Pen Names & Gender: What Romance Readers Want

books_roxiconsAnd the survey says…

First I have to preface this by saying the vast majority of participants in my not-very-scientific poll read M/M romances. Well, that only makes sense, as most of my contacts are fellow authors in this sub-genre! I think it is important to states this because in general, I have found readers and writers in this genre to be incredibly open-minded and supportive, and far more willing to take a risk on a romance that might be outside their comfort zone. I have no doubt that many readers of M/M romance made their way to the genre as a reader of traditional M/F romance. I remain unconvinced, however, of whether a reader of traditional romance, who’d never dipped a toe into the waters of M/M (come on in, the water’s FINE), would take a chance on a new-to-them author who also happened to write M/M romance.

108267663_8As many of you may know, this is a topic that has interested me for a while now. While M/M romance is gaining wider acceptance (even to the point of being mentioned in such major news outlets as USA Today), it is still very much a niche genre. And while mainstream Big Name romance writers are starting to cross into that territory, it is with the knowledge that they already have an established name as a romance writer–and a devoted fanbase.

My concern stems largely from the fact that, while I have my eye on writing a traditional M/F romance, I am known for being a M/M author. I think that’s a different kettle of fish. And so I’ve polled people again and again: should someone who writes in two very different genres have different pen names? Most of the time, the numbers fell pretty evenly between YES and NO. I’ve heard all the arguments. I’ve made a few myself, including a post on the topic fatuously titled A Pen By Any Other Name Would Still Sell? at Charlie Cochet’s Purple Rose Tea House. In it, I start out being very pro multiple pen names for different genres, only to have some compelling arguments from the opposite view almost change my mind. Almost.

Separate pen names for separate genres is entirely different from the other question that goes around and around in this genre: namely, should women even write M/M romance in the first place, and if so, would it be smarter to take on a gender neutral pen name? I’ve written about that topic as well–more than once. What I find the most frustrating is that it keeps coming up. I suspect that has much to do with the lack of respect women writers get in general, as opposed to writing ‘outside their sphere of knowledge.’ Everyone has heard the justifications for writing what you want, regardless of your gender. Tolkien never actually met a hobbit or a wizard, after all. I find it both interesting and frustrating that no one challenges sci-fi megastar David Weber on his ability to write strong female heroines–and yet the ‘controversy’ of whether women should be writing M/M romance never seems to die. Today I read a wonderfully thoughtful post on Sid Love’s blog by Sue Brown called Defending My Presence. You should check it out. back to my real question: could an author known for writing M/M romance successfully move into the M/F market without changing pen names? Would they lose potential readers if they *didn’t* use different pen names? Which is why I felt the need for another poll. A larger one. One that I could mine for some sort of definitive AH-HA! moment and point to as my reason for doing what I chose. That didn’t happen. πŸ™‚ I got some interesting results, however, some that surprised me.

Of the readers who completed the survey, the vast majority of them chose romance as one of the main genres they read. 94% of those polled stated they read romances, with science-fiction unexpectedly coming in second with 73% of readers. I say unexpectedly because though I *adore* sci-fi, I’d always been under the impression it didn’t sell well, particularly in M/M romance. 61% of readers stated that they read general fiction, while mystery came in the next highest with 59% of readers polled.

When restricted to selecting only one genre as the mainstay of their reading, 48% of the readers chose romance. Sci-fi again was second, but this time at 24% of the readers. The remaining categories (historicals, non-fiction, horror, thrillers, etc) garnered only a fraction of votes for being the primary category for readers. So yay! A LOT of people read romances! Only two percent of the readers polled stated that they did not read romances at all (and were excluded from the rest of the survey).

Here’s where things started to get interesting. The vast majority of respondents listed M/M romance as their number one go-to choice for romance reading (which leads me to believe the results are skewed to the M/M reader) at 92%. Within that genre, contemporary (71%) and sci-fi/fantasy (59%) ranked highest. Historicals came in next at 57%. I’m surprised by this because my observational experience would seem to indicate a large interest in paranormal/shifter stories, larger than was reflected in this poll, as shifter stories came in at 50%. According to the poll, more people read traditional romances (57%) than M/M shifter stories. That number was even lower for M/F shifter/paranormal stories, which ranked at 34% in reader interest. Not what I would have expected!

Man in Tranquil Sea at SunsetWhen restricted to only one genre, 64% of readers polled selected M/M romance. I would have loved to have gotten a larger cross-section of readers, though I am very grateful to everyone who participated and spread the word. Still, I have to conclude I’m looking a niche response that might not reflect the overall romance reading population.

When asked if the gender of the author mattered to the reader or not, 6% of readers said that it did, compared to 94% that said it did not. The question did not state if the author’s gender mattered in a positive or negative way to the reader, so the results here reflect the poorly worded question.

When asked if authors should use multiple pen names for multiple genres, the majority of readers polled (69%) said it didn’t matter to them. Of the remainder, it was evenly split between Yes and No!

When readers were asked if they would read something in a different genre from a writer known for a certain type of work, not a single respondent said no. The results were evenly matched between ‘yes’ and ‘maybe, it depends’.

100% of the readers polled said that they would not boycott an author who sometimes wrote in a genre that made them personally uncomfortable. Yay! πŸ™‚

98% of the readers said that if they preferred M/F romance, they would read a M/F romance story from someone who also wrote M/M stories. 2% of the readers said they would not, which doesn’t reflect the results on the boycott question. I suspect the word ‘boycott’ has some pretty strong connotations for some people, and again, poorly worded questions may have skewed the results. Interestingly enough, almost 25% of the respondents skipped this question, but because of how it was worded, I cannot be certain if this is because they *don’t* prefer M/F romance or chose not to answer for other reasons.

ink pen_wikipedia_orgWell, there you have it! Not sure what to make of it, except that the M/M audience is a great bunch of people and that I should probably go with my gut on this and take on a second pen name for more traditional romances. I don’t want to shock anyone with very different stories–and by keeping my pen names separate, a reader can quickly distinguish between types of stories to select the one they really want to read. πŸ™‚




10 thoughts on “Pen Names & Gender: What Romance Readers Want

  1. I only have one problem with all of this – I love your writing and will miss what we could have from you in the M/M area while you’re writing M/F. Oh, well …..the good part is that we won’t see a Coming Soon and think it’s going to be M/M and be disappointed when it’s not.

    • Your comment shouldn’t give me the warm fuzzies but it does! πŸ™‚ Thank you, I’ve been nibbling on a thumbnail waiting to hear back from the publisher on a submission and my self-confidence is taking a beating. I needed to hear that!

      But no worries, either. It’s not like I’ve actually *written* a M/F romance yet. I have a couple of plotlines in mind, but one stubbornly wants to be a post WW2 series in which both protagonists have lost someone in the war–and are forced to go undercover as Ward and June Cleaver types in 1950s America. While they hunt alien mysteries, ala the X-Files. *coughs* Which means I have quite a bit of research ahead of me. *shakes head at self*

      Sarah Madison recently posted..Pen Names & Gender: What Romance Readers WantMy Profile

  2. Yup. I think your gut is right – so you can guess which way I voted! One day, when I get to it, I intended to write this sweeping story of women on the western frontier – a women’s Lonesome Dove thing, if I can – and I’ll be using a different pen name for that. It’s such a very different genre to my current stuff, I’d be mad to try and mix them up.
    Anna Butler recently posted..Pushes baby out of the nest…My Profile

    • Oh definitely, in your case–two completely different genres not even remotely touching on each other (unless you count Cowboys vs Aliens :-))

      There’s a lot of argument that romance is romance, however. I’ve given it a lot of thought, though. If I ever get that M/F story written, I’m going with a different pen name–if nothing else, so readers can quickly and easily–at a glance–know what kind of romance they’re getting. πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Pen Names & Gender: What Romance Readers WantMy Profile

  3. Hmm, I’d read F/M by you, but not M/F. I don’t care what name you publish under. I love M/M romance because it’s between equals, and either man can, I don’t know, “Yield”, “Submit”, etc, then “Top”.

    I put it this way because in all traditional romances, the woman always seems to “yield”, even if she’s strong. It’s stupid, but just the difference between M/F & F/M pisses me off. (I’ve had my heart broken for being to “opinionated”, “strong-willed”, and most honestly stated “ball busting”. How dare I state my needs).

    I love your writing, and keep checking Dreamwidth’s Soon To Be Released” in expectation of your next book, and hope that, even if you write a het romance, you’ll remember how you(we, and so many others) love M/M fic, not just because it’s hot, but because it’s between equals. No one and everyone yields sexually and romantically, because it’s about connection, pleasure, and sex, not about stereotypes.

    God, I hope make sense here.

      • It’s nitpicky, I know, but in my head I’d read Female/Male (F/M) by an author I love, but hesitate over Male/Female (M/F) by the same author. Going back to the yielding shit, why is it always Male first? We Females kick ass and take names later also.

        The only het story I own is Cree Walker’s “Maple Lane Manor”, and only because of your interview. To me, that’s a great F/M story, because Maple’s very much the main character, and Derek is not quite a foil to show her off. He’s developed as a person, but the story is very much about her. Hence, in my mind F/M, because the story revolves around her. I know, weird, but I can’t shake the difference in my mind.


    Derek’s awesome, and is more than a foil. In so many “romances” the woman is simply a way to show off the main (male) character. It’s why I only read romances for 2 seconds as a teen, and then plunged into other genres. They weren’t much better, but at least the women weren’t supposed to be the protagonist.

    Wow, bitter much, Pudcat?

    Sorry, sort of, for spewing here. If you came of age in the 80s, I hope you get what I’m trying to say about romances.

    Am shutting up, and going to bed now, with Carlos. (My cat; see Dreamwidth account)

    • No, I hear you on that one–which is why I have been hesitant to try my hand at this kind of fiction–mostly because I think you tend, consciously or not, to mimic the kind of writing you read. So the last thing I wanted to do was write the kinds of romances that turned me off romances in the first place, if you know what I mean!

      I’ve been talking to a lot of people, however, and getting recommendations. Apparently traditional romances have changed quite a bit since I read them last and I think I have to do some research before taking the plunge! πŸ™‚

      Have a good night and scratch Carlos under the chin for me!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Pen Names & Gender: What Romance Readers WantMy Profile

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