Author Pen Names by Alexi Silversmith

Alexi Silversmith lives in England, and has been a published author in another genre since the age of twenty-one – but only wrote her first M/M story this January. I’m sure we’ll hear from her frequently as she builds a base of loyal M/M fans.   

Hello everyone. Today on this Bat-Channel, you’re going to be exposed to the ramblings of a newbie author – so new that I don’t even have any published M/M work yet, just contracts.   

Ottawa Gay Pride Parade

 

But I’ve been hanging around on a lot of blogs and participating in lot of discussions on M/M writers’ forums and I’ve noticed something a little odd. Something about pen-names. I posted about it on my blog, and the lovely Wave saw it and asked me to expand on it for all of you. So if you hate this post, blame Wave 🙂   

I’d say, at a rough guess, that nearly 80% of the e-published authors I come across write M/M fiction under a non-de-plume of some kind. It’s expected. In fact, I’m stunned when I talk to an M/M author and realise that they’re using their real name. You probably are too. But I wonder how many people realise what a huge percentage this is, when compared to conventional, print publishing? In my day-to-day life I have met many writers, and I have never met one single author who used a pseudonym for their print work.   

There are good reasons for this tendency in e-publishing. I should know, because I write my M/M stories under a pen-name too.   

I’ve spent the last several years of my life building up a career as an author of books for young adults and children, under my real name. The implications if I used the same name for M/M work are sticky in more ways than one. I don’t want to read an email from a puzzled ten year old asking me to explain gay sex. I’d rather not read one from an homophobic parent of a ten year old (and it’s stunning how many parents reveal heretofore unnoticed homophobic tendencies when it comes to their kids) asking me to drop dead. I certainly don’t want one from a large group of librarians who’ve decided to ban my YA work based on my lack of moral fibre, an all too real possibility in the US, though perhaps not in the UK.   

Other writers that I spoke to about this were teachers or child-care workers or people with other sensitive jobs. Many of them were convinced  that despite discrimination laws, their jobs would be under threat if it was discovered that they wrote about sex at all, let alone gay sex. Still others had family members who feared for their jobs or businesses, and had sworn them to secrecy.

Brighton Gay Pride Parade

   

One lady I spoke to said that she had a church group that she and her family love being part of and whom they rely on for many different kinds of support. This M/M author said she knew for a fact that her church group would reject not only her, but her entire family, if they found out about her M/M writing.   

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I got to the last example I felt my mental gears grind to a halt.   

Although the author in question described her church group as being ‘genuinely nice people’, and used language like ‘conservative’ and ‘traditional’ to describe them, I think it’s pretty clear that what the church group must actually be is ‘bigoted’. These people wouldn’t just stop talking to her at the annual charity bake-sale if they found out that she wrote gay fiction for a hobby. They would reject her entire family. That is harsh. So let’s call a spade a spade here. This church is anti-gay. Homophobic.   

The lady writes romantic novels in which men fall in love and enjoy beautiful, erotic homosexual sex. Surely, then, she believes in gay rights and abhors bigotry? Yet she’s happy for her family to associate with a group of people who are teaching them that hating gay people – and rejecting those who believe in equal rights for gay people – is just A-Okay?   

Huh?   

The problem is that once you question this last example, you find yourself going back through all the other reasons – like the ones from people who fear that their jobs would be under threat, and my own excuse about not wanting kids to accidentally read work not meant for them…and suddenly it all seems a bit feeble. You start to wonder how the hell society is ever going to evolve if people don’t stand up and take that risk one day? Why anyone bothered to write anti-discrimination laws if none of us trust them? If kids go ahead and read stories that depict gay sex despite all the warnings posted on them, it’s not like the world will end, is it?   

San Francisco Pride Parade

 

Gay, bisexual or transgendered people who want to live anything approaching a real life don’t get to come up with a pen-name and a bunch of excuses. They either come out and face all the hatred or they live a life of lies, repression and loneliness. And once again, I should know. I’m bisexual. Coming out was no freaking cakewalk. It still comes back to bite me in the ass (and not in the fun way).   

When my mind had been working like that for a while, a sudden thought occurred to me: we’ve got a hell of a nerve writing M/M fiction with an attitude like that.   

This is why some gay male writers of gay male fiction seem to hate all female M/M writers:  By hiding what we do as if it were actually something to be ashamed of instead of a cool hobby or career, we turn what should be a legitimate romance genre into some kind of prurient, nasty secret that we use for jollies.   

I know that there are people reading this who live in countries where gay people’s lives are still under threat from the authorities. Where, if anyone found out that they were reading M/M stories, they could face very real, and very nasty consequences from the law. And yet you’re brave enough to be here on this blog, reading and participating in the community you love.  

Ottawa Gay Pride Parade

 

So just what are we all thinking with this pen-name stuff?   

And the answer is…I don’t know. But maybe I – and all the pseudonymous M/M authors out there – should think about this issue a little more.

Author

Budding m/m author (two stories contracted so far, watch this space) residing in England.

76 comments

  • I’m late to the discussion, but just to add my $0.02: I write under a pen name, though I made a conscious decision to choose one with no gender ambiguity. There were a couple of reasons for this: for starters, my real name is really common (I share a last name with several celebrities, in fact, and no, we are not related, alas; my real name is also more gender-neutral sounding; it’s occurred to me also that my real name sounds faker than my pseudonym, so… thanks, parents!). So there was that. I also have done a lot of writing/editing under my real name, all of it nonfiction, some science/tech-y stuff, some of it for children, and that was also a consideration, whether I wanted it all linked together through the magic of Google. (I decided I didn’t.) I agree with some others about control, it’s about that for me, too. (Although everyone close to me knows both names.)

    Reply
  • I write everything under a pen name. I also write het, f/f and transgender. It’s not that I want to hide my identity as much as I want to keep my private life as private (and safe) as possible.

    Long before I published anything, I had received graphically disgusting phone calls, threats, had people send me emails telling me they know where my daughter goes to school… All because I worked with the GCSC (the original Gay Community Services Center). So when I began to write, I automatically came up with a psuedonym.

    I don’t think anyone who knows me does NOT know I write GLBT. Everyone who knows me knows I’m bisexual, so what I write is really not an issue. I’ve worked for employers who had reservations about the erotic content, of course. But I tend to see their point. Their issue is not the gender of the participants, only the graphic nature of their participation.

    If you type my “real” name into google, though, you will get an imdb profile, but not a website that will lead you, with just a little effort, to my home address and phone number.

    After my daughter’s principal told me a man came in the building looking for my daughter, I keep my “real” name as private as possible.

    Reply
      • The upside of the story is that the principal, a four foot ten nun, quick stepped that guy out of the building and gave him such a ‘talking to’ he never showed his face again.

        I should say that he might have been there for any number of reasons having to do with politics, not necessarily ‘gay rights’ politics. Or, he could be a personal enemy. I’ve made a few. : (

        Reply
    • Which, as far as really, really good reasons for having a pen-name goes, kicks ass. But as far as stuff you actually have to live through goes, sucks hairy donkey balls. I’m really sorry you had to go through that AM.

      (Also – fangirl squee! A M Riley commented on my post!)

      Reply
  • I’m late as usual, but my like many other people, I chose my pen name for aesthetics and branding, not to hide. I’ve been going by a bunch of names (and initials) since birth, nicknames and the ones on my birth certificate. It’s never felt like shame or hiding to me; the only emotions I associate with my different names are fun, affection and nostalgia.

    I know stories behind print pen names in romance and they all seem to follow on the marketing/branding idea.

    Reply
    • You’re not late at all. Thanks for commenting. Excuse me one moment

      (Deep breaths. Do NOT fangirl squee just because K A Mitchell commented on your post. DO NOT FANGIRL SQUEE)

      SQQQQQQQQUEEE! K A Mitchell commented on my post!

      Dammit.

      Ah…but you make a very good point that many people go by nick-names anyway and that a pen-name can just be an extension of that. Ahem.

      Reply
  • It is an interesting post indeed, though I agree some reason for the use of pen names are missing.

    First off there are just as many authors who use pen names as authors who use their own name. Just as there are a tangle of actors who use their real name and others who use stage names. I wonder if there are any statistics.

    Second off. There are many many many reasons for using a pen names, some as simple as for the thrill of using a different name.

    Focusing on m/m another reason can be added. While it is romance, it is still EROTIC romance. That is slightly different than writing a “typical” garden variety romance story. It makes no different if it is m/f erotica. It is the same as admitting one watches porn. I think the fact that it is erotica, is also a large reason for the use of pen names. It would almost be the same as announcing at work (or church) for that matter that you watch porn or visit sex stores.

    Personally, while I don’t keep it a secret that I read (m/m) erotica, I also don’t go announcing it everyone I know or at work. I think it would be a tad bit more if you are actually an author.

    To me, the use of pen names is also a way to keep work & personal/private separate.

    Good post though, Alexi, though I feel the topic was a bit short, but also your personal observations.

    Reply
  • AUTHORS
    Since this was raised here I decided to run an informal poll on the site about M/M authors pen names. You don’t have to state why you use a penname – just say whether you do or not and if you’re male or female. The poll is on the top right hand sidebar. If you’re still monitoriing this thread I would appreciate it if you would vote (that means you, too, Alexi 🙂 )

    Reply
  • As Tam already pointed out, I use my real name. So far, I’ve only had one backlash from doing so. I graduated from a Baptist high school and one of my old school chums decided to tell me that she could not “condone” the types of books I write. Since I really never cared for her, even back in the good ol’ days, I just shrugged it off. But, not using a pen name was my own personal choice and I would never fault a fellow author for using one.

    Reply
  • For those curious, the poll amongst romance authors regarding pen name/no pen name stands at 94% yes (53 votes) 5.5% no (3 votes). All but 5 are published authors, about 50% NY mainstream published, and only 3 are M/M authors, the rest are M/F authors.

    🙂 Stats are fun lol.

    Reply
    • Pie-chart! Pie-chart!

      Ahem. So it’s definitely a romance writing thing, rather than just an m/m thing. It must be, as someone suggested, ‘Teh Sexeh’ that does it.

      Reply
      • LOL yeah, that seems to be the general consensus. Of those who voted about 20 or so commented with their reasons and by and large the main reason was not wanting people to know they wrote books with sex in them, regardless of the type of sex. Whether it be kids, inlaws, parents, friends, co-workers, boss, it seems to mostly be about other people not knowing, with a small smattering of various other reasons like identity theft concerns, stalkers, and people like me who just don’t like their real name.

        Reply
  • I use a pen name for my m/m writing because my real name is unusual and my day job is writing non-fiction (articles, not books). As a result, I have a large internet presence under my own name; if you Google it, the first ten pages of the search are actually me and the things I’ve written/done. What’s more, if you Google it, you can find out where I used to work (all of my previous jobs, not just one), and where I work now.

    I choose to keep my professional and fiction-writing lives separate for privacy reasons. There’s really no reason why someone looking for information on my book(s) needs to know the address of my real life workplace, or anything else that I don’t choose to share with them as part of my public persona.

    Reply
    • I hear you! I spent many years building up my Google profile so that people could find information about my children’s and YA books easily. I have a whole internet persona as a friendly children’s writer who parents don’t worry about their kids emailing or going to book-signings to meet. Frankly the thought of doing anything to damage that brought me out in hives.

      I know this is rather OT, but if your current work address is online, be careful. Someone stole my identity and committed online fraud with it a couple of years ago with not much more than that. The advice I was given at the time was to make sure that your age and date of birth are *nowhere* online, as without that, no matter what other information they have, fraudsters will be stumped.

      Reply

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