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March 20th, 2008

11:48 AM

MM Author Pseudonyms

Interesting post about Mychael Black and Torquere Press here at Karen Scott's makeshift blog. Don't look at Karen that way, folks - I'd say Mychael Black shot her own foot by posting that ridiculous cheerleading post about her publisher that is full of sweeping threats against the publisher's critics. If you don't want to look like a fool, don't be a fool in a public online venue like a blog, that's what I think should be tattooed on these authors' foreheads in reverse so that they can read it every morning when they look into the mirror.

At any rate, I'm not going to talk about Torquere Press here. What I want to talk about, however, comes up from the surprise expressed by one of the person commenting there when the person realizes that many of the MM fiction authors are females and wonders at the reasons for this obfuscation of the author's gender. Come to think of it, I'm interested to know the reasons too.

So let's talk about the deliberately gender-vague names used by many MM fiction authors on the cover. Some authors, like Laura Baumbach, Ally Blue, Emily Veinglory, Anne Cain, and Barbara Sheridan, aren't hiding the fact that they are female but there are many more authors who use deliberately vague pen names like TA Chase, AM Riley, and KA Mitchell. Some names on the cover, like Rowan McBride and Sean Michael, could go either way when it comes to the gender of the author.

Oh, I know why an author will opt for a pseudonym. But why a masculine pseudonym? My question for authors is: does having a masculine pseudonym or one that allows the reader to believe that the author is a man have any effect on sales of the MM stories? If not, why does an author choose a masculine/vaguely masculine pseudonym instead of an obviously feminine one? To avoid uncomfortable questions from readers? Publisher policy? A belief that a male pseudonym lends more credibility to the male romance in the story? Or, conversely, why don't you use a masculine pseudonym?

I thought it is open secret that nearly all the MM fiction authors are women even if the pseudonym used is Big Hairy Tom, but I still come across readers on a weekly basis who express surprise when they realize that their favorite MM fiction author is actually a woman. I had had a few opportunities to ask them whether these readers feel "betrayed" in any way when they realize that the author is female, but so far none of the few readers whom I talked to felt this way. Any readers out there who will feel betrayed if they realize that a woman is writing those love scenes? Will this realization somehow make the romance feel less believable?

I wonder just how much effect does the power of perception have on a reader's enjoyment of MM stories.

26 comment(s).

Posted by Teddypig:

Torquere Press just kicked the authors Naomi and Angelia Sparrow for commenting on my blog about the owners abuse of Pen Names.


Angelia you seem to be a nice person and I am sorry you got hurt.
March 20th, 2008 @ 12:47 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

Yikes, I'm so sorry about the authors. But look at the bright side - they're better off without such a ridiculous publisher.
March 20th, 2008 @ 12:49 PM

Posted by Barbara Sheridan:

What I'd be most interested in knowing is if the masculine or ambiguous gender name translated into higher sales.

Of course it would be next to impossible to get an accurate measure on that unless you took the same book and slapped on different covers along with the names.

What really boggles my mind is the whole taking the male sounding pseudonym to the extreme and actually saying you're a gay man. Teddy mentioned that he knew of several who did this.

I expend enough effort just being me I can't imagine how tiring and confusing it would be to have the whole secret identity thing going.
March 20th, 2008 @ 12:53 PM

Posted by Angelia Sparrow:

Thanks, folks. We aren't out to the curb yet entirely, since we still have some stories forthcoming. How well those will do... We'll see.

We have other irons in the writing fire (including our first heterosexual romance).

And on the Pseudonym thing, it never occurred to us to use male pseuds. Naomi took one because she lives with aging parents. I just use my legal name.

I always assume m/m romance writers are female unless there is something in the book that just screams "male sex writing aesthetic."
March 20th, 2008 @ 1:10 PM

Posted by Linda:

Are there seriously any female readers who don't know that the overwhelming majority of M/M books are written by other women? Maybe if they're readers who bypassed the whole fandom and slash thing, but still...

But about the 'ambivalence' of using initials to mask a gender, it's nothing new and certainly not specific to M/M writers. For example, JK Rowling was told to write as JK rather than Joanne because her publishers felt it was better to make her gender-neutral so the book would appeal to boys as well as girls.

Maybe M/M writers do the same, to make their books more appealing to straight women and gay men??

I'd be interested to know :)
March 20th, 2008 @ 1:25 PM

Posted by Teddypig:

Hey Andre Norton people!

Show love to the elders that reigned supreme in a male dominate genre!

Anyway with my background in reading vast amounts of Sci-fi I have no issue with it. It's when people refuse to admit it.
March 20th, 2008 @ 1:56 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

Woman pretending to be gay men? Will that really help drive sales to all those little girls enamored of Queer As Folk, Oz, and Eating Out? Or are these authors like Mychael Black who claim to be gay men trapped in a woman's body?
March 20th, 2008 @ 2:03 PM

Posted by L.E. Bryce:

Since my RL initials are L.E. there's nothing more to it than that. The pseudonym was simply to protect my identity while I was a high school English teacher, and because people have trouble spelling/pronouncing my real last name.
March 20th, 2008 @ 4:26 PM

Posted by ann vremont:

There are still some long-time het females writers (and perhaps editors) of gay m/m fiction who remember the day when the audience for the m/m that is so hot now was not filled with as many female readers as male and when gay male readers reportedly would not touch a female written story. They hammer this into impressionable noob m/m writers.
March 20th, 2008 @ 9:54 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

That makes sense. There is an obvious difference between print MM books and MM ebooks. The print MM books that came out before the rise of the ebook MM stories that eventually gave rise to print versions of these ebooks were, to my recollection, either erotic stuff you discreetly purchase or borderline porny stories passed off as literary (and, IMO, often depressing) works because everyone dies of AIDS at the end. Okay, I'm generalizing very broadly, but there isn't much MM stories written by women, if at all, unless they use a male pseudonym. It makes sense that the practice carries on.

I have a gay visitor who suggested tongue-in-cheek that the current MM ebooks should be called "slash" instead of "gay" because he feels that most of the guys in these stories talk and act too much like women for him. It's like yaoi, he suggested, which is a genre that is purely fantasy rather than anything even resembling actual MM relationships. I told him that MF romances are pretty much the same as well - many of the grand romances in these books have little to no resemblance to romance in real life. "Romance" in this case should be considered as a name for a genre rather than a term used to relate the content of those stories to what we know as romance in real life. But that's probably a topic for a future blog entry altogether, so I'll just stop here!
March 20th, 2008 @ 11:00 PM

Posted by Jules Jones:

I've been around long enough to be one of the authors who used a gender-ambiguous pseudonym at the specific request of an editor who was trying to sell gay erotic to a gay male audience that didn't like to be reminded that a lot of their smut authors had girl cooties. It was a different market to the market for m/m romance sold to women that we now have, where there really was a problem for anyone writing under an obviously female name; and there are still some editors in that market who go beyond that and will not accept stories written by women (and who greatly resent the success of women in getting published elsewhere).

But I never expected my gender to be an issue with the romance market, because of my background in fanfic. In fact, I was surprised at how many people assumed I was a gay man, because with fanfic I was used to a culture where writers were assumed female unless proven otherwise, and I thought the romance readership was much closer to the fanfic readership than to the gay erotica readership.

But for me Jules is quite definitely a gender-ambiguous name, because in the UK it's used as a short form for both the masculine and feminine forms of the Julius/Julia group of names. I had no idea that Americans see it as male-only, not until I ran into an editor who got nasty with me for submitting to a women-only anthology.
March 20th, 2008 @ 11:04 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

It was a different market to the market for m/m romance sold to women that we now have

I think so too. When I was living in Singapore where they actually allowed the import of GLBT books (as long as the importers call those books "gender studies"), I remember being shocked by how full of sexually explicit scenes those "literary" stuff by Alan Hollinghurst, Edmund White, and the rest can be. Some are pretty much non-stop sex scenes taking place in cinemas and back lanes. Very educational material indeed, I tell you. God bless "gay literature" for teaching me to appreciate gay erotica. Reinaldo Arenas' "memoir" Before Night Falls has everything a good erotica should have and more - incest, gang bangs, anonymous quickies, and the whole nine-yards in non-stop motion. When critics hailed the book as a daring work that exposed the trials and tribulations of a creative mind languishing under the oppressive communist regime, I was like, "Yeah, yeah, I like these hot Latin studs exposed too. Now, where was that page again where our hero went down on the sleeping fellow in that prison? That was HAWT!"

At that time, I believe Anne Rice was one of very few who could get away with contributing to gay fiction anthologies using "Anne Rice" (I have a few from Penguin that has her name actually headlining the anthologies in question) and even then, it was after (and because of) her success with the homoerotic Interview With The Vampire series.

I wonder if that aspect of gay fiction and the slash-dominated electronic landscape version of gay fiction can ever be reconciled, heh, or whether these two are better off considered separate genres altogether.
March 20th, 2008 @ 11:24 PM

Posted by Jules Jones:

I personally think they're different but overlapping genres, and you do get a fair bit of cross-over in both writers and readership. (Hi, Teddy...)

And it's a different game yet again when you look at original character slash in general. A lot of that isn't about the HEA, and may not even have the HEA, but the commercial epublishing market is very strongly orientated towards romance stories. So the short story of mine that was published in Forbidden Fruit last year would have been very difficult to sell to the epublisher market, because it was my take on the "don't get involved with the fairies" plot of British mythology. But it would also have been tricky to sell to a fair number of the gay lit markets, because it doesn't really quite fit there either (although I did manage to sell it to a Haworth anthology that has since been cancelled).
March 21st, 2008 @ 12:32 AM

Posted by Ally Blue:

Me, I was so green when I started out that it never even occurred to me to have a male or ambiguous pen name. I do use a pen name, because of the danger of being fired from the Evil Day Job (which I don't like but do need) for writing Gay Smut *g*

An interesting thing to me is that the vast majority of fan mail I get is from gay men, and most of them have picked up one of my print books rather than the ebooks. So far I haven't sensed any sort of bad feelings from the gay audience regarding me having girl parts. Maybe the guys who think I suck in a non-fun way for writing "their" stories just don't bother to write me, I dunno.

In any case, Jules is right, the market has changed drastically, even just in the three years since my first book. This is a good thing, IMHO. I'm also with Teddy in that pseudonyms of any sort don't bug me, and honestly it doesn't bother me at all if someone wants to keep their secret. But it DOES bother me if, when confronted with the direct question of are you male or female, do you use this-n-such other pen name, etc., a person lies. Maybe I'm just jealous that I'm a crappy liar and that always used to get me in trouble O_O

Enjoyed the delurk, thanks :)
(Ally, relurking)
March 21st, 2008 @ 2:54 AM

Posted by Teddypig:

I would like to say that Jules made a point of correcting me about gender in one of my first comments to her.
March 21st, 2008 @ 6:34 AM

Posted by veinglory:

Some writers are active in MM-romance (mainly for women) *and* gay fiction (mainly for men). For example I have a story and the gay online magazine Velvet Mafia. Some of these gay male markets (not VM) either don't prefer or don't aloow female authors. Many of the ambiguous names that I know are authors who have been writing since before the MM-romance side of things broke through.
March 21st, 2008 @ 7:31 AM

Posted by Mrs G:

I would like to say that Jules made a point of correcting me about gender in one of my first comments to her.

Me too. Thought Jules was a man myself.
March 21st, 2008 @ 9:19 AM

Posted by Katrina Strauss:

I am a female writing under a female pseudonym so as not to completely freak out certain family members. (Hey Teddy, my real life namesake is an Andre Norton character. Damned 70's parents....) I have maintained all along that I am a female author writing yaoi for a primarily female readership. It has never even crossed my mind to target a gay male readership, although I've based much of what I write on the time in my life that I spent primarily in the company of gay men and shared an apartment with a drag queen. (I even dated two gay men....looooong story....but it happened....) Though I have been pleased to cross over to at least a few gay male readers who've been kind enough to contact me. As for gay men disputing yaoi vs. m/m, I notice more of an age division there...I do indeed know gay men who read and enjoy yaoi but they are primarily in that 16-to-22-years emo kid age range who've grown up on anime and manga, and they enjoy a pretty bishie and the seme/uke dynamic as much as the next straight yaoi fangirl. That might be an interesting sociological trend to analyze in retrospect....
March 21st, 2008 @ 9:43 AM

Posted by CJ England:

I write mostly straight sensual romance, but I have a few M/M books. I use the same name for both--CJ England--not for any other reason than it's what I chose for a pen name. *smile*. I never even thought about the initials hiding my gender. As far as I know, my readers know I'm female and I've actually gotten a few cross over gay men who enjoy my "straight books". I think both initials and pseudonym use are fine...neither has ever bothered me as a reader. If I wonder, most author websites will let you know the actual gender. But keeping it deliberately murky? I guess I'm confused about that part.:-?
March 21st, 2008 @ 11:17 AM

Posted by veinglory:

If you try a few websites you might some that find ways not to use gender specific language ;) I don't really have a problem with not talking about it. The book isw the book... But I would draw the line at 100% female authors trying to get into a market intended only for gay men or anything like that.
March 21st, 2008 @ 11:35 AM

Posted by Kayleigh Jamison:

But I would draw the line at 100% female authors trying to get into a market intended only for gay men or anything like that.

So would I. It's more of an honesty issue at that point, at least to me. If a book/magazine/whatever is intended for gay men, by gay men (or for women, by women, for aliens, by aliens, etc) then I wouldn't just be annoyed to find a female writer masquerading as a gay man, I'd be downright pissed off.
March 21st, 2008 @ 11:52 AM

Posted by Teddypig:

intended for gay men, by gay men

You know I just cringe at this idea of segregated writing.

Especially when it comes to writing.

A good writer does not need to be Gay to write a Gay character or be of some particular race or class to write about characters. Maybe they need to do their research before taking a chance to insult anyone but if they are good they will do that.

Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote the first gay Romance that ever spoke to me as a gay man. About what I wanted in life.

That impressed me to no end. So I just fail to see segregating who can write what as beneficial to discussion.

The more I see Straight women reading Gay Romance and not just reading it but demanding more and more reality in the characters and complexity to the stories.

Wow! It actually makes me think at a Real Life level that this is more than some fad of exotic and new but maybe acceptance.
March 21st, 2008 @ 12:49 PM

Posted by Chris Power:

I'm a writer of gen and m/m, though the m/m book is under the name of Chris Quinton because of family reactions. My full name is Christine and I have been called Chris all my life. Power is my married name, Quinton my maiden name. I don't see the point of hiding my gender, even though 'Chris' is a could-be-either name. Surely it's the quality of the writing that's the important thing, not the gender--or the sexual orientation--of the author?
March 21st, 2008 @ 9:40 PM

Posted by Kayleigh Jamison:

You know I just cringe at this idea of segregated writing.

Especially when it comes to writing.

A good writer does not need to be Gay to write a Gay character or be of some particular race or class to write about characters. Maybe they need to do their research before taking a chance to insult anyone but if they are good they will do that.

Well I agree with you. I think, if nothing else, the recent trend in popularity of m/m fiction shows that boundary lines are blurring, and in some cases, disappearing. I personally don't read m/m, but if it were my thing, I wouldn't care who wrote it so long as it was well written.

What I take issue with is people who are dishonest about who they are. And the truth is there ARE magazines/publishers/etc out there who only want gay fiction written by men, or lesbian fiction written by lesbians, and so on and so forth. There are plenty of others who don't.

Say I go out and buy a book about breast cancer - a collection of stories written by women who have battled/are battling the disease. Then it comes to light that one of the stories wasn't written by a woman with breast cancer; it wasn't even written by a woman at all.

I think I'm talking myself in circles here and not being very clear. What I'm trying to say is that I judge by writing quality not gender, but others do, and I don't think it's right to deceive.
March 22nd, 2008 @ 7:31 AM

Posted by veinglory:

Indeed. A good memoir doesn't have to be true. But if a press is marketing a work as by lesbians as well as about them, that's their business--literally. I don't think it's generally a statement about story quality it's an appeal to an 'in group' buying power or a desire to support a certain community. I don't have a problem with that.
March 22nd, 2008 @ 10:30 AM

Posted by Robert Gray:

As one of the few Males who writes MM romance, I was frankly surprised when I first started getting female readers. I was writing for a site that specializes in gay male erotica. A lot of the stories I was writing were extremely raunchy and based in fetish sex. I couldn understand at first what could possibly draw females to the stories and novels. However, it dawned on me that what was attracting them was the fact that no matter how raunchy my stories were, they were all based in deeply romantic relationships. The only thing that differentiates my writings from other writings in the romance genre, are the mechanics of the sex scenes. Those mechanics are something that anyone can learn by reading m/m novels.

I see no reason whatever that a woman cannot write m/m romance. After all, love is love no matter who you find it with. Some of my favorite authors of m/m romance are females. Like Kate Steele, Treva Harte, and Sarah Black. Even though I know them personally and their friends when I am in the midst of their novels I do not think " oh this is a woman writing". The Males in their stories attract me to no end. And the sex in their books turns me on. What more could you ask for?

I agree with teddypig that there should be no discrimination in writing. Moreover, those gay Males who will not read m/m romance that is written by a female, I believe, have emotional problems that go beyond simply discriminating in reading. Misogynism is rampant in many societies. Our society and its subcultures are not free from it, unfortunately.

All I have to say to women who want to write m/m romance is, " YOU GO GIRL!!!"

Bobby Michaels
March 24th, 2008 @ 3:21 AM