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.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image8700774But 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. 🙂

 

 

 

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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Coming Soon From Sarah Madison!

I have to snort a bit at the title of this post–it feels as though I should run a movie trailer, doesn’t it? But there are a lot of things going on right now that I’m very excited about!

Next month (32 days by the website’s counter!), I’ll be attending Galacticon 3 for the 35th anniversary of Battlestar Galactica! I’m a BSG fan from way back, and I was delighted to be invited to attend this convention as part of a panel discussion on fanfiction, as well as helping to host a workshop on writing fanfiction (or really, writing sci-fi in general). Imagine my glee when I found out that ComicPalooza was being held at the same time! Or when I discovered that Galaction is a HUGE event! I’ve been to sci-fi conventions before, but never one of this magnitude. I’m thrilled, and just a little nervous too. BSG Scriptwriter Terrance McDonnell is also going to be on the panel, and I’m not sure I won’t be tongue-tied as a result!

What do you think? Should I bring my Peggy Carter costume? I confess, I am looking for an excuse to wear it again.

Peggy Carter ShoesFirst, there are the shoes. C’mon, these are rocking shoes, aren’t they? 🙂 Then there is the time and effort I put into putting the costume together in the first place. I’m still having trouble with the skirt though. The one I got originally was too long, but when I had it hemmed, I didn’t take into account how short the jacket was that went with it, and I ended up with a gap at the waist. I’ve got another skirt now that fits beautifully, but is too dark. I’m not sure I can match the color to the jacket by May 23rd!

But then there are the extras that go with it! A dear friend of mine found the exact shade of red lipstick I’d been searching for: Victory Red by Elizabeth Arden–the favorite shade of women in WW2 and still manufactured today! You should have heard me squeal when I got my surprise package in the mail. Not only did it contain the right lipstick, but my friend went the extra mile,providing me with props as well! Lipstick

I guess it’s pretty obvious I have a interest in WW2 history. The clothing of the period fascinates me as well. I loved the Captain America movie, and I adore Peggy Carter. I think one of the reasons I love her as a character is that she never lost sight of her femininity, and yet she was as tough as nails. Truly a heroine I can look up to and admire. So you can imagine my reaction when, along with the lipstick, I discovered an era-authentic compact by Stratton, which my friend assured me was what all the women used in Britain during the war. But the crowning glory of the package was the antiqued locket that my friend made for me–complete with a picture of Steve Rogers in it!

Locket and CompactI mean, seriously? How cool is that? So you see, I really HAVE to take my Peggy Carter costume with me to Galacticon/ComicPalooza, right? I thought so.

Sadly, I have to confess that I have at least three Star Trek costumes, as well as one Battlestar Galactica one as well. And a Peggy Carter leather jacket, a BSG jacket, a Stargate Atlantis jacket… I think I’m going to need a bigger suitcase…

In other news, I have an interview and excerpt from The Boys of Summer up at Chris T. Kat’s blog, please do drop by, check it out, and leave a comment. As a matter of fact, I have a bunch of interviews lined up, including some giveaways too. I’m going to be on The Armchair Reader, Savvy Author’s website, doing a Q&A on Love Romances Cafe’s site, and doing some other guest blogging in the weeks running up to Galacticon. I’m going to be hosting people here in the upcoming weeks as well! I’m also putting together swag bags for Galacticon, and will be holding a contest soon for swag and a copy of The Boys of Summer. 

I’m planning to upload The Boys of Summer to ARe and Createspace this weekend (barring more formatting issues), so hopefully those of you that have been holding out for a print copy won’t have to wait much longer.

And believe it or not, I am writing. I’m working on two different projects with my good friend Claire Russett–we’re contemplating writing stories together for both of our sci-fi universes. I’m working on other stories as well, but having a hard time settling down to writing a particular one. Oh, I know, how about a poll?

What would you like to see me working on next?

What do you want Sarah Madison to work on next?

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Jumping Ship: Will switching genres sink your writing vessel?

 

78812398_8I’ve been contemplating having an affair for a while now. No, not that kind of affair–in fact, my boyfriend is the one who put this idea in my head. For several years now, he’s been suggesting that I consider branching out into the M/F romance genre.

Interestingly enough, not because he is ashamed of my work. We met online, and because he is a geek extraordinaire, he actually discovered (and read) some of my slash fanfiction before we ever went out–and he still wanted to go out with me. But from the beginning, every now and then, he’s suggested that I should go for a bigger brass ring. It’s his feeling that I’m limiting myself by staying with M/M romance, despite the fact that it is currently one of the fastest growing genres in the romance industry today.

I’ve resisted the idea for many reasons. Not the least of which is, ironically, there were so few good strong female role models on television when I was growing up. I know, that sounds kind of backward, but back then, the men got all the cool parts on television. They were the ones in the thick of things–solving crimes and kicking ass, taking names and making us grin with their snappy comebacks and devil-may-care attitudes.  I was a tomboy as a kid. Well, to be honest, I still am. I entered a profession that was so male-dominated that when I first applied to school, only 15 applicants from my area would be considered–and 14 of them were men.

For me it was muddy boots instead of killer heels, a bulky-but-warm down parka instead of gorgeous wool coats in bright colors with silk scarves. Serviceable, practical haircuts instead of magnificent bedhead hair, and so on. Because it was worth it to me to be in on the action: to get the meaty roles. To have the best lines.

But hot boots are very cool...

But hot boots are very cool…

I detested the shows in which the the hero was presented each week with a temporary heroine that was Too Stupid To Live. She was pretty, feisty, and supposedly smart, and yet each episode we were given an example of how this apparently brainy woman-of-the-week would make stupid choices in the name of being independent, in order for the hero to conveniently swoop in and save her. Oh, yeah, and he wouldn’t stick around for the following week because he was off to save someone else. With his best bud/sidekick. Nice object lesson here, Hollywood. Smart, independent women have bad things happen to them and need rescuing. And wind up alone.

You know what one of my favorite movie scenes of all time is? It’s in the Drew Barrymore Cinderella Story, Ever After. She and the Incognito Prince have been taken captive by gypsies. They have been stripped of all their belongings, and a plea is made for her release. The gypsy ringleader tells her that she can leave, taking with her only what she can carry. She gets this gleam in her eye, walks over to the Prince, and hoists him up across her shoulders. She’s buckling with the weight of carrying him, but she faces the gypsy leader down with a gimlet eye as she staggers away under her burden.

The leader bursts out laughing and begs her to come back–and in the next scene, everyone is carousing around the campfire. I love it. Even at the end of the movie, when the Prince is rushing to save her from the nefarious (and ubiquitous) bad guy, he runs into her coming out of the palace where she has just rescued herself. Brilliant. Utterly brilliant. And not something we see very often in today’s storytelling.

Don’t get me wrong. It is getting better for woman in movie and television roles. I loved this scene from the Avengers when Black Widow gets a phone call from Agent Coulson. She’s being held captive, things look bad for her, but from the moment she answers the phone, you can tell she’s in control of everything happening in that room. And when Coulson tells her that someone she cares about is in trouble, she busts her way out of the situation that only moments before looked incredibly dire for her.

But what happened when the cast was interviewed about their various roles in the movie? Scarlett Johansson ends up saying at one point to Robert Downey, Jr. “How come you get asked the really interesting existential question and I get like the ‘rabbit food’ question?” How come, indeed.

Why is it that Kate Beckett has gradually over the five seasons of Castle, morphed from someone who (to me) was visually believable as a sexy, street-savvy NYPD homicide detective into another fashion model? Don’t get me wrong, I think Stana Katic is gorgeous, and I myself go through frequent hair incarnations (having learned the hard way I really don’t look good with short hair), but on some level, I miss the edgy look she had in season one. And I can’t help but think she was forced to give into the pressure that Hollywood places on actresses to look a certain way. Don’t get me started, but it is rare to see an actress in my age bracket who doesn’t have long hair. Mind you, I prefer long hair myself–but I don’t have a colorist and a stylist following me around every day. I WISH.

So, you’d think that I would be delighted to tell more stories with strong, smart, savvy heroines like these, right? Well, to be honest, most traditional romance stories bore the heck out of me. I find myself yawning and unable to finish reading a story if it consists largely of two people meeting, falling gaga in love with each other, being completely incapable of sitting down and holding a ten minute conversation that would solve their communication issues, and then resolving said problems with a snap of the fingers (and some sort of rescue) to live happily ever after.  Where’s the car chase scene? The shoot out with aliens? The threat to civilization as we know it?

I know, write it, huh? If you want it, you must write it.

The problem is, every time I’ve thought about writing a traditional heroine as a main character, my brain automatically short-circuits into the ruts of characterization I’ve been force fed all my life. One of the reasons I think I wrote slash fanfic almost exclusively iwas because there was so much scope for story-telling between the two main male characters in most action/adventure shows. I fell in love with a set of characters and wanted to tell more stories about them. Why don’t I write Castle or The Closer fanfic? Because I think those shows are already doing a better job than I can with the characters I love.

The shows that are a little flawed, that present you with wonderful, compelling characters but also with great gaping plotholes and waffling storylines, or have no possibility of showing you the story you’d like to see–these are the shows that capture the fan writer’s imagination.

When I first discovered slash fanfiction (and from there, on to writing M/M romance) I felt like I’d finally discovered adult fiction for the first time. Here were the stories about characters in love with equal dynamics in their relationships. Here were the stories that were explicit and hot, not shying away into euphemisms or fade-to-black sex scenes. I spent a year absorbing the fanfic of my chosen fandom, and the next five years writing it myself. Somewhere along the way, I got the courage to submit a M/M romance story for publication, and the rest is history.

Saying I can’t do the same with a set of M/F characters is a bit of a cop-out, I know. Blaming it on the lack of good role models is a cop-out as well. The truth is, I’m scared. I have worked hard at creating the Sarah Madison platform. I’ve written a fair number of stories. I’ve won some awards and commendations. I’ve built up a social network. I have the sneaking suspicion that my stories got published in part because the genre I write in is much smaller than romance as a whole, and there was room for one more little fish in it. (I keep waiting for the Authorial Police to show up at my doorstep and demand that I stop calling myself a writer) It’s all I can do to keep the Sarah Madison Fiction plates spinning on their little poles now–do I really want to jump ships?

Up until very recently, I would have said no. Not interested. Not ready. Then, when brainstorming for a story the other night, it occurred to me that there were some very good reasons for making one of the main characters female instead of male. The character as I envisioned him/her is already pretty well-defined in my mind–a brilliant, arrogant genius with not very good social skills, yet with a vulnerable side that is aware of not being the popular kid on the block and deciding that being smart and right trumps being well-liked.

I find it interesting that character traits we tolerate and find endearing in men (think Sherlock Holmes or Tony Stark) we’d very likely bash and malign in a woman. She’s a bitch, she’s mean, she’s rude, and the worst: “She’s stuck on herself.”

And yet, I’m tempted, so very tempted. Because I think in many ways, this character would be awesome.

But it would be a big departure for me...

But it would be a big departure for me…

 

You’re probably asking yourself, what the heck is there for me to be scared about? This should be easier, right? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I bet there are some of you reading right now who wouldn’t think twice about adopting another persona and cranking out another set of stories in a totally different field. Maybe you already write erotica and YA fiction. Maybe you write non-fiction and romance stories. You have three pen names, complete with websites, Facebook accounts, and tweet like mad.You’ve got different personas for each, and you can effortless keep them straight in your mind.

Writing a heroine that I can admire isn’t the biggest part of my concern though–it is starting from scratch as a ‘new’ author in a genre where I have no contacts and in a field that is already enormous. Am I diluting my readership by expanding ships or increasing it by widening the playing field? I see that Nora Roberts maintains a link for her J.D. Robb books on her website. Interestingly enough, the J.D. Robb website does not obviously link back to Nora Roberts. So with that in mind, you know what this means: a poll! Or even more than one!

Can a romance writer successfully write in multiple genres?

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If I write in a different genre, do I need a different pen name and persona?

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Will readers of one genre be seriously weirded out by the other?

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If I decide to go M/F, what route should I take?

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I am very much interested in input from both readers and writers here. If you’d rather email me privately, you can contact me at akasarahmadison at gmail dot com. I’m interested in your experiences. Are you a reader that will read any romance, or do you prefer a specific genre? If you’re a writer, what kinds of experiences have you had, good or bad, by writing in divergent fields? Inquiring minds want to know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sex in Romance Stories: Love it or Leave it?

Some time last year, I participated in a large informal survey of people who read fanfiction, and one of the surprise results was how many people skipped sex scenes when reading these stories.

Given the recent overwhelming popularity of certain fanfic-turned-original fiction stories, this astonished me, especially since with regards to romance, one would expect sex scenes to be an important factor in a story. Then too, there are some publishing houses that have a set formula that authors must maintain: a sex scene every so many pages.

I ran my own mini-survey among some fellow authors on a chat over Thanksgiving, and the general consensus was that if the sex was rote, if it didn’t reveal anything about the characters or move the story along in some fashion, many of my fellow authors skipped it as well.

I was kind of floored by this–after all, we’re romance writers! I like sex: I’m interested in the subject, I expect a certain amount of it in my romances, I enjoy writing a smokin’ hot scene that I hope will reveal something about my characters when they are at their most vulnerable. I put a lot of time and thought into writing these scenes, trying to keep their fresh and interesting. I assumed they were important to the reader as well–a major factor in what made a romance (erotic or otherwise) different from say, a mystery or a sci-fi story where the romance (if any) was a subplot.

And then last night, while reading a story in which the characters where a little too perfect, where they accepted even the kind of relationship assumptions that would try the patience of most of us and leave us in high dungeon (rather than making out in the closet when no one was looking), I caught myself skimming. *gasp* I know, I know!  But I did!

I asked myself why, and I realized that it was because of the complete lack of believability of the scenario as it was set up, and the improbability of the character reaction being what any real person would do under similar circumstances. Which lead me back to my poll of the Thanksgiving Chat. Now I want to know: do you skip the sex scenes–the presumed reason for reading the romance in the first place? If so, why?

You know what that means, right! Time for a poll!

Do you skip sex scenes in romances?

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And another one!

What throws you completely out of a sex scene?

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And one more…

What are some of your favorite sexual tropes?

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Okay, maybe a couple of more, but only for the purposes of curiosity.

Would you mind stating your gender? However you identify yourself...

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How about your age bracket?

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I read mostly...

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Right, well, it’s back to the WIP for me now. My deadline is looming and I’m entering what I hope to be the final third of the story. So enough procrastinating, yes? Yes!