what's in a name

A week or so ago I invited questions and somebody (you out there? please speak up) came up with an interesting one that I haven’t answered yet. And maybe it can’t be answered. But it was something like this:

Do you think your contemporary novels (Tied to the Tracks, Pajama Girls of Lambert Square) would do better if they were published under Sara Donati rather than under Rosina Lippi?

First, I should note that all my novels — contemporary and historical — appear under the name Sara Donati in Australia and New Zealand. The publisher asked how I would feel about this, and I said: fine. I really didn’t mind, and I could see their reasoning. Sara does really well downunder, much better than she does here in the States. I will never forget the day my Australian editor emailed to say that Sara had knocked John Griffith off the number one spot. So there’s one way to answer this question: ask my Australian editor how TTTT is doing. Except this is something I will never do. Talking about numbers makes me so anxious I can’t write for days.

In this country nobody ever raised the subject of which name to use for the contemporaries. The thought did cross my mind, but I didn’t pursue it. Now, in retrospect, was that a mistake? Would the contemporaries do better if they were Sara’s instead of mine?

I dunno. I suppose it’s possible — Sara has better name recognition, after all — but there are also ways it might have worked against me. Sara was born precisely because the publishers were worried about (their phrase) confounding reader expectations. Homestead and Into the Wilderness came out within three months of each other, and they were nervous about that fact.

Which means very simply this: Joe has read all the Wilderness novels and really likes them. He sees Sara has a new novel out, and he bops on down to the bookstore and buys it immediately.Then Joe sits down to read and he’s disappointed. He was expecting adventure and high jinks with a love story or two thrown in, battles, Curiosity-like characters. And instead he got Angie Mangiamele. He is unhappy. Sara has disappointed him by switching direction.

My hope would be that he is so delighted with Angie and Rivera and the rest of them that he soon forgets he was expecting something else, but that may be unrealistic of me.

Please note: this is not my conclusion. This is how the publisher looks at it. Are they right? I have no idea. I’ve tried to think of a parallel — some author who changed direction and threw me off balance — but nothing comes to mind. So the question is, would Tied to the Tracks be selling like gangbusters if Sara’s name were on the front cover? Or — hold onto your hats — a third, completely new penname?

I just don’t know. What do you think?