In the ever-so-zippy development of the digital publishing marketplace, there's a few levels of trickery from those attempting to make a quick dollar (or euro, or pound, or whatever). There's people selling copies of public domain books for profit, which is pretty skeevy. There's people who sell cut-and-paste substitutions of other authors' books, which is a lot skeevy.
And then there's this example, which I think might be the reigning champion of skeevy behavior. Also chutzpah.
Meet Nora Roberts. You know her.
Now, meet “Nora A. Roberts.“
According to mediabistro, she's a bestselling self-published author on Barnes & Noble.
Many a romance author tweeted about the idiocy and chutzpah of whomever is behind Nora A. Roberts in the past 24 hours, but the WTFery grows apace. At the home page for the “publisher” which is allegedly comprised of “renegade authors,” Southern Pied Media, there are several more books, including some by “James A Patterson,” and a book titled “Nora Roberts: Firecracker,” which features a main character named… wait for it… Nora Roberts.
My first reaction: “You have got to be kidding me.” Are people going to fall for the middle initial? Of course. And apparently readers have, judging from the bestseller placement, and early reviews that state that the reader isn't so sure this is a “Nora Roberts” book.
Yesterday, the title and author name of “Spellbound Cafe” at BN.com was changed to Lora Roberts. That would be marginally (a very thin margin) better except that Lora Roberts is also a self-published writer of mysteries.
Great. Now there's three authors having their names misused to further sales.
This type of trickery is so galling, because it preys on readers who don't know the difference or who are reading author names on a tiny screen, perhaps, using another person's name and reputation as collateral.
But what really tops the WTFery is the entry published today on the “Southern Pied Media” site, which leaves no doubt as to their intentions:
When we decided to circumvent our publishers in order to keep the prices low and the readers happy, of course, we had to come up with pen names!
We decided to choose names similar to authors in our genre.
One of us choose James A Patterson
One of us choose Nora A Roberts.
We thought it would get peoples attention, but that readers would be intelligent enough to realize that Nora A Roberts is not the Nora Roberts – as there is no “Best Selling” author titled anywhere on the book nor a list of Nora's books as you'd usually find in a Nora Roberts book.
Well! What a commotion we caused.
Our first reviews were wonderful (thank you).
Then the one star reviews drifted in “This is not a Nora Roberts book!”
I sincerely doubt they read the book, because anyone who has, is directed to this website.
While we did choose names similar to our James and Nora – our intention was to draw people into reading the description of the book, realizing it was not the splendid Nora Roberts, but a genre similar at a very affordable price point – in the hopes the description and price were tantalizing enough for a reader to buy.
We decided to make it less confusing, and changed the name from Nora A Roberts to Lora Roberts – but this just created more of a stir!
We've pulled the other 2 books we had published under the name Nora A Roberts and we'll meet this weekend to decide how to approach this situation.
If you have any thoughts regarding this – please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you read SpellBound Cafe and truly liked it, please consider leaving a review to let people know it's not the authors name that matters – it's the entertaining story that's most important. At least, I always thought so!
Of course, now we come to find out that there is another author named Lora Roberts – so there could possibly be another change!
Hold to your hats, ladies, we're in for a shi* storm!
I need more pie!
Let's break that down for a moment: they chose pen names using one letter additions to extremely successful authors' names and they thought “it would get people's attention but that readers would be intelligent enough to realize that Nora A Roberts is not Nora Roberts” based on the content inside the book. But oh, darn, looks like readers are dumb.
The whole entry carries the gleeful subtext of “We're trying to trick readers, whee!”
They claim the books have been removed, but as of this writing, three titles by “Nora A Roberts” or “Lora Roberts” are still available on Amazon and BN, in addition to the Nora Roberts: Firecracker title by “G. G. Raleigh.”
Have a look at the “Customers Also Bought:”
I'm guessing that's exactly the result they were looking for.
I tend to get REALLY pissed when people insult the intelligence of romance readers, and that's what I think this person (or persons) is doing: presuming readers are stupid, ignorant, or blithe enough to purchase anything with “Nora + Roberts” on the cover, thereby earning this author a quick buck. And likely it's working for the time being.
The following is Nora Roberts' statement regarding Southern Pied's question:
Southern Pied Media asks What's In A Name when explaining why they decided to create pen names that tag onto established writers. As in Nora A. Roberts.
I'll state what's in my name. Over three decades of hard work, of writing, of building an audience, of experience. All mine. And absolutely no one has the right to use my name–with an added middle initial–to try to cash in on that.
If, as they state in the blog, it's all about how good the book is, then don't market the book, try to sell the book, by using a slight variation on an established author's name. It's insulting to all parties, which includes readers.
What they did, and may be continuing to do as far as I know with other established names, is deceptive and offensive. It's also pretty damn pathetic.
What recourse to readers have? You can email customerservice@BN.com, and you can contact Amazon.com customer care through their site, explaining why you find this publisher to be deceitful and what you think of their “business practices.”
And, much as I'm surprised to be suggesting this as a method of recourse, there's always the reviews. Perhaps this is a valid opportunity to One Star Bomb the crap out of the books that are still available, including:
- Wedding Jynx (by “Nora A Roberts”) at Amazon
- May Contain Magic (by “Nora A Roberts”) at Amazon
- Spellbound Cafe (by “Nora A Roberts”) at BN.com
- All The President's Friends (by “James A Patterson”) at BN.com
- All the President's Friends (by “James A Patterson”) at Amazon
Justice In These Bones (by “James A Patterson”) at BN.com
(Please note: there is another James A. Patterson who wrote James Robinson Graves: Staking the Boundaries of Baptist Identity. He appears to be unconnected with Southern Pied.
I struggled with the idea of suggestiong the One Star Bomb method. If you have a suggestion of how readers can better respond to this sort of predatory and utterly skeevy behavior, please do let me know. I'm still trying to figure out who the people are behind “Southern Pied,” but my hope is they'll take the books down and go elsewhere, and soon.
ETA 14 June 2012, 8:15 am ET: Well, someone did something, and I'm going to give you all the credit, k? All of the above titles except for All the President's Friends at BN.com are gone. Maybe they took them down, maybe Amazon and BN removed them, maybe the International WTFairy struck quickly, but whatever the cause, I've never been so happy to see 404 errors. The Southern Pied site is scrubbed of the content displaying and linking to books for sale, and the June 13 entry I reprinted above is gone, too (I do have screencaps, though). (You know, for decorating). Seems that this name poacher is down for now – but I'm betting this won't be the last time we see name poaching as a “digital strategy.”
Some folks asked in the comments about what to do if your legal name is similar to an already-established author. Tough call. There are a LOT of authors now. My feeling, and this is purely my own opinion unfetted by things like actual experience working in a publishing publicity or marketing house, is that it's sort of like when someone wants to be an actor, and they have the legal name of someone who is already famous. Say, “Michael Douglas.” There's already a Michael Douglas (son of Kirk Douglas, whose real name was Issur Danielovitch).
So if you're named Michael Douglas and you want to be an actor, you become Michael Keaton instead – by, ironically, using Diane Keaton's last name (whose real name is Diane Hall). Part of all this is due to Screen Actor's Guild rules, and there are no similar rules for authors that I'm aware of. But, bottom line, to avoid confusion, if your legal name is similar to an established author's name, you should go by “Michael Keaton” when you publish. Got that?