Thursday, June 11, 2009


By Kelli Collins

Letter from aspiring author:
I’m preparing my first erotic romance submission for EC. I’ve noticed almost all the authors on your site are female. Would you recommend a female pen name, then?

My kneejerk answer: Yes. After thinking about it for a few days: Maybe…?

In genre fiction, I’d like to think male and female writers are on a pretty even playing field. Subtle arguments can be made for certain genres; men may have a larger showing in Suspense and Horror, women tip the scales a bit in Mystery and Young Adult, etc. But in Romance and Erotica, it’s clear women have men in a nigh-unbreakable headlock. With a few punches to their manly bits for good measure.

We can argue the specific reasons forever (please do). I subscribe to the “all things being equal” theory, so my opinion hinges on the simplest answer—audience. Romance and erotica enjoy a near-exclusive female readership. It makes buckets of sense that the obvious choice to give women what they want and need in the genre are other women. But that doesn’t answer the aspiring author’s underlying question:

Will women read romance and erotica written by men?

Obviously some do. EC has several male authors, some of whom don’t hide their gender. True, they don’t openly advertise it on their covers, opting to use initials with their surnames. But a simple click to their sites and you learn the score. From what I can tell, it hasn’t hurt their popularity. But popularity doesn’t always translate to sales…

We have others who write under female pen names, give no indication of gender on their sites and whose popularity range from “Love her!” to “Um, who’s that?” Their reasons for choosing a female pseudonym are varied. They think it’s necessary for the audience. They don’t want family or friends to know about their “other side” (common for male and female erotic authors). They’re worried about the type of fan mail erotica can attract. Professional life. Religious affiliations. Stigma. Embarrassment. And a hundred and six other reasons. But they’re always personal and, if for that reason alone, always valid. I’m not in the business of questioning them.

But how about you? Do you think men can write the romances women want? Are they too much “head” (mustresistjoke!) and not enough “heart”? Do they have to be the sensitive sort to write moving romance? Or the romantic sort to write blistering erotica? Could perhaps gay male writers have an edge? Or maybe I’m making too much of it and you guys are thinking, “I don’t give a crap. Bring on the sex! WOO-HOO!”

Well? Enlighten me.


Kimber Li said...

Of course, men can write romance and erotica too.

In my observation, readers' sensitivities are split on the female pen name issue.

Some will shy away from a male name.

Others will flock to it, finding the idea of 'seeing' it all from a male's perspective enticing.

And others won't care.

My suggestion is choose a gender neutral pen name.

Example, J.K. Rowling. She knew her audience would be mostly young boys, but she was female and she hoped to draw in female readers too. Using initials only made her gender neutral, until she became so famous no one cared.

Christine McKay said...

Ultimately I'm looking for a good story that captures my attention. I don't care whether it's written by a straight man or woman, gay man or woman, or a six headed green alien.

If it's well-written, well-edited, has a decent unique plot, and steamy sex, I'm in. The author's name is not the first (or even the second or third) thing I look at when picking out a book.

Jory Strong said...

Men can write romance, but from a business stand point I'd say a male author should consider going with a gender neutral pen name if they think they'll want to come out of the closet down the road. There is a bias toward female authors in this genre. My gut tells me that while some readers might not care or might buy just because it is a story written by a man, on the whole it will cost more sales than it'll gain.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes enjoy trying to figure out which authors are men when I read their books. I find it's in the details rather than the overall story or how "romantic" it is, certainly not in how hot it is.

An author's gender makes no difference to me when I'm selecting erotica/romantica, in any of my preferred sub-genres, none whatsoever. I seek out authors whose books I've enjoyed. I read the teasers and often the excerpts, just as I do with with authors I haven't read before. That's how I decide whether or not to buy a book.

That said, I appreciate honesty and a man who's trying to pass himself off as a woman to make more sales rubs me the wrong way. I understand it, of course, and buy their books anyway if I like how they write. I'm a reader first. But I applaud the brave male authors who put it out there (brave is sexy, after all).

Gender-neutral, sure, if that works for you. At least it's not deceptive.

-- Maria
(just one EC reader/buyer, though a voracious one)

Erastes said...

It makes absolutely no difference. If the book is decently written (and I'd assume it was if it's been published by a well known house) the writer's private parts are entirely irrelevant - we've had this discussion over and over in relation to women writing gay fiction and this is the flip side of the coin, or almost at least. Women like me chose gender neutral names because we didn't think that gay men would buy fiction written by women but the stats prove we were silly to care - and the numbers are rising.

If the author does proper research, (if he's writing from the female pov) there shouldn't be any problems.

I know many men writing romance, both het and gay and they are indisguishable from their female counterparts. Of course there is always going to be some who write more porny stuff than erotica, but that's the same for women too - and if it was really coarse, good publishers won't touch it anyway.

What you can do, aspiring author is simply use your initials and surname like KZ Snow, or a gender neutral name such as Lee Rowan or Alex Beecroft. But I'd say, be proud of being what you are.

In fan fiction, the very few men who were writing were treated like gods because they were so rare, and have a a HUGE following. So much so that a few women notoriously pretended to be men so they would get the same adulation! Copperbadge on Livejournal is a case in point!

MsSnarkyPants said...

I might actually buy a romance written by a man, because it was written by a man. I'll bet that would put an interesting spin on things. And if I were a man who wrote romance, erotic or mainstream, I would so not hide it! Can you imagine all the women he would have after him for his sexiness and sense of romance! Well, you know, if he WANTED women after him. hehehe

Terry Odell said...

I had an interesting chat with Barry Eisler at RT -- he asked, "If you read a sex scene out of context, could you tell if the author was male or female?"

I think most of the time I can, although I read more mystery than romance, and virtually no 'romantica'. However, since I write both XX and XY POV, I am always curious to see how the XY authors handle emotion from a woman's point of view.

Some do it well, some don't. And most of the time, if I'm trying a new author, I don't pay attention to things like gender. I'm looking for a good book.

Elle Parker said...

Personally, I prefer honesty from an author. At best, I'm willing to put up with a gender neutral name...but most of the time, I'd really rather people laid their cards out on the table. I don't like feeling as though I'm being duped.

Elle Parker

Lyla Sinclair said...

Weeellll...I'd like to sound all p.c. and say we're all equal, yada, yada...

However, I've been sitting here going through a mental list of my favorite fiction books of all kinds and haven't hit on a male author yet. For non-fiction, it doesn't seem to matter, but fiction?

Hmmm....Clan of the Cave Bear, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Do Me, Do My Roots (poignant, despite the title),The Other Boleyn Girl, anything by Jennifer Crusie (except that one she wrote with the guy, which I put down after the first chapter or two)...

With non-fiction it makes no difference, but with fiction, I seem to be incredibly partial to women authors and find myself wandering away from the male-written books, even if I expected to like them.

I hate to be unfair. I'm going to go look for some male written romantica on E.C. and see if I enjoy it. (Strictly in the name of fairness, you understand--not at all for the possible titilation it might bring. Heh-heh-heh.)

Anonymous said...

Some great comments so far, and some very thoughtful ones as well.

It's nice to see so many people don't really care; it's good to be progressive. of course, we could all just be walking the PC line. :)

Ms. SnarkyPants, kudos for your honesty.

I can sometimes tell when sex scenes are written by men; sometimes not. Though Maria, I'm with you in that I more often tend to spot differences in the details, rather than the erotic content.

Elle, I have to ask then: Do you feel you're being duped by the thousands of female writers who use pen names? Or is the dishonesty only in terms of gender?

Some might think using a pen name of any sort, whether the writer is male or female, could be considered dishonest. I would wholeheartedly disagree with them.

I don't think I consider hiding gender to be dishonest either...but I admittedly haven't thought about that POV much either, so I'll have to mull it over to be sure.


Elle Parker said...

That's a good question, KC.

No, I don't feel duped at all by authors who use pen names. That's an age old tradition, and frankly, I use one myself.

Writing under a different gendered pen name is also an old tradition, and twenty years ago, I don't think I gave it a moment's thought.

But these days, especially with the advent of the internet, we're brought in much closer contact with the authors we read. We follow their blogs and we might even chat with them in the comments. When it goes beyond the name on the book cover, then I start to look for a little more integrity.

Also, for me there's a difference between using a pen name to protect one's real identity...and using one to cash in a false image in order to sell more books.

(I should add in here that I don't care what the gender of the writer is if the story is a good one - I don't think you need street cred to write believably)

Elle Parker

Kimber Li said...

Well, 'An' is Chinese, but I'm white as a bleached sheet, married to a guy who's white as a bleached sheet. Does that make me dishonest? I picked it as a last name for my pen name because I thought it looked and sounded elegant. I learned later it means 'peace.' Pen names are a lot about privacy too.

Angelia Sparrow said...

Let me be very blunt:
I would not knowingly buy a male author writing romance/erotica.

My prior experience with what men find erotic in their sex scenes has left a very bad impression.

I strongly recommend a female pen name.

But that's me. I do buy male authors, but mostly in horror and SF.

Erastes said...

Angelia, I think you are missing out.

I find the following excellent writers of the genre:

Mark Probst
Vincent Virga
Max Pierce
Donald L Hardy
Marc Nobbs
Leigh Greenwood
Mel Keegan
Dorien Grey
Michael Jensen

too many more to mention!

Anonymous said...

Excellent point, Elle. And another I hadn't considered, but I certainly should have.

Through sites, groups, chats, etc., fans can get closer to authors than ever before. In the case of small-pub authors, it's not uncommon for fans to become friends. If I chatted with one of my fave authors regularly enough to consider them so much as a good acquaintance, I suppose I'd be upset if I discovered he/she wasn't the person I'd thought.

Angelia, your bluntness is refreshing. Though I'll admit, like Erastes, I count some men among my favorite erotica authors.


Angelia Sparrow said...

Notice, I said knowingly.

My policy prevents me from reading more things like "his bloated mushroom punched through my starfish" (yes, actual male-written, published erotica) or endless bad dialogue fetishizing semen and what a nasty whore the woman is (the SW Erotica Forums were awful) or the more disgusting stuff at Nifty.

The men I've read tend to write from a different aesthetic, especially het. My chances of finding stuff I like are better with women writers, so I'll give my money to them first.

Crystal Kauffman said...

To me, reading erotic romance written by a man is like going to a male gynecologist.

No thank you.