Guest Author Sarah Madison – A Pen By Any Other Name Would Still Sell

A Pen By Any Other Name Would Still Sell?

Yes, I’m trying to be clever here, playing off the Shakespeare quotation. Taking on another pen name is something that I’ve been contemplating for a while now. In fact, this blog post was originally going to be about sex in M/M stories, only it seems that topic has mushroomed in the hive mind of writers lately and everyone is blogging about it! I don’t know as I have anything interesting or new to say along those lines. The general consensus seems to be that you should include as much sex as your characters and the story itself demands, and that you shouldn’t concern yourself overly much with reader expectations as you can’t please everyone.

Sounds like good advice.

But the upshot of reading all these blog posts got me thinking about the kinds of stories I write. Let’s face it, M/M romance, while becoming decidedly more popular, is still a niche genre.  And I find myself wondering if I will still have stories I want to tell along these lines ten or fifteen years from now.


I’ve been contemplating branching out into other genres for some time now. I’ve even gone so far as to select a pen name, create social platforms—heck, I’ve even had some head shots done! Part of the reason I’m dragging my feet about writing a M/F romance is because, well, frankly, I love M/M romance. I love reading it. I love writing it. I love the dynamics between two strong leads that is unapologetic and does not feel the need to explain itself.  I love the built-in conflict that often keeps the leads apart without stretching the point of believability.

I love men.

I like writing from a male viewpoint. I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of girl; in fact, one of the complaints I’ve received in the past is that I didn’t have my characters declare undying love for each other at any point in a story.  Well, I’m more of a ‘show me’ than ‘tell me’ person in real life, too. I love the fact that when I write male characters I get to explore certain aspects of my own personality without straying too far into self-insertion into the story. Most of my stories start as self-insert ideas—I think that’s true of any writer. The key to making your characters real is to take that one step further and make them individuals as distinct from yourself—and yet carrying a piece of you in them.

When I announced to the boyfriend that I was seriously considering writing a heterosexual romance, his response was, “But however will you write from a woman’s point of view?”

I punched him on the shoulder. Lightly.

The point is, I don’t just have male-male romance stories within me waiting to get out. Part of me would really like to write a heroine that I don’t want to slap silly twenty pages into the story for being such an idiot. I’d like to write a heroine that I can admire, one that I’d enjoy having lunch with.  But part of the reason I haven’t done this so far is that I fear I will cave into writing what I know: that is, I will unconsciously depict my heroine with all the tropes and conventions that most of us grew up reading our entire lives.

You know what I mean. She’ll be feisty, smart, independent, and impossibly beautiful. Her hair will either be the color of sand or jet black. Her eyes will be either pale violet or sapphire blue. She will never need to watch her weight or pay attention to what she eats. She is unaware of how gorgeous she is and she never needs makeup. She will always have no less than two men interested in her at any time. And all her brains and independence will go out the window as soon as she falls in love.

See why I read M/M romances? I just can’t deal with that sort of heroine. I know there are others out there believe me, but most of them aren’t in romances, and romances are what I write. I also know you recognized this pinnacle of perfection when I described her, didn’t you? Admit it.

The other reason I haven’t pursued this venture yet is because I’ve been working very hard making a name for myself as Sarah Madison, author of M/M romances. Hot Men in Hot Water. To change gears now is to lose momentum. To have to start all over, building a new platform, making a new name for myself. In theory, it should be easier the next go round, as I should know the ropes, right? But the truth is, it feels like I would be subdividing my time and making my identity even smaller, and lessening the chances of either pen name being the success I would like it to be.

I feel it’s necessary though. I’m not trying to hide one style of writing from another audience by choosing different pen names. Sarah Madison is not ashamed to know Madison Dean, and vice versa. It’s just I think I need to make it easier for the reader who wants to pretend that the other genre doesn’t exist—and for someone to know that when they pick up a title with one author’s name on the cover, what they are going to get.

I love the novels by Elizabeth Peters. If you haven’t read Crocodile on the Sandbank, run out and get it. It is a delight to read and you will love Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson (and quickly devour the rest of the series).  I don’t really care for Barbara Michaels as an author. But they are the same person.  EP writes very different stories from BM, however. I know when I pick up a book by Elizabeth Peters what I’m going to get. And I’m cool with that.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to write as Sarah Madison because that’s where my heart is at the moment. But Madison Dean is taking shape, for that time in the future when she’s ready to launch her debut.

You can find Sarah Madison (and all her links) on her website at

Her latest release is The Boys of Summer , now available on Amazon.

The Boys of Summer200x300Blurb: Working for a California-based film production company, David McIntyre is the go-to man for matching the right location to the right project for the right price. On an extended trip to Hawaii, he hires Sutton’s Air Service to cart him all around to some of the most exotic locations in the South Pacific. During one of those trips, a freak tropical storm forces them to make a crash landing, leaving both men stranded without a radio and with very little in the way of food and water. Rick Sutton’s injuries make it imperative that they be rescued soon, and David finds himself calling on all his professional skills to keep both of them alive.

It takes a vivid dream about WW2 however, to make David realize that he has real feelings for Rick—more than just his natural concern that both of them get out of this mess alive. But putting his heart on the line might be the greatest risk David has ever taken—does he have the courage to make it before time runs out on both of them?


*** Contest: ***

Just leave a comment and contact email address for a chance to win a free eBook copy of The Boys of Summer. Contest ends June 25th and winner will be notified via email.

*** This contest is now closed. ***

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  1. I totally understand the need to write in different genres. I pen both M/M and M/F romances simply because some stories come to me with two leading men, and some with a leading man and woman. I look forward to reading tales from both of your personas!

    • Thank you, Vicky! I’ve been reluctant to branch out, mostly because I know how much time and energy it takes to ‘be’ Sarah Madison each day. But I think in order to provide stories to reader expectations, I need to make that distinction. Much as a writer would need to do if one ‘brand’ wrote steamy BSDM stories and the other brand was ‘sweet romances’. You don’t want to shock and disappoint your reader when they were expecting one thing and got another!

  2. Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for being a guest. I agree with Vicki. As a writer, you have to go with what your heart tells you. I know if I love an author and their work, I tend to follow them in whatever they do and give it a go. Like you mentioned, some authors have multiple pen names and sometimes the stories under each name are completely different in style and genre. I’m sure you will do great whenever you decide to branch out!

    • Thank you so much for hosting me today, Charlie! And I think you’re right–if you love an author’s work in one genre, you will probably check out their other works too. But this way, if someone whose been reading Sarah Madison wanders over to Madison Dean and thinks, ‘huh, not my thing’ then they will know which stories to buy in the future! At least, I hope! :-)

  3. The issue is that much as we adore m/m romance, it *is* a niche area. If you want to branch out into the huge het market, where there is probably more chance of making it big but where the thinking is (I believe) inherently more conservative, your success may well depend on not being associated with m/m. Sad though I am to say this, despite the growing social changes around issues such as the acceptance of gay marriage I don’t know that the generality of people have enough generosity of spirit to embrace m/m *especially where sex scenes are concerned*. I can almost see readers having the vapours at the thought! Remember Will and Grace? Will almost never had even an inkling of romance. It was as if the viewers were happy to watch a gay man on screen, as long as he was effectively neutered and denied a sex life.

    My next big project after Shield will be het, within the western genre. At the moment, I don’t think I’ll be able to write that as Anna Butler. Like you, I’ll need another persona for it. It burns to do it, but I sincerely believe that success will depend on the two brands being separate.

    • Wow, Anna, you make a really good point about the neutering of Will on that series. And yes, I think you’re right about needing to make the distinction between genres when writing. I thought at one point that I could advertise Madison Dean through the established platform of Sarah Madison, but someone pointed out to me that there are as many readers of M/M romance who do not want to read M/F romances as the other way around–so keeping them separate is probably the way to go.

      Separate doesn’t mean secret though!

      So glad you’re going to move forward with the Western series! I know Shield is dear to your heart (as well it should be–it is *phenomenal*) but your Western stories are filled with such incredible detail and historical accuracy that it is hard to believe you didn’t live in the Wild West! Besides, that means more trips to the US for research, right? :-)

  4. Couldn’t agree more about Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters (and I kind of get the feeling, from reading Jacqueline Kirby and Vicky Bliss, that Elizabeth Peters might agree with us, a bit).

    I already bought the book, btw, so you don’t need to enter me.

    • *points at your comment and grins* Because yes, I can’t even remember the name of a Barbara Michaels heroine. :-) And also because you already have the book–yay!

  5. _When I announced to the boyfriend that I was seriously considering writing a heterosexual romance, his response was, “But however will you write from a woman’s point of view?”_

    Y’know, he’s pretty OK. 😀

    I guess this topic points out how my POV differs from most Americans’. I grew up reading science fiction &, to a lesser extent, fantasy (there weren’t as many fantasy books available in paperback then). The “grand old men” of SF certainly left a lot to be desired as far as writing (main) (believeable) characters who weren’t white middle-class boys/men, but they did somehow foster a belief that *all kinds of people are OK*. When you did eventually start to read about characters of color, or truly *alien* aliens, or LGB characters (-TPA ones were still a ways off) they weren’t as startling as, say, _Brokeback Mountain_ seems to have been to mainstream US movie viewers. In addition, there _may_ be something to the unproven-but-common assumption that SF/F readers are more intelligent & mentally flexible than average, & therefore less prone to getting excited about (some aspects of) differences in appearance, orientation, religion, & whatever else you believe is essentially extraneous.

    All this is the long-winded way of explaining why my first thoughts on this topic were, ‘Why would you _want_ to write under more than one name? Then your readers can’t find & buy your other books if they want to–I love doing that with an author I like!’ Even after you explained why & after I read the previous comments, I had to really sit for a bit & convince myself to believe what y’all said. I finally thought of how rare it is to read *really* different stuff by my favorite SF authors–Westerns or straight-up romances or so on–& that that’s probably because _they published non-SF under a different name_. (Unless they only wrote in the one genre, which seems very unlikely.)

    ~si-i-igh~ Now I feel like such a naive doofus. But also sad, & pissed, that such subterfuge is necessary. You’re right, it is a huge duplication of effort to establish & maintain two or more completely separate psuedonyms, & it can only diminish the time & energy you have for actually writing. That sucks! I’m sorry I don’t have anything useful to suggest or insightful to say on the topic, but thanks for the learning experience….

    • Actually, you had some great points to make! Yes, my BF is all kinds of *awesome*. :-) Not only has he read my stuff without prompting, but he offered his services as a proof-reader this last go round and I should have taken him up on it!

      You also brought up a great point about sci-fi and how it opens our minds to the possibility that ‘other’ is okay, Wow, I never thought of it in that way before–thank you so much for sharing that! Because I grew up reading sci-fi and murder mysteries, and yes, while the Old School of Sci-Fi writers left something to be desired in their depiction of women, for the most part, these stories really did help a generation accept that different can be okay.

      I think fandoms and the internet have helped with the expansion of social consciousness as well. My connections with people all over the world have broadened my understanding of society beyond the narrow limits with which I was raised, and I think this is a good thing.

      But just about every person I know who writes in both M/M romance and other genres has stated the need for a different pen name. You’re right; I’d rather concentrate on the one and keep writing new stories, but we haven’t come that far yet! 😉

  6. I can understand the need to branch out sometimes. Although I’ve only written fanfiction, I have written both M/M & M/F – However, whilst the M/M is usually explicit sex, the M/F has been romance, with the bedroom door closing after they retire for the night; with the story picking up again the next morning.

    • BTW I’m

      • Yes, and you’re definitely right about a different heat level too–I’m going to have to give that some thought. One of my friends pointed out if I ‘toned’ down a particular het story I have in mind, it could get picked up and promoted among my sport–namely eventing horses. I’m not sure I want to tone anything down though! I think I will need a fair amount of research to decide, however. *coffs* :-)

  7. I think the fact that you’re afraid to write all those things means that you won’t. You’ll be aware of those issues and work to avoid them. I trust you and your writing. You can always take some traits from characters you like (including negative ones) and incorporate them into your female character. Nobody creates in a vaccuum; take Kate Beckett’s strength and Rodney McKay’s arrogance and…I don’t know, Kara Thrace’s drinking (from new Galactica, since I’m unfamiliar with the original). And hey, who says the het romance has to be written from the woman’s POV? That may be how it’s usually done, but nobody says you have to.

    I do think you’ll probably have to create another persona for het romance, sadly. At least if you want to reach a wide audience – this will allow those who are not comfortable with “gay romance”, as it were, to read your books too. Just how separate you want to keep these two personas is really up to you, though if you’re not ashamed of writing M/M romance (and why would you be?), then I say don’t deny the connection, but don’t put it out there either. If people figure it out themselves, great! If not, that’s great too.

    But then again, this is not my work at risk. So take my opinion with a grain of salt 😛

    • I think the fact that you’re afraid to write all those things means that you won’t. You’ll be aware of those issues and work to avoid them

      I hope you’re right! When I was revising Crying for the Moon (changing it from F/F to M/M) I had to go back and rewrite every sentence. Men and women think differently, act differently, heck, they even speak differently! I found the entire process fascinating and am glad I had the opportunity to do it. I’d misread the prompt when I originally wrote the Lesbian Vampire Fic–turning it into Crying for the Moon allowed me to restructure it and make it a far better story.

      But I *am* worried about the reverse process. I’ve already noted a tendency to put in tropes I want to avoid–just unthinkingly. Argh! So yes, it will probably be a slow process. I do like your idea of incorporating the best (or worst!) characteristics of favorite characters in order to create someone that doesn’t meet the genre standard. :-)

      Sadly, I once had a friend compare M/M romance to necrophilia, and she told me she couldn’t read my stories as a result, which was ‘a pity because you’re kind of a decent writer.’ 😀 I think that may be the reaction of a lot of potential readers. Or maybe not. However, I suspect that the readers of J.D. Robb and Nora Roberts tend to stay on their own sides of the fence…

      • Y’know, I’d completely forgotten that Crying for the Moon ever was anything but M/M-centric. I can’t see it as F/F without tilting my head & squinching my eyes–which I guess shows how good the rewrite was!

        Also agree with Popkin16 & Margarita that you’d probably write complex, intelligent, good female characters because you’d be sensitive to many of the ‘romance heroine’ tropes & traits, even if you unwittingly use them as you’re writing a story. I think that writing female characters in M/F relationships is a skill & POV that can be learned with practice, like writing explicit sex scenes or in 1st-person or present tense. Of course it might seem awkward & all elbows & knees at first, but I think good editing & experience will soon have you comfortable with your female characters (& you may decide they should keep some of ‘those’ failings or Perils-of-Pauline circumstances ;-).

        I once had a friend compare M/M romance to necrophilia, and she told me she couldn’t read my stories as a result, which was ‘a pity because you’re kind of a decent writer.’

        Great Goddess! See, that’s the sort of reaction I just don’t get. ~o_0“
        I think I’d react that way to, I dunno, RL rape/violence porn or child pornography or something. Sheesh, that’s some feelings of threat there…. I’m sorry you experienced such a reaction. :-(

        • Of course it might seem awkward & all elbows & knees at first, but I think good editing & experience will soon have you comfortable with your female characters (& you may decide they should keep some of ‘those’ failings or Perils-of-Pauline circumstances

          The Perils of Pauline! Exactly! That’s what I want to avoid! 😀

          Ah, that’s not the worst reaction I’ve had to a friend finding out I write M/M romance. I’ve had one friend show an interest in my writing, find out what exactly I wrote, and then cut the friendship entirely. I’m very careful who I share this information with now. Mostly because it could have implications for my day job. I find it interesting, however, that I could write a M/F story just as steamy and those same people wouldn’t object at all!

    • And hey, who says the het romance has to be written from the woman’s POV? That may be how it’s usually done, but nobody says you have to.

      This is such a cool idea! I haven’t read any modern het romances so I don’t know how they write ’em these days, but I bet this would be very unusual.

      • Most modern romances I’ve read tell the story from both the male and female POV or from the female POV exclusively. I think something from the male POV alone would be a first! 😀

  8. Margarita Gakis

    “When I announced to the boyfriend that I was seriously considering writing a heterosexual romance, his response was, “But however will you write from a woman’s point of view?”.”

    But this is why het fiction needs you! Because you ARE a woman and you have a POV and maybe it’s exactly what we need! We need it because it WILL be different than what’s out there. And that’s GOOD. that’s GREAT.


    I just think that het fic needs more strong female voices. AND YOU COULD BE ONE.

    • THAT’S IT! I will be a FORCE FOR GOOD in the M/F romance genre. *gigglesnort*

      I suspect the genre has changed quite a bit since last I dabbled in it. I suspect some research is in order before I jump off that board into the pool. But yes, I really would like to create a heroine that I don’t loathe. I have some wonderful favorite heroines: Harriet Vane from the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, Paksenarrion and Heris Serrano by Elizabeth Moon, Honor Harrington by David Weber. But these women are in stories that are primarily about other things with ‘romantic interruptions’. I think I’d enjoy the challenge of creating a heroine in a romance that I could admire.

      But as I said, I may simply have not come across the right stuff. I’d be open to suggestions if anyone has recommendations…

  9. Nothing wrong with niches. But if you want to do it, go for it. This book sounds amazing btw.

    olorien56 at gmail dot com

    • No, nothing indeed! I am very much aware that had it not been for the advent of e-publishing (which makes it far easier for a publisher to take a risk on a new author) and the fact that I wrote in a small niche genre, I would not be a published author today. :-)

      But I do find I want to tell more than one kind of story. I write mysteries and paranormals–and now I’ve tried my hand at a contemporary that’s sort of a historical too. I just can’t seem to write a story without throwing some kind of twist into it! So maybe that’s what I’ll have to do when I tackle M/F too.

      I’m so glad you think the story sounds like something you’d want to read! It was really a labor of love for me. I started the research for the dream sequence (which was only supposed to be a *scene*, darn it) and got sucked into the time period. A month later I came up for air and I knew that a simple scene wasn’t going to cut it. 😀

  10. Hmm..I had to look up Elizabeth Peters because I’m a fan of Barbara Michaels! :-). What can I say? I like gothic-esque stories..Still, the Elizabeth Peters novels’ look awesome, too!

    I do agree that two different platforms are necessary for het and m/m. I haven’t been published yet (but I like to write both m/m and het), so I have no formal experience except as a reader. I read blurbs and reviews of books I hope to purchase from authors I like, but I still might be a bit disappointed if they pulled a total 180 on me. I think it’s just better for marketing and to keep it clear for the fans.

    Great post!

    • That’s too funny! But you proved my point. You like gothic-esque novels and you know you’re going to get that with a Barbara Michaels story.

      I’m a big fan of blogger and social media expert Kristen Lamb. I really recommend both her blog and her books on social media for writers–If I’d started out with them, I’d have avoided some big mistakes along the way! But one area on which we disagree is pen names. She is adamant that using pen names divides your audience and the amount of time that you can devote to any one platform, and I know she is correct on this matter. She maintains our audience is comprised of grown-ups who can deal with the fact we write different types of stories. But I also suspect she doesn’t write M/M romance!

      My advice to you is get your platforms in place now. Maintain them and keep them interesting and active so that when you are ready to announce the release of your first story, you’ll already have interested followers who can spread the word. :-)

      Glad you liked the post–thank you!

  11. I never would have read romances at all were it not for m/m, but I think any subversion of the time-honored rapey alpha male/swoony-and-stupid female m/f romance genre would be wonderful. I think m/m writers could be the ones to do it; I haven’t read Tara Lain’s sole m/f romance yet, but her m/m/f stories are among the few in romance where I really, really love the female characters and root for their happiness (they’re always so cool). As for the pen name question, I think you have a right to do whatever makes you comfortable. You can always pull an Anne Rice and say “Sarah Madison writing as Madison Dean” in future editions if you deem it fit…

  12. If I am ever as successful as Anne Rice, you bet your bottom dollar I’ll do that! I read an interesting blog post recently in which a fellow M/M author asks if it questionable for her to be writing M/M romance ‘in the closet’, that is to say, not letting friends or family know what it is she writes. It was another look at the pen name question–and whether we’re not standing up for what we believe in when we take a pen name.

    I don’t know what the answer to that question is, though I think it is a good one and one we should be considering. I do know that my employment contract contains a ‘moral turpitude’ clause, which allows my employer to fire me without any other reason if I fail to comply with some unwritten standard of morality. I imagine writing M/M romances could fall into that category, which is another reason for having a pen name, I guess. :-)

    I’m going to have to check out Tara Lain’s books–I’d love to discover female characters I want to root for! Thanks for the suggestion!

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