Here’s a quote that’s very near and dear to my heart:
From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.’
That was from Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese painter of the Ukiyo-e school (1760-1849). Don’t worry about not knowing him, because you do. He created the famous Great Wave Off Kanagawa, published in his “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” — a print of which you’ve probably
seen a thousand times.
Hokusai says it all: the work is what’s really important, that he will always continue to grow and progress as an artist, and that who he is will always remain less than what he creates.
Writing is like art. We struggle to put our thoughts and intimate fantasies down just-so, then we send them out into an often harsh and uncaring world, hoping that someone out there will pat us on the head, give us a few coins, and tell us we did a good job.
What with this emotionally chaotic environment a little success can push just about anyone into feeling overly superior. Being kicked and punched by the trials and tribulations of the writing life making just about anyone desperate to feel good about themselves — even if it means
losing perspective, looking down on other writers. Arrogance becomes an emotional survival tool, a way of convincing themselves they deserve to be patted on the noggin a few more times than anyone else, paid more coins, and told they are beyond brilliant, extremely special.
It’s very easy to spot someone afflicted with this. Since their superiority constantly needs to be buttressed, they measure and wage the accomplishments and merits of other writers putting to decide if they are better (and so should be humbled) or worse (and so should be the source of worship or admiration). In writers, this can come off as someone who thinks they deserve better … everything than anyone else: pay, attention, consideration, etc. In editors, this appears as rudeness, terseness, or an unwillingness to treat contributors as anything but a resource to be exploited.
Now my house has more than a few windows, and I have more than enough stones, so I say all this with a bowed head: I am not exactly without this sin. But I do think that trying to treat those around you as equals should be the goal of every human on this planet, let alone folks with literary aspirations. Sometimes we might fail, but even trying as best we can — or at least owning the emotion when it gets to be too much — is better than embracing an illusion of superiority.
What this has to do with erotica writing has a lot to do with marketing. As in my last column (“Pedaling Your Ass”) where I vented a bit on the practice of selling yourself rather than your work, arrogance can be a serious roadblock for a writer. It is an illusion — and a pervasive
one — that good work will always win out. This is true to a certain extent, but there are a lot of factors that can step in the way of reading a great story and actually buying it. Part of that is the relationship that exists between writers and publishers or editors. A writer who honestly believes they are God’s gift to mankind might be able to convince a few people, but after a point their stories will be more received with a wince than a smile: no matter how good a writer they are their demands are just not worth it.
For editors and publishers, arrogance shows when more and more authors simply don’t want to deal with them. After a point they might find themselves with a shallower and shallower pool of talent from which to pick their stories — and as more authors get burned by their attitude and the word spreads they might also find themselves being spoken ill of to more influential folks, like publishers.
Not to take away from the spiritual goodness of being kind to others, acting superior is also simply a bad career move. This is a very tiny community, with a lot of people moving around. Playing God might be fun for a few years but all it takes is stepping on a few too many toes — especially toes that belong on the feet of someone who might suddenly be able to help you in a big way some day – making arrogance a foolish role to play.
I am not a Christian (despite my pseudonym) but they have a great way of saying it, one that should be tacked in front of everyone’s forehead: “Do onto others as you would have then do unto you.” It might not be as elegant and passionate as my Hokusai quote, but it’s still a maxim we should all strive to live by — professionally as well as personally.
Kisses are electrifying, passionate, and powerful … and difficult to express in words. ERWA authors, a group of audacious writers, took on the challenge. The remarkable results are featured in our free ebook, A Slip of the Lip: The Erotica Readers & Writers Association Collection of Kisses, edited by Remittance Girl.
To wet your appetite for A Slip of the Lip, here is the Introduction to our collection of kisses:
Slip of the Lip: The Erotica Readers & Writers Association Collection of Kisses
Edited by Remittance Girl
Kisses have been described in literature throughout history, but rarely have they been given the attention they deserve. A kiss is often the first, truly intimate contact lovers have. In fact, it is often the event that allows the people involved to think of themselves as lovers.
Other animals may meet, mate and bond but only humans kiss. And, although there are many cultures that view other forms of contact as more intimate, western literature, photography and film have spread the romantic and erotic concept of the kiss around the world.
In erotic fiction, the kiss is too often described in passing on the way to more overtly sexual acts. This collection of kisses grew out of a challenge thrown down in the Writers’ section of the Erotica Readers & Writers mail list: write the best, most innovative and original description of a kiss.
Each of the pieces is less than 1000 words long. They are not meant to be complete stories, only the capturing of those breathtaking, heart pumping, andrenalin inducing moments when lips meet and – whatever lies you might tell yourself – there’s no going back.
The old theme song from the 1942 movie Casablanca tells us that ‘a kiss is just a kiss,’ but we beg to differ.
—Remittance Girl, editor
Please feel free to download the entire collection in .pdf form at:
Slip of the Lip: The Erotica Readers & Writers Association Collection of Kisses
This month’s Shameless Self-Promotion discusses in the flesh book promotion events such as book parties, readings and signings. Stella Price, the promotional genius at Phaze Books, has agreed to talk with us about some of her favorite methods of meeting new readers, with signings at the top of the list. Stella is the author of numerous romance/dark urban fantasy novels, including 2009 Fantasm winners Deep Water and Frost & Flame, along with her sister Audra Price. It’s a real pleasure to welcome Stella and hear her extremely useful tips for dealing with bookstores, arranging signings and enchanting readers.
Shameless Self-Promotion: What have you found to be the most effective ways to promote your novel (or story collection or anthologies)?
Stella Price: Word of mouth helps a lot. Along with special promotional items that are specifically for your books.
SSP: The most enjoyable?
I love signings! I love meeting people.
SSP: The least effective ways or biggest challenges?
Loop chats are the worst in my opinion. Unless your with a certain publisher, or a favorite, you don’t get much out of it.
SSP: What has been the most surprising thing about the experience of book promotion?
The amount of people we have met from giving stuff out, who LOVE the ideas and don’t read romance, but end up buying your work because of the gimmick.
SSP: Did it change your view of your writing and the writing process?
Nope. Everything is still the same, just a lot more promotions to get the work out there.
SSP: 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?
Get out there and make yourself and what you write known. Get to as many conventions and events as possible to get your name out there. Relying on online promo alone is unwise, because so many online readers have already chosen their favorites and don’t want to try anyone new.
SSP: If you’ve used a publicist or other professional consultant to promote your work what have been the benefits? The downside?
No I haven’t because I don’t believe in paying someone to do something I can do myself with money I don’t have.
SSP: How helpful do you find the following promotional tools:
Setting up a website—did you do it yourself or hire a professional?
Websites are the way to go. a place to have your work for all to find it is paramount.
I like it, And I do it at several places, usually group blogs.
Mailing lists/author newsletters:
Recently these have been doing extremely well for us. The newsletter lists have been beloved because there’s a concentrated set of “fans” in one place. Getting sales for new books is easiest this way instead of dispersing Emails around the net. The mailing lists we have are snail mail lists. Every month we send out goodies, even if it’s just a signed bookflat of a new book to the snail mail list. As of now we have over 300 people on those lists, and it has worked out great. It’s also an awesome way to send out signing information.
I don’t use them, though I have done guest spots on blogs.
Getting your book reviewed—the challenges and successes:
I love reviews. They help a lot with selling the work to others with quotes, though the sites the reviews don’t really matter. It’s what you take away from them that works best.
Something we do all the time, though we rarely get people entering.
LOVE them. Any kind of event is fantastic to meet new and old readers!
They are fun, and amusing, but I haven’t gotten much out of it by way of sales.
Approaching local bookstores directly:
Tricky, but luckily I have perfected this. It’s extremely time consuming, almost a full time job. You need to be diligent, and keep on the stores. I suggest making a PDF of the information they will need. Signing dates you’re looking for, genre, what you will offer, ISBN’s, book names, etc. The easiest way to get a signing is to call them and touch base with their Community Relations Manager, (B&N) or the Inventory Manager/Floor manager at Borders. Ask for an email address after you pitch the signing to them, tell them you will send them the PDF so they can check it all out and decide. Then if you don’t hear in a week or so, call back. You have to keep on them. Also, as an author, you need to know your signing rights. Both B&N and Borders have brochures that tell you what they expect and what you can expect from them.
I don’t do readings.
We do a lot of these. We have a group that does then and we tend to sell pretty well.
Fun and get people interested, but I don’t think they have gotten us sales.
Interviews in local or national media:
Pretty interesting and have helped with local sales.
Promoting at writing workshops or through other businesses:
Swag–such as postcards, bookmarks, pens, flyers, T shirts, magnets, etc. Which has been the most useful?
People love promo. Stickers, pins and pens work best for us at the normal every day signing, but for conferences and such I bring out the big guys: soaps, metal bookmarks, bath salts, candles, matches, etc.
Any other strategies you’d like to suggest?
Signing tours! These take place in bookstores. Actually we do them in groups. It helps to have other people there to talk to and to help with the personalization of the event. We do them mainly in chain bookstores, like Borders, BN, Books a Million, Hastings, Etc. Also, at indie book shops, though they are a bit tougher to work around because they have to have a large readership in the genre you write in.
Thank you so much, Stella, for sharing your insights and suggestions!
This month’s Shameless Self-Promotion examines creative uses of the Internet for book promotion. Speaking of examinations, I’m very pleased to welcome Sue Thurman, a writer who promotes her work as a freelance journalist with the Arizona Examiner. Sue has graciously agreed to share her experiences writing for Examiner.com and other suggestions for book promotion. Sue is the author of the children’s book Maybe We Are Flamingos and contributor to Inside Scoop: Articles about Acting and Writing by Hollywood Insiders, winner of the EPPIE award in non-fiction anthologies and an honorable mention in Foreward Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards.
Shameless Self-Promotion: What have you found to be the most effective ways to promote your books?
Sue Thurman: Prior to joining the Examiner family, I don’t think I’d found the most effective way. When an author signs with a small publisher that doesn’t offer any marketing, it’s difficult to find the best avenue. Good reviews are great, however it doesn’t always transfer into sales if you don’t already have an established audience. With my YA novel currently in progress, I’m building my audience first. A good book trailer is a very effective tool and mine was done by Kim Chatel of Blazing Trailers.
SSP: The most enjoyable?
Personal appearances to autograph books, or just meet people.
SSP: The least effective ways or biggest challenges?
Trying to get into the major chains when with a small publisher.
SSP: What has been the most surprising thing about the experience of book promotion?
I’ve learned from other authors that virtual book tours aren’t very effective.
SSP: Tell us more about your experience with the Examiner.com.
The Examiner that I write for is looking for writers all over the country. The requirement is 3-4 articles per week on a dedicated web page in their network. They provide the template, there is no cost and you do make a tiny bit of money based on how many hits you get per month.
They are doing a special referral program and if anyone is interested, send an email to: safari at safarisue dot com, and I will give you the information to sign up.
You can view my page at http://www.examiner.com/x-2174-Arizona-Family-Examiner
If you don’t see a category you like, you can suggest one and there are a wide variety of people and interests. It’s fun and since I started in January, now people are asking me to cover stories. Some of the writers have gotten national attention and appeared on several network shows. The exposure is incredible and the network is getting millions of hits per month.
SSP: How did you get started writing for the Examiner?
Depending on what I write about and I do a variety of things, the research varies. The articles don’t have to be long, so time can be pretty short. However the research takes longer, but again that depends on the subject.
We include links in articles too. I do an editorial calendar for each month so I know what local things are happening. Right now I’m seeing which articles my audience likes. So far, the top ones have been UFOs, ghosts, on the movie sets with local productions, and everything related to Twilight.
SSP: How much time do you spend and how many articles per week?
Sometimes an hour to write and post a story. Other times longer.
SSP: Do you think it’s gotten your name out there? Any sense it is leading to sales or other useful benefits?
Yes. Since joining Examiner, now people are contacting me for stories and reviews. Therefore when my next book comes out, I’ll promote it on my Examiner page, which is part of a large network that’s growing everyday.
SSP: You mentioned that you are writing a YA novel–how do you see the Examiner experience helping that?
I’m working on a YA book that will target the same audience as the Twilight series. This time I’m building the audience before the book is even submitted to an agent.
Thank you so much, Sue, for sharing your experiences with us.
I’m astounded sometimes by writers who will only write one thing and one thing only: straight erotica, mysteries, science fiction, horror – you name it: their flute has only one note. They might play that one note very, very well but often they neglect the rest of the scale. Not to go on about myself, but my own moderate accomplishments as a writer are the direct result of my accepting a challenge or two. I never thought I could write erotica – until I did. I never thought I could write gay erotica, until I did – and so forth. Who knows what you might be great at? You won’t know until you try.
A writer is nothing but pure potential, but only if that potential is utilized. If you only like writing straight erotica, try gay or lesbian. The same goes if you’re queer – try writing something, anything, that you’d never in a million years think of doing. Maybe the story will suck, and that certainly does happen, but maybe it’ll be a wonderful story or teach you something about your craft.
Challenge yourself. If you don’t like a certain genre, like Romance, then write what your version of a romance story would be like. You don’t like Westerns? Well, write one anyway – the Western you’d like to read. Of course like a lot of these imagination games you don’t have to sit down and actually write a Western novel. Instead just take some time to visualize it: the characters, setting, some plot points, a scene or two. How would you open it? Maybe a tumbleweed blowing down a dusty street, perhaps a brass and black iron locomotive plowing through High Sierra snow? Or what about the classic Man With No Name staring down a posse of rabid outlaws? Who knows, you might be the best Western – or mystery, science fiction, gay, lesbian, straight etc. – writer there ever was, or maybe you’ll just learn something about people, about writing. Either way, you’re flexing, increasing the range of your work.
This flexibility isn’t just good in abstract. Cruise around Erotica Reader’s and Writer’s here and look at the books being published, the calls for submissions, and so forth. If you only like to write stories that one are particular style, flavor, or orientation, you’ll notice you have a very, very limited number of places that would look at your work. But if you can write anything, then everywhere is a potential market. Write one thing and that’s exactly how many places will want to look at what you do. Write everything and you could sell anywhere.
In other words: try! If you don’t try, you won’t know if you’re any good. Some writers only do what they know and like because they don’t want to face rejection, or feel they’d have to restart their ‘careers’ if they change the one thing they do well. I don’t believe any of that. If you can’t handle rejection then writing is not the life for you. Getting punched in the genitals by a rejection slip is part of the business, something we all have to deal with. As far as a writer’s ‘career’ goes, no one knows what shape that’ll take, what’ll happen in the future. Planning a job path in writing is like trying to roll snake eyes twelve times in a row – the intent might be there but the results are completely chaotic. In the same way a simple little story can turn out to be the best thing you’re ever written, an unexpected experiment can end up being a total artistic change.
Playing with new themes, genres, and styles is fun. Experiment on the page, in your mind, and who knows what’ll pop up? Next time you go to the movies, try and imagine what the trailer to your movie would be like, or write (in your mind or even on the page) a sequel to this summer’s blockbuster. Go to the bookstore and pick up something at random, read the back cover, and then spend a fun couple of hours imagining how you’d write it. What style would you use? What kind of characters? What settings? Even sit down and write some of it: a page, or even just a paragraph or two. It might suck, but that’s the risk you always take trying something new – but it also could open a door to something wonderful.
Yep, I’m a tad nervous about offering my services as a writer of customized erotica, but I’m also incredibly excited about it. Who knows what’ll happen, what kind of story ideas might come my way, and stories I may write? After all, I’ll never know unless I try, unless I flex my wings.
Book promotion is a daunting task for a beginner, but fortunately there are generous veterans of the process like Brenna Lyons who are willing to help guide us in the first shaky steps of our journey. Brenna is a prolific, best-selling author of sci-fi and erotic romance including the Renegade series, the Night Warriors series and the Kegin series. She lectures frequently on book promotion at conferences, and her discussions on the topic are without a doubt some of the most useful and well-organized materials I’ve consulted. I’m thrilled that Brenna has agreed to an interview in conjunction with this month’s Shameless Self-Promotion column on creative uses of the Internet for book promotion.
Shameless Self-Promotion: I know you especially enjoy promoting your books as a featured author in chat rooms. What are the benefits of this form of promotion?
Brenna Lyons: All marketing is selling you first and then the books. Readers want a piece of you, personally. Even more than talking to them on mailing lists (and a less stressful environment than talking to them face-to-face), chat rooms allow the readers to get a real-time idea of what it’s like to talk to you. No long, thought-out replies as you have in e-mail, for instance. It’s more intimate and more real.
SSP: How do you arrange to be featured in a chat room? Any places that are especially friendly to erotica writers?
There are a lot of places that are friendly, but I find it’s easier to join promotion groups like IWOFA (Infinite Worlds of Fantasy Authors) or your publisher in group chats to start. Once you’ve done some “buddy chats,” built up a name with the readers there, gotten comfortable with the situation, go back and ask those venues if they ever do single author chats. Another benefit to belonging to promo groups is that they will sometimes post opportunities for single promo.
Now, if you do a single, it’s easier to do it with several books under your belt. An hour is a long time to talk about one book. If all you’ve got is one, it might be better to do a buddy chat with a friend who is of a similar genre and temperament…or one of you is the nurturer in chat and the other needs coaxing. You never want to get into a position where you have one quiet chatter and one overbearing chatter that doesn’t coax the former out. It’s unsatisfying for the quiet chatter and for the readers in attendance.
SSP: Are there ways a beginner can prepare for a chat?
In addition to doing buddy chats to start? Sure.
Pick venues that are to your comfort level. Some chat rooms are moderated or have a strict stand-in-line-and-wait-your-turn policy about asking the author questions and/or have rules about what questions are too personal to ask. Others are no holds barred and fast-moving. I prefer the latter, but not every author does. Ask around and attend someone else’s chat in the prospective room to see how theirs runs.
Go in prepared. If you cannot type quickly, have a DOC or RTF file open with things like your blurbs in it. Most chat sites allow a small amount of copy and paste instead of typing, so break the blurbs down into a sentence or two per “copy line.” If you get flustered, have Post-It Notes around your desk with pertinent facts on them. Since so many people ask me for things like my current resume or how many releases I have in the next quarter, I tend to count it before chats and use a Post-It to keep the up-to-date numbers on hand.
Relax. Keep in mind that the readers aren’t there to jump on you. They are interested in you and/or your work. They are looking to buy new authors. They WANT to like you. So, try not to get too nervous.
Typos are expected. In fact, we jokingly call them “chatroomese,” and that’s spoken in all chats. No one expects your typing to be perfect in a chat room.
And don’t forget to promote your chat! On your site, Facebook, blog, MySpace, lists that allow a promo post for such things (but remember that it’s considered rude to promote a chat at review site A’s chat room at review site B’s list). You’ll find that there is a core readership that routinely makes all a certain chat room’s chats, but you may draw in new readers, and they like that.
SSP: Any advice on mistakes to avoid while discussing your work in a chat room?
I already said to familiarize yourself with the chat room etiquette of the room you’re in. Keep your responses to the room level. If it’s a staid room with taboo topics, don’t be too over the top. If it’s no-holds barred, you don’t have to go full bore, but you don’t have to worry about it either.
These people want to know you, but they are not your confidants. Think about a cocktail party with strangers. There are just some things you don’t want or need to tell them.
SSP: Can you tell us about one or two other favorite ways to promote your books?
One of the best (and most enjoyable) promos I do would be either free reads or writing stories for the byline (or for charity anthologies). It also tends to give me a good return on investment.
I also enjoy making banner ads (animated GIFs) and book videos. That’s my down time…an enjoyable sideline to writing.
SSP: Do you have any general words of advice for a newbie promoter?
Like anything else in book marketing, everything you do will appeal to a certain percentage of the readership. You can’t just do one thing. You want a wide variety of them, and then you want to net them together so you (for instance) use good reviews on your blog, in your signature line, your mailing list, etc.
Should chats be all you do? Of course not! That’s one facet of marketing. All told, there should be several subdivisions of online marketing…
ONLINE PRESENCE- author web site, MySpace, Facebook, Amazon Author Central, Red Room Authors, Manic Readers page, TRS page, Ning, author newsletter or newsletter list, etc.
BLOGS- Blogger, LiveJournal, Amazon, Ning, MySpace, etc.
MINI-BLOGS- Twitter, Google Wave, Facebook, etc.
GROUPS- Yahoo or Google groups, and don’t forget your tag line…not just reader loops but also author loops…don’t heavy sell it; talk about whatever they are talking about
FORUMS- depending on your genre
CHATS- I think we’ve covered that. Grinning…
INTERVIEWS- not just print ones online but also internet radio and so forth…don’t forget to use these other places…all promotion should be a web of overlapping and interlocking efforts
REVIEWS- it’s not enough to have them…use them with your other efforts
CROSS-LINKING- with other authors, publishers, on sites that keep lists of certain genres and book content
BANNER ADS- not just pay ones on review sites but also free ones on all of your online presence (blogs, pages, etc.) and cross-banner with other authors
PROMO/NETWORKING GROUPS- places like IWOFA, BroadUniverse, and Bookwormbags
CONTESTS- not just on your own site but also group contests with places like IWOFA
SPOTLIGHTS- often held for several hours or all day on Yahoo or Google groups…or for a week or month on review sites…which means having representative blurbs and excerpts, which rank high in the online return on investment scale
FREE READS- at least for short periods of time and/or short stories that tie to existing worlds you write in
WRITING SHORT STORIES/ARTICLES for magazines or charity anthologies (for the byline) and anthologies (for small payment and exposure of the byline)…small investment from you and big returns
And so forth. For the best return, authors should choose at least one or two of the possible promo types in as many of these SUBDIVISIONS as he/she is comfortable with and then make them work together in a promo web.
In addition, though online marketing has double the return (in general) that physical promo does, a little physical promo is always a good idea.
ADS- online and in magazines…get into group ads, when possible, but don’t overdo it, since research shows you need to repeat ads in the same venue upwards of 6-10 times to get the best return from it, and few people can afford that
PROMO CDS- especially if you can get into group ones with a low overhead
WEARING/CARRYING YOUR OWN PROMO GEAR- bumper stickers, t-shirts, carry the book, keychains…carry extras of small things with you…carry business cards with you
STREET TEAMS- wearing/carrying your promo gear and passing it out, wherever they are
CARD CULT- this is a fun one and very inexpensive
SIGNED BOOKPLATES- enough said…these are very popular with some readers
DODADS- pens, pins, etc. Pens are a good choice, because people are less likely to throw them away. Some people do collect signed paper promos, but they are more likely to be trashed than pens are; if people don’t keep them, they pass them along, and that’s good. Be sure to have a catchy tag line on them. Use them in group efforts like Bookwormbags. BUT…don’t just leave them places or stuff them in bills or whatever, willy nilly. Pens are about the only promo that does well when left in places where people use pens (signing checks, making out bank deposits, etc.) Most left-behind promo gets trashed.
ALL promo is cumulative. What you do, combined with what they do, combined with what other authors with the publisher do that brings people to the publisher site, benefits you…and vice versa. So, don’t be shy about passing along recommended reads of other books/authors with your publisher. Don’t be shy about passing along special events the publisher is doing, even if they don’t directly seem to benefit you. Don’t be shy about teaching the other authors how to market, if you know more than they do.
I could go on and on, but the full class I teach on this is 30 pages of notes.
SSP: Thank you so much, Brenna, for this wealth of helpful information! You can read more advice from Brenna at Broadsheet or attend one of her talks at your next writer’s conference.
Approximately two years ago, the mega-publisher Random House acquired Virgin Books, including its celebrated erotica imprints Black Lace and Nexus. Roughly two weeks ago, Random House announced that they planned to shut down both lines. For many of us in the erotica reading and writing community, this is extremely sad though not completely unexpected news.
Speaking from a personal perspective, Black Lace is responsible for my ten year career as an erotica author. It’s not only the fact that Black Lace published my first novel, Raw Silk. I would never have written the book in the first place if I hadn’t picked up a copy of Portia da Costa’s Black Lace title Gemini Heat from the bookshelf of my hotel in Instanbul. Gemini Heat (which I’ve recently learned was Portia’s first novel) overwhelmed me with its sensuality, imagination, diversity and intelligence. To put it more crudely, it was possibly the hottest thing I’d ever read, far surpassing the Pauline Reage and A. N. Roquelaure titles that had been my touchstones up to that point.
My first reaction was “Wow!” My second was, “I’ll bet I could write something like that…”
Erotic fiction for women, by women. Back in 1993, when Black Lace launched, this was an original, even radical concept. Before the Best Women’s Erotica series, before Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica, there was Black Lace: carefully crafted, meticulously edited, classy stories about women and sex with three dimensional characters and non-trivial plots. Rich, delicious, graphic, transgressive—erotic fantasies that you could enjoy at both an intellectual and a physical level.
Some people, including members of the ERWA Writers list, have a long-standing gripe with Black Lace’s women-only policy, which they view as discriminatory. I do not plan to reignite that debate here. As a marketing ploy, however, the policy was effective, at least initially. Since 1993, Black Lace has published over 250 titles and sold more than three million books. Paper books, mind you.
Black Lace helped establish the mainstream market for erotica. Black Lace didn’t exactly make erotica respectable—that might be a contradiction, even counter-productive—but it provided a steady diet of erotic content that aroused without insulting the reader’s intelligence.
Markets evolve, however. It is a truism at this point that the publishing industry has changed dramatically in the last half decade, and is continuing to do so. The rise of e-publishing and Print-On-Demand pose challenges to traditional publishing concerns. Meanwhile, the erotica market has matured and diversified. Black Lace was a pioneer, but in recent years seems to have been involved in a game of me-too, jumping on the popular bandwagons of paranormal romance and softer core erotic chick lit. When I saw that that the 15th Anniversary reissue of Gemini Heat was being pushed as erotic romance, I just sighed. I had this sinking feeling that the end was near.
Still, I am personally saddened by what I see as Random House’s short-sighted decision. I realized while working on this post that in addition to bringing out my first novel, Black Lace also printed my first erotic short story, “Glass House”, which I wrote and submitted to the Storytime list a few weeks after joining ERWA in 1999. Actually, Black Lace rejected more of my work than it accepted (including my second and third novels) but I do not hold that against them. In fact, it might be considered as a mark of their discriminating tastes!
When I was waiting for Raw Silk to come out, I fantasized about going to London to participate in a book release party that Virgin Books would throw. I saw myself drinking champagne and hobnobbing with all the other erotica authors, imagining them as a glamorous, sexy lot. I wondered about what costume I should wear to fit in. Leather mini-skirt and high-heeled boots? The red cocktail dress with the plunging neckline? Maybe I’d actually meet Portia da Costa! I pictured her as tall, curvy, and dramatic, rather like one of her heroines.
If Portia’s reading this now (we’ve become good cyber-friends, though so far we haven’t met in the flesh), I know she’s laughing. How little I knew about the prosaic, penny-pinching world of publishing!
Now, in fact, there will be a party, though it’s a bit late. The Black Lace editor, Adam Neville, has announced a wake in early August, to mourn the passing of Black Lace and Nexus. The image at the top of this post was part of his invitation.
Alas, I can’t attend this gathering—I’m even further from London now than I was in 1999. I’ll raise my glass, though, to toast sixteen years of lust-filled, literate sex, and observe a moment of silence. Requiescat in Pace.
Visit Lisabet’s Fantasy Factory: http://www.lisabetsarai.com
This month’s Streetwalker comes from a suggestion by the wonderful Adrienne here at ERA. When I asked her for some possible topics to cover she gave me: “How about plot ideas, how to keep works fresh and unique and advice on where to look for plot/character inspiration?” If anyone else has any ideas for columns, by the way, please feel free to zap them to me and I’ll consider them.
Now I’ve sort of touched on keeping an eye out for story ideas before, but it bears exploring a bit more. Keeping your work fresh is more than a little important for any writer, especially for smut authors.
For me, stories are everywhere – and to be honest I don’t think I’m special. It’s all a matter of keeping your eyes open, but most importantly PLAYING with the world around you.
It should be obvious that in order to write about the world you need to know something about it, but what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that sitting in a coffee shop, scribbling away in a notebook while you ponder the imponderables of human nature isn’t likely to yield anything usable. Getting your hands dirty, though, will.
By that I mean really exploring yourself as well as other people. Look at who you are, why you do what you do – both emotionally as well as sexually. The same goes for the people around you. Spend some time really thinking about them, their motivations, their pleasures, or what experiences they may have had.
Dig deep — ponder their reactions as well as your own. Sharpen your perceptions. Why do they say what they say? What do people admire? Why? What do they despise? Why? That last question should almost always be in your mind – directed outward as well as inward: why? This depth of understanding, or just powerful examination, is a great tool for developing both stories as well as characters.
Along with studying the world, pay attention to good work no matter where you find it. A lot of writing teachers tell students to get intimate with the classics – which I agree with, but also think it’s equally important to recognize great writing even when it’s on the back of a cereal box. Read a lot, see a lot of movies, watch a lot of TV – and pay attention when something good, or great, comes along. Don’t dismiss anything until you’ve tried it, at least for a little while. Examples? Romance novels, comic books, documentaries, sitcoms, cartoon shows, old radio shows, pulps, westerns, and so forth. There’s gold all around you, if you dig around enough
Not for the fun – playing. Look at that guy sitting over there, the one by the window: Heavy, messy hair, chewing with his mouth open – easy to peg him as lonely, creepy, or even seriously perverse. Easy is a shortcut, easy is dull, easy is lazy. Instead try seeing him as something completely different than your initial assessment. Maybe his mind is lovely and musical. Perhaps his touch is gentle and loving. Who knows, maybe he’s a sex magnet – with more boyfriends/girlfriends than he knows what to do with.
Say you’ve stumbled on a particularly good book, show, series, or whatever. Great, bravo, applause – now write something like it. Who cares that the show will never, ever look at your story, or that the medium is long dead (like radio drama). Do it anyway. Have fun – PLAY! Get into the habit of automatically either writing your own version or fixing what you see as a flaw in the original. If you’re reading a book, stop halfway through and finish it in your mind – and then when you do finally turn that last page was your version better? If not then what did the author do that you didn’t?
I love coming attractions, the trailers for movies. Watching them, I always make up my own movie based on what I’ve seen. Sometimes it’s better – at least I think so – sometimes not, then I look at what the director did better than I did when the flick finally comes out.
Playing and watching, studying, that’s the ticket. If you keep your mind sharp, notice details, and examine yourself and the world around you as well as challenging and playing with story ideas, then writing a story for a very specific Call for Submission or for some other strange project will be easy and your story will be original and fresh.
I continue my series of author interviews for my “Shameless Self-Promotion” column with a kitchen table chat in the charming company of Jeremy Edwards, one of the most prolific and talented erotica authors working today. Jeremy is a frequent contributor to print venues such as Scarlet Magazine, Forum UK, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, and anthologies by Cleis and Xcite, as well as numerous webzines like Clean Sheets, The Erotic Woman, and Oysters and Chocolate. His first novel, Rock My Socks Off, will be released by Xcite Books in January 2010.
As readers of my column well know, selling a novel requires a lot of self-promotion, but Jeremy already has an impressive track record of introducing his work and his “brand” of witty, smart erotic fiction to the world in creative, unexpected ways. One of Jeremy’s main tools for promotion is the Internet, the topic of this month’s column, and so he’s graciously agreed to share some of his experiences with his fellow authors. Jeremy’s example is proof positive that every writer can benefit from early self-promotion.
Shameless Self-Promotion: What have you found to be the most effective ways to promote your writing?
Jeremy Edwards: It’s sometimes hard to measure these things, of course; but one promotional opportunity I had that seemed to be particularly effective was an interview (with story excerpt) at a website whose flagship merchandise consists of sex toys. Though they also sell books–and that was the raison d’etre for their featuring an anthology I’m part of–I would speculate that their audience may include a lot of people who don’t spend as much time exploring and researching the world of erotic literature as some of us do, but who *are* interested in it when it’s presented to them. In other words, I’m thinking that doing promo in a context where you can be exposed to a number of people who haven’t already heard of you, but who are likely to dig what you do, may be especially rewarding.
My other answer, I guess, is just to do as much online promotion (the area I’m primarily familiar with, thus far) as is reasonably possible and reasonably relevant. Even in the close-knit world of
erotica-author blogland, it seems that everywhere one goes, one encounters fans and colleagues of one’s colleagues whom one hasn’t previously had the chance to perform for, despite the mere two degrees of separation. And these are just the vocal people–think of all the lurkers out there, too! Everyone with a blog or a podcast has his or her own loyal followers, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to reach at least a partially new audience wherever you go. And if you’re invited back after some time has elapsed, well why not go back? There are sure to be people who missed you the first time who catch you the next time.
Mind you, with all this talk of reaching a new audience, I’m not in any way discounting the “old audience”! On the contrary: how wonderful–and fun!–it always is when friends and colleagues show up to lend support. And, hey, even established friends and fans can sometimes use a reminder that a new book is available–and an online promotional appearance is the perfect reminder.
SSP: What have been the most enjoyable ways to promote your work?
I love all of it–basically, I’m the stage-struck type, whether it’s the relatively literal stage of a live reading or the more metaphorical platform of a radio interview or blog appearance. One of my favorite formats is the combination interview/reading/conversation with a radio host: it’s fun to go back and forth from the structured Q&A to the casual discussion to the rehearsed on-air story readings. It’s a nice blend of the prepared and the spontaneous, discourse and banter, anticipated topics and surprises.
SSP: What has been the most surprising thing about the experience of book promotion?
It’s been a delightful surprise to see how many scintillating, generous people there are out there
who are eager to use their time and bandwidth to feature erotica writers on their online turf. This has struck me even as a short-story author, i.e., someone without a book that’s “all mine” to promote (though stay tuned on that one!).
SSP: Did it change your view of your writing and the writing process?
This answer doesn’t exactly correspond to the question you asked… but the support and enthusiasm of all the people who give us time in their spotlights is one of the things that motivates me to KEEP WRITING. Because, you know, there are people who care!
SSP: How about sharing your thoughts on a few specific strategies. How about blogging?
I think that regular blogging can be immeasurably helpful to a writer’s public presence. Whether it’s in-depth essays, day-to-day life-of-the-writer reports, bulletins and book covers, random musings, recommendations, links, interviews, contests, or anything else… just putting in an appearance once a week or more, in my opinion, really gives your readers a sense of your personality; keeps them from losing track of what you’re publishing; and makes them–quite rightly–look upon you as an online friend and not only as a “body of work.”
SSP: Mailing lists/author newsletters?
It’s so easy to maintain an e-mail mailing list–especially if you draw on content you’ve already assembled for your blog. My feeling is that if there are people out there who care enough about what I’m doing to ask me to mail them updates, and who prefer to have this info sent directly to them rather than (or in addition to) visiting my blog… then I’m sure as heck going to accommodate them!
SSP: Radio interviews?
If you’re not prohibitively shy, and if scheduling and time-zone issues aren’t an obstacle, then I strongly encourage you to take advantage of offers to appear on radio shows/podcasts. There’s nothing like hearing an author’s work read in her/his own voice, and a friendly audio interview adds a nice new dimension to a reader’s image of a favorite writer.
SSP: Any other strategies you’d like to suggest?
I think creativity is a big plus in online promotional strategies, especially where it directly involves the readers. I do love conventional interviews and guest-blog essays, both as a featured writer and an interested reader … but if your host is open to something “different,” consider turning your appearance into something more novel–a game, a quiz, a character-playing session, or whatever your inventive writer’s mind can concoct. These devices (or, okay, gimmicks) can even be combined with something more sedate like an interview, so you can really have it both ways.
SSP: Thank you so much, Jeremy, for sharing your inspiring ideas with us!
This month my column on shameless self-promotion deals with strategies for getting your book reviewed. Here are two samples of cover letters I’ve used to query reviewers both by email and snail mail. The first is aimed at more mainstream/literary review sites, the second at an erotica site.
Here’s the literary version:
Dear [Book Review Editor],
I would like to inquire if you’d be interested in reviewing my novel, Amorous Woman (Neon/Orion 2008) for the [insert name here] website.
Amorous Woman is the story of an American woman’s love affair with Japan and the insights she gains into the culture in her roles as English teacher, wife, and bar hostess. Inspired by Ihara Saikaku’s 17th century Japanese classic, The Life of an Amorous Woman, the novel incorporates my doctoral research in Japanese literature at Stanford University to give a nuanced view of Japanese culture and sexual mores. Although classified as “erotica,” Amorous Woman is a thoughtful and thought-provoking treatment of inter-cultural relations that transcends the genre.
I’m appending (or enclosing) a sell sheet, bio and sample reviews below. Please let me know if you are interested in reviewing the book. I can send a hard copy of the book for review or a pdf as you prefer.
Here’s a version I sent to erotica publications:
I’m writing to inquire if you’d be interested in reviewing my erotic novel, Amorous Woman, which was published by Neon/Orion in the UK in late 2007 and released in the US in 2008.
Amorous Woman is the story of an American woman’s love affair with Japan and her steamy encounters with the sexy men and women she meets along the way. 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. Inspired by Ihara Saikaku’s classic 17th-century erotic novel of the pleasure quarters, Amorous Woman takes you on a journey to a Japan few tourists ever see.
I’ve included a brief bio and some excerpts from reviews for the UK release below.
Please let me know if you’d like me to send you an advance review copy of the novel in hard copy or pdf, as you prefer.
With best wishes,
Donna George Storey
[electronic signature with link to my website and book trailer]
For snail mail, I include my sell sheet and synopsis-and-bio page. For email, I include this information as well as the appropriate blurb and bio from the sell sheet (literary or erotic depending on the site).
By Donna George Storey
Category: Literary Erotica
Book Type: Paper
Size: 4 1/2 x 7
U.S. Release Date: May 28, 2008
If you’re like most authors, only a portion of the review sites will request a review copy. Of those, not all will actually follow through on the review. It’s all part of the business. And always be sure to write a thank you note to any thoughtful reviewer. Not only will your mother be proud of your good manners, but you may have another book to send around soon.
Good luck with your reviews!