Apr 102015
 
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by Suz deMello

For a while now—since the Fifty Shades trilogy attained prominence—there’s been a steady stream of online bloggers and critics dissing the books…and for good reason. They’re poorly written and edited. Fifty Shades is basically a Harlequin Presents with sugar kink.

Let’s look at the main characters, for example. Ana Steele is a perfect Harlequin heroine: still a virgin while about to graduate college. So immature that she seems to have some sort of disorder. Even though male after male in her life is attracted to her, she’s so sweet and modest that she’s unaware of her sexiness. And she’s immediately, deeply and irrevocably attracted to the “hero.” This is also a characteristic of the typical Harlequin heroine, even though artificial conflicts are created to provide some kind of story line. Otherwise the books would be over before they’ve properly started.

The “hero.” Ah, Christian Grey. Volumes have already been written about his abusive behavior. He stalks Ana, forces her to ditch her friends, especially her male buddies. He pressures her into a kinky relationship she is too emotionally immature to handle.

Skimming only two or three Harlequins will reveal the strong similarities between Grey and the basic Harlequin alpha male: the macho guy who’s really a broken child inside, but also fantastically wealthy at an absurdly young age—has anyone else noticed how mere millionaires are no longer acceptable romance heroes? Billionaires only in this club.

When I was writing for Harlequin/Silhouette, I would go through the books and highlight what appeared to be necessary character notes of the H&H. Her virginity and innocence. His contrasting wealth and sophistication. Her blushing confusion. His Rolex, limos and private plane. I’ve employed all these tropes.

Perfect ingredients of a classic BDSM power exchange? NOT. Those of us honestly involved in safe, sane and consensual BDSM avoid an unsophisticated partner until that innocent has been educated.

Setting aside the clichéd characters, the writing is poorly edited, if it was edited at all. Here’s a discussion of one craft aspect with an analysis from one of my writing manuals, Plotting and Planning:

For many, creating paragraphs in fiction—that is, dividing parts of a scene or interaction into manageable bits—is such an obvious process that it doesn’t need discussion. (Non-fiction is completely different and beyond the scope of this treatise). In Starting From Scratch, Rita Mae Brown doesn’t discuss paragraphs in fiction at all. I also had thought it was fairly easy until I encountered Fifty Shades of Grey, which contained selections like the following:

“Very well, Mr. Grey,” she mutters, then exits. He frowns, and turns his attention back to me.

“Where were we, Ms. Steele?”

Oh, we’re back to Ms. Steele now.

“Please, don’t let me keep you from anything.”

Normally, when we write interactions between people, the actions, words, and thoughts of each person are grouped in separate paragraphs. When we switch people, we create a new paragraph. So this selection should have been written thusly:

“Very well, Mr. Grey,” she mutters, then exits.

He frowns, and turns his attention back to me. “Where were we, Ms. Steele?”

Oh, we’re back to Ms. Steele now. “Please, don’t let me keep you from anything.”

What’s the reason behind this convention? So the reader can know who’s thinking and talking, we place the identifying dialog tag along with the dialog. Often we may not need a tag at all, when only two people are interacting. The convention makes this possible. Readers know that when a paragraph ends, the next paragraph belongs to another character.

The bloggers and critics who slam Fifty Shades are mostly romance and erotica authors. And more than a little of our resentment is that old bugaboo, professional jealousy.

And who can blame us? It’s hard to feel all warm and cuddly about E.L. James’ success when she so obviously does not deserve the millions she’s raking in. The writing is so bad that she clearly did not spend the years that most of us do developing our craft. We feel she doesn’t deserve her success, at least not based on the books. All of us have an early manuscript that should never see the light of day, let alone publication. E.L. James’ has, and it’s a massive bestseller. It’s galling.

I once wrote about professional jealousy that it has at its root cause an unhealthy interest in others. I still believe that. I know nothing about E.L. James. She is completely irrelevant to me. Her success does not equal my failure—in fact, the popularity of her books could increase the popularity of mine.

And she could be the happiest person in the world or one of the most miserable. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I have been the target of resentment because of my “success.” Imagine that! A floundering midlist author the object of professional jealousy! Blew me away, too.

It happens that the time I noticed that resentment was also when my father was dying. I was stunned that anyone would be envious of me.

The lesson? The woman we resent for her success may be the most distressed and tortured human being walking this planet. We just don’t know—it’s our nature to put on a brave face while inside we’re screaming in pain. It’s also our nature to compete, but we must learn to maturely deal with the emotions that result from competition.

***

About the Author:

Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written nineteen books in several genres, including nonfiction, memoir, erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

–Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com

–For editing services, email her at suzdemello@gmail.com

–Befriend her on Facebook, and visit her group page.

–She tweets @Suzdemello

–and posts to Pinterest

–and Goodreads.

–Her current blog is TheVelvetLair.com

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Mar 052015
 
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by Suz deMello

Anyone else notice a distinctly hostile environment toward sex and sexuality on the net?

I’m not talking about the porn sites. I’m talking about mainstream sites and providers censoring content.

I recently received the below from Google:

Dear Blogger User,

We’re writing to tell you about an upcoming change to the Blogger Content
Policy that may affect your account.

In the coming weeks, we’ll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually
explicit or graphic nude images or video. We’ll still allow nudity
presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or
where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking
action on the content.

And I’ve ranted before about Amazon’s policies in this blog and elsewhere.

Between them, Google and Amazon control quite a large proportion of what we see, hear, read and buy.

It’s often been noted that Americans are repressed sexually. This repression seems to create an unhealthy aversion to the naked human body. A person, regardless of gender, can sunbathe topless on most European beaches. Not so in the USA, where many view a woman’s breast as pornographically rather than naturally beautiful.

I can appreciate that Amazon and Google do not want to become porn purveyors. However, there’s a slippery slope on the way from literature to pornography, and erotica clings to that slope. Erotica writers are digging in our spiked heels and holding on for dear life with our cuffed hands.

Jaid Black, the founder of Ellora’s Cave, one of the biggest online purveyors of erotic and erotic romance novels, said she spends her time thinking about “new ways to create income for Ellora’s…that don’t involve Amazon.” According to an interview in New York magazine (2/23/15), EC’s Amazon-generated income plummeted in 2013 by more than $2 million and has never recovered.

It’s hard to pinpoint a culprit, though. Advances in technology have thrown self-publishing to the forefront. Many of the newbies are so desperate to be read that they’re giving away their work for free or for rock-bottom prices. Anthologies or boxed sets of romance and erotica are most commonly priced at 99 cents, a price point that makes it virtually impossible for a professional writer to earn a decent living.

Of course parents should be empowered to determine what their children are exposed to on the internet, but “protecting” the rest of us is condescending and outright offensive. Parents have tools they can use to block content they may deem harmful to their children, such as NetNanny or CYBERsitter.

What can be done to combat the forces of repression? Organizations such as the OpenNet Initiative exist solely to inform the public about web-based censorship and surveillance efforts. The ACLU, Reporters Without Borders, The Censorware Project and peacefire.org have similar missions. Checkout out and supporting these organizations is one venue.

Another is registering our concerns, not as writers, but as consumers. According to article after article, Amazon is all about the customer, not the content creator. “Former executives all have stories about Bezos’ obsessive focus on the customer.” (Jeff Bezos is the famously obsessive founder and CEO of Amazon). Bezos explains that his company’s success is due to his focus on the customer, not the competitor.

Thus, approaching Amazon with concerns as consumers will be more effective. Querying Amazon for the reason we can’t find our favorite authors’ books may be a more productive approach.

As for Google, their corporate approach is, “Focus on the user and all else will follow”.

We’re all users. Some of us want to use Google to find erotica.

Focus on our status as consumers rather than creators of content and all else will follow.

Those of us writing have generally spent years honing our craft. Depressing, isn’t it, to be so little respected?

***

About the Author:

Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written nineteen books in several genres, including nonfiction, memoir, erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

–Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com

–For editing services, email her at suzdemello@gmail.com

–Befriend her on Facebook, and visit her group page.

–She tweets @Suzdemello

–and posts to Pinterest

–and Goodreads.

–Her current blog is TheVelvetLair.com

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Jan 312015
 
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By Suz deMello

Amazon is known for its ruthless business practices—it doesn’t merely squeeze competition, it strangles it until it dies.

Amazon currently sells 40% of all new books sold in the USA. Their percentage of the market in ebooks is even larger—perhaps 66% according to the above-cited Salon.com article.

Amazon is not only a bookseller, but a publisher, and it favors its own imprints and minimizes the ability for readers to find its competitors. The most famous example is that of Hachette. Check out Stephen Colbert’s clips on the issue.

Well-known is Amazon’s dislike of sexy covers, adult-oriented books and erotica; it seems to especially target purveyors of steamy books. Though Amazon touts its independent publishing program as a boon for writers, many indie published authors, especially in erotic romance, complain that Amazon’s search engine has made it difficult if not impossible for readers to find their books. The Kindle Unlimited program has cut further into their book revenues. Ellora’s Cave, one of the most prominent publishers of steamy and erotic romance on the web, has downsized radically, citing a massive drop in Amazon sales of its books as the reason.

Well-known erotic romance author Selena Kitt had this to say (and a lot more):

If you’re an erotica writer, you know that Amazon has a double standard. If you publish a title and put it into the “erotica” category, there are certain things that aren’t allowed in the title or on blurb. But if you put that same title and blurb into the “romance” category, it’s fine. Half-naked couples in a hot, torrid embrace are just fine in romance, but strangely, in the erotica category, they’re often filtered and sometimes even blocked.

The loyalty of many customers to Amazon is misplaced. For example, Amazon often does not feature the best online price for a book or other item. A couple of cases in point:

On 30 Sept 14, the price of one of my shorties, Highland Vampire, on Amazon was $2.51. The price at Harlequin’s site was $2.39.

Being the daughter of Brits, I’m a tea drinker and lately have been into using loose teas (they really do make a better cuppa). Initially I had been purchasing from Amazon—isn’t that the place we’ve all become accustomed to checking first? Then I went to the Twinings Tea site and found that I’d been grotesquely overpaying.  My fave Darjeeling at Amazon costs $8.24 and it’s an “add-on item,” which is some sort of irritating practice at Amazon—I couldn’t get the tea without buying other stuff, and I couldn’t find a work-around for that bit of Amazonian weirdness.

The same tea is almost half the price—$4.49—at Twinings.

Like many, I have come to rely on Amazon for so much! I listen to music on my Amazon music player on both laptop and cellphone, and download music from Amazon as well. I’m an Amazon affiliate. I also buy books for my Kindle Paperwhite, which I love, from Amazon.

But maybe it’s time to cut the cord. Why should I fund an entity that seeks to exploit me, maybe even put me out of business?

I’ve taken down my Amazon affiliate ads—that won’t hurt, as they’ve never earned me a penny. I’ve changed my email signature line, which used to direct folks to my Amazon author pages, to instead include my website and blog. Other changes will be harder.

I’m an Ellora’s Cave author. I also have books placed with two other publishers that have disappointed me in myriad ways—see these links:

www.harlequinlawsuit.com  and scroll down to #9 at

absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=194729–scroll.

So I’m going indie. But Createspace and KDP are fabulous platforms for self-publishing. How ethical is it, given my concerns, to use those platforms?

And beyond my personal worries, there’s the greater problem. Amazon sells a huge number of books, films, music and other creative and factual works.

Should one entity control so much of what goes into our minds and thoughts?

Will Amazon destroy erotic literature with its changing algorithms and prejudices? Will Amazon make it impossible for some books to flourish?

Does Amazon threaten our freedom of speech and thought?

***

About the Author:

Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written nineteen books in several genres, including nonfiction, memoir, erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com

–For editing services, email her at suzdemello@gmail.com

–Befriend her on Facebook, and visit her group page.

–She tweets @Suzdemello

–and posts to Pinterest

–and Goodreads.

–Her current blog is TheVelvetLair.com

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Dec 182014
 
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By Nobilis

A speedbump slows you down for a bit; a setback is a loss of progress. Preparation keeps speedbumps from turning into setbacks.

This morning when I got my stuff together to go to the office, I discovered that my netbook needed an update. This is not uncommon, as the Ubuntu OS it runs, along with the apps I have loaded on it, are updated regularly. The problem arose when the update got stuck partway through and I needed to get on the road to be on time for work.

I did the exact wrong thing and interrupted the update.

Needless to say, the netbook is now not functional. I am composing this blogpost on my tablet, which is a good deal slower than I like but that’s how it goes.

I’m not worried, though. Even if the device is permanently kaput, I know I will not lose ground, because each day’s work was automatically uploaded to Dropbox.

That’s the kind of thing that keeps a speedbump from turning into a setback. Backups are the key—not just to saving my work to a secure location, but also to having backup hardware to work with until I can get my primary device back into service. This preparedness is what gives me the room to be flexible.

The same preparedness is necessary at every stage of the writer’s operation. For example, if Amazon were to suddenly remove all links to erotica titles, so that anyone who wanted to buy it would have to link directly to it,  if search and author pages and all of the other methods readers use to find books no longer worked, what would you be able to do? How much control do you have over that part of your business?

If your favorite publisher, the one you’ve been working with for years and have a strong relationship with, were to suddenly announce they were closing their doors, do you know what would happen to the rights to your books? Do you know where you would take them?

If your blogging platform were yanked out from under you, how quickly could you recover?

Taken all together, these questions can be pretty daunting. I know I am not prepared for all of these contingencies. But writers, erotica writers especially, need to be ready for the ground to shift under their feet. It happens too often to ignore.

***

Learn more about Nobilis and his work at his…

Website: www.nobiliserotica.com
Podcast: nobilis.libsyn.com
Twitter: @nobilis

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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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Aug 302014
 
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By Nobilis

They say that an author shouldn’t pay attention to the market. They say that if an author writes to get on board with some popular trend, rather than following inspiration, the result will be lackluster fiction that arrives too late to catch the wave, and the author will more likely than not end up frustrated.

For what it’s worth, this is true. Most market trends are too short-lived to exploit this way, given how long it takes to write a good novel, edit it, and get it out into the market. (Of course, they said steampunk was a passing fad, and look where we are now—this rule is certainly not universal)

But there’s another kind of market trend that authors are very well served to follow.

My friend Starla Huchton has written two novel series (serieses?). The first was a science fiction romance called the Endure Series, set in an underwater research colony, where the hero and heroine, in addition to negotiating the difficulties of a new romantic relationship, must thwart a terrible global conspiracy. I loved it. The second is the Evolution Series, a superhero adventure romance that I’ve only just started reading but also promises to be quite enjoyable.

The thing is…Starla never finished the Endure Series. What’s worse, the third book ended on a cliffhanger. She promises she’ll get to it, but it’s not on her immediate project list. I confess to feeling no small amount of frustration with this, but I keep it to myself* because Starla Huchton is not my bitch. I don’t have any right to demand she finish the series or even resolve the cliffhanger.

Ever.

That’s speaking as a reader and a fan. Now I’m going to switch around and put on my author hat. I have also written speculative romance stories. There’s the far-future genderfuckery romance series, The Orgone Chronicles. There’s the Roma Fervens series, steampunk romances set in ancient Rome. And my near-future stories are all set in the same universe, which I call Tales of Love and Engineering. I’m currently not working on any of them. Instead, I’m experimenting with a science fiction serial, Monster Whisperer, which I’m producing as premium content on my podcast and releasing in both ebook and audio on Scribl.

And the reason for this is simple: Money. The other series just never sold big. They sold some, for which I am grateful to everyone who bought them, but they never hit that mysterious ignition point that gets a title climbing the charts. So I’m trying something new, to see what happens with it.

That’s why Starla’s decision to focus on the Evolution series at the expense of the Endure series makes sense. If the Amazon rankings mean anything at all, the Evolution series is selling far better than Endure ever did. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Evolution is better than Endure, but it does mean that it fits better with what people want.

I’m not talking about naked greed here. If I wanted to make the most money with the least effort, I wouldn’t be a writer, that’s for certain. No, I’m talking about using money as a measure of reader interest. When someone is willing to lay down five or ten dollars for a story, that means they want it more than they want something else they’d spend that five or ten dollars on.

I love all my stories. I could work on any of the series that I mentioned previously. But people don’t seem to want those stories as much, so they’re on the back burner. I could happily work on any of them. But the lack of interest on readers part spills over into a lack of interest on my part. I’ll keep trying new things, both in terms of subject matter and publishing venues, learning and growing and exploring, and along the way maybe something will catch the public’s interest in a big enough way that I’ll say: “Oh, you want to throw money at me to write more of this? Why, thank you! I do believe I shall.”

*Generally. I recognize the irony in posting it publicly here, and hope Starla will forgive me.

***

Learn more about Nobilis and his work at his…

Website: www.nobiliserotica.com
Podcast: nobilis.libsyn.com
Twitter: @nobilis

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Aug 062014
 
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By Sherry Ziegelmeyer

Some authors don’t put much thought into who their target reader is—and it’s one of the most important questions in the publishing game! In some cases, authors slave away for years on a genre where the audience is so miniscule that so much time and effort spent writing a novel for that reader is simply bad business. But ultimately, no matter what genre or niche you prefer to focus on, every book will benefit from a good understanding of who will ultimately buy it. Researching your book’s audience(s) is definitely a step you can’t afford to skip.

As important as it is to research your book’s target audience before writing, it’s just as important to research your audience before embarking on a publicity campaign, so you don’t end up wasting time chasing consumers who will never buy your product.

Be Realistic About Your Audience

Too many authors start publicity campaigns with an unhelpful combination of vagueness and overconfidence, imagining a giant throng of people clamoring to buy their books. Most have some nebulous audience profile in mind that includes millions of potential consumers—with erotica writers, this profile is often built on the assumption that any and all erotica is perfect for “people who like sex.” Don’t we all like sex? I think most of us like sex.

Yet, how many male readers “like sex” with a cock in their bum? That’s a subset of the population of “people who like sex”. And while male/male anal sex does not only relate to gay male readers, trying to entice most heterosexual men into buying gay erotica is going to be a fruitless waste of time and money (time and money better spent targeting the many heterosexual women often found flocking to m/m erotica and erotic romance . . . but more on that later).

The same can be said of authors who specialize in high-end, literary erotica. The type of novels with a fair amount of fetish elements and/or elaborate storytelling involved in the sex scenes . . . that’s a very specific genre, appreciated by an equally specific audience. Even people who “like sex” may be turned off by long passages describing the room in the scene in excruciating detail.

Hit the Right Target the First Time

Whatever type of sex you portray in your books, you probably have a particular vocabulary with which you like to illustrate it—words that not only describe the physical action in a scene, but which also set a specific tone and mood. So take advantage of that insight when creating press releases, cover art, synopses and blurbs, as well as in your social media and any other forum you use to market your books.

How you word the copy of all your publicity, and your overall image branding, will help your target audience decide whether your books will suit their taste—and you can use this to your advantage in your press releases and other publicity activities. Pay enough attention to the connotative qualities of your verbal and visual language, and your target readers will not only know your book is for them, but will start getting excited about it long before they open it up or click “Look Inside!”

If you are writing “fuck books”, for example, your press releases should contain words that arouse the interest of a hardcore just-get-to-the-sex reader (suck, fuck, cunt, slut . . .). Remember that those words tend to attract entirely different consumers than those looking for, say, literary or romantic erotica—writers of the latter, on the other hand, should give potential readers an idea that their story contains “sensual explorations of Sapphic desire, embellished with the heated ecstasy of erotic foot worship.” Sure, there’s some language overlap within the books themselves—literary erotica might talk about cunts and sucking; fuck books will describe something as sensual, etc. As a writer, you want to keep your word choice open and interesting. But as a publicist, you want to remember the tone and mood you’re trying to convey at first glance, so stick to the terms that really get to the heart of your genre (or subgenre, or sub-sub . . .).

The description of the Sapphic desire/foot worship book appeals to a very targeted audience—one who is now aware that this book contains their favorite dynamics and kinks, but who is also aware that your writing style will tend to avoid blunt, fuck-book-esque terms like girl-on-girl sex and foot fetish and, instead, describe things as sensual/ecstatic/erotic. Using the right “keywords” helps you to relate to the person you most expect to pay money for your books. After all, if you have created your stories around your personal likes, you already have a connection to the ultimate buyer for what you are selling. Use that to your advantage, and seek your target consumer where you like to spend your time, using words that you like to see when looking for your own “smut”.

So How Do I Target My Audience?

You can begin to narrow your audience down by asking yourself the following questions:

Which gender(s) am I writing for?

Like it or not, almost all sex novels are marketed—and purchased—at the furthest ends of the gender spectrum: For Women. For Men. If you are presenting an idealized version of sex and romance with sentences like “he approached her jade step, pausing to gently fondle her glistening pearl”, your target audience is probably women. You may be able to sell that book to men, but your target audience is certainly women—and a very wistful, romantic kind of woman at that. Alternately, if you write books that feature rough treatment of sex partners who lack much characterization . . . “the whore gobbled my jizz like a good cum-dumpster should”, you should probably target male readers. While it’s true some women like rough sex and dirty talk, the male demographic for that type of sexual depiction is still much larger.

Whether you choose to play along with these expectations is up to you, but know the risks and do not expect that your groundbreaking, stereotype-smashing stories of gothic heroines who curse and carouse like sailors will support your writing full-time or enlighten the masses in one glorious fell swoop—if you play your cards right, however, you will find the small-but-enthusiastic segment of readers who love your work and hunger for as much of it as you can write.

It’s also worth considering who your viewpoint characters are. In a hetero story, does the male or female lead end up doing most of the speaking and thinking? In whose head do we spend the most time (though, if the answer is “no one’s”, it’s probably a marketed-to-men kind of story) and which characters are secondary and viewed from outside? Roughly speaking, books marketed to women have primarily female viewpoint characters and vice versa.

Is my writing of interest to a particular orientation, kink or lifestyle?

There are many, many ways to be sexual—and thus many, many erotic genres. From homo- and bisexuals, to swingers, to the myriad kinds of fetishists, to bikers, to bisexual swingers with a biker fetish . . . and that’s only the tip of the iceberg to consider. Think about the way your target audience spends their time, their typical philosophical or political outlooks, the words they would use in their daily life and any specific sexual activities they would practice. Think about how your stories fit within different groups and eliminate the groups that your writing tone, style and plot don’t fit well with. Once you have the exact reader profile your writing style fits best with, you’ve found your target reader.

You may have the potential to narrow down your reader to lesbians over 50 years of age, with a penchant for leather and Harleys. Good for you! That’s a very specific audience that you can appeal to in a very focused way.

What words “turn on” my target audience?

Fetishists look for words that describe what they are into: feet, shoes, stockings, smoking, masks . . . the list goes on, but it consists of very specific objects and characteristics. Men who like to read about women being dominated often look for words like humiliated, broken and whore. Gay leather men often look for words like military, rugged and stud. You get the idea. Figure out what words work to get the attention of your target buyer.

How does my target reader describe the way they have sex?

Unless your target audience is very similar to you, spend some time with the type of consumer that you are looking for, learn what words and terms they use for sexual acts. Also pay attention to how they describe themselves by sexual orientation or culture. It will give you a wealth of insider information that will not only make your books more plausible and exciting, but will help you create keywords that you can use to make your product more appealing to a particular consumer. It’s obvious to say “gay sex”, but is that the way a gay person actually describes their sex life to a “breeder”? You won’t be able to answer that unless you do your research.

Is my reader of a specific age?

Some storylines, plots and language will appeal to younger adults, some to a more mature audience. Memories of a World War II fly-boy getting laid in France may get some younger readers, but the majority will be well over 30 and most likely male, depending on what wording is used to describe the ins-and-outs of the story.

Do I have a sub-segment of consumers?

Every type of novel has a main audience, but sometimes there will be cross-over segments and you may want to do two different publicity campaigns, one for the target and one for others that will have an interest, but who but aren’t your main consumer audience. As we’ve stated, for example, gay male erotica sells with both gay men and straight women.  So consider using words that attract both audiences in press releases, book covers and book synopses. If you are selling a book titled Billy Kidd and the Long Gun of the Law, using words like rugged, dominant and fisting will more likely appeal to gay men. Using words like romantic, surrender and pursued will likely play better with females. If you do so skillfully, you can combine these terms in a way that appeal to both audiences.

Use Those Questions as a Springboard

Keep asking the above questions (and adding your own!) until you find the perfect reader for whatever genre of literature you are selling. The more details you can attribute to your target consumer, what they are looking for in a a “good read” and what will convince them your books will be better than what is already available, the better. Then you can work on making your publicity campaign much more attractive to that specific buyer.

So Why Am I Doing This Question Thing?

A targeted publicity campaign should be focused on making sure your publicity activities are taking place where the largest concentration of your target audience gathers. For your publicity to be successful in reaching your perfect reader, you have to identify their haunts and learn their habits! I’ll share some secrets on how to find those places—and how to work within them to your advantage—in my next Write-Sex publicity column. Stay tuned!

***

Do you have specific questions concerning how to generate publicity for your books? Please email questions and comments to Sherry; answers will appear as future WriteSex blog topics.

Sherry Ziegelmeyer is a professional publicist and public relations representative, who happens to specialize in adult entertainment (in all its various forms). She resides in Chatsworth, California, affectionately known as “ground zero of the adult entertainment industry.” When not working on writing press releases, arranging interviews and putting together review kits for her clients (among dozens of other career related activities), she reads a LOT, loves cooking, appreciates beefcake eye-candy, spending time with friends, family and with her assortment of furred and feathered “kids”.

Get to know Sherry at blackandbluemedia.com or www.facebook.com/sherry.ziegelmeyer.

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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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May 292014
 
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By M. Christian

There’s a deep, dark secret that no writer wants to talk about. Oh, sure, in our braver moments we will talk about depression, anxiety, envy, frustration, spitefulness … the whole dark rainbow of negative emotions that come with being a professional author. And by professional author I don’t mean actually being paid for your work but, rather, being brave enough to send it out into the big, wide—and far too often cruel and uncaring—world.

This secret is lacking of mention in most books on writing—though it should have at least its own chapter, or maybe an entire volume, dedicated to it.

Okay, I won’t string you along any further. You’ve probably guessed it, anyway, by the one-word title of this article. We may not talk about it much, but luck is a powerful force in the life of a writer.

I wrote career in the last sentence before scratching it out and replacing it with life because, as I’ve said many times before, writers don’t have careers: this is not a profession—or even an unpaid pursuit—that you can plot and plan like many other occupations. You can’t, for example, say that this year you will write an award-winning story that will open the door to a major book contract, and then that book will be made into a flick starring Liam Neeson. You can dream about stuff like this all you want, but you can never, ever plan for it.

All because of luck.

Personal story time: I wrote—totally unsuccessfully—for ten years before I sold my first story (an erotic one … and so here I am). My wife at the time signed me up for a class taught by Lisa Palac, of the late-lamented FutureSex Magazine. At the end of the class, I brazenly handed her a story that I had written.  If I hadn’t taken that class, if I hadn’t handed her that story, if I hadn’t mentioned that Pat Califia and Carol Queen were pals of mine … I seriously doubt that she would have even glanced at it.

Personal story time (2): about this same time I was best friends with someone—who, sadly, I am no longer close to—who introduced me to all kinds of other writers and, more importantly, editors and publishers. Without his help, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.

I think you can see where I might be going with this.  If, if, if, if … looking back on my writing life I can see far too many branches that just happened to work out in my favor. Am I a good writer? I like to think that I am a capable writer—with a lot of learning still to do—but I’m not so arrogant as to think that my work is so absolutely brilliant that it would transcend the slush pile or get past the insecurities and nepotism of far too many editors and publishers.

In short, I am where I am today because of luck.

Dig around in any writer’s life—or the life of any creative person, for that matter—and you will see a lot of these branches that just happened to work out in their favor. Friends-of-friends, right-place-right-time … it’s pretty clear that ability is only one part of what can mean the difference between renown and obscurity.

This is just one reason why I despise arrogance in writers. Oh, I can certainly understand it: writing is damned hard—so it’s far too easy to protect a bruised and battered ego by lying to yourself, and the rest of the world, that your blistering talent got you where you are instead of admitting that it all would have been very different if the dice had landed ones instead of sixes.

But luck doesn’t just magically appear. You can’t summon it with “likes” on Facebook or by chugging bourbon.  A cosmic alignment didn’t get me from where I was to where I am now. Luck is about circumstance but it’s also about people. My wife, that one friend who helped opened doors … they were my horseshoes, my rabbit feet, my four-leaf clovers.

Not to sound too Machiavellian, but it’s very important to look at the people in your writing life and think—at least on some level—how have they helped me? …or are they a hindrance? Writing can be hard, almost miserable, but it can be a glorious way to live when you have people surrounding you who are kind, supportive, and encouraging.

Another reason I can’t stand arrogance is that it’s ultimately self-defeating. An old stage maxim says that you should be careful of who you step on while on the way up—because you’ll be meeting them on the way down. By pissing off all kinds of people you are also severing your connection to all kinds of opportunities—luck in the making. Some of these rolls might work out, some may not, but none of them have a chance if you don’t have anyone out there to hand you the dice.

Skill? Very important. Dedication? Extremely important. Flexibility? Absolutely. Luck? We might not want to talk about it but, yes, luck is a key factor … but luck can only find you through friends.

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Mar 102014
 
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By M. Christian

Let’s open with a joke: a guy pleads with god over and over: “Please, Lord, let me win the lottery.” Finally, god answers: “Meet me halfway – buy a ticket!”

Back when publishers only put out – gasp – actually printed-on-paper books I was known as a writer who would give anything I did that extra mile: readings, interviews, PR events, press releases … you name it, I’d do it. To be honest, I’ve always had a small advantage in that my (unfinished) degree was in advertising and I’ve less-than-secretly really enjoyed creating all kinds of PR stuff. I’ve always felt that a good ad, or marketing plan, can be just as fun and creative as actually writing the book itself.

Sure, some of my PR stuff has gotten me (ahem) in some trouble … though I still contest that the “other” M.Christian who staged that rather infamous plagiarism claim over the novel Me2 was at fault and not me, the one-and-only; or that my claim to amputate a finger as a stunt for Finger’s Breadth was totally taken out of context…

Anyway, the fact is I’ve always looked at publishers as people to work with when it comes to trying to get the word out about my books. Sure, some publishers have been more responsive and accepting than others and, yes, I still have bruises from working with a few who couldn’t have cared less about me and my books, but in the end most of them have been extremely happy to see my excitement when one of their editions hit the shelves.

Duh, things have changed a lot since then – but in many ways things haven’t changed at all. Books are still books, even if they are now digital files and not dead trees, and bookstores are still in the business of selling those books, even if they’re now Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo instead of brick-and-mortar establishments … and publishers still want to work with authors who want to work with them.

Not going into the whole publisher-versus-self-publishing thing (in a word: don’t) one thing that has totally changed is the importance of marketing, social media, and public relations. Simply put, it’s gone from being somewhat necessary to absolutely essential.

But this post isn’t about Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blogs and the rest of that stuff. Instead I want to talk about how you work with a publisher: what they do, what you do, and how to make it all work for the best.

A very common myth is that publishers are finger-steepling, mustache-twirling villains who pay for their volcano lairs and diamond-collared Persian cats with the sweat of writers. Okay, a few do, but the good ones started as writers themselves and have simply worked their way up to being in a position to try and help other writers – and, sure, make some bucks along the way.

Another common myth is that publishers don’t care about their writers. Okay, let’s be honest: a writer who sells a lot of books is definitely going to get the lion’s share of attention, but a good publisher knows that any book in their catalogue can be the one to go from one sale a month to ten a day.

There’s a very important factor: publishers deal with a lot of writers – some of whom have written dozens of books while others have two or three … or only one. With that many titles you can’t really expect a publisher to be able to give you 100% attention 100% of the time. Yes, they want you to succeed – they have a vested interest in your success, after all – but they have to try and bring that same level of success to as many of their writers and books as possible.

That does not let them off the hook when it comes to doing their jobs. A good publisher, most importantly, knows the business of publishing. Often this means they have to do things that authors don’t like: saving money on covers (or refusing to use your aunt’s watercolors as cover art), asking for changes to books or titles, requiring authors to think about social media and audience, asking for copyedited or clean manuscripts … and so forth. They do this not because they enjoy watching a writer cringe, but because they have lots of experience with what won’t sell, what might sell, what is worth a lot of time and what isn’t.

Believe it or not, publishers are also people: they work very hard – too hard in some cases – to be the publisher they, as writers, would want to work with. As such, they don’t just want to make a book a runaway bestseller; they want to make that book’s author excited and happy about their work.

Personal disclosure time: yes, I am a writer but I also have the honor of being an Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks. To put it mildly, it has been an eye-opening experience to start out looking at publishers as a writer, and end up looking at writers as a publisher.

During all this I try to remember my own excitement of when my books came out, and all the plans and strategies and so forth I had the pleasure of putting together. It was stressful and depressing more often than not, but then there were the wonderful moments when I felt the publisher was also thrilled about me and my work. As a publisher, I’ve tried to return to the favor to other writers.

Did you feel a “but” coming? Well, you should because sitting on the other side of the fence I’ve noticed that a few – not a lot, thankfully, but still far too many – writers want to win the lottery but won’t buy a flipping ticket.

Okay, I promise I won’t turn this into a “get off my lawn” rant but I do have a few words for advice for dealing with publishers – and how to making the transition from A Writer to A Cherished Author.

For one thing, always remember you are just one of many writers a publisher has to deal with. Yes, you have rights and a publisher should always respect and care about you and your work – but being demanding or a prima donna will get you nothing.

A good publisher will work very hard on marketing, promotions, exposure, new ways of doing anything, etc. – but, and this is extremely important, you need to as well. In short, buy a ticket!

Don’t have a website? Make one! Don’t have a Facebook page? Create one! Don’t have a Twitter feed? Sign up! Don’t have a Goodreads, RedRoom, etc., presence? Get moving!

The same goes for following your publisher’s social media links and such. Sign up and friend and favor them, and when your book comes out let your publisher know that you are excited and happy about it. Tell them of your marketing plans, send them your press releases, talk to them about the ways you are working to reach your audience … don’t just sit back and wait for them to do all the work.

Social media is timeless: your book might sell tomorrow or next year, which means that your marketing and such should also never stop. It breaks my heart when authors decide that their book is a failure when they don’t immediately see a fat royalty check – when the fact is the book is a failure because it is they who have given up on it. Publishers feel the same way: none of them want to hear that they screwed up by not making a book a bestseller when the author walked away from the title after a few months.

I could go on, and I will in more columns, but let’s wind down by restating the point of this post: working with a publisher is a partnership. They have duties and responsibilities but you, the author, have to step up and enthusiastically show that you, too, want to make your book into a magical, hotter-than-hot, golden ticket.

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