I was talking about this a lot over on the Westeros forum, and Ty suggested I post a copy here. He’s probably right. He usually is. And even when he’s wrong, he’s just so damn charming about it, right?
Anyway, here I am on a site dedicated to two and a half different versions of me. So. Why pseudonyms?
One of the folks on the Westeros forums posed the perfectly reasonable theory that a single recognizable name crossing several subgenres would drive up demand on all titles, pulling readers from one project to another. Here’s what I said:
It’s funny, but that’s not really what the numbers show. People (apparently) become fans of projects more than of authors. In my circles, it’s called the Donaldson Problem after something Stephen R. Donaldson is alleged to have said after The Mirror of Her Dreams / A Man Rides Through sold massively less than Thomas Covenant, and The Gap Into sold a whole bunch less than *that*. It went something like “I thought I had a hundred thousand Stephen R. Donaldson fans. It turned out I had a hundred thousand Thomas Covenant fans.” (caveat: I don’t know that he ever actually said that.)
To pull out a couple other examples from my immediate circle, S. M. Stirling’s Embervese is pushing up against the NYT top 10, but his other stuff — some of which I think is even stronger than the Emberverse books — don’t do particularly well. And George’s side projects — Wild Cards, Hunter’s Run, etc. — do decently, but nothing compared to his Ice & Fire stuff.
By comparison, I’ve heard some analysis of Walter Jon Williams — who is for my money one of the most consistently solid authors in the field — and why he doesn’t own the world outright. That one went like this: You don’t know what a Walter Jon Williams novels is going to be like. It could be post-singularity, it could be high space opera, if could be near-future techno-thriller, it could be old school cyberpunk, it could be military space opera, it could be regionalist New Mexican literary SF, it could be New Weird. The man’s done it all. And so, if you’re in the mood for military space opera, you reach for someone who does that — Bujold or Weber come to mind — instead of Williams, even though Dread Empire’s Fall is a freaking brilliant set of books.
The exception to this appears to be YA. Scott Westerfeld can write anything he damn well pleases. My guess is that YA readers are still reading for novelty, where the rest of us read for comfort and consolation. That’s just my take on it, though.