Thursday 26 January 2012

Hi, my name is . . .

I will preface this post by saying that I refuse to confirm or deny that I am KJ Parker. I also refuse to confirm or deny that I’m anyone else, including Mark Lawrence.

Six months after the publication of my first book and things are going very nicely thank you. I am though, by many counts, old news. The eyes of the blogging community are firmly fixed on the 2012 debutants, with Myke Cole and Saladin Ahmed at fore of the January charge. It’s Christmas every day in blog-world with the permanent excitement of opening new presents, and there are always more waiting under the tree. Sure the favourite toys get played with, but those unopened boxes have a special pull.

I can’t, even for a heartbeat, resent this state of affairs. I rode the newbie wave and benefited hugely. The new kid on the block needs the spotlight, needs that chance to catch people’s attention. And special kudos to the bloggers who try to spread the love and cover some of the releases from smaller houses without a mega-push behind them. It does, however, make me pause to think about the business of discovering new writers and how people think about ‘old’ ones.

I recently contributed to an anthology to help out with Fantasy Faction’s web costs. (I really like the site and hope to be able to continue enjoying it without adverts for skin care products and medical miracles taking up half the screen.) I sent a bunch of short stories for them to select from, and the first reaction was great surprise that they were all so different in style, from each other and from Prince of Thorns. And that kinda brought it home to me. Even people who had high expectations of me expected me to dole out the same goodies time and again. That I could write a good horror tale, or a weird Gaiman-esque yarn, or a literary fiction piece . . . ran contrary to the opinions formed from my single book. Which underscores the sad fact that people who didn’t like Prince of Thorns (and yes, a few such strange beasts exist) will like as not never pick up another Mark Lawrence book because they ‘have me pegged’. It’s not that I can’t surprise them – it’s that I’ll never get a chance to, not with a book that has Mark Lawrence on the cover.

Now as it happens I have had several opportunities to see people read and rate work I’ve written under different names, ignorant of the fact the fiction is from the same pen. And I’ve had 1* on one, 5* on the other, and vice versa depending on the particular tastes of the individuals (and almost never 3* on both!).

So it’s not the bloggers’ spotlight and love affair with the new that is the true reason a writer might have for keeping a collection of masked identities in their writing cupboard, it’s the fact that we’re typecast by our first book. Readers, in the main, like to know what they’re getting. If they want something different they’ll try someone new – if they come to you, they want some more of the reason they liked you.


  1. Personally, I love to see authors do something new every time. Tobias Buckell comes to mind. So does Will McIntosh and GRRM (although I'm thinking more of the pre-ASOIF, GRRM).

    However, there's probably no coincidence that GRRM's career took off once he settled into a single style that allowed his readership to find him.

  2. Hmm... your K.J. Parker claim is really confusing me! Who is K.J. Parker? Somebody has to know...


      If you look at the most helpful favourable review it opens with: "Grim, Dark, Fantastic: Lawrence is the new KJ Parker..."

    2. Okay so as i'm a big K.J. Parker fan I'm trying to solve this puzzle... Obviously we know that your a research scientist and supposedly K.J. Parker worked in Law and Journalism, so unless you went to school for a LONG time your not Parker or maybe the information we have about Parker is as false as his/her name. I have a signed limited edition of Purple and Black and the signature is very masculine so I think Parker is indeed male... Now I don't think your K.J. Parker because if the post above is an admission then I think it would be all over the blogosphere by now... So I don't think you are Mr./Mrs. Parker... The hunt continues... lol

  3. I was a newby once, which I found a bit patronizing since it had taken me two decades to become an overnight success. Therafter of course you are trimmed, dressed, tied with string and placed in the appropriate box and woe betide you if you try to get out of it.

    I think there a bit of reaction to new writers from publishers, critics and the whole writing subculture that I can only describe as, 'ooh, shiny'. Get to be an 'old writer' and you learn how ephemeral that is, especially when you've seen lots of those shiny creatures fall by the wayside.

  4. Great post, Mark (or not Mark).

    I've seen everything you comment in action, I think. Books that aren't released within the month seem to need a new category for review in some blogs because they are not new enough, for example. I might agree or disagree on the policy, but I understand the reasoning behind it.

    The most important aspect here, I think, is the whole genre thing. I like to fancy that I "get" both sides of the argument, in that as a writer I want to be able to deliver every story that I can come up with... and as a reader, I want to know that the next title from my most loved author will be something that I'll also love (have had to wait ages for it to come out, after all!).

    Have seen a bit of an example of what happens when you try to juggle everything under the same name in - wait, can I give names? Let's just say, epic fantasy with a lirical streak and highly erotic fantasy with a lirical streak don't mash. I did love the epic, though.

    But I have seen a lot of bashing from fans of one series who tried to cross over to the other, based on the author. Just based on that, I completely understand the keeping of many identities.

    And then, there's the branding and whatnot that the marketing boys keep telling us about.

    And I rambled. Sorry. Just wanted to say that it's a great post, and that I liked seeing your take on the issue ;)

    Ron @ Stories of my life

  5. Happy Birthday, Mark. Saw that on Edi's Book Lighthouse. Looking forward to you being back on the chopping block when King comes out. :D

  6. I think that this applies to other areas as well, and not just novels. People like the familiar, and for many, there is almost a fear of the unknown, of that which is different. For example, in the realm of wine, plenty of wine lovers gravitate to common grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, or popular wine regions like France and California. Far less wine lovers are willing to go outside the familiar though, to try grapes like Saperavi or Xinomavro, or less well known wine regions like Lebanon or Cyprus.

    I guess I run against the norm, as I revel in the different and more unique. I'll try a wine of any grape, from any region, and will actively seek out those wines. The same applies to books. Sure, I appreciate an author continuing to write about a beloved character and/or setting, but I also appreciate when that author does something different. I very much enjoyed Prince of Thorns, having read it twice, and look forward to its sequel. But if you wrote a hard-boiled detective story or a psychological suspense novel, I would be eager to read them, to see the extent of your talent.

    One of my favorite authors is Dan Simmons, who has written in several different genres, from the horror of The Song of Kali, to the more literary SF of Hyperion. Those readers who only want the familiar miss out on so much good writing. It is their loss. But it might be a loss to other, more adventurous readers, too, if an author chooses not to write something different because he feels typecast.

  7. I do think that readers like the familiar, in new books and in the authors they have already read. Chameleon writers seem to have a harder time curating a following.

  8. This is a topic that is currently exercising my mind as I draw near to the end of writing my first trilogy and start looking ahead to the next project - how far can I stray without losing readers? I'm not a literary chameleon - everything I've written the last god-knows-how-many years has been historically inspired fanasy - but I'd rather use a pseudonym than carry on ploughing the same narrow furrow until I hated it.

    On the other hand, I think that if someone really dislikes your first book, then they are justified in assuming they won't like anything else with your name on the cover. It's a natural aversion reaction common to even the lowliest organisms :)

  9. @Anne it's possible they'd be making a reasonable guess based on statistics, but it certainly isn't a guarantee. I can point to examples where my work has been vilified on all levels, and lauded on all levels, by the same person believing they've read two different authors.

  10. Well, that's a shame. I'd really like to read your other work.