Sarah Dalton writes young adult novels. She’s earned a following among fans of YA genre fiction with such speculative series as Blemished, Mary Hades, and White Hart. Dalton’s big break, however, came under her pen name, Sarah A. Denzil.
Denzil is the author of Silent Child, a psychological thriller about a kidnapped boy, which was the top-selling book in the paid digital category on amazon.co.uk. The thriller was also a top-10 Amazon bestseller in the U.S. and hit #1 in such categories as kidnapping and crime. It’s the English author’s third foray into adult fiction, with her thrillers Saving April (also a top 100 Kindle bestseller in the U.K.) and The Broken Ones released in 2016.
Writing and publishing in two genres under her real name as well as a pen name has been a learning experience for Dalton. “I first and foremost read as many psychological thriller books as I could,” she says of her decision to switch genres. She also followed media coverage of high-profile crimes and kidnappings. “Crime thrillers are trickier,” she notes.
Dalton says that her YA books are relatively “research free,” which allows her to make everything up. So when it came to a setting for Silent Child, Dalton compromised: the setting is a realistic-but-fictional English village. Writing about an actual place comes with constraints, she explains.
“What if I wanted to move the train station to the other side of town to improve the story?” Dalton asks. “Then I would have readers contacting me to tell me the train station is in the wrong place.” Writing about everyday people also helps her avoid too many logistical issues. “If I wanted to write a book from the perspective of the police, I would need to do some more in-depth research,” she says.
Using a Pen Name
“My YA books are written for teenagers from around 13 and up, whereas the Sarah A. Denzil novels contain a lot of adult themes and are for an older audience,” Dalton says. “I felt that it wouldn’t be appropriate to write psychological thrillers for adults under the same name.”
Though Dalton doesn’t hide the fact that she writes under both names and cross-promotes the books on social media and in her newsletters, she says the distinction discourages younger readers from accidentally picking up her thrillers. “I don’t think creating a new pen name is always necessary, but you might feel that it’s appropriate if you want to write in two very different genres,” she says.
Dalton also learned some valuable lessons about what to expect from her existing readership: her YA fans haven’t necessarily followed her from one genre to the next. “I learned that a long time ago, when I switched from writing YA dystopia to YA horror, thinking that most YA readers will read anything as long as it’s YA,” she says.
Instead, Dalton found new readers in the horror subgenre. Her advice is to write a book that will appeal to fans of your new genre and not the fans you already have. The plot, cover, and blurb should all be consistent with the genre you want to write in.
Dalton has two Twitter accounts—her original one as Sarah Dalton and a second under her pen name. She says she’s stopped worrying about how many Twitter and Facebook followers she has, however, and is concentrating on building her mailing lists—one for each genre. “I do run some Facebook adverts targeted at people who like psychological thrillers, and they have been quite successful for me and helped give my sales a boost when I first published Silent Child,” she says. Dalton also ran ads on Amazon, which she says helped readers discover her book by linking it to other popular thrillers on the site.
“A lot of authors talk about writing to market, which means writing a book in a popular genre because there’s more chance of making a living,” Dalton says. “But one thing to remember is that if you dislike the genre and have no love for it, readers will sense that straight away.” She believes that the key to success is for authors to add their own flourishes to the genre—which requires research, reading, and a love of writing.
Jennifer McCartney is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of the novel Afloat.