The other day, I read a reader review that gave my new book a one star rating, and the reader declared that she was terribly disappointed, that she’s read all of my books, and had loved them all, but that Solar Express was dull and boring, not at all like the Imager Portfolio books.
I would be astounded if she has indeed read all of my books, but she likely has read all of my fantasy novels. Some of my science fiction is very different in subject matter and depth of technical aspects from my fantasy, and while I would like all readers to devour everything I write, in the real world that doesn’t happen. I know that I have readers that do indeed read and generally enjoy everything I write, but there are also those who only read and like the fantasy, those who only read and like the science fiction, and there are even those who only truly enjoy the Recluce novels. This is anything but surprising, because I do write a wide range of speculative fiction, including near-future political thrillers, very hard science fiction, and of course four very different fantasy series. I’ve also written technical non-fiction and published poetry as well.
I’m one of a comparative handful of writers still publishing both SF and fantasy (and everything else) under my own name and not a pseudonym… and that reader review, and others like it, is exactly why there are only a few of us who do.
When readers of a certain mindset read a work of fiction that they like, they tend to want that author to write everything else that way, and if they pick up another book by the same author they automatically assume the next book will be like the last one they read. And they get disappointed, sometimes even angry, if the second book doesn’t meet that expectation, even if the dust jacket describes the book accurately.
Publishers and editors are well aware of this tendency, as are writers, and that’s why the majority of newer authors tend to end up with pseudonyms for books or series that are markedly different.
Solar Express is a very science-oriented novel. All the events in the book are constrained by reality. No simple faster-than-light travel, no instant video communications anywhere and anytime, because that technology doesn’t exist, and probably never will… and if it does the costs and energy requirements will likely make it prohibitively expensive except for the highest priority communications, something that another reader didn’t seem to understand. The book is focused on people who live in that future and their problems. So far, at least, most of those with a solid science background who have contacted me have enjoyed the book. It’s also clear that some readers without such a background and without a true interest in real science have not enjoyed the book. It’s fine with me that different people with varying interests and backgrounds respond differently to dissimilar kinds of books.
What does bother me is when readers pick up a book that is obviously different in scope and approach from my other books and then complain that it’s not the same. Of course it’s not the same. The cover copy and dust jacket indicate that. So does the very first sentence. I don’t mind it if readers don’t like certain kinds of my books, but I can’t help getting annoyed when they post horrible reviews, not because the book was bad, but because they thought it was bad because it didn’t meet their personal expectations, especially when they’ve been warned that it might not.
But the fact that people are tending more and more to see authors as predictable purveyors of the same sort of satisfaction, rather than actually reading the cover copy and the dust jacket, is one of the main factors behind the proliferation of pseudonyms.