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Discussion Starter #1
Hi all

Firstly, happy new year to you all - whether its arrived or pending soon ...

Also, thank you all who have responded to my posts for being so welcoming and helpful. 

I posted last week about whether it was a good idea to adopt a different pen name when writing romance (as opposed to erotica) and the general consensus was that it was.  So, thats the plan - and yes, it will be a softer, less 'erotic' name than Johnny Footlong - that was always intended to be where I publish my erotica writing.

However, I have a question (may end up being more) around choosing a pen name for romance work.  I am absolutely certain this has been asked before as a 'big picture question' so if I am missing a huge old thread on it please point me there, BUT, I am thinking about whether I should adopt a male or female pen name.  Now, if I may explain my thinking ...

I have read quite a lot about many male authors in the past using a female pen name when writing romance.  I know that ultimately if the writing is good then it doesn't matter, but as the nature of the way books are sold and social media and web presence plays so much more of a role marketing, can a guy get away with writing as a female and maintain that same presence?  I am thinking about the way in which small reading communities that can build around writers are maintained.  Can a guy writing as a female maintain a convincing online presence, or indeed, do they need to?  Could it work (or has it worked in your case?) 

When I look at some of the higher profile romance writers that I know and have researched, most are female.  As a consequence, there web presence, posting and the way in which they nurture their market is obviously targeted at women, but done in a specific way, and I wonder, have any guys on here managed to be convincing in maintaining a female persona (without being internet creepy).  Or, is it better to be open and do it as a guy writing.

Also, I know many writers choose an ambiguous or non-gender specific name for specific genre work. To me, this is something I haven't really considered. Not because of the name, but because of the marketing work and the personalised nature of that when nurturing a readership.  But again, I might be wildly off mark with that thinking!

I suppose my big concern is that if I write as a guy (which is my initial thought) will I alienate myself from a big slice of the potential readership of romance work on that basis?  Maybe I am totally wrong and my thinking is backward?

Help, guidance and kind words appreciated.  Pity accepted if I am totally off the mark!

All the best,

Johnny
 

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I think many of us women are sexist when it comes to romance, and we make sweeping generalisations and assumptions. If I saw a man's name on a typical romance cover, I would assume that he's going to stuff up the women's POV because not a lot of men really understand what goes on inside a woman's head and what women really want in romance reading or in real life romance. I have read a few romances written by men and mostly DNF them - I don't know whether they really were missing the point or whether my bias about a man writing romance made me look for sour notes, but they made me feel like I was reading what a man thought a woman wanted in romance, whereas women seem to know what they want. Of course, I've probably read romance written by men using a female name and didn't even know, but I've also had a few DNF books with female authors that left me thinking, 'There's no way this author is a woman."

So, yes, I think a man should use either an asexual name (initials and last name) or a female name for writing romance for female readers. If you use a male name and it fails to do well, you'll always wonder if it was because you wrote with a man's name (and blame us for being sexist pigs, which we can be). If you use a female name and it fails, you'll think that maybe there is something in the notion that not many men excel at writing good romance that female romance readers enjoy.

Jennifer Wilde wrote a lot of really successful romance novels - but I really did not like the level of male violence against women, including rape and women forgiving men who raped them. It was like she was setting women readers up to become sex victims for men. It wasn't that surprising to learn - many years after I developed a distaste for the trashy sex of her big breasted, heaving chested, provocative women and the men who dominated them - that Ms Wilde was a man. (ETA and they are still successful, and still set the pace for a whole genre of historic romance where women are ravished objects belonging to men, and women readers still eat it all up.)
 

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As a male, I feel like I would definitely use a pen name if I was writing romance.

You can totally make it work, but the one thing I would never do with social media, is build a really fake bio for myself. Don't go using some real female's photos (even if you have permission) and don't go building some backstory for yourself, such as being married with three kids, etc.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Hi Lea,

Thank you for the detailed response; it is really useful.

My concern was that using a male name, as you suggest would 1) stop people even picking up/downloading any writing, and 2) create a desire to not like it, even if it is ok!  It might genuinely be crap, but as you said, its good to know thats the case and move on.

Regarding the name; I just really don't like initials - don't know why, but it doesn't feel right for me, so if I go that way I think I'll choose an female pen name, or at least an ambiguous one.

Finally, on the violence in the writing, I absolutely agree.  I hate it. I really don't like violence at all and certainly not in a sexual context. Not something i would ever contemplate reading or writing.

Thanks again Lea!

All the best,

Johnny
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Hi Hayden

Thanks for taking the time to reply!

Agree totally on the whole backstory thing; it would feel horribly wrong.

The interesting point for me is that as authors become more social media savy and the backstory thing is something that more important, does it make it much harder to be a guy writing with a female pen name simply because of this. 

I guess in the early eighties and nineties, pre-internet and social media it was easier to do this without having to worry about this.

Thanks again,

Johnny
 

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I'm looking forward to seeing what you write. I'm seeing more and more young men who get 'real love' and 'romance' and the beauty of the tension before anything physical happens. I think it's great if you kick-butt in the genre. Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Hi Jena,

Thanks for the link to the interview - I have come across Leigh Greenwood and his website before; in fact I was looking at it earlier today!

The interview is one I haven't seen though and it is a great read - thank you! 

All the best,

Johnny
 

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There are actually quite a few male romance authors using male pen names these days. They seem to do well. However, most are cultivating a "bad boy who writes bad boys" image. It's not always so overt--after all, there isn't anything bad boy about writing and publishing--but there's usually a bit of a rebel/outcast vibe to the guys.

There are also plenty of male romance authors using female pen names. Opinions on this practice vary. Personally, I have no issue with it and I imagine most readers have no issue with it... so long as they don't find out. Now, most readers will grab a book and move on. They won't look for more.

The issue comes more with social media presence. If you start getting more personal with readers as a "persona," people won't take that well if you're discovered. So there's really no issue if you're going to have a more dry social media presence--posting mostly about your books, other books, tropes, etc.

I recommend a more dry persona. All of the benefits of social media. Few of the downsides. All that stuff you hear about "people buying your books because they like you" is BS. People don't care about you. They care about what you can do for them. In the context of books, that means they care if your book is what they want, right now. They care that your author brand is what they want to read long term. They do not care about you, the human being.

Social media is REALLY overrated as a marketing tool. I am more forthright on social media (and in my newsletters and Author's Notes) because that's my personality, but I haven't found that to be a help (or hindrance) to sales. I am also quite opinionated on what's "required" of authors because of my experiences being more forthright on social media.

And IMO it's 100% fine for any author to take on any persona, so long as they don't start having more intimate interactions with others using that persona. (I think some of this is age related as well. I grew up with the Internet. I know not to take anything people say online at face value. I know a lot of the appeal of online interactions is going with any persona you want. Your author name is just another persona. No one, and I mean absolutely no one, is completely themselves online, especially not "celebrities" like authors).

So say you're a single mom who lives in Hawaii if you want, but don't start talking to readers one on one about the difficulties of being a single mom.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Hi Crystal,

Thank you for taking the time to put together such a detailed response.

I have to say I agree with lots of what you say - so will be following some of those ideas as I develop!

All the best

Johnny
 

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"I think many of us women are sexist when it comes to romance, and we make sweeping generalisations and assumptions. If I saw a man's name on a typical romance cover, I would assume that he's going to stuff up the women's POV because not a lot of men really understand what goes on inside a woman's head and what women really want in romance reading or in real life romance. I have read a few romances written by men and mostly DNF them - I don't know whether they really were missing the point or whether my bias about a man writing romance made me look for sour notes, but they made me feel like I was reading what a man thought a woman wanted in romance, whereas women seem to know what they want. Of course, I've probably read romance written by men using a female name and didn't even know, but I've also had a few DNF books with female authors that left me thinking, 'There's no way this author is a woman."

Thank you for being so HONEST about this. I wrote an erotica with my male name and it flopped so badly, it is a thorn in my side. You are so correct about women more in touch with feelings and honest emotions. We male writers take stabs at it, but ultimately miss the boat more often than not. There are some great male authors who can pull off a good romance or erotic novel. I'm not one of them. I'll never write romance again with any name. I don't know it well enough.

However, the same might be said for YA--women seem to have an equally better finger on this pulse, but I got lucky and changed my YA pen name to a female. It was enough for spontaneous buyers to give me a shot before they knew who I really was. It worked. Christy J. Breedlove is my feminine side for YA. She does very well, even if I'm found out, which isn't hard because I'm linked all over the place.

Why not go neutral initials? Just as effective.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Hi Chris,

Fantastic post - thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom - very much appreciated!

All the best,

Johnny
 

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Rich Amooi writes very cute romantic comedy and I really like his work. So it's possible for guys to write romance in a way that appeals to women. But it's either rare, or they hide out behind female or neutral names since there is gender bias out there. Not just for romance, but for other genres as well.

I'd probably pick a neutral name rather than choosing to be the other gender. That just feels deceitful, even if I never planned to interact on social media. I know other authors use the other gender and that's fine as long as it doesn't turn into the creepy male getting into discussions with women who think he's a she and disclosing personal stuff they'd never say to a man. Too many people out there still believe internet people are what they say they are.
 

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I'll add this, for whatever it's worth: when I was working as an editor, I took on a new client with a woman's name. We emailed back and forth for a while, and I always responded to this person as another woman -- and all of a sudden, out of a blue, my client said, "Um... my name is [male name]. I'm a guy."

I was SO MORTIFIED. Even though I'd had no way of knowing this person was a guy, I felt stupid and ashamed.

I'll use that as a warning, if you set up a pen name/online persona that appears to be a woman. There are fans who will feel anywhere from miffed to embarrassed to angry if they've interacted with you while thinking you're a woman. Some won't care, or will be amused, but for others... it's a tricky situation.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Hi C.Gold and Carol,

Thank you both for taking the time to contribute.

C.Gold, I see what you say; for me I think it raises questions about who my target audiences are and then thinking around that.

Carol, as always great advice. This is my fear; I don't want to have that 'negative reveal'. Thats not the aim!

All the best, and thanks again!

Johnny
 

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Long-time lurker here, decided to finally jump in!

One of my favourite writers of historical romance is Jude Morgan, whose real name is Tim Wilson. My unconscious gender bias being what it is, I assumed for years that Jude was a woman, and he writes women so well... He's also written historical mysteries as Hannah March, I think, but I haven't read those. But he's traditionally published and has zero social media presence, so I'm sure that helps in his case.

If I were you, I'd probably go for a gender-neutral name that's slightly more female-leaning these days. If I saw names like Ashley, Jamie, Rowan or Chris on the cover of a romance novel, I'd probably still automatically assume the author is a woman unless proven otherwise.

I also don't think there's anything creepy about a man using an overtly feminine pseudonym, but establishing a gender-neutral web presence is easy enough, and would probably be less uncomfortable - that is, would feel less like pretending - if your name is more neutral to start with.

It's an interesting question, though. I'm a woman, and I wouldn't feel especially uncomfortable using a male pseudonym and having people assume I'm male. What would make me uncomfortable, though, is using a name of a different ethnicity. I love Xianxia and Xuanhuan novels and TV series, and when I was a teenager, one of my plans was to write a Chinese-inspired fantasy novel and publish it with a slightly differently spelled version of my own name (that is, my real first name split in two), which would thus turn into a Chinese name. How clever, thought teenage me. No way I'd do that these days; it just feels wrong, even if it's my own name! These things evolve all the time.
 

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"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet,_nobody_knows_you%27re_a_dog

Just imagine KDP is assigning "Verified" tags for all authors! You can imagine how many celebrity authors would get unmasked because they are writing on so many delicate issues including erotica under different pen names! They would lose jobs, contracts, sponsorship, and their public image would get tarnished.

However, fortunately, it's intrinsic to writing profession alone to enjoy pen names. Doesn't matter if a male or female or a transgender writes stories about their opposite sexes. In fact, how much do husband and wife know about each other after living together for decades? Answer: very little beyond sex. More about body and less about the heart...and they create carbon copies of themselves through their kids and force all their unfulfilled desires on them. So, an engineer ends up as a accountant and a mathematician becomes a doctor. Everyone ends up in the wrong job because of which there is no work-life balance. The institution of marriage has failed and will disappear in another fifty years or so.

Even if you post a true picture of yourself on Author Central, how many people will believe you? Even the true profile pictures on this forum? A woman may be suspected of posting her hubby's photo and vice-versa, or an old dude suspected of posting his teenaged grand-daughter's, for writing about the other gender stories. Because, you see, nobody on the internet knows whether you are a dog as that popular cartoon says. Some may not even be satisfied with your true photo but want you to post your most recent photo. An author's life is so thankless. No wonder so many authors suffer depression and suicidal instincts. While they may write lengthy blog posts, they are lonely, sad creatures in real life.

But actually, it really doesn't matter for authors. Anonymity is a previlege that needn't be compromised in order to comfort a few tender snowflakes. To be mysterious is very thrilling and sexy! Keep 'em guessing till the very end and build up their curiosity levels! You as an author don't owe a damn thing towards any stalkers, if that's what you are wary of. However, you also shouldn't stalk customers in your new gender avatar. You can write any genre under any gender and be successful if you got good writing skills and a sound marketing plan.
So, no need to suffer from a new form of imposter syndrome because of masking gender, ethnic, location, and so on.

Happy 2020!
 

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I believe in limiting any barrier to entry I can. As such, my pen names are always androgynous. I started this originally because my wife, after telling me she loved the first in a series I wrote, told me a lot of women would be put off by a male author writing a female MC. After doing a good amount of research, I realized she was correct. I'd never considered or even cared about the gender of authors I tended to read, but going through the list of my favorites, I realized most of them were male. The fact is, and it has been proven time and time again that an implicit gender bias exists in all of us. There's nothing particularly wrong with that as long as we don't let it impact our lives/careers/others/etc. That being said, I never want my readers to think I'm someone I'm not and at the end of every book I use my real name for contact info, invite them to my FB fan pages where I interact with members as myself, and just generally let them get to know me as a person. If, after reading the first in series (or the couple of stand-alones I have), they don't want to continue reading because I'm a man, I'll wish them well and point them in the direction of great female authors. Those readers are just not my target audience. As an old business 101 professor I had (too many years ago to matter) once said, "If you want to make widgets, make widgets. Just realize not every one wants a widget, not everyone wants your widget, and not everyone will want a pink, green or yellow widget." Not everyone who wants to read will read my genre. Not everyone who reads my genre will read my book. Not everyone who reads my book will like it. Not everyone who likes my book will buy others. But for those people who want to read, read my genre, read my books and like them enough to want more, I will always do my best and try to keep their shelves full.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Hi Val, Loelia, Visitaskeat and Rob,

Thank you all of your detailed responses; really interesting and lots of food for thought!

Love the nobody knows you're a dog cartoon - very true!

So interesting to read different peoples thoughts and opinions about this!

Thanks again,

Johnny
 

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As a gender swapper for my YA fantasies, I always, always reveal that I'm a male to my reviewers, editors and publishers. To keep up a ruse otherwise is deceitful and misleading. Whenever I'm addressed as Chrsity, I straighten that out as "I'm Chris, the male author." I've never had any flak about it. Just be upfront.
 
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