Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?

public opinion pollOkay, you know why people create polls, right? It’s either because they are genuinely curious about the answer or they are hoping to find confirmation of the decision they wish to make. 🙂

For a while now, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a M/F romance. Partly to see if I can create a heroine that I don’t want to bitch-slap twenty pages into the story, and partly  because I would like to branch out in my story telling. I was all set to write this fiction under another pen name–went so far as to create a second persona: Madison Dean. I’ve even written blog posts on the subject and why I think another pen name is necessary for writing in another genre. I’ve asked dozens of authors and publishers what they think, and the response is running about 50-50 for yes versus no.

The yes people argue all the things I’ve said myself: that M/F readers aren’t likely to read an author whose is known for writing primarily in the M/M genre. That readers don’t want to be surprised by accidentally picking up a story from ‘the wrong genre’ and that having two separate pen names makes this easier to distinguish.

The no people maintain (and rightly so) that love is love and gender shouldn’t matter and by creating a second pen name, I’m only subdividing my audience. That I am essentially starting over from scratch in making a new name for myself. Susan Mac Nicol spoke eloquently on this subject in a recent blog post here, and she made an excellent point. She’s also recently released her first M/M romance, Stripped Bare, to rave reviews and bestseller status. Did that happen because she’d already firmly established herself as a M/F romance author first? I don’t know. (Congrats to her, by the way! You’ll find my review of Stripped Bare here on this website in September as part of her continuing blog tour.)

I keep see-sawing back and forth on the answer myself. To be honest, there are some days in which I dread the thought of all the work involved in creating and maintaining a second persona. I embrace the idea of just writing M/F under the Sarah Madison name because the platform is already in place. I have so little time as it is–dividing myself further into pieces on the theory that some readers might never give me a chance if they know I write M/M romance? That feels like the coward’s way out.

The Boys of Summer400x600But I also live in a very conservative part of the country, and while there are people who can give a nod and a wink at a book like 50 Shades of Grey, they can’t do the same for something like The Boys of Summer. Likewise, there are people who might not think I’m ‘serious’ enough about writing M/M romance if I choose to write M/F romance as well. I’d like to say that I’m above all that and can’t be bothered to be concerned about such matters, but the truth is, my writing is a second job for me. I can’t afford to make stupid mistakes.

Lest you think I’m being obsessive about this, look at the lesson learned from J. K. Rowling. Her latest novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was released to good reviews and moderate sales under the name of Roger Galbraith. Once it was leaked that it was really written by Rowling under a pen name, the book shot to the top of the Amazon lists. I’m not sure what the take home lesson here is. Perhaps it is that Rowling, having made a name for herself as a bestselling author,  needs to use it. Perhaps that is the celebrity factor at work here. Either way, it is proof that pen names need to be considered carefully. You need to make them work for you, not against you.

So I’m tossing it out to you, the reader! What do you think? Would you read a Sarah Madison M/F romance? Do you think I should continue on with the idea of  a separate pen name? If so, why?

Should an author of M/M romance take a new pen name when changing genres?

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18 thoughts on “Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?

  1. I didn’t answer the question because I’ve wrestled with it for a long time. I considered writing m/f because sometimes there is more money in that genre, and who the hell doesn’t need more money?

    You essentially brand yourself when you release a number of books into one genre under a certain pen name. See Theo Fenraven, think “m/m, mysteries, contemporary.”

    Hopefully, they also think “GOOD.” 🙂

    I’ve been encouraged to dabble in YA. I’ve considered it. But do I need a new name for that? ARGH. I have no idea.
    fenraven recently posted..Old MacDonald had a farm…My Profile

    • FWIW, Theo, I think if you’re going to write YA and anything remotely erotic/adult romance, you need a YA specific pen name. Absolutely. I think there is very little tolerance where the YA crowd is concerned.

      Lordy, I have no idea how my brand reads–Sarah Madison M/M romance with a twist? I’ve written mysteries, contemporaries, historicals, and paranormals. The only consistent thing is the M/M part. 🙂

      So you see why I am torn here… Truth be told, my very first story every as Sarah Madison was a M/F romance. I’ve never made a dime on it. 🙂 So it doesn’t answer my question at all…
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?My Profile

  2. Okay, I said ‘YES’ so that the reader knows what they’re getting but I wanted to add some notes/points – it’s not about the sexuality of your protagonists but rather how inflexible people tend to be and how uncomfortable getting outside the box seems to make most people. when I think of pen names, I think about Jane Ann Krentz and Nora Roberts – both of them are successful under multiple genres, but we KNOW all their names [or rather, we think we do!] but it makes it easier for me as a shopper/reader to be like “I want historical – I will look at Amanda Quick. Now I want contemporary, so I will go with Jane Ann….”

    I don’t envy you because I do think pen names are a lot of work. I feel like there’s got to be a way though to make it work for YOU better. Like if you had different pen names but everyone KNEW they were all YOU. that way readers who wanted one thing would know to go to one name and then other readers would go for the other.

    but I feel like I let you and the world down somehow but voting for a pen name!

    • No, you didn’t let me down–you gave me an honest opinion and I think you’re right–pen names do allow for someone to have certain expectations going into a story. I love Elizabeth Peters but am meh about Barbara Michaels. Both are the same author–just really different writing styles. So there is a specific case where knowing the author’s pen name helps me decide whether or not to buy the latest release.

      But I do wonder if readers are getting more flexible or more inflexible as genre reading becomes king now?
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?My Profile

      • I think readers are hesitant to step out of their genre but I think that has a lot to do with being let down by the publishing industry in the past. I mean, a lot of great writers aren’t writing commercial fic because of the way the publishing industry works – and we’re reading their stories on fanfic sites! and a lot of mediocre or just plain old BAD writers ARE writing popular fiction and we’re told to like it. So I feel like as a reader, I’m hesitant to step outside my comfort level because I’ve been let down a lot in the past. at least if a book is in the genre I like, then I know it’s got one thing going for it that I should like.

        I’m the WORST for stepping outside my genre and I think it’s because I tried before in the past and was just really disappointed. People would tell me a book was so great and I’d read it and think “okay, it’s a good story but the writing is SHIT.” or people would go on and on and on about HOW FANTASTIC a book was when I KNEW it was badly written and didn’t have a solid plot. So I tend to stick to what I know. I get samples from ebooks and try them out first and then don’t read. I stop reading if a book is bad.

        But all of that is because I feel like the industry at large has let me down.

        • Well, I’ve been having some thinky thoughts on this, as I am wont to do 🙂 and I think there are a lot of factors in play here.

          I think the advent of both social media sites and e-readers have decreased the attention span of the average person. I think it has encouraged the 4 page chapter that ends on a gasping cliffhanger, only to have the author pull a ‘gotcha’ at the beginning of the next chapter. I think the ease of digital publishing today has made authors out of a lot of people that would never have otherwise been published–and I include myself in this category as well.

          I think people like you and I have been spoiled by fanfiction. Sure, there is a lot of crappy fanfic out there too, but much of it supersedes any original fiction I’m reading today. How much of that is because I already love the characters, I’m not sure. I do believe the fact that the *author* loves the characters is why the fanfic stories shine so brilliantly at times.

          The pace at which many people turn out stories today makes me wonder how invested some of these authors are in their characters–and makes it harder for me to get invested in them as well. At least in fanfic, I get the same characters, the world-building is largely done, both the author and I can get right down to the story. The internet has been wonderful for the creative writer and reader of fanfic. It’s also been terrible for readers as a whole, I think.

          I went to leave a review on a favorite story written about 20 years ago and I was shocked at how many negative reviews this story had received. It was utterly brilliant in its execution, both in the quality of writing and the quality of storytelling–which are not necessarily the same things. I couldn’t believe some of the comments I was reading–readers called the main protagonist a Mary Sue of the worst kind (leading me to believe they don’t really know the definition of a Mary Sue), that the story was slow, that it was boring, that it was an almost DNF for them.

          The novel was everything that I would aspire to as an author.

          It made me realize that what I love the most about an excellent story–the layering of details, the slow reveal of information, the intricate plot that plays itself out like a chess game between two masters–these are the kinds of things that many of today’s readers are simply too impatient to appreciate.

          That makes me incredibly sad. And worried too. Because I can’t see myself deliberately writing to please that kind of audience. I may miss the mark on what I want out of my own stories–and frequently do–but I don’t set out to write a ham-handed story!

          So yeah. Not sure where I fit in the new publishing model. I’m grateful that digital publishing has made me an author (it’s much easier to take a risk on a new author these days!), but I doubt seriously I’ll ever write a story that someone will read 20 years from now. 😉
          Sarah Madison recently posted..Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?My Profile

  3. I actually wrote about this myself recently in a blog post called “Finding a Style to Call Home” because I’ve got that M/F/M book coming out soon that I’m self-publishing. My thoughts boil down to brand identity; I think it is far, far more important to nail the style that we are selling rather than pin it to a genre or category. I’m seeing a lot more authors successfully crossing those lines, because they are clearly selling their own “voice” as a writer as opposed a specific type of pairing. And, really, the whole “use a different name for a different genre” was a tactic developed by publishing companies for selling hard copy books; it was critical for a writer to “own” a shelf in a bookstore, which she can’t do if one book is fantasy and another book romance and another book gay romance…all very different placements in a store. As well, there were no “author hubs” as there is today in the form of a website like this one. So the reasons for doing it don’t even really exist anymore. Reader expectations are not the same as a result. These days, mystery writers are doing mainstream lit, M/M romance authors are doing M/F, etc. and doing so successfully.

    I think developing a whole ‘nother personna just for M/F is cutting off your nose to spite your face, really. You’re doing it to cater to a very small portion of your audience who might not read blurbs to know the book is M/F, while stranding the rest of your audience by not letting them know about books they might be interested in.

    OF COURSE the answer is really “do what you’re most comfortable with” but I think taking a hard look at the nature of publishing today shows that the multiple psueds tactic is really one of times past. /2 cents
    Cooper West recently posted..Cover for “Homecoming” – book 1 of “The Chatelaine” seriesMy Profile

    • Well, it’s interesting because when I first started polling people a couple of years ago, I’d have to say that the vote was overwhelmingly for having multiple pen names for such different genres. And I can still see the sense behind that some days. But in the last few years that line has been blurred more and more and I think you make a lot of good points here.

      Mostly what I’m concerned about is slicing my time and attention into even smaller pieces. I have a hard enough time maintaining one pen name platform. On the other hand, I do see Margarita’s point about being able to readily identify a type of story. So yeah, I’m still waffling. But this is probably the first time I’ve heard less about how mandatory multiple pen names are!

      Lordy, I don’t think I really have a style. Probably why I haven’t ‘broken through’ to the readership at large. How do you brand “mystery/sci-fi/paranormal/contemporary but always with a twist”?

      I tried my hand at a straight contemporary and my beta reader wanted to know where the twist was… 🙂
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?My Profile

      • That’s what my post was about, trying to ID what my “style” is that crosses genres/categories — right now I’m mostly known for contemporary, but the M/F/M stuff has a strong mystery vibe, and my next Dreamspinner book is going to be paranormal. What is it they all have in common???

        But in a way I think you already have. Your tag “Hot men in hot water” is good, and you could just tweak it (“Hot Lovers in Hot Water” for example). Or heck, just use what your wrote in your comment: “Romance with a TWIST!”

        And the shift makes sense; after a few years, people are starting to get comfortable in the “online publishing world” and realizing it’s potential (and it’s drawbacks, to be fair). It’s like a convo I’m having with some sf mainstream writers about the value of writers orgs (SFWA, RWA) and how their greatest contribution to a writer’s career, networking, has been superseded by the web for the most part. Will those orgs continue? Of course, they have history and prestige on their side. But like multiple psueds they are, IMHO, a relic of a different age. 😛

        And whoa, back to basics: keeping up one writing identity is hard enough, when you’re doing it ALL on your own. We don’t have a staff to help keep things going, and so we’re stuck trying to find time to do everything. *thud*
        Cooper West recently posted..Cover for “Homecoming” – book 1 of “The Chatelaine” seriesMy Profile

        • Yeah, I don’t think it would be hard to promote from Sarah Madison to Madison Dean–but the other way around? Not so sure.

          I hadn’t thought that about the writer’s orgs–it seems to me that attending these big conventions is still a strong way to network–but I do think agents are going to have to provide special services to avoid getting cut out of the deal!

          Bottom line, I’m exhausted as it is. And I have a limited amount of time to write. So it seems to me writing should take precedence and I should concentrate my efforts in one location/brand/name.

          It’s one of the reasons that, while I like having creative control by self-publishing, I feel I’m better off sticking with a publisher at the moment. I invested more time, money, and effort into my self-pubbed effort than anything else I’ve put out there–and as long as time is the most precious commodity for me, I think I’m better off letting the people who specialize in these areas do that for me.
          Sarah Madison recently posted..Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?My Profile

  4. Sarah, you know my view 🙂 But I can confirm that I in no way firmly established myself as an M/F writer before writing M/M, as my sales were dubious at best in this genre. But Stripped Bare just captured the imagination, and I did a huge amount of pre marketing work in genre specific forums and chat rooms and Facebook pages, and getting ‘me’ out there, before its release date. A lot of work…and sadly , my sales of M/F have not soared because people have gone back to buy my M/F books after reading Stripped Bare. Sad, harsh but so true. So – are M/M readers stuck in the genre to the extent that once in, they don’t like going outside of it? I read M/M 99 % of the time and I don’t really feel the need to leave this pleasurable past time for other genre books. But that’s a personal preference, a whimsy if you will. And going forward I doubt I will write M/F books either. I’ll stick to what I love which is writing male romance. I don’t know the answer to the questions posed here, all I know is that I wouldn’t want to build another name in another genre because that’s a lot of hard work and I’m not sure it will reap the rewards. But as the poll says, a writer needs to do what feels comfortable and hopefully gut instinct will work out and pay dividends in the end no matter what the final decision.
    Susan Mac Nicol recently posted..‘Stripped Bare ‘ book trailerMy Profile

    • Well, I think this is proof that readers don’t usually cross genres. Because face it, most of your work done in genre-specific areas aren’t usually going to attract M/F readers. So on the one hand, while I use you as my example of why gender doesn’t matter, now you have me leaning slightly back to my original argument–that M/F readers and M/M readers are different audiences.

      Interesting, very interesting! Now I’m even more confused! (And I want your publicist! 😉

      Congrats on your success with Stripped Bare, by the way! Publicity or no, you still have had a phenomenal achievement with your first M/M novel! You’re going to have to come back here for another interview because I want to know how someone who reads mostly M/M romances got started writing M/F–and what made you decide to write M/M now? 🙂
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?My Profile

  5. I voted yes and no on this one, sorry, not helpful! I think M/M readers are (sometimes) willing to read an M/F romance, and I think there are M/F romance readers who will pick up an M/M. I think in both cases it helps if the author is someone they know and trust. I also have heard legends of M/M readers losing their shit completely when they get a “surprise” M/F interaction in a romance.

    On the other hand, a pen name can be really useful for a writer well-known in a genre to separate herself from the association. E.g. Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb for mysteries rather than romance, and J.K. Rowling’s recent pen name SNAFU with Robert Galbraith. I could go on for approximately six days about how fucked up it is that female writers have to take male names to be taken seriously, but I will refrain.

    In the end I vote “no!” because I think you should and can own your output, whatever it is. You’re super.
    Elinor recently posted..Monday Music: CupsMy Profile

    • Yeah, the whole subject of pen names is tricky. I deliberately chose a very feminine pen name when I began writing M/M stories because I didn’t want there to be any question that I was female. And yet, there are compelling reasons why a woman might take a gender neutral or masculine pen name. I keep thinking of Remington Steele,the TV show about the PI who invented a fake male boss when no one would hire her–and once she did, she had job offers around the block.

      Or this article: Why James Chartrand wears women’s underpants. Talk about an eye-opener!

      In this situation, the creation of Madison Dean would be mostly about making sure that the die-hard M/F reader, who wouldn’t dream of crossing genres, would have a clear line of demarcation. In today’s one-click world, making things fast and easy is a plus, otherwise someone might just move on to something they don’t have to figure out. (I have a theory that you have about 2 seconds to make a favorable impression on someone when they click on your website–that’s it, then they’re gone.)

      On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with this: In the end I vote “no!” because I think you should and can own your output, whatever it is. You’re super.

      Thank you! *blushes*
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?My Profile

  6. Years ago, while looking for due South stories outside of canon, I was shocked to read due South M/M. I loved it.Since the sex was secondary to the story, I ate it up,and then I found out I was not alone in my “perversion”. That was because the writing was really good,and the sex was secondary to the story (not PWP: I would have run screaming. Just two men who loved each other as a side note) But still hot. (I pretended to ignored the whole GUH aspect!)

    My useless opinion is to embrace the name you’re already writing under. If I had discovered you as a F/M back in the day, and then found out you wrote M/M, I would have sneakily read it, but told no one. But still devoured it, and understood why it called to me. (No helpless virgin to save.)

    You do risk not getting readers if they know you write M/M. On the other hand. Utah is the largest consumer of porn, in spite of laws and beliefs.

    Your readers will follow you, and new ones will be introduced to new ideas. Hey, I downloaded “Maple Lane Manor” just because of you. And I hate F/M.

    Also, I apologize if this is slightly off. I’m making hard-boiled eggs also, which I hate, to try and br healthier. Grrr. Better that chips, I tell myself.

    • This made me grin for so many reasons! First–dueSouth! You need to send me some story recommendations! I’ve read very little in that fandom but I loved the show.

      I think you have a point about how if you like the author, you might read something by them you might not otherwise read. I mean, ideally, it shouldn’t matter at all if I write M/F, M/M, or something in between. One day it won’t. If we call start acting as though it doesn’t matter now, surely other people will follow, right? It’s just when you’re a starving author (can you picture me freezing in my garret in the winter? :-)) you worry about getting the whole marketing/platform/promotion wrong.

      I think there is this fear that if you make a critical mistake at the very beginning of launching yourself as an author, YOU ARE SCREWED FOREVER. That’s not true. It will just take you longer to reach your goals.

      I also grin at the thought of being the author people secretly read on the sly–and that I could tempt you into reading a M/F novel! And I *love* hard-boiled eggs–I had them for dinner last night. A little salt and some butter…yum! (I’m trying to eat healthier myself, but this morning I was late for work and succumbed to the temptation of doughnuts when I missed breakfast as a result…)
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Everyone loves a poll! Second pen name, yes or no?My Profile

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