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.
But 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?