Paper-Thin Pen Names and Genre Breaking

I started writing a novel about human trafficking a little over three years ago. The inspiration for it came directly from a missions trip my wife went on. It was a trip to Nicaragua where she visited a rescue home that took underage girls out of forced prostitution. A few months after this trip, through people we know at our church and people my wife had met at the rescue home, I got to experience a real-life rescue attempt through in a third-hand sort of way through late night text messages.

Spurred by all of this, I also visited the same home a year later and had what can easily be described as a life-changing experience. If you’d like to read about that trip, I wrote a few posts about it here, here, and here.) When I got back home, after I had processed it all as well as I could, I continued writing the book, this time with first-hand experience.

The book eventually became Jubilee. While I would hesitate to call it a Christian novel, it does have Christian elements, a heavy element of faith, and a lot of talk of the gospel in it. So while I still see it as an adventure novel at heart, I also can’t deny that  it could possibly sneak by as a Christian fiction title in most book stores.

Of course, since I had published so much horror, I decided that releasing such a novel might seem like a tricky sort of move on my part I was faced with two possible outcomes: release it and totally confuse readers that had read my previous books, or release it and possibly attract new readers with this new genre, only to have them run away in terror if they decided to pick up another of my books.

The solution? A pen name. I shopped it around to agencies and had two near-hits. In the end, things never really worked out and I decided to self publish it. That’s how Jubilee by W.K. Parks came to be.

In the year or so that followed, the book got some great reviews and sold better than my own non-pen name titles. After some prayer and hard decisions, I decided that I needed to un-publish it, clean it up a bit more, and shop it around again…under my name this time.

Why? Well, there are two reasons.

First, one of the best things I believe self-publishing has done for the landscape of writing is that it had made many writers more willing to step out of their comfort zones. Writers are now experimenting with new genres and, for the most part, it seems to be working. Recently, David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and The Bones Clocks, among others, said:  “Anything that is good grabs me, irrespective of its genre. The idea of confining an entire genre as being unworthy of your attention is a bizarre act of self-harm.” While his comment was geared towards readers, I think it absolutely applies to writers as well.

Secondly, as most of you know, I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m a Christ-follower and would not want to seem that I was “hiding” behind a pen name. For a while, I felt that was exactly what I was doing.

So I sent the book off to agencies and publishers. (Can you hear the elevator music that sometimes drifts through a writer’s head during this waiting period?)

JUBILEE_current draft_2Break Every Chain copy

A few months ago, I got an offer from Elk Lake Publishing to publish Jubilee. In a pretty awesome coincidence, I received the news less than a week after returning home from a return trip to Nicaragua. The book has since been re-titled Break Every Chain and you’ll be able to grab a copy in the next few days. One of my hopes for the books is that it will serve as further proof that genres, as a whole, really don’t define authors anymore.

Stay tuned, as I hope to be able to provide links to where you can pick up your copy in the next few days.

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