Is an author name a feminist issue?

AMMA new fan I met today who said she loved thrillers with a difference, asked me why I used my obviously female name and not initials. She thought I would gain more credibility as A M Morton than Alison Morton as I would sound like a man. I gave a stock answer and buried my feminist hackles. But it’s an honest question from a member of the reading public.

Why J K Rowling and not Joanne Rowling?
M C Beaton and not Marion Beaton?
P D James and not Phyllis James?

But what about Sara Paretsky, Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, Lindsey Davis, Elizabeth George? And C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, P.G. Wodehouse, C.S. Forester, C J Sansom, and J D Salinger – are they perceived as any more masculine because they use initials?

It’s something I thought about when I started writing. Would it sell more books if my gender was hidden? But would it be deceptive and possibly annoy potential buyers when they ‘found out’? I’d always been known as ‘Alison Morton’ and couldn’t quite see myself as a rather remote ‘A M Morton’.

The old idea that men don’t read books written by women doesn’t seem to hold so much water – at least, I’ve found that to be the case with INCEPTIO even though the protagonist is a strong female character and the setting a feminised, modern version of a Roman society.

This may be a sweeping generalisation and I’m prepared to be shot down, but reading around this subject on the forums and readers’ groups, one thing seems to stand out (if I may phrase it that way): many male readers express an absolute dread of the ‘R’ word – romance, even if it’s a minor part in the story or  written in a matter of fact, non-emotional way. That’s a shame: emotional relationships are the things that bind people together and to miss this dimension out of any genre of book subtracts some of the essential human substance from the story.

Do you pick up books with initials rather than a full female name?
Do you get annoyed to find out the initials disguise gender?



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

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7 comments to Is an author name a feminist issue?

  • A couple of thoughts:

    If I’m picking up a book by an author with whom I’m not familiar, the name doesn’t matter to me.

    If pretending to be a man will sell more books, I want none of it. That sort of thing only perpetuates sexism.

    • Alison

      Call me naive, Petrea, but it has never occurred to me to think about the gender of the writer when I pick a book up. Maybe it was not being aware as a child, maybe it was my feminist mother not mentioning to me that there were such things as ‘boys’ books’ and ‘girls’ books’. I read ’em all!

      I believe it’s a personal choice, depending on how comfortable you feel with your name being associated with your work and how you see yourself.

      I think this is an entirely different question from pseudonyms which are often adopted for commercial reasons when writers produce books in different genres.

  • I agree, it’s a different question. Weren’t we lucky to have feminist mothers!

  • I am not fussed by initials or names. The cover and blurb will hook me in before the male/female issue even arises. I have often considered writing crime/thrillers as a male but know I wouldn’t pull it off very well, or be able to keep it quiet, so have not bothered. 🙂

    • Alison

      Yes, the important things are the shape of the book, the cover and blurb. If the story’s right, I buy it.
      Strange some people’s perceptions…

  • It seems to me that if one is proud to be a woman she wouldn’t need to hide the fact. Is your writing worse for being a woman? I don’t think so.