Writer Harold Young had a tough time finding a publisher for his novels, but a simple change of his middle name made him a bestselling fantasy author!
Portland, Oregon – Harold Young began writing fantasy stories as a teenager. Encouraged by the proliferation of Dungeons & Dragons in the ’80s and inspired by the works of Tolkien, Lewis, MacDonald, Carroll, and others, he crafted worlds full of mythical creatures, magic powers, epic wars, and stalwart heroes. By the time he was old enough to drink, he’d written no less than four novels and a dozen short stories.
None were published.
Rejection letters from dozens of agents, editors, and publishing houses didn’t stop Harold, however. Rather than give up, he honed his craft, perfected his dialog skills, and taught himself how to make the English language dance like a tutu-wearing bear in a three-ring circus.
At the age of thirty five, however, he remained unpublished.
The author’s fate changed earlier this year when a small but exclusive publisher picked up Harold’s latest book, Silver Table Under the Parallelogram of Imminent Doom. And though it’s only been printed in a small run (which sold before they even hit the shelves), it’s become a bestseller on Amazon’s Kindle market in the week since its publication date. He’s become so popular, the publishing firm has already contracted him for three more books in the same series.
“The title is a little clunky,” said editor Phipps Windsor, “but it’s got everything you’d expect from a great work of fantasy. It hits all the tropes – elves, magic weapons that only work for the right person, evil trolls, crafty halflings – and you can’t forget about the author’s name.”
Indeed. Who could resist a book by Harold R.R. Young?
“It’s not my real middle name,” Harold admitted in an interview. “That’s Hiram. But R.R. seemed to have a more powerful ring to it, and look… it worked.”
Authors throughout history have taken on pen names, whether to hide their identity or to present themselves more favorably to their readership. Mark Twain, for instance, was born with the name Samuel Clemens. George Orwell was truly Eric Arthur Blair. Alisa Rosenbaum writes as Ayn Rand. Some successful authors even take on pen names to write books in a different genre or just to see if they’re worth publishing anymore, such as Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.
But the addition of just two middle initials?
Harold’s agent, Saul Goldstein, elucidates. “It’s like magic, this R.R. thing,” he said. “And come on, it worked for Tolkien and it’s working for that Martin guy. Why shouldn’t it work for Harold?”
Indeed, it does almost seem mystical. Not only have fans eaten up what some critics have called a defining work in modern fantasy literature, but Starz, Showtime, and HBO are in a bidding war to see who will gain the rights to the production of a mini-series.
Young does have his detractors, however. One book blogger, a young woman who calls herself Tequila Mockingbird, decries Harold as a hack who has stolen all his ideas from other writers.
“In Silver Table Under the Parallelogram of Imminent Doom – which is an utterly STUPID name – Young includes a piece of alluring magical jewelry which must be destroyed on a silver table used for world-changing sacrifices, a villainous entity trying to get his jewelry back, a talking cat who can disappear, two halflings for comic relief, and a king who refuses to sit on his throne,” Mockingbird claimed. “And who can blame him since the darn thing is made out of axes?”
With a dour look, she added, “He’s become a bestselling fantasy author because people see the R.R. and can’t help themselves.”
Is it true? Can the simple addition of two letters increase the sales of an author’s work? Recent studies suggest readers find initials to be more authoritative than full names, and double initials to be doubly so. The argument could be made that adding a double initial to a name – or pen name – makes you seem more official, or at least more respectable.
But is there something special – something magical – about the double R when it comes to fantasy literature?
We’ve asked a number of authors to add the initials to their next fantasy works to see how it affects sales, but so far all have politely refused, so until we see books by Jim R.R. Butcher, Mercedes R.R. Lackey, or R.A.R.R. Salvatore, the world may never know.