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. 🙂 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! 🙂

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. 🙂