What’s in a name? Plenty if you have a bestseller. And while I don’t begrudge any successful author a minute or a penny of his or her success, I wonder if they could do it without their name.
Nobel laureate Doris Lessing (before she won the Nobel but after she had established herself as a writer of consequence) wrote two novels that she attempted to sell under the pseudonym Jane Somers. She was rejected by her own British publisher, though later another British publisher and an American one did accept Jane Somers’ submissions. Lessing said that she did this specifically to illustrate the difficulty new authors have getting published. Later, her Nobel acceptance speech discussed the inequality of opportunity, among other things.
I don’t make this point to lament the hard fight unknown writers have. The best will rise to the top, at least most of the time, with practice and persistence. And it could be argued that even under a pseudonym, Lessing’s writing was the best. I’m not sure that’s the case with every successful writer.
I’m mentioned on this humble blog once or twice that I think there is something called the “successful author syndrome.” Some authors, it seems, can rely on the name and reputation rather than the quality of their writing. Virtuoso works that first get them published and to the attention of the public are later traded for hack work, tossed out in their sleep. I suspect that some agents and editors are so fearful of toying with success that they let this shoddy writing pass as long as the name stays the same.
I wonder how many successful writers would dare to try what Lessing did.