Jun 282012

Back in the ‘good old days’ of smut – when pornographers had to haul their steaming piles of sexually explicit materials up four and five flights of stairs – a certain writer with a gleam of sexy potential in his mesmerizing green eyes … okay, I mean me … wrote a column for the fantastic Adrienne at Erotica Readers & Writers called “Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker.”

Now one of the things I did was part of being a Streetwalker that really took off was a little series I did called “The Four Deadly Sins:” a playful examination of the things that smut writers could do but that could – to put it mildly – make their work a tough sell.  The very same “sins” I’ve been posting here on WriteSex.

Fast forward a … decade?!  Sigh.  Anyway, I had to put aside my Streetwalker days for other things but that little verboten list has always been by my side, especially since I’m now an Associate Publisher for the wonderful Renaissance Books (which includes Sizzler Editions, our erotica line).  By the way [COMMERCIAL WARNING] my old columns are now in a dead-tree and ebook collection called How To Write And Sell Erotica [COMMERCIAL ENDS]

The reason why those “sins” stay with me is because one of my Associate Publisher things is to consider books for publication – and still, today, erotica writers don’t seem to understand that while, sure, you can pretty much write whatever you want there are still some things that will more-than-likely keep your work from seeing the light of day.  Just for the record, the four are underage (self-explanatory), beastiality (same), incest (ditto) and excessive violence (torture porn or nonconsensual sex).  But I’m here to talk about a new one that’s popped up … or ‘pooped out’ to blow the joke.

But before I (ewwww) get into the details, lemmie explain how things work – both back in the ‘good old days’ as well as the digitally enlightened world of 2012.  Just as back then, publishers may be the people you will be dealing with to get your erotic masterpiece out in the world but they are ruled by distributors.  Now a lot of that has changed from then to now – most of the classic ‘distributors’ have vanished (thank god) – but the spirit stays the same: while a lot of publishers may be able to sell their books on their own sites the big money comes from having their titles on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and so forth.

So, most of the time, when a publisher says they can’t take your work because of the content what they mean is that they could but if they do they risk the (ahem) ‘displeasure’ of these new-distributors.  Now one or two getting kicked out is annoying but a lot of publishers are scared – and rightfully so – that if they have too many titles killed because of content their entire company could conceivably be blackballed … and that’s really bad news.

So, even though we authors and publishers may not like it, the sins are there for a fairly good reason.  But, like any rule, there are usually ways around some of them.  One that immediately comes to mind is the “consensual nonconsensual” trick where the submissive might resist at first but then realizes their true nature.  Other sins, though, are tougher to skirt.  Incest and underage are good examples, though with age-play and roleplay you can kinda, sorta, use them without a problem.  Beastiality is a queer duck (to use a bad joke) but the rule is usually that if it’s a fantasy animal or creature you can use it but if it’s a regular-critter you can’t.

Which gets me to the new sin.  As you probably could tell, this has to do with … now we might get a bit technical here … poo-poo or pee-pee.  The only reason I bring this up is that I’ve been more than a few manuscripts and short story submissions to anthologies that have a touch of a incontinence problem.  Not one to disparage anyone’s sexuality, but there are very few publishers out there that will risk taking anything that sexualizes such stuff.  I’ve personally had to request writers take it out of their submissions.  Again, not because I – or ‘we’ when I’m working as a Publisher – have a problem with it but just because the places where the book will be sold do.

By the way, if you think that entering the world of self-publishing is a way to skirt all these sins think again: a lot of places look a lot more carefully at books that are not submitted by publishers – as many authors have sadly discovered.

As I’ve said before, an author can do whatever they want – that, after all, is the beauty of being a writer: the sky is not even close to the limit of the human imagination.  But, that being said, you also have to realize that even today, with the ebook revolution, if you want to get your work beyond your own website, you have to understand how things work.

It’s not pretty but – like poo-poo – it’s a part of every writer’s life.


Jun 222012

As you know, I edit for Sizzler Editions, primarily for our Intoxication line.  While our audience is heavily into BDSM, I’m grooming authors and building an erotic romance line, kinky or otherwise.  You can see our guidelines here.  Anyway, I was talking with one of our authors about her next BDSM book and the discussion of plot came into play.  While she asked questions about how a particular scene should go and what details should be included, I spouted off the answers from memory (and recent events) as though it were nothing and I play with partners all day every day.

I wish.

She seemed surprised I felt at how I rattled off the information and could back it up with personal experiences, and then I remembered something.  She’s a new writer but that’s not really an issue.  Her experiences in the Lifestyle are non existent and research can only help a little if this is a new genre for you.

In fact, she had questions I didn’t’ even expect because when writing the same material these things seem like normalcy to me.  I know how each character is going to react to a singletailing session, or how they get turned on and what cranks their motor when my Dom hits that sweet spot on the ass.  It requires only enough thought to form and create the character.  For my author, it takes research, interviews and her doing the legwork (which in turn makes her a better author.)

I’m not sure but I’d take a stab and suggest that for people who write from their knowledge base and experiences, and can translate those experiences into marketable writing, the legwork is already done.  If you’re a crime solving detective in your daily life, and you want to be the next N. T. Morley, you simply take your daily life and apply it to your story, thus potentially working demons out, without having to break a sweat.

I’m mentioning this not as a deterrent, but one of the questions I get asked a lot is how do you write what you love and make it sell?  Well, the answer is going to be found mostly in Deborah Riley Magnus‘s posts on Author Success, but pulling from your hard earned experience and finding a way to relate those stories to a wider audience is a great place to start.  With BDSM being so huge (thanks to that trite known as 50 Shades of Grey) it only makes sense that our authors would stick around in this genre.

Erotica is a large field and there is room for everyone dedicated to the pursuit of understanding the business thereof.

Jun 142012

Every Author has an idea of what their image should be. Some are so perfect and careful about it, they have no image for the fans to connect with. Others are rebellious and insist on shocking first then wondering what they have so few fans or followers. It’s kind of like that line in the film Bull Durham, where baseball catcher, Crash Davis, comments on the fact that his astoundingly talented minor league pitcher is basically …

“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”

Okay, authors, let’s talk about your image. Please.

No Facebook or Twitter avatars your mother would be embarrassed to see. No pictures of your dog or cat cleaning itself. No photos of you drunk at a club, whooping it up. You’re an author and should be aware of your image. This doesn’t require a professional photo session with an expensive photographer, just a nice picture of you, clean and neat. We don’t need to see you working hard at the computer or appearing overly serious. You can show your personality, smile, enjoy the moment. Just remember, literary agents, publishers, other authors and your prospective book buyers are looking at that avatar. Are you really proud of it?          

If you prefer not to use a photo of yourself, your book cover is a good option. No book cover yet? Use an image that represents your book until you have one.

And one final suggestion, please don’t change your avatar picture more than once a year. It’s how your friends and followers recognize you. Don’t confuse us.

No matter what you write or who your audience is … YOU are a professional. You’re an author, be proud of it.

Next time we’ll cover Author Success Tool #7, Marketing.

Feel free to contact me at writerchef@sbcglobal.net with any questions or to share your success stories! If you’d like to know more, let me know and I’ll put you on the mailing list for online workshops and information about my book, Finding Author Success: Discovering and Uncovering the Hidden Power within you Manuscript, “Finding Author Success” available in print and ebook on Amazon, B&N, Apple and Sony

Jun 012012

Whether or not you believe in extra-sensory perception, precognition, channeling, telepathy or other psychic phenomena, in fiction those things all exist — and then some. And I don’t mean just in paranormal fiction, science fiction or fantasy; whether they like to admit it or not, most writers use them. They just might call these “sixth sense” cheats something different depending on what genre they’re writing.

Precognition, at the very least, is built into the fiction-writing equation. That’s because you, the author, are responsible for getting the story somewhere interesting — a burden The Creator doesn’t seem to share in the real world. Real life gets to be as boring as it wants to be. So when someone says, “I just had this feeling it was going to rain today,” and it doesn’t rain, you shrug and blow it off. In fiction, your reader throws the book across the room. Or, at the very least, Chekov’s “unfired pistol” provides a feeling of sloppiness in plot-based commercial fiction. “But that’s the way reality is!” is a pretty thin defense when you’re writing about larger-than-life hard-boiled detectives interstellar spies and the tentacle creatures that love them.

In plot-based fiction, if you aren’t dropping hints along the way as to where your story is going, you’re on pretty shaky ground. So in one sense, precognition is a given.

But characters relying on “received information” — things they “just feel” — can strain the boundaries of credibility. How explicit the “feeling” is depends on the genre. For instance, you’ve got a lot more leeway in paranormal fiction to explain that your character knows the bad guys are vampires because she’s receiving alien psychic transmissions or something. But “received information” is a hallmark of the detective genre, where the very best detective isn’t just the one who throws a mean right hook or hauls a pair of .45s out at the first hint of trouble; it’s the one who “just has a hunch.” How did he or she get that hunch? Duh, this is a detective! They always have hunches, right? They’re not always right, but the story is always furthered — in many cases, enabled — by the detective’s hunch, in one form or another. And in detective fiction, a series of red herrings will often lead a detective back to the very first suspect — or the suspect’s polar opposite. That provides a curious symmetry when the shamus realizes at the end that he was “right all along.” Even if the end result is tragic, the sense of symmetry in a detective novel makes it seem like “all is right with the world.”

If it all seems deceptively satisfying, that’s because heavily-structured novels exist largely for the purpose of making experience seem symmetrical — i.e., narrative. It’s not exactly the same thing, but they’re damn close.

In other kinds of fiction, a “sixth sense,” a.k.a. the “hunch,” “an educated guess,” or little hairs on the back of your character’s neck, can lead characters down a path that any reasonable person wouldn’t take. In real life, if anyone ever says to you, “I just have this hunch that there’s a great mystery to be uncovered at the Mountains of Madness,” kick them in the teeth and run like hell. In fiction…Hey, what do you know…turns out he was right, there was a great mystery there! What are the chances?

Detective fiction, again, is one of the genres guiltiest of wrapping this stuff up with a big red bow and claiming it’s something it isn’t. Detective fiction, after all, has given us the Sherlock-ism….a piece of information that a character has that no sane person would carry around in their hip pocket. This character has it, on the other hand, because the author had time to go and look it up. Real life’s not always so kind. Anyone who’s ever watched the last ten minutes of Monk knows that the Sherlock-ism is alive and well in modern detective entertainment.

And that’s probably as it should be. I’m as guilty as any writer of needing my characters somewhere and flat-out just getting them there, though any means possible. Any character in a book that just happens to have a knack for finding trouble is, well, at home in an adventure novel or any kind of commercial plot-driven fiction. On the page, we’re happy to spend a few hours with them. In real life, we’d show them the door.

So how does this all relate to erotica?

The good news is that in any kind of fiction, you’ve got a lot more leeway than you probably should. People come to fiction, especially genre fiction, for the sense of structure and the feeling of escape that a well-told story can give them. There’s magic in stories. That’s not just because stories can be about magic, or pseudo-magic like the detective’s “hunch.” It’s because there’s magic in the storytelling process; in fact, it’s some of the most potent magic I know. If a writer takes me someplace I wanna go, I’ll often cut them a fair amount of slack as to whether their character has an “inkling” that can’t be explained.

And the really good news is that you have even more leeway in erotica — where the point is bring the character to a transforming (even mildly transforming) sexual experience. Sex often provides the common ground between reality and bullshit. All you have to do is look at the porn industry, where every sorority house is a den of lesbianism and every pizza boy’s about to get laid. Even at its most mediocre, prose erotica requires a slightly greater degree of rational buy-in from the author. But the narrative energy you’re tapping into as an erotica writer tracks back to a common set of tropes toward which readers gravitate. Assuming they want to read the kind of erotica you’re writing…hit a few high points, work on the sensualism in your writing, and a character just having a hunch that there’s an orgy going on in that minivan or there are hot, sexy vampires in that sewer pipe won’t make your reader bat an eyelash.

This satisfying self-deception is not unlike — though far more harmless than — the kind of rationalization involved in sexual relationships. Narrative beer goggles, anyone?

The relationship between writer and reader in erotica is, when it’s done right, excruciatingly intimate and deliriously somatic. In fiction, readers believe because they want to believe, and you’ve convinced them your story’s worth believing. In erotic fiction, readers believe because their body as well as their mind wants to believe. Erotica readers want to believe in the symmetry that desire provides to the world. On top of writing about all the five senses the body provides, erotica writers get to write about the intangible, sixth sense that generates that deceptive, intoxicatingly erotic feeling of symmetry.