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Monthly Archives: April 2009

(as part of my new gig writing for the ERWA’s blog here’s one of my classic Confessions columns. Enjoy!)

Of all the things to write, I feel one of the all-time toughest has got to be fetish erotica. Gay or lesbian – or straight if you’re gay or lesbian or bisexual – is a piece of cake. I mean take a quick look at it: the elements of arousal are obvious, just insert body part of preference and go with it. For gay erotica it’s male body, for lesbians it’s female. For straight it’s the opposite. You don’t have to create the ideal man or woman, in fact it’s better to describe someone (the lust object) who is a bit more … real. Perfection is dull, and can be bad story telling, but a body with its share of wrinkles, blemishes, or sags can ad dimension and depth.

Same with the motivation, the inner world of your character. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: the trick to writing beyond your own gender or orientation is in projecting your own mental landscape into the mind of your character. You may not know how gay sex, lesbian sex, or straight sex feels (pick the opposite of your own gender) but you do know what love, affection, hope, disappointment, or even just human skin feels like. Remember that, bring it to you character and your story, and you’ll be able to draw a reader in.

But fetishes … fetishes are tougher. Just to be momentarily pedantic, Webster’s says that fetishes are: “an object or body part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification.” That’s pretty accurate – or good enough for us here – but the bottom line is that fetishes are a sexual obsession that may or may not directly relate to sex. Some pretty common ones are certain hair colors, body types, smells, tastes, clothing, and so forth.

We all have them to some degree. Just to open the field to discussion, I like breasts. But even knowing I have them doesn’t mean I can’t really explain why I like big ones. It’s really weird. I mean, I can write about all kinds of things but when I try and figure out what exactly the allure of large hooters is for me I draw a blank. The same and even more so used to happen when I tried and write about other people’s fetishes.

But I have managed to learn a couple of tricks about it, in the course of my writing as well as boobie dwelling (hey, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon). I’ve come up with two ways of approaching a fetish, at least from a literary standpoint. The first to remember that fetishes are like sex under a microscope, that part of their power is in focusing on one particular behavior or body part. Let’s use legs as an example. For the die-hard leg fetishist their sexuality (all or just a small part) is wrapped around the perfect set of limbs. For a leg man, or woman, the appeal is in that slow, careful depiction of those legs. The sex that happens after that introduction may be hot, but you can’t get away with just saying he or she had “a great set of gams.” Details! There has to be details – but not just any mind you. For people into a certain body type or style the words themselves are important. I remember writing a leg fetish story and having it come back from the editor with a list of keywords to insert into the story, the terms his readers would respond to, demanded in their stories. Here’s where research comes in: a long, slow description is one thing but to make your fetish story work you have to get your own list of button-pushing terminology.

The second approach is to understand that very often fetishes are removed from the normal sexual response cycle. For many people, the prep for a fetish is as important, if not as important, as the act itself. For latex fans – just to use an extreme example – the talcum powder and shaving before even crawling into their rubber can be just as exciting as the black stretchy stuff itself. For a fetish story, leaping into the sex isn’t as important as the prep to get to it – even if you do. Another example that springs to mind is a friend of mine who was an infantilist – and before you leap to your own Webster’s that means someone who likes to dress up as someone much younger. For him, the enjoyment was only partially in the costume and roll-playing. A larger part of his dress-up and tea parties was in masturbating afterward: in other words the fetish act wasn’t sex, it was building a more realistic fetish fantasy for self-pleasure afterwards. Not that all of your literary experiments need to be that elaborate but it does show that for a serious fetishist the span what could be considered ‘sex’ can be pretty wide.

The why to try your hand at fetish erotica I leave to you – except to say what I’ve said before: that writing only what you know can lead to boredom for you and your readers. Try new things, experiment, take risks. In the case of fetishes, it can only add to your own sensitivity and imagination – both in terms of writing and story-telling but maybe even in the bedroom.

And who could argue with that?

In the May edition of my Shameless Self-Promotion column, “Publicists, Press Kits and Other P-words,” I talk about one of the most important parts of an author’s press kit: your sell sheet for your book. In fact, even if you don’t put together a press kit, the sell sheet is an important tool in any marketing efforts. Print out a stack of hard copies to hand out to bookstores and send with review copies. You will also need to send the same information (including a jpg of your cover) by email to anyone interested in your book–reviewers, bloggers, bookstores, and interviewers.

I wanted to post an example of my sell sheet to give you some ideas for your own. I can’t duplicate the exact layout here, but I’ve listed all the basic information for your reference. By the way, it’s definitely worth it to print your sell sheet in color to show your book cover to its best advantage.

A Sample Sell Sheet:

In the upper left hand corner I placed a 2 1/2 x 1 1/2-inch color reproduction of my book cover. To the right, in parallel, I list the following information:

AMOROUS WOMAN
By Donna George Storey

Neon/Orion Publishing
Price: $7.95
Category: Literary Erotica
Pages: 352
Book Type: Paper
Size: 4 1/2 x 7
ISBN: 1905619170
ISBN13: 9781905619177
Release Date: June 2008

Below that, centered on the page, I include the following teaser:

Take an exotic, erotic journey to a Japan few tourists ever see….

Amorous Woman is the story of an American woman’s love affair with Japan and her sensual encounters with the sexy men and women she meets along the way. First-time novelist Donna George Storey, a widely published erotica writer who holds a Ph.D. in Japanese literature, challenges the boundaries of culture and genre in this modern remake of Ihara Saikaku’s classic 17th century novel of the pleasure quarters. Lusty, wise-cracking Lydia—the modern Amorous Woman–experiences every flavor of erotic pleasure Japan has to offer from illicit encounters in hot spring baths to fantasy orgies straight from manga porn. Described by critics as “rich with sensual detail, humor, and emotional complexity,” “hard to put down,” and “literary erotica at its best,” the novel will change your image of Japan—and erotica—forever.

Below this I provide contact information for the author (myself) and the publisher (or rather the assistant editor who actually deals with me and my book’s business rather than the official editor). I include a phone number, website, and email address for each. Below this I list the following:

Bookstore ordering: Available through Ingram and the Independent Publishers Group

Independent Publishers Group
814 North Franklin St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: 312-337-0747
FAX: 312-337-5985
Orders Only: 800-888-4741
Orders: orders@ipgbook.com

That’s all there is to a sell sheet–one page with all the most important information about your book. It’s a slim, but essential tool in your kit. Happy promoting!

Find out more about Donna George Storey and her adventures in shameless self-promotion at her blog.

As part of my column on book promotion for first-time authors on the ERWA Authors Resources page, “Shameless Self Promotion,” I’ll be posting some interviews here with writers who’ve graciously agreed to share their experience over coffee and cookies. So pull up a chair at the ERWA blog kitchen table and come chat with me and debut novelist Kirsten Menger-Anderson today.

Kirsten recently published a thought-provoking and elegant novel-in-stories entitled Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill), which follows the lives of twelve generations of New York City physicians who are trying to better the human condition, each in his or her own misguided way. While it’s not erotica, it kept me in its thrall with its intriguing journey through the fads of medical science over the centuries, all told in lovely prose any writer would envy. The book has received glowing reviews from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and was nominated for a Northern California Book Award. I tend to regard mainstream critics with a critical eye myself, but in this case, I’m in hearty agreement with their praise. Literary fiction should always be so fresh, relevant, and provocative.

Of particular interest to shameless self-promoters is the fact that Kirsten’s publisher treated her with respect and made a significant effort to publicize the book. So, believe it or not, it can be done! However, in spite of this support and excellent reviews in national publications, the author herself has still had to do a lot of work to promote the book. Here’s what Kirsten had to say about her experience:

Shameless Self-Promotion: What have you found to be the most enjoyable and/or effective ways to promote your novel (or story collection or anthologies)?

Kirsten Menger-Anderson: I like maintaining my Olaf web site, and (perhaps oddly) find this most enjoyable. I used to do a lot of web production, so it’s kind of fun to fiddle with HTML. And I can do it on my own time, when I have time, without any logistical issues. Plus, it’s really nice to have links to all the book reviews, news, etc in one place if I ever need to reference them.
Most effective? I’m not sure. I think that’s one of the things I find frustrating about promotion. It’s really hard to know how the hours I spend writing essays, blogs, etc translate into “effect” (raising awareness and/or sales). I choose to believe that everything helps.

What have been the least effective ways or biggest challenges?

Least effective? Also not sure. The biggest challenge is usually making time for x,y,z promotional activity and not feeling sad about all the other things I’d rather be doing (like working on my novel or hanging out with my family and friends). That said, I know it’s important, and I appreciate every opportunity I have to talk about my book.

What has been the most surprising thing about the experience of book promotion?

How consuming it can be. Even something simple like a brief essay takes time because I want to make sure it will reflect well on the book. I don’t want people to read my essay, etc. and walk away thinking that it isn’t well written or well thought out.

What advice would you give to a person just starting out as a published author who would like to promote their novel/stories? Is there anything you would definitely do differently if you had the chance to do it over?

I’d recommend getting a web site up (or blog–something online so people can find you if they do a search and you can position your work as you choose). Even before the book is out.

Nothing I’d definitely do differently. Not that I can think of at the moment.

What have been the benefits of using a publicist to promote your work ? The downside?

I did not hire an independent publicist. But, the publicity team at Algonquin did a lot of great work getting the book out to print and online publications that either reviewed the book or asked me to contribute a piece. They also organized a number of events and appearances. No downside.

Can you tell us about the effectiveness of any or all of the following promotional tools:
Setting up a website—did you do it yourself or hire a professional?

I did it myself. It was fun.

Blogging

I set up a blog that gets very little traffic. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it going forward.

Mailing lists/author newsletters

I set up a mailing list as well as a list on Facebook. I think Facebook is a pretty good way to get word out to a lot of people via status updates, fan pages, or groups.

Getting your book reviewed—the challenges and successes

The Algonquin publicity team did this work, so I don’t have much to say except that they did a great job sending the book out and following up.

Contests (as in submitting your work for a literary prize)

I submitted individual stories to a number of contests. Never won, but I was short listed a few times. I think that helps the book. People can see that the stories have been acknowledged and (hopefully) conclude that they might be good.

Book fairs

I went to a couple independent book seller fairs where I signed copies of my book or spoke. Talking directly to book sellers was a great opportunity to raise awareness about the book. Plus, it’s nice to meet and talk to people who love books. My publisher organized the appearances–I’m not sure what was involved with that process.

Radio interviews

Did a couple of these. I love the idea of radio–how many people might be listening.

Approaching local bookstores directly

I had mixed luck approaching bookstores directly and asking them to stock my book. However, every bookstore that had my book was willing to let me sign the copies.

Writing articles related to your book for print or online media

I didn’t write any print articles, but I did a number of guest blog posts. I have a stat counter on my web site, so I can see traffic referrals (usually very few, even from the high traffic web sites). But that doesn’t mean that people didn’t read and have an opinion about my post.

Bookstore readings

Did a few of these, all in California. Never a large audience, and sometimes just a couple people. But I think readings are nice, whatever the turn out, because your book is usually mentioned in the bookstore newsletter or website or the local newspaper and that raises awareness.

Book parties

I decided to throw a book party at my home. That was a lot of fun and a great way of celebrating the release.

Book trailers

Didn’t do an official one. I did make a small video of my phrenology head spinning around on the record player because I was a member of red room, and (if I remember right) I couldn’t post my book before it was published, but I could post a little video about it. So yes, just the head spinning with me saying that the book would be out in October. Silly, I know. Broke the record player, too.

Promoting at writing workshops or through other businesses

No. not really. Only in that I had an email sig on all my outgoing mail (business and personal). I work as a freelance technical writer.

Swag–such as postcards, bookmarks, pens, flyers, T shirts, magnets, etc. Which has been the most useful?

Business cards. That’s all I made, but they have been useful.

Any other strategies you’d like to suggest?

I think you’ve covered it!

Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Kirsten. It always helps to know what’s worked for other authors.

Find out more about Donna George Storey and her adventures in shameless self-promotion at her blog.

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