when she was four. His reasoning: Santa Claus was getting all the credit, and it wasn’t fair. I still have to laugh when I think about that conversation. The girlchild scowled splendidly, crossed her arms, and said I suppose this means the Easter Bunny isn’t real either.

Sometimes an author will take a pen name to help flagging sales by getting a fresh start. Sometimes simple privacy is the issue.

And sometimes a publisher will push the idea of a pen name for purely marketing reasons. This is why I write fiction under two names.  When Into the Wilderness and Homestead sold within three months of each other, the publishers were worried about what they call ‘confounding reader expectations.’  Translation:

Reader X loves your work and is excited to see you have a new book out. There is a great rushing about as Reader X tracks down this new book, and then anticipation when s/he sits down to read. Reader X is shocked. Shocked, I tell you, to realize that this is not another serial killer/mystery, but a novel about lady golfers in the thirties.  In my case, Homestead came out first and Bantam was worried that readers would find the jump from a quiet book of linked stories to historical adventure/romance too much to negotiate.

Picking a pen name is not particularly straight forward. Publishers prefer something in the middle of the alphabet, so your book will show up in the middle rather than a far-end of the display, where people are less likely to see it. That is, if your last name is Zombrowski or Aaron, your publisher may ask you to consider something in the D-L range.

Anastasia Gianbatista  is in the right part of the alphabet, but this would not be a good pen name. Imagine your book takes off (despite the fact that readers can’t remember how to spell your last name). Imagine sitting at a table signing two hundred copies of your book.  You will regret Anastasia Gianbatista. You will contemplate the beauty of a minimalist name. This, I can promise you.

Readers have pointed out that a pen name may have a negative effect. I have heard any number of times something like: you write under two names?!?!!! I’ve missed all those other books? Oh no! Which is why I make no secret of my pen name, and try to be as transparent as possible.

Do you know what pen name you would use, if asked?

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Fiona, down undah

Fiona is my Australian editor for the Wilderness books and also for Tied to the Tracks.

Some time ago somebody asked (and I don’t think I ever answered) why TTTT is coming out under the Sara Donati in Aus/NZ, and Rosina Lippi on the flip side. It’s simple. Sara Donati is a best selling author in that market. I’m not sure why, but the Kiwis and Aussies really, really love the Wilderness series. Of course Australia is also the place that nurtured and housed Farscape, so I’m not surprised at their communal good taste (she said modestly), but I’ve never been quite clear on it, either.

Rosina Lippi — that name isn’t familiar to the Sara Donati readers down undah, thus the name switch.

And now back to Fiona, the fabulous. An email from her today:

(we need to to make doubly sure our author knows the book will now be released here in August, not July(as a result of us rethinking the cover, but was obviously worth it) so she can holler about that on her website as we’re doing the same.

This is me hollering: Did y’all get that? TTTT in August for you. Fiona also tells me that their marketing people do not like the US cover for Queen of Swords and she has to come up with something else. She didn’t know what they don’t like about it, but they were adamant. Which makes me sad. Finally a cover I really love and it’s being rejected. Now I have to think up some alternate ideas to suggest. And you know what? I don’t have any idea.