Monthly Archives: December 2009
The inclination is obvious; especially considering how much pressure writers can be put under to ‘get themselves out there.’ But even though the title of this column is “Literary Streetwalker,” I want to take a few hundred words to talk about when, in my opinion, it’s not a good idea of sell your creative backside.
One of the coldest, fastest rules of being an erotica author is that it’s a sexist genre: women have a slightly easier time of it than do guys — unless you’re penning gay stuff, of course. Straight men still remain the primary buyers of smut, and they usually don’t like to ‘enjoy’ (i.e. become aroused) by something a man wrote. Homophobic? Certainly. But them’s the breaks until our society grows up. Women also don’t seem to trust anything written by a man, being suspicious that a man can’t write about sex. Wrong? Absolutely. But again that’s simply the way the world works — for the moment, at least.
In this world of female empowerment, some women authors have made the mistake — and again, this is my opinion — of selling themselves rather than their work. The temptation, like I said, is clear: turning yourself into a desirable product makes it easy to sell just about anything you do, whether it’s a book or your own underwear. Becoming a sex personality means that you carry your catalog with you; you don’t have to trouble yourself with showing people what makes you a writer worthy of reading.
There are other benefits as well, celebrity having a special allure. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of people saying you’re sexy or clapping when you walk on stage. Writing, as I’ve said many times before, is a spectacularly harsh mistress. What with the low pay, generally poor treatment, and little artistic recognition, it’s no wonder that so many women are seduced by the quick and easy fame – or at least recognition – of becoming a product or personality, rather than a writer.
Now I should qualify what I mean by “selling.” I’m all for writers marketing themselves and their work. Half the game, at least, of being a writer is managing to tell enough people that you’re good without appearing arrogant (not an easy task). But it’s what you say about yourself and what you toss out there that is the line between publicity and literary prostitution – aside from having panties that bring in a nice price on eBay. Telling the world that you’re a great writer is one thing, telling people that you’re writing about the time you did the football team is quite another.
There are two good reasons for not crossing that line between publicity and soliciting. The first is more professional: if you create yourself as a sexual superstar you’re severely limiting what you can do as a writer. Receiving attention for your sex life might get you attention, but very often when you walk away from that spotlight you find yourself in the dark: your audience is used to you as a sex object, not as a writer — and won’t respond when you’re not writing about being a pro-dom, sex activist, or porn star. Flexibility, after all, is key to being a writer because it gives you a plethora of genres and venues in which to expand and play. Your smut didn’t sell? Try horror. Horror didn’t work? Try romance — and so forth. Unless, that is, you turn yourself into nothing but a sex object — then that’s all you can be.
The other reason to avoid selling yourself is one, simple, biological factor: wrinkles. A twenty-something sexpot is alluring and provocative. A fifty year old one is just creepy – or, as Joe Gillis says in Sunset Blvd: “There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.” One thing I love about being a writer is that writers have a long, long time to perfect our craft. Dancers get a few years, pro athletes get even less — but writers can work until they drool on their keyboards … unless they transform themselves into an object with a very short sexual lifespan.
Again, my opinion — if you want to turn yourself into a sexual superstar don’t let me stop you. It’s your right as a free person. But in all honesty I’d recommend that you try and resist the temptation to market yourself and not your work. Besides being a potential dead end career-wise (what happens when sagging and liver spots begin?), there’s one other difficulty in writing about your own sex life and putting it out there for hundreds, maybe thousands and — who knows? — millions of people to read: fans.
Not to put down the handsome and well groomed reading world, way too many of my female writer friends tell me that having die-hard fans of their sexual personas, rather than their stories, is more a curse than a blessing — and really, really creepy. I’d say unwelcome advances are another reason to write stories about all kinds of things, and not about how wonderful it was jerk off the entire swim team.