A Rose, By Any Other Name

I, like many other authors, use a pseudonym, or, in plain English, a pen name. Pseudonyms have been around for centuries, and have been used for a variety of reasons. Many female authors were forced to use male pen names in order to be published at all; George Eliot is probably the most widely cited example of this. In the mid nineteenth century, although there were plenty of female authors, it was considered vulgar for a woman to write anything other than light romances. Mary Ann Evans used a male pen name to ensure that her work was taken seriously.

It is a sad reflection on today’s society that it is still easier for women to catch the attention of agents and publishers if they masquerade as men. Even J.K. Rowling had to contend with this issue. On the eve of the release of the first book in the Harry Potter series, Joanne Rowling was asked by her publishers to adopt a more gender-neutral pen name in order to appeal to the male members of this age group, fearing that they would not be interested in reading a novel they knew to be written by a woman. She elected to use J. K. Rowling (Joanne Kathleen Rowling), using her grandmother's name as her second name because she has no middle name.

Another reason for using a pen name is to preserve the author’s privacy. This is important to certain people, especially if their husbands are in public life, or if they have young children. Authors of erotic romance, or male/male romance, have even more reason to keep their true identity secret. It is not that they are ashamed of their genre, but the sensitivity of family members should be respected, especially where children are concerned. You may use a pen name in order to spare the blushes of your mother, or your teenager (oh cool, your mom writes gay porn!) or if you happen to be a member of the board of the PTA or (gasp!) your local church (did you know your son’s Sunday School teacher writes erotica?!). Another issue is when the author writes across different genres: it would be quite awkward if an erotic romance and a children’s book, for example, were published under the same name!

These days, there seems to be a trend among authors of male/male romance to use male or gender-neutral pseudonyms. I’ve often wondered why this should be so; as the consumers of m/m romance are overwhelmingly straight women, why should the authors (also largely women) bother to conceal their gender? When I first started writing for Torquere Press, I also adopted a gender-neutral pen name. I thought it was obligatory. I have subsequently learned that is not the case, but it does seem that the use of a “maleonym” increases sales. I have a theory about this: as much as the m/m romance genre itself is built on fantasy, the idea of a male author may be an extension of that fantasy. For a straight woman to fully enjoy a romance written about two hot guys getting down and dirty with each other, would it not feed the fantasy for her to believe the story was also written by a guy?

Of course, most readers of m/m romance are fully aware that the majority of the authors of these novels are female. But the imagination is fed in many ways, and maybe the suspension of disbelief is such that a novel by Nancy Smith (for example) just doesn’t have the same sexy ring as one by (for example) N.R. Smith, or even Nathan Smith.

My real name is classified. My pen name is comprised of my real initials, plus the last name of one of my favourite authors (Oscar Wilde). Some of my work is still published by Torquere Press (http://www.torquerebooks.com) but the majority is now off-contract and the rights have reverted to me. I am offering my off-contract work for sale through Smashwords, and you can find all my novellas and short stories at http://www.ajwilde.com. I hope you’ll give me a try; I promise you won’t be disappointed. My name is A.J. Wilde, and I’m a girl.

Follow me on Twitter: @author_ajwilde

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