Dec 262014
 
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By Colin

One of my favorite “writer stories” concerns none other than Edgar Rice Burroughs, who once found himself facing some uncomfortably frank feedback from a magazine editor. It seems Burroughs had just turned in a brand new adventure set in his prehistoric inner world of Pellucidar, and it wasn’t quite up to snuff. Even Burroughs’ most rabid fans have to acknowledge that the master nodded occasionally, especially around the fourth or fifth book of a series. The editor basically imparted this to Burroughs, offering the book’s pallid characters, tired capture-and-escape scenarios and general lackadaisical feel as evidence. To which Burroughs replied, basically, “You know, I kind of felt the same way when I was writing it; I just couldn’t seem to do anything about it.”

The whippersnappers will sneer: Old hack! Gee, his commitment to his craft musta been paper-thin, huh? But wiser (or at least older; or at least more honest) heads are more likely to feel an uncomfortable sympathy.

I, for one, have been there. So have most of us, if we will but admit it. Sunk hip-deep in a story that doesn’t seem to want to resolve itself or even just continue on for a few more pages, helpless is exactly how you’re likely to feel. Writing can be many things: invigorating, joyous, infuriating and, yes, erotic. But it can also be—not so much boring as infected with a strange, passive malaise. You find yourself willing to fling anything down on the page, resorting to the most appalling clichés, leaning on stock situations and characters that a younger you would simply sneer at. Anything to just get through it.

Because, you reason, as long as you do get through it, as opposed to tossing that manuscript in your “Isle of Lost Toys” trunk, then you’re ahead of the game. If you actually sell it and make a few bucks, that’s even better, right? But such “helpless” stories aren’t likely to garner many favorable reviews, assuming they do make it past your eagle-eyed editor. In fact, you’re likely to hear about their faults in living color. If That Helpless Feeling=Poor Work=Poor Returns and/or Negative Reviews, then a case can be made that you’ve crossed the line between “done is better than perfect” and “done is better than good”—and only one of those statements is true.

Which is why, friends, I’m here to talk to you today about the glorious benefits of procrastination.

What am I saying here? That you should just give up every time you get THF? That might seem reasonable at first, but eventually it’ll seriously cut into your productivity. And giving up might not be an option if, say, the project you were working on when THF struck is the next book in a semi-successful series and has a tight deadline.

But sometimes you can get extensions on deadlines, especially if you can make a case for the quality of the work being affected. This is an essential part of the fine art of procrastination: not avoiding work completely but making more time. There are some people out there who call that time “slack,” but never mind them.

Next you find yourself stuck in That Helpless Feeling, try stepping back and taking stock. How important is this particular project? Does it need to be done by a particular date? If so, is that deadline something that applies to you personally (“Colin, no more of your bullcrap, I want the next volume of the Sword of the Dominatrix series in my inbox by next Wednesday”) or a general deadline for an anthology or magazine submission? If the deadline is firm, make the most of the time you have. Go out for a walk and so some thinking about the project. The simple act of marshaling your resources like this can do wonders. The point is, you’ve taken yourself out of passive mode and into active mode.

In a better situation, in which you have considerably more time at your disposal, set yourself a personal “vacation time” of a couple days in which you can work on something else or simply catch up on your reading. Then go back and look at the project that was causing you trouble. Consider it from different angles. Try to reconnect with the elements that had you excited about the project in the first place.

Again, you may not be Superman in this scenario, but you’re no longer helpless. You’re doing something. You’re actively addressing the problem. And there’s a good chance you might just find that Helpless Feeling slipping away…

***

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

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Nov 242014
 
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By Colin

There are certain questions every writer is asked sooner or later.  “Where do you get your ideas?” is the one everyone thinks is the biggie, but that one has never actually been posed to me.  “How about I give you some ideas and you write the stories and we split the money?” is, I’m sad to say, one I actually have heard.  Guy I went to high school with.  Had all kinds of great ideas, but…you know, he just didn’t have the time.

There’s one question, though, that’s unique to writers of erotica, usually delivered in a hushed—even fearful—tone of voice.  “Does X know the kind of writing you do?”  For “X” pencil in your parents or your co-workers or your pastor or possibly even your spouse.  Seriously, though, I don’t think Dan Brown or James Patterson gets that question a whole lot, and I’m comfortably certain J.K. Rowling doesn’t.

Naturally, everyone will have a different answer to that question.  In my case, the members of my family who are closest to me know what I write, and don’t seem overly uncomfortable with it…but it’s also a don’t-ask-don’t-tell kind of thing.  None of them are particularly interested in reading any of my books or stories, but I doubt they would be even if I wrote cozy mysteries or sword and sorcery.  Most of my friends know, but there aren’t too many of them to worry about.  My co-workers at my Beloved Day Job definitely don’t know, and if I have anything to say about it, they won’t find out anytime soon.

Another question sometimes comes up, this time from the writers: “Is it a good idea to keep your erotica a secret?  Can you really manage your writing career effectively if you’re not able to reveal your true name?”

It’s true that there are certain disadvantages to going beyond a mere pseudonym—plenty of writers use those, even those working well outside of genre fiction—to actually hiding your true identity.  It can put you in the odd position of almost trying to avoid publicity, and that ain’t good.

But it’s a good idea to remember that, in the minds of a great many people, writing erotica isn’t okay; in fact, for those folks, it’s very much the opposite.  Even if they have a stack of back issues of Barely Legal hidden under their bed, or are practically paying the mortgages of the good folks at clips4sale.com, chances are they don’t have much personal investment in their smut.  Which means that in any public debate on the subject, they’ll likely agree with the loudest voice at the table.  Which is often a negative voice, unfortunately.

Even if you completely hide your identity, outing yourself as an erotica writer to friends and family can be problematic.  Double that for co-workers; people do mysteriously lose their jobs.  That economy, boy, we thought it was looking up, but…hey, you know how it goes.

Okay, fine, you say.  But isn’t it sort of dishonest to not be totally open about your writing?  Doesn’t it imply you have a paper-thin commitment to your art?

If you’re the kind of person with a cast iron ego and/or nothing to lose, or one who relishes a fight, or if you’ve built your life (income source included) within a sex-positive subculture, then that kind of total honesty might just be for you.  For the rest of us, a good first step might be to make a list of those things in your life you can’t realistically afford flack on: custody of your children, say, or your job, or your family’s good opinion.  Gird your loins and proceed accordingly.  And remember, there are worse things than working behind a pseudonym; your identity is one of the few things in life you control.

***

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

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Oct 192014
 
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By Colin

I might be jumping the gun a little with this month’s column, but with the air turning frosty (here on the East Coast, anyway), and everyone’s thoughts turning to winter, getting a jump on taxes might not be the worst idea. And if your first thought on reading the above is, “Taxes? What do taxes have to do with writing?” you’ve just proved my point.

When I first started publishing, taxes were one of the things I was thoroughly clueless about. I mean, I understood that money I made in royalties and payments for stories was subject to taxation, but that was about as far as it went. Was I supposed to pay taxes for everything? What if I was working for some big New York publisher? Wouldn’t they handle at least part of it? What if my publisher didn’t send me a tax form?

Ah, youth. If only I could go back and give myself a good firm slap upside the head. But in lieu of that, let’s lay down a few ground rules, just in case you’ve ever wondered about this stuff. As a quick caveat, and with apologies to our colleagues in other countries, the info below applies strictly to US Citizens.

First of all, yes, the one thing I seemed to actually know as a newbie was that money you make on your writing is taxable. All of it, including the five bucks you got for that poem in your friend’s webzine. If there are publishers anywhere—either book publishers or those buying material exclusively for magazines and anthologies—who handle taxes for their writers, all I can say is, I’ve yet to meet them. One of the downsides of making even a little money writing (and it all too often really is just a little money) is that you can’t use the old 1040EZ anymore. You’ve now got income as a freelancer, which technically can’t be included under “Wages, Tips,” etc.

The really nice publishers will, sometime in January, send you a 1099 form, which breaks down how much money you made from them the previous year and is meant to be included with your taxes. Some publishers don’t send a 1099, for whatever reason. You can always ask them, but it’s a good idea in any case to keep a running tab on how much money you make during the year. That way you’ll prepared for that lovely spring day that comes to each of us, no matter how successful.

So how do you declare your taxable income as a freelancer? I’ll tell you what every writer I’ve ever met has told me: I ask my tax preparer. Having your taxes done by a professional is not strictly necessary, of course, but the more you’ve made during the year,  the more of a relief it is to thrust a handful of 1099s at a qualified professional, then go out for cheeseburgers. I highly recommend it, myself. If you’re set on doing your own taxes, you’d be well-advised to get as much information as you can beforehand. Advice from knowledgeable friends is always welcome, and if you’re the bashful type, this internet thing they’ve got is an absolute marvel at pulling together information; I swear, it’s like you just push a button and boom! There it is.

A final remark: some writers might be nervous about talking through earnings for publishers known to deal in erotica. But keep in mind, you are under no obligation to tell your preparer you write smut, only that you do “freelance writing.” Besides, the preparer is not likely to know or care if a particular name on your 1099s is smut-affiliated. They just want to get home and watch the ballgame; they’re not going to put you on the hotseat and demand to know exactly why your publisher is called “Loose Id,” or “Sizzler Editions.” Trust me on that.

***

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

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Sep 082014
 
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By Colin

So you’ve written a book—not a story that crapped out after four thousand words, but an actual novel. And you think this book might be the one. Whether you use beta readers or go with your own gut, all the signs are right; this thing might actually sell some copies. You’ve decided to go with a publisher rather than putting it out yourself (and the joys of “putting it out yourself” are something I might go into in a future column). Now the question becomes: which publisher?

Because—just in case you’ve had your head in the sand during your book’s gestation—there are an awful lot of them. Even if you’re going with one of the electronic publishers (which, if your book is erotica, you most probably will), you’ve got an amazing number of choices. This month, I want to throw out a few helpful precepts, garnered through way too many years of my own mistakes, on how to go about shopping for a publisher.

First of all, just in case you have had your head in the sand for the past year, and are interested in an overview of the contenders, you’ve got a number of options. Google is not the least of these. A simple search on the words erotica publisher novel guidelines will get you started. If you’d rather look at more specific information right away, check out the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, specifically the Authors Resources page, and, for that matter, the ones at this site (on the right-hand sidebar below Roundtable Posts. Updated Calls for Submissions coming soon! —ed.). Both contain lists of erotica markets, with links to the publisher’s sites.  If you’re willing to spend a little money ($5.00 a month, or a discounted rate of $4.17 for committing to a year up front), I’ve found membership at Duotrope to be both affordable and very useful, not just for erotica, but for pinpointing opportunities in a wide variety of other genres, from steampunk to Bizarro. They also collate response times reported by members, to give you a better idea if your manuscript will meet with a quick answer or a slow death.

Of course, the first thing you’ll be looking for are publishers who put out the kinds of books you’ve written and want to go on writing, but this will also be an opportunity for you to look into areas you might not have thought of before. You might also find markets for material you thought was terminally unsalable, so take the time to really look around.

Alright, now you’ve assembled a shortlist of possible publishers. It’s time to look over their websites and their wares. You can judge a book by its cover, and you can often judge a publisher by their books. Do the covers jump out at you, and make you wonder what kind of story they represent? Or are they muddy, indistinct messes that just make you go, “Meh?” Would you buy their books? Because if you pick them and actually make a sale, your book will be right there among all the others you’re looking at now.

How about the website? Is the ad copy well-written…or at least competently written? Misspellings, tangled syntax and clichéd phrases on a publisher’s site are a red flag; remember, these people will be representing your work. If you’ve landed in a site full of clip-art covers and bad writing, it’s time to move on. If you Google a publisher and nothing comes up but a Facebook page or a Smashwords profile, then what I just said goes double.

If they’ve posted a sample contract (some do, some don’t), read it carefully, making note of things like royalty rates, and how you would go about pulling your book from their catalogue if they (perish the thought) turn out to be a shady operation.

Speaking of shade, reputation is another big factor to consider. Google the publisher—sometimes adding words like “complaints” or “problems” to their name will bring up some very interesting results. If a publisher treats its writers badly, there will be blog entries—usually a lot of blog entries from a wide variety of writers—about it, as well as mentions on sites like Predators and Editors (another one for your web-browser’s Favorites list). You have to take some of this with a large grain of salt, because a single writer who feels she’s been stiffed on her royalties can 1) be awfully loud and 2) recruit a handful of friends to help boost their signal out of nothing more than personal loyalty, and it’s true to say that sometimes “problems” with a publisher are simply the result of misunderstandings.

Some writers make a point of ignoring new publishers (which seem to crop up every week) until they’ve been in business at least a few years. This is generally sound advice; several years in business means the publisher is not just successful, but also has a certain stick-to-it-iveness. But you have to be a little careful here as well; recently, several publishers who had been around for a while and built up solid track records in that time suddenly went belly-up, literally overnight. Obviously, if you’re good at reading warning signs, these are businesses to avoid. Many publishers are iffy about taking previously-published books when the publisher dies; there’s always self-publishing, but that should be an option, not something you’re forced into to get an older manuscript back into print (probably with a less-than-glorious cover).

So now you’ve narrowed your list down and you’re pretty sure you know which publisher you want to submit to.  What happens now?  Come back in a month and we’ll talk.

***

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

 

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Jul 262014
 
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By Colin

Once upon a time, the market for erotic fiction was limited to one or two book publishers, occasional anthologies looking for new material, and the odd newsstand porn magazine. These days, a writer looking to publish has an incredible number of venues to choose from, both online and in hard copy formats. Back in the bad old days, no one had heard of an ebook; now, no one has heard of anything else. Not so long ago, a straightforward, contemporary BDSM novel was a rough sell. Nowadays, you can self-publish multi-volume space operas or sword-and-sorcery sagas in which power exchange is a central theme. Oh, and you can make all your characters anthropomorphic animals, if you want.

But some things never change, even in publishing. Hopeful writers—even in erotica, which is a notably hungry market—are still faced with dozens of new anthologies and zines that supposedly offer terrific exposure…but can’t afford to pay for stories. They’re just starting out, you see. As a matter of fact, they can’t actually afford even to send you a free copy of the issue or book that your story will appear in, should they finally accept it. But the exposure you’ll get by publishing with them is absolutely amazing. It’ll get you noticed by all those editors looking to fill slots in their Years’ Best Anthologies. Besides, a lot of their writers actually refuse payment, insisting on letting them print their work for free…and for exposure.

A friend of mine once responded to a call for materials from one such penniless venture with a hand firmly clasped on a not-to-be-mentioned portion of his anatomy and the growled words, “I got your exposure right here!

But all kidding aside, it’s a serious question, one that in my opinion doesn’t come up often enough: should a writer, at any level of experience, produce copy for free?

In most cases, the answer is no. Not because there’s a million dollars waiting for that story just around the corner (there probably isn’t) and not because these people are running scams (at least, not necessarily).  No, you shouldn’t give these people your stories for free for the same reason you don’t go home, cook a gourmet meal, and then serve it up on card-tables in the middle of your city’s business district. True, there might be some folks down there who could use a free gourmet meal, and might well be grateful for it. More likely, though, your prize-winning bouef bourignon will end up congealed and drawing flies, if not jostled by careless passersby and spilled onto the cold, cold ground.

As far as “exposure” goes, that is, to quote a certain old Kansas gentleman, a very overrated commodity. True, in the early days of the e-publishing boom, editors were cherrypicking writers off of Literotica and other free sites like nobody’s business. Today, not so much.

But…

There are cases in which publishing with a “for copies” venue might actually make sense. The big one is if the publisher in question has a reputation. I’m talking specifically about a reputation for putting out quality material, of course, but a reputation for controversy might actually work in your favor as well—always assuming it’s not the kind of controversy that gets your windows broken. I’m sure I don’t need to point out that researching a publisher’s reputation isn’t particularly difficult. Even if they’ve only put out one issue, or a very few books, there may be some reviews and other material about them that you can check out online.  Remember that Google is your friend in these cases.

If the publisher’s project regularly includes well-known writers on its Table of Contents, that’s another big plus. Such a publisher is going to draw readers much more readily than your average “We don’t have any money now, gang, but boy oh boy, just you wait…” outfit. Those readers will then have a chance to read your story as well as the work of the more famous guys.

But let’s say this really is a small-time operation, with plenty of dreams and moxie, but not much mileage yet. No famous writers in their stable, no juicy scandals, no hip street-cred. Is there any reason at all to write for them?

I can think of one: if they’re excited about an unconventional story that you really believe in and want to see published, but which hasn’t lit any fires with other editors. And if all indications are that they’ll publish it well and respectfully.

If, on the other hand, they’re not exciting any comments or (apparently) garnering any readers; if they look like they’re just sitting there, then it’s probably safe to give them a pass. And if all this advice sounds self-serving and a little cold-blooded, well, you’re not the one trying to get people to give you perfectly good copy for free, now are you?

 

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

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Jun 202014
 
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By Colin

A number of years ago, when I was just starting to seriously write fiction, I showed a new story to my girlfriend of the time.  She read it as carefully as she read all my work, and afterwards said, “I didn’t like the main character.”

At the time, her response surprised me—and not because I disagreed with her. The protagonist was, basically, kind of a whiny, selfish perpetual adolescent, using his desire for a lover to mask all those tiresome elements of his personality. That was actually the point of the story, and at that phase in my development as a writer I thought it justified making my leading man into a twerp.

The reason I was surprised by my girlfriend’s critique was that it was basically an emotional response to one character. Normally she focused on internal logic or the strength/weakness of my writing itself—in other words, things that could be critiqued rationally,  described objectively and fixed. How could I address a reader’s subjective, gut-level response?

Years later, the answer has come through to me: I dunno, but you’d damn well better try.

If you read through reader reviews of erotica—not those by professional critics, but the kind of emotionally engaged feedback that readers post on Amazon and Goodreads when they’ve just finished the story and absolutely must let the world know what they love or hate about it—you’ll see the question of likability comes up quite a bit, especially when the reader’s response is negative. And I don’t just mean they’ve panned the characters and judged the rest of the story on its various merits, but that the whole story has fallen flat for them because they didn’t like the characters. It’s phrased in different ways: I couldn’t relate to Rosalyn; I couldn’t stand Derek; I didn’t really have any strong feelings about Mitzi; I didn’t connect with the cougar shifter; I didn’t exactly hate Razglord, but I just didn’t like him

It’s true that—at first glance, certainly—a great many famous characters in fiction aren’t “likable” as such. Sherlock Holmes, for instance, isn’t terribly likable; he’s fascinating, certainly—who among us wouldn’t love to sit down and have a real conversation with a mind like that? But he doesn’t inspire much in the way of warm fuzzies.

On the other hand, Dr. Watson is quite thoroughly likeable. He’s warm, loyal, relatable, and generally seems like a great guy to go out and have a drink with. He’s an excellent counterpoint to Holmes’ slightly chilly charisma; it may be that the balance of, and tension between, their personalities is the reason so many people love the Holmes stories.

Love—as I’ve said in at least one other column—is a key word here. People have an emotional response to stories and characters in stories, just as they do to real people. Give them a character that evokes a strong positive response, and they’ll likely love that person, whether it’s Dr. Watson or Sam Gamgee or Harry Potter or whoever. They’ll read and re-read the books, recommend them to friends, start blogs about them and write their own fan fiction about the characters. This seems particularly important in erotica and romance, where so much of the stories’ subject matter is about pleasure.

The story I gave to my old girlfriend all those years ago had nothing in the way of a likable character. Now sure, not all stories have to evoke warm fuzzies in their readers. Some very worthwhile stories are basically dark, and some important characters are basically bastards. But my character didn’t have much in the way of redeeming characteristics—be they heroic, interestingly villainous or relatably human. He wasn’t even rotten to the core, he was basically just a sophomoric jerk. If you met him in real life, you wouldn’t even hate him, you’d just think, “Poor screwed-up kid,” and do your best to avoid him in social situations.

Compare that kind of character to the narrator of Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, who’s very similar in a way: immature, socially awkward, not terribly pleasant to be around. The difference is that Dostoyevsky’s guy has a certain self-awareness; he knows he’s a twerp, and part of the point of the story is that we come to feel something for him, and understand that we ourselves might not be utter paragons. Or look at Wuthering Heights—sure, it’s impossible to imagine that book without Heathcliff, but without Catherine it’s even worse: just a book about a sadistic schmuck out on a farm somewhere.

Sympathetic characters speak to readers even when they’re not terribly likeable people. When a natural likability comes through in a character, readers respond even more powerfully; it can provide an all-important balance between characters, and make the difference between a flavorless, tiresome story and one readers will take to their hearts and cherish forever.

 

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

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May 152014
 
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By Colin

Not too long ago I sat down with an anthology of new horror fiction I’d picked up at the library.  The lineup included some writers who were old favorites of mine, as well as a few I’d heard good things about. One of the latter had contributed a story with a particularly intriguing title, one that really got my horror-fanboy Spidey senses tingling. So when I sat down that night in my easy chair, that was the story I turned to first, cackling in gleeful anticipation.

It wasn’t long before I realized that fifteen minutes had gone by. Normally that’s a sign that the writer has done a masterful job of pulling you into the story. Unfortunately, in this case I had spent those fifteen minutes reading the opening paragraph over and over again, trying to make sense of it.

See, the story was written in a very artful, literary style, one that made heavy use of stream of consciousness, creative misspelling to indicate dialect (not jest in dialogue, y’know, but in thuh actual story isself), and a fine contempt for its rather dimwitted redneck protagonists. It was a style I probably wouldn’t have blinked at under other circumstances, even in a book of horror yarns—today, the line between genre fiction and literary fiction is often eyelash-thin. Heck, I’ve used that style in stories of my own. The problem was that in this case I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting a fast, dirty monster story with a good, gory payoff. When I found myself eating at McSweeney’s instead of McDonald’s, I had to shift gears…and your correspondent is a little slow these days, poor old thing.

Now, when I did shift gears and read the story on its own terms, I liked it just fine. I even wished it was longer, which is the highest praise I can think of, so this is not going to be a straightforward screed against writers Getting All Literary when they should be Getting On with the Story. But this little episode hit me harder than I would have expected, maybe because I’ve known plenty of writers who love going off on that very topic. One guy I used to pal around with would hold forth on it quite regularly. Thing was, his choice of poster-child for the Virtues of Simple Storytelling was ’50s crime writer Jim Thompson. Now, no question about it, Thompson wrote a hard, mean line, and his abilities as a pure storyteller have never been in question. But he’s remembered as much these days for his pioneering use of postmodern experimental techniques as for anything else. Holding him up as a God of No-Frills Narrative is a bit like celebrating Thelonious Monk as a champion of traditional jazz.

Nonetheless, it brings up an interesting question for writers: at what point does a “literary” approach work against the purposes of your writing? Since erotica, like horror, is based on creating a specific response in the reader, it seems very relevant here. But first, another crime-writer anecdote: once upon a time, the great French detective novelist Georges Simenon was trying to sell short stories to the great French literary author Colette, who at the time was editing at the great French paper Le Monde. The (apparently not-so-great) manuscripts kept coming back, and when Simenon finally buttonholed Colette and asked her, in effect, WTF?, she told him (apparently with some exasperation), “Look, your stories are too literary.”

In general, erotic fiction that is less focused on plot offers more room for experimentation and unconventional technique. A story focused on, let’s say, a young woman alone in her bedroom, fantasizing about past lovers seems like a good example. The opportunities for using stream-of-consciousness, fantasy, allegory and literary misdirection are endless.

But the opportunities for plot in such a story are also endless. The young woman might be presented early on in the story as having some kind of sexual hang-up—let’s say a general fear of losing control, as you often see in bondage scenarios. That hang-up becomes the focus for the “plot.” As she runs through her fantasies, the fear would be present in each one, gradually coming into sharper and sharper focus, until we understand not just what she’s afraid of, but also why she’s afraid of it. This approach makes it rather like an erotic detective story (there’s crime-fiction again…jeez) with a character’s sexuality instead of a robbery or murder as the central element. It could be every bit as satisfying as a well-constructed detective tale. You could even make it novel-length, with a bit of planning. But even if you made all these concessions to Storytelling, I suspect you’d find it a tough sell to, say, the romance markets. It’s still an inside story, whereas most romances are firmly based in a “real world,” where thoughts and fantasies don’t just segue endlessly into other thoughts and fantasies; they tend to lead to actions, which have direct consequences on the plot, even though the “real world” in question might be an alternate Victorian England or a future interstellar empire. I think you could probably still make it work, but you’d most likely need to cut a certain amount of “literary” trimmings.

Now imagine a story planned specifically as a romance, with all the trimmings: shape-shifters, a smouldering alpha-male hero, a spicy spitfire heroine, and sex, sex, sex. You would probably have a much harder time turning that story “inward,” than you would turning an inside story “outward” as in our example above. There are certain expectations in romance stories, many of which revolve around the hero and heroine interacting in (say it with me, kids) a real world. Fantasy sequences could be an effective means of spicing things up in the background, but sooner or later you’ve got to get back to that real world where things are “really” happening. And stream of consciousness passages or artfully misspelled dialogue would probably just get in the way. You’d hit the same roadblocks I did when I tried to read that horror story as a straightforward monster yarn. And your readers might or might not be willing to regroup and reread the story on its own terms (and if they’re reading it to satisfy specific sexual or emotional yearnings, the likelihood of regrouping may decrease).

None of these speculations are to be taken as hard and fast rules, of course. I’m sure a number of examples could be found of “literary romances” that worked (and sold) just fine. But in general, “literary” technique works best “inside,” and “storytelling” works best “outside.” What constitutes inside and outside and how you make your approach work in your own novels and stories, of course, is up to you.

 

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

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Mar 242014
 
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By Colin

I’ve said in my previous column that writers are, by and large, not terribly greedy people.  I’ll stick by that, but it should be said that there are some things writers do covet to the point of greed or even obsession. One of those things is attention, and, more specifically, favorable attention. Most of us, after all, began as readers, for whom good books were the most amazing, inspiring things in the world. Whether it was Tolkien or Barbara Cartland or Zane Grey or Tolstoy, there’s that moment where you said I wanna do that. And it’s completely understandable that you’d want to produce something that hits someone else the same way. It’s not always about aiming for the stars, either; I have stacks of horror and sword-and-sorcery paperbacks that did as much as any literary classic to get me writing, and I look at those old writers with great respect. If I can give someone the pure pleasure they gave me, I tell myself, I’ll be happy.

For erotica writers, that impulse to take on the role of master is mixed up with something more complicated—we’re trying to excite, to titillate, to seduce. So if someone does post a favorable review of your new ebook on Amazon or Goodreads, it can be a remarkably sexy experience. You find yourself wondering about this person, this “FatalKittYn79”. You look up other books they’ve reviewed, you linger over their online profile. You fantasize that this reader truly “gets” you, and sees your work in the same light that bathed your favorite books when you were young. Since any book from your hand is an extension of yourself, reading that review can be a bit (just a bit) like meeting a potential new lover. But in that frame of mind, a bad review can be, as the kids say, a real buzzkill.

The biggest problem, though, is that most books garner neither songs of praise nor the sneers and bad comedy routines that too often pass for negative online reviews. Most books come out to a crushing silence.

Sometimes—when I really should be doing something more constructive—I will google one of my pseudonyms along with the word “review.”  This is guaranteed to bring up dozens of online bookstores where my books are for sale, along with canned text along the lines of “Read a REVIEW of Colin’s SWORD OF THE DOMINATRIX Here…” Needless to say, there’s never any review on those pages. It’s crickets, all the way to next Tuesday. Even if your book attracts a number of favorable remarks from your friends and people in your network, you always hope for more, from people who didn’t know you existed yesterday—the FatalKittYn79s of your reading public.

Now, it doesn’t take long for most writers to realize that the silence is part of the job. That realization is healthy; meeting the Silence squarely and spitting in its eye can be a great help for a writer. It can move you away from fantasies and ego to the essential business of getting on to the next book or story. Most of all, it can help you realize that quality isn’t always measured in backslaps and superlatives. It can inspire you to help build your network and develop ways of making things—including reviews, good or bad—happen for yourself.

So next time you’re faced with the Silence, try making some noise.

 

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

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Feb 242014
 
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By Colin

Sometimes I fantasize about the very end of my life, that final moment when I’ll be called to account for all my misspent years. Only instead of seeing St. Peter looming over a giant ledger in front of the pearly gates, I go back to those old black & white crime films—particularly the final scene where the cops have caught the bad guy and are pressuring him for a confession. I play the bad guy (duh), but instead of armed robbery or sassin’ my mother, the fuzz got me for writing porn. And just before they take me away to the rockpile, the hot lady cop (well, they’re both hot lady cops, with really big bazongas), tips back her fedora and growls:

“One thing bugs me, Colin…why’dja do it? Why’dja throw away years and years of your life writing about boobies and handcuffs and chicks taking off their shoes? Smart guy like you. You could’ve been a real writer, like James Michener. So for Pete’s sake, why?”

I’ve never doubted what my answer would be. Why did I spend so much of my adult life writing pornographic fiction? Why were my first stories published in soon-to-be-sticky, over-the-counter mags, alongside phone-sex ads and grainy blowjob photos? Why did I spend 2001 alone writing and publishing nine novels which were, as much as they were about anything, about women’s feet?

Because it was fun.

Now, it might just be me, but I can’t ever remember a time when the population at large had so furiously dedicated itself to eradicating every speck of fun from its collective lives. When fresh-faced twenty-somethings didn’t just work eighty hour weeks, but actually needed to snivel and whine for the opportunity to do so. When husbands and wives would bitch at each other to take the kids on Saturday, not so they could sneak out to brunch with their buddies or lovers, but get in an extra hour of so of training for that marathon they signed up for. When diet-masochists tried to live entirely on salads and ice water, until their bodies were so starved for basic nutrients that they would drool over steamed kale in the same orgiastic tones once reserved for hot fudge sundaes.

We thought the ’80s were bad. The ’80s were The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus freaky-deakin’ Bosch next to this puritan-infested wasteland we’re stuck in now.

Like I say, though, maybe it’s just me.

Look, hard work does have its rewards, for writers as well as sane folks. There is real pleasure in taking on a project that offers challenge as well as indulgence, that stretches your abilities to make scenes and characters work against insurmountable odds. It might even be that that particular pleasure is the real point of undertaking a life of writing.

But fun—at the very least—has its place as well, and that seems especially apt when you’re talking about erotica. Porn embodies so many of the things beginning writers are taught by the mainstream to avoid or even to despise: abandon versus control, action versus thought, and most of all an emphasis on the sensual over the cerebral. Yes, yes, I know: Michel Foucault, Georges Battaille, Marco Vassi, blah blah blah…despite what some think, porn has never wanted for eggheads. But surely part of what makes erotica attractive to creative people is that feeling of hurling yourself into something that appeals to the gut over the noodle, which bypasses black and white moral divisions, which is even a little naughty.

In my early twenties, I became briefly addicted to fetish videos. This was in the early ’90s, when most of the product out there still clung to storylines, as opposed to cutting right to the chase (or the favored body-part). It was all big hair, big boobs, too much makeup, implausibly broad characters and criminally bad acting—a neon-colored world of crap. But I loved it. The same goes for the fiction and “true-life” letters in the porn magazines. For better or worse, the tropes and rhythms I found there would be a crucial influence on the fiction I would later write. Forget sword and sorcery paperbacks and horror movies: this was real escapism. I could put aside the agonies of forging a social life and career in Reagan’s America in favor of jealous girlfriends luring each other into bondage clubs or paying their rent with casual sex.

The very real pleasure I took in that world still lingers. It’s why I still have a smile on my face every time I sit down to start a new story or novel or comic. ‘Cause it’s fun, dammit. And sometimes—no matter what your professors or bosses or significant others or the hot lady cops hauling you off to the big house say, fun is enough.

 

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

 

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Jan 302014
 
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By Colin

Most writers are not terribly greedy people.  I know a number of publishers who will choke on their cornflakes and give loud horse-laughs upon reading that statement, but experience tells me it’s true.  Most writers would gladly (and in some cases, do) embrace something close to abject poverty in order to live solely by their words.  For quite a number, the pinnacle of worldly success would not be jetting down to winter in Jamaica like Ian Fleming, but being able to afford a quaint little house on the outskirts of some funky boho neighborhood where you can still find used bookstores and repertoire theaters.

But even the least worldly of writers still find their thoughts turning occasionally toward the Almighty Dollar.  Some have families or debts or other expenses that make large sales “more than usually desirable.”  Others—well, it’s not much fun admitting to friends and family that your best-selling title still hasn’t earned back the hundred dollar advance the publisher gave you two years ago.

But the sad truth is—and it doesn’t get any more palatable the more you hear it—earning that dollar is hard as heck.  Financial success seems to always be fluttering ahead of you, just out of reach. This is doubly true in the e-publishing world, which is where you’ll find a large percentage of erotica writers.  Many fiction ebooks reach only double-digit sales before the publisher decides he’d rather spend his trust fund on something else after all.  Yes, there are compensations—much higher royalty rates, a vastly greater freedom to put out material that never would have made it into print twenty years ago—but consistently low sales and what at least appears to be reader apathy can be frustrating.  Especially when other writers seem to be making the big bucks with the greatest of ease.  And remember, sales don’t just mean dirty old money; if you’re not selling, you’re not being read.

There’s no quick fix to the situation.  There are, of course, plenty of ways to publicize your books, and those topics are (often necessarily) fixtures on how-to-write websites: social media, blogging, doing readings at local bookstores, hanging out on forums like Absolute Write, giving away freebies and holding contests.  Can these measures help sales?  Absolutely.  Just keep in mind that, helpful as they are, they are not guaranteed to push you into a higher tax bracket—no more so than wishful thinking.

In writing, as in most endeavors, slow and steady wins the race.  The most dependable way to increase sales is still to have a large backlist.  A reader who likes one book with your byline is very likely to keep coming back for more.  And a writer with large numbers of titles to his or her name is going to attract attention from casual browsers on Amazon and other booksellers.

But it’ll take time to build that backlist, and in the interim you might continue to experience sparse sales.  You’ll probably be tempted to set aside quality in favor of speedy production.  Don’t do it.  Producing to a slower, consistent rhythm will do better for you in the long run than grinding out books like sausage, and will also keep you in touch with the very real pleasures of writing fiction—the thing that brought you to this crazy profession to begin with, remember?

Whether or not you eventually end up in that charming little row-house is impossible to say, but you can at least know that you’re taking solid steps in that direction.

 

Colin is a fetish writer and the single most prolific professional author of tickling erotica working today, with dozens of books to his credit. www.gigglegasm.com and www.ticklingforum.com.

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