Cleis Press

Lost Wonder

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Do you remember when erotica was more than just something to get you off? When writing erotica involved more than selecting a few of the latest hot tropes and “hammering on the kink”?

I do. When I first started publishing in the genre, we wanted to create original and surprising tales, mapping out unknown regions in the vast territory of desire. We used our stories to explore the many facets of sex and arousal, starting, almost always, with our own.

Of course people have always written about sex, often driven by personal kinks and quirks, but from the mid-nineties through the first decade of the twenty first century, it became more practical, and socially acceptable, to do so. Serious publishers began to produce erotic titles. This included the wildly popular Black Lace imprint (“Erotica for women by women”) and Blue Moon Books which was the direct descendant of Barney Rosset’s censor-defying Grove Press. Cleis Press, Circlet Press, and other independent houses produced best-selling, award-winning themed anthologies. Alessia Brio’s altruistic Coming Together imprint brought out more than a dozen erotica collections that raised hundreds of dollars for charitable causes. Maxim Jakubowski edited thirteen annual volumes of The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, selecting erotic short stories that had been published during the previous year. He had plenty of options from which to choose.

There were online publishing options, too, webzines like Clean Sheets, Ruthie’s Place, and of course the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. Back in those days, we had fresh content in our Gallery every month. If you’d like a taste of the quality and diversity ERWA members produced, check out the 2006 volume Cream, a collection of more than forty tales curated from Storytime submissions.

It’s easy and often naive to look back on the past and see a golden age. In the case of erotica, though, I think the products of that period speak for themselves. Laura Antoniou’s The Marketplace. K.D. Grace’s The Initiation of Ms Holly. Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords, by Cecilia Tan. Neptune and Surf by Marilyn Jaye Lewis. So many stories, all of them different, going far beyond the mechanics of sex to investigate the meaning and the consequences of desire.

Less well-known but equally representative of the time is Portia da Costa’s Gemini Heat, the sizzling Black Lace title that got me started in the erotica business. I’d never read anything like that novel, which is both feverishly hot and fantastically well-written. It includes a glorious variety of arousing scenarios: exhibitionism, voyeurism, masturbation, power exchange, ménage, anonymous sex, lesbian sex, even twins. Devouring that book, I never knew what to expect – but I knew it would turn me on. Once I’d cooled down, I began to think about all the personal fantasies I’d include, if I were to write my own erotic novel. Inexperienced though I was, I like to believe that with Raw Silk I succeeded in my joint quest for diversity and heat.

Though it was as graphic as anything published now, the erotica of the nineties and the aughts had an exuberance that bordered on innocence. We could write about whatever turned us on. There were no rules, tropes or fixed sub-genres. Calls for anthologies might articulate themes, but contributors were urged to interpret these as broadly as we wished.

We were high on the thrill of sharing our personal erotic visions with the world. Whether we were reading a wickedly sexy story by another author or producing one of our own, there was a sense of wonder in the process – mingled, usually, with arousal.

Alas, I think that wonder has been lost. The market has changed dramatically. Much of what is now sold as erotica is so stereotyped and genre-constrained that one can predict the events of the story without reading a single sentence. There’s no suspense, no uncertainty. Indeed, many of the erotic books on offer broadcast their kinks in the title. Some results from a random Amazon search on the keyword “erotica”:

  • Busty Stepmoms Swapped Stepsons And Ride Them : MOM AND SON SECRET Sex Adult Hot Threesome Menage Erotica Dirty Explicit Sex Story
  • Explicit Erotica Sex Stories: The Collection Of Naughty Virgin, Cheating Wife, Hottest Forbidden, College Brats, Taboo Family, Dark Romance, And Many More!
  • EXPLICIT M/M SEXY STORIES: Naughty & Filthy First Time Straight to Gay Erotic Short Story Collection (MMM, Taboo Daddy Dom, Dark Romance, Bisexual, BBC)

Granted, these are extreme examples. Here are some titles from recent editions of the Excite Spice newsletter:

  • Disciplined While on House Arrest
  • Shared with My Husband’s Boss
  • The Neighborhood Hucow Hotwife

Even Cleis has added subtitles to their classic anthologies.

Yet this sort of erotica often sells well, despite the predictability. Part of the reason is Amazon’s algorithms. The more explicit you are about the content you’re publishing, the more likely it is that your book with come up near the top of a reader’s search.

Another reason for the shift is the drop in attention span encouraged by today’s world of social media and digital content. People don’t have the time or patience for browsing. Overloaded with information from a dozen different input streams, readers may prefer things to be simple: give me a hot wife story, a spanking story, a tight-virgin-big-cock story, a pseudo-incest story. Name your kink and the Internet will deliver. Exploring the richness of sexuality is a forgotten luxury.

I also believe that people’s attitudes toward sex have changed. When I started writing erotic content, I was continually amazed, almost awed, by the power of sex to transform experience. I was on a continuing journey of sexual discovery; when I began to publish my work, my characters took similar journeys, without knowing where those quests would end.

Do readers feel that way now? I doubt it. I’ve read statistics indicating that people are having sex less frequently now than twenty years ago, and that they are enjoying it less. The amount of graphic content available keeps growing, but the level of individual satisfaction seems to be diminishing.

That makes me very sad.

Everyone knows that the older you get, the more affectionately you look back on earlier times. Perhaps authors and readers three or four decades younger than I am do not see things the way I do. To be honest, I miss the lusty thrill of erotica’s “golden age” – and I’m still trying to capture it in the books I write.

Call For Submissions: Best Lesbian Erotica Volume 2

Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year Volume 2

(Best Lesbian Erotica 2018)

Editor: Sacchi Green

Publisher: Cleis Press

Deadline: March 20, 2017 (earlier encouraged)

Payment: $100 and 1 copy of the book within 90 days of publication

Rights: non-exclusive right to publish the story in this anthology in print, ebook and audiobook form. Authors will retain copyright to their stories.

Is there a story inside you burning to be written? Now’s the time to let it out. Or is there one you published during 2015-2016 that you think is the best thing you’ve ever written? I’ll consider just a few reprints. Up to two submissions per author are allowed, preferred length between 2000-4000 words. No simultaneous submissions.

I want a variety of themes, voices, and tone. A diversity of ages, ethnicities, cultures, and physical attributes and abilities is welcome. The central figures must be lesbian, believable, fully developed characters. Give me vividly drawn settings, and plots or story arcs that grip the reader and don’t let go. Originality is especially valued; write the story that only you can write. And, of course, I want intense sex scenes that flow naturally from the story as a whole. All flavors of sensuality are welcome, from vanilla to BDSM to edgy frontiers that surprise and startle the reader. A few stories with a speculative fiction bent, science fiction or fantasy, might fit in.

Send your submission to sacchigreen [at] gmail [dot] com as an attachment in .doc, docx. or .rtf format, double spaced, Times New Roman black font. The story title, your legal name, pseudonym (if applicable), previous publication information for the story (if applicable), and mailing and email addresses, should be included on the first page. 

Queries are welcome.

Call for Submissions: Best Lesbian Erotica 2017

Best Lesbian Erotica 2017
D. L. King – Cleis Press

Best Lesbian Erotica 2017
Edited by D. L. King
To be published by Cleis Press
Deadline: May 1, 2016
Payment: $100 plus 2 copies of the anthology

D. L. King is looking for your absolute best lesbian erotica.

First, let me apologize for the extremely short window in getting your submission in. The publisher would like to return to the tradition of publishing Best Lesbian Erotica in December, and to do so they need the manuscript in fairly short order. Unfortunately, the terms of the book were just recently worked out and there’s very little time left. BUT I have every faith in you. I know you can deliver a fabulous story in the time allotted! So, please read on…

What is sexy? What makes one story so hot you sweat? Is it scorching because it tells the truth? No, I don’t mean non-fiction or memoir. I mean, does it strike a chord? Does it touch your soul or maybe your core? Is it earth-shattering, tremor-inducing, pass out sexy? That’s what I’m looking for because, after all, this is Best Lesbian Erotica!

Your story can be about a match made in heaven or about a bar pickup; it can be about a couple who have been together for forty years or two women who just met in the cafeteria line their freshman year at college. You can set it in the Wild West, on a pirate ship or even in Ohio. Tell me a story of sweet love or one of rough sex meted out by a strict dominatrix. Tell me about sex with a beautiful ghost or about getting it on before the kids come home from school. Set it in a campground and people it with a group of butches or turn a bachelorette party into an orgy.

You get the picture: The sky’s the limit. But it has to be good—no, it has to be the best. Your characters can be
any age and ethnicity, your story can be sweet or harsh, it can be about love, lust, or adventure but it must be between two (or more) women and contain explicit sex. Send me stories that are sweet, kinky, sexy, romantic and/or dangerous but most of all, send me stories that will singe my sheets. All characters must be at least 18. No scat and no snuff.

Stories should be between 2,500 and 4,000 words, double-spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman. Please indent the first line of each paragraph one-half inch and do not include extra lines between paragraphs. No fancy fonts, no weird sizes, no bizarre formatting, no strange colors.

Never before published stories are preferred but reprints will be considered as this is a “Best” anthology. You may
submit up to two stories. If you submit a reprint, you must own the rights. Please include the date of publication, title, editor and publisher.

Send your story as a .doc (NOT a .docx) attachment and include the title, pseudonym (if applicable) and your legal name and mailing address to The subject line should read: Submission: TITLE. Please include a 50 word bio. Direct any questions to the same address. (If you are absolutely unable to send a .doc attachment, I will accept an rtf.)

Questions? EMail:

Building an Anthology from Scratch

by Kristina Wright

I have only been editing erotica and erotic romance anthologies since 2009, but I just signed the contract with Cleis Press to edit my eighth (eighth!) collection. With each new anthology, I try to streamline my guidelines and process to make it easier for the authors and, yes, for myself. This time around, I have an “auto reply” for submissions. Much as I want to respond to each submission, I will save those personal notes for the acceptances (and rejections). (Honestly, I think every editor should use an auto reply for acknowledging the receipt of submissions if the alternative is no acknowledgement at all.)

My story selection process may seem a bit convoluted. Or maybe it’s not. I really don’t know what the selection process is like for other editors, I just know what works for me. I read everything once and push it into one of three categories: Yes, Maybe, or No. The Yes and No piles are the smallest, at least initially. If I absolutely love, love, love something on the first read, of course I’m going to want to buy it immediately.

The No pile contains only the stories that have completely missed the mark. For a story to get a resounding No on a first reading means the author ignored the guidelines entirely or neglected to include all the necessary components. A paranormal erotic romance anthology must have stories that are 1) paranormal, 2) erotic and 3) romantic. Having two of the three will not cut it, unless it’s clear the author can flesh out the third element. No stories are often recycled stories that were intended for other anthologies and were never “freshened” up to fit a new set of guidelines. No stories are also the ones that are incorrectly formatted, lacking in correct grammar and punctuation or are generally the kind of mess that you’ve heard editors joke about. I’m happy to say that I haven’t come across too many of those stories– but yes, they do exist.

Finally, the Maybe pile is every other story– the good, well-written stories that I like and might very well buy, but I have to read everything first to see which ones I will choose. The Maybe pile also includes stories that might need a little tweaking– an additional scene for character development; a few hundred words cut from a story that has gone over the maximum word count; a plot twist added to give the story that extra umph to take it from good to great. Most stories are Maybe stories.

Once I’ve made the initial read of all the stories, I tackle the Maybe pile again, keeping in mind the stories I’ve already selected and the balance of the anthology. The second read is ruthless. I’m looking for stories that require a minimum of editing and complement the stories I’ve already chosen. I will shed a few tears when I cut some of the Maybe stories from the second reading. Okay, not really. But I will feel some regret to have to reject some very good stories. When I’m done with the second read, the Yes pile will be a little bigger, the No pile will be a lot bigger and there will still be stories in the Maybe pile. These will be the stories that, for whatever reason, make me hesitate before I reject them. They might have flaws, they might not be my cup of tea, they might be a little too “out there” or they might even be too similar to something else I’ve already filed in the Yes pile. But yet I won’t be able to say no to them. Not yet.

The third read is to answer one question: what’s missing? Here is where I’m willing to forgive the flaws, overlook the typos, see past the awkward dialogue to the diamond in the rough that is a good fit for the anthology. These are the stories I will buy because the authors have written something so unique I can’t forget about them.

You’d think I would be done after three readings, right? But no, then there’s a fourth, fifth and even a sixth reading. I read all of the Yes stories in the fourth reading, making sure I have enough stories to fill the book and that I’m in love with each and every story– and making sure I haven’t gone over my allotted page count, because that would mean having to cut a Yes story, which I don’t want to do. The fifth reading is to edit and put the stories in their proper order (which I will be attempting to do as I move through the third and fourth readings) and the sixth reading is the one where I put the book away for a few days, then read it with fresh eyes from beginning to end in one sitting to see if I’ve missed anything. That could be anything from having too many characters named Sarah or too many stories set in Maine or three stories in a row that are about shapeshifters or… whatever. It’s the tweaking reading, making sure everything is perfect before I send it off to my publisher.

Then, of course, there are the copyediting and proofreading reads after the book is returned to me. But those are easy by comparison because the book is finished and now it’s just a matter of fine tuning perfection. (I’m biased, what can I say?)

And that’s how I go about putting together an erotica anthology. And other than having to reject some great stories, I love every minute of it because I have met and gotten to work with the best authors in the genre.

How It All Started

by Kristina Wright

Let me tell you a story about why you’ll be seeing me here on the 28th of each month:

When I was invited to start blogging at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog, I said yes even though I didn’t have a clue what I would write about each month. I also wasn’t sure how I’d find the time. I’m kind of insanely busy these days, having had 2 babies in the past couple of years in addition to adding the title of anthology editor to my resume in that same time frame. But despite not knowing what I’ll be writing about on the 28th of each month (because I’m really a fiction writer and nonfiction is hard for me) or when I’ll even find the time to write (probably at 11:30 PM on the 27th…), I still said yes. And while it’s an honor to be included in the same lineup with some of my favorite writers (some of whom, I admit, intimidate me more than a little) there’s really only one reason I said yes: Adrienne Benedicks.

Adrienne is the woman behind the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. She’s the reason ERWA exists (and I remember back in the day when it was just ERA) and I can say with all certainty that she was the catalyst that started my erotica writing (and editing) career. And I bet I’m not the only author who can say that. I have met many wonderful editors and authors in the more than a decade I’ve been writing erotica (and now erotic romance), but it was Adrienne who gave me my start. She is amazing and tireless and kind and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for her or for ERWA. Seriously.

My erotica writing career started completely by accident in 1999. I had just published my first romance novel with Silhouette Books and my second novel had been rejected by them. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the book (I was told), it simply wasn’t what they wanted to see from me at that time. So I started down the tedious path of writing proposal after proposal (three-chapters-and-a-synopsis, ad infinitum) and having each one rejected. Part of it was I couldn’t seem to deliver another romantic suspense novel like my first book and part of it was I would be assigned to an editor who loved whatever I was currently working on, only to be reassigned to a new editor by the time the proposal was delivered. And so it goes…

I was burned out on novel proposals when I wrote a quirky little story called “Service Entrance.” It was about a married woman who pays a man for the privilege of giving him a blowjob. The story was little more than a writing exercise–something entirely different than anything I’d been writing for the previous year or so, something really “out there” and beyond the rules and regs of romance fiction. After writing novel proposals, I had actually finished something, even if it was only a subversive little short story. That in itself felt good. Refreshing! I had no idea what to do with the story–it wasn’t just sexy or erotic, it was downright dirty. I hadn’t read anything like it before and as an author who’d been told to cut several love scenes from her steamy romance novel, I was convinced I wouldn’t ever find a place that would publish it.

I might have filed “Service Entrance” away forever if not for my subscription to an electronic newsletter called Jane’s ‘Net Sex Guide and a timely call for submissions. The e-newsletter was put out by Jane Duvall, who was one of the first sex bloggers I ever read. The newsletter no longer exists, but Jane still runs the well-known adult website review blog Jane’s Guide. The editor of Jane’s ‘Net Sex Guide was none other than–ta da!– the wonderful Adrienne Benedicks. Each month, she featured a short story in the newsletter. I sent “Service Entrance” to Adrienne and she bought it within days. Not only was my head spinning from the quick turnaround time (at this point, I was used to waiting months for a response to a proposal that had only taken me weeks to write), Adrienne also sent me a lovely, flattering note of encouragement. That sale, and her kindness, changed my writing career and probably my life.

After that introduction, I discovered Adrienne’s Erotica Writers Association and sent “Service Entrance” off to editor Marcy Sheiner about a month later for consideration in an anthology she was editing. I didn’t think lightning could strike twice, but Marcy bought the story a few weeks later and “Service Entrance” went on to appear in the inaugural edition of Best Women’s Erotica (published in 2000). I was stunned. “Service Entrance” was my first erotica story and I had sold it twice in just a couple of months. I had not only found my niche, I’d found a home.

I have such appreciation and gratitude for Jane Duvall, Marcy Sheiner and–most of all– Adrienne Benedicks and her Erotica Readers and Writers Association for starting my career as an erotica writer. I just signed my seventh anthology contract with Cleis Press and I feel as if I have come full circle, being able to buy those first stories and send those encouraging notes. Giving back to the community that has given so much to me.

Hey, what do you know? Maybe my monthly blog posts here will have a theme after all.

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