By Lisabet Sarai
Last week a writer friend of mine included a wonderful excerpt from his first book in a blog post. I’d read (and loved) this book when it first released; perusing the post felt like meeting up with an old friend.
Then the author casually mentioned, in a post comment, that the book was out of print. I felt like shaking him in frustration. Why in the world, I wanted to scream, did you let that happen? Don’t you care about keeping your work available?
There’s so much in the world of publishing that we authors can’t control: Amazon’s latest tweaks to its ranking algorithms, payment schemes, and censorship policies; publishers being bought out or going bankrupt; out-of-the-blue bestsellers that have readers (and editors) clamoring for cookie-cutter copies. One thing we can control, however, is the disposition of our accumulated body of work. In my opinion, we owe it to ourselves to keep our backlog of books and stories out there in the world, where readers can access them.
Some of you may ask, why bother? Everyone knows it’s only new releases that get any sales (as demonstrated by the thirty-day cliff phenomenon). Who’s going to want to read a book that’s a year, or five years, or ten years old? Anyway, no publisher will be interested in a dingy old reprint. If some of your back list dates from before the ebook revolution, you might not even have the manuscript in digital form.
Examined carefully, none of these arguments (excuses?) holds up to scrutiny.
First of all, though your book may be “old”, there are undoubtedly millions of potential readers who’ve never encountered it. Sure, your fans (whether you have five or fifty thousand) may have read your earlier work, but for lots of readers, your book will be a welcome discovery. If someone picks up an old book of yours and enjoys it, he or she is going to want more. You need to make sure you can give these people what they crave.
Out of the 200 or so people who completed my survey earlier this year (http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2015/08/reader-survey-results-part-2.html), 30% had never read one of my books, and another 25% weren’t sure. That’s over one hundred people for whom everything on my back list will be new and exciting. I want those readers!
Even for readers who know your work well, it’s important to keep your older stuff available. What if they want to reread one of their all-time favorites?
My brother’s birthday was yesterday, so last week I went to Amazon, looking for two books I read—and loved—decades ago: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin and Little Big by John Crowley. My copies of both books date from the eighties. They’re falling apart. I was delighted to discover new editions of both titles. I sent them off to my brother, and you know, I just might replace my tattered volumes with new ones.
Make sure that readers who love your work can do that, too.
You may be interested in re-releasing your out-of-print opus, but think publishers won’t want it. Think again. These days, especially, publishers who are trying to satisfy the market’s insatiable desire for fiction are more than willing to look at your back list titles. In fact, they may recognize that they’ll have to invest less time and effort in a previously released book because it will have already been through one or more rounds of editing.
My debut novel Raw Silk has been through three publishers. Ruby’s Rules (now retitled as Nasty Business) has had four, Incognito two, Exposure three. I’ve had publishers go bankrupt and others decide they didn’t want to publish erotica. In a few cases, I’ve reclaimed my rights because I wasn’t happy about my sales or the way the publisher was run. My goal has always been to keep all my novels available—whatever that required.
“But I write short stories”, you may respond. “Nobody wants those.”
Not true. I recently published a 5K tale (a reprint) through an indie publisher who was actively seeking short fiction. You can also self-publish your stories, either individually or as a collection. In fact, since most anthologies ask for only one-time rights, you may be able to publish a short piece in multiple places.
If you really can’t find anyone to publish your tale, you can still make it available free, using it to introduce readers to your published work. That’s better than letting it languish in the dusty recesses of your computer memory!
And what if your book was published so long ago that you don’t have the source in electronic form? As long as you have a physical copy, you can subject it to Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a process that uses image analysis to recognize typescript and turn it into digital text. OCR may produce a significant number of errors, so you will need to carefully review and revise the output. However, this process will allow you to create both ebook and print versions of a book that was previously available only in hard copy form.
Once your older work is available, you should spend time promoting it, at least occasionally. Last Sunday I posted an excerpt from a book published back in 2010. One reader told me in a comment that after reading my blog, she’d gone out and bought herself a copy. Talk about encouragement—I felt totally energized. I immediately added 3K for my current WIP!
In short, there’s no reason why you can’t keep all (or most) of your back list in print and available to readers. The only real barriers are emotional. These days it’s sometimes hard to muster the motivation to do anything related to publishing or marketing. The obstacles seem insurmountable. Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. There are legions of readers out there, searching for great fiction. Help them find yours!
In the (good?) old days, before ebooks and social media, publishers
would organize book tours for their authors. The author would travel
to various cities for readings and signings. She’d give interviews
and appear on local TV and radio. The goals of this expensive (and
exhausting) activity were to sell books, of course, and to generally
make potential readers aware of the writer’s existence and her body
of work, in addition to her new release. (Please excuse my exclusive
use of the female pronoun. It’s just a convenience. I don’t
intend to ignore all the male authors out there.)
These days, for all but the most famous authors, the physical book tour has
been mostly replaced by a “virtual tour”, also known as a blog
tour. What’s a blog tour? It’s a marketing activity that
involves making arrangements with multiple blog owners—often though
not always other authors in your genre—to feature a post about your
book. Usually, like a real world tour, a blog tour will take place
during a set period of time. One or two weeks is typical. Each day
during that period, your book will appear in different places in the
cybersphere. The schedule, arranged beforehand, will be included with
each post (along with links to the tour stops), so that readers can
surf to earlier appearances if they want.
Many tours (at least in the erotic romance genre, the one most familiar to
me) offer prizes or other goodies to entice readers to follow the
tour blogs. Most commonly these days, the grand prize will be a
bookstore gift certificate, in amounts ranging from $15 to $50. I’ve
seen tours that really go over the top to offer a Kindle or Nook.
Free books and swag (pens, notebooks, coffee mugs, and so on with the
author’s logo or cover) are also prevalent. Tours are usually set
up so that readers can enter the giveaway at each stop. Thus, the
more posts they read (or at least, the more sites they visit), the
higher the chances that they’ll win. In my blog tours, I sometimes
give away a small gift at each stop, in addition to the grand prize.
What sort of material appears in the tour posts? This varies quite a bit
depending on the author, the book and who’s arranging the tour. At
a minimum, the post will include the book cover, book blurb, buy
links, author bio, and author website and social media links. Often
an excerpt will be added. Some blog tours (the ones I enjoy most)
have additional material written by the author prefacing the book
information. This can be anything from an essay on the background of
the book to an interview with either the author or one of the book’s
characters. If there are prizes on offer, the post will also explain
how readers can enter the giveaway.
There are two popular methods for handling blog tour contests. One simply
asks readers to leave a comment on the blog. While this is easy for
readers, it has the problem that it may be difficult to locate
winners if they don’t include an email address in their comment.
You have to repeat this instruction multiple times in your post. The
other method uses third-party services like Rafflecopter.
While this is convenient, I personally don’t like it because it
exposes readers to potential privacy risks. (Don’t try to convince
me that Rafflecopter isn’t using all the emails and FB logins it
accumulates, from the thousands of contests it manages.)
Some authors require visitors to sign up for their mailing lists, “like”
their pages on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter in order to enter
the drawing. In my experience, this results in fewer entries. Readers
are busy, and to some extent lazy. You’ve got to make things really
simple for them.
Of course, just getting your content on someone else’s blog isn’t
enough to pull in readers. It’s critical that you promote the tour
using other methods: via your mailing list, Facebook, Twitter, your
own blog, Yahoo groups, whatever you can do. I don’t mean just one
announcement, either. You need to remind people, at least every few
days, that the tour is going on and that they could win wonderful
prizes and read great excerpts. Your promotional material should
include active links, so that recipients can simply click to view a
Finally, if at all possible, the author should drop by each stop, thank the
host, and respond to comments—if
not individually, then at least with a summary comment that refers to
some of the more cogent separate comments.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. However, it’s probably less exhausting
than a physical tour. At least you don’t have to worry about hotel
bed bugs and jet lag! However, it’s probably worth doing only for
relatively major releases. To me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to
invest this sort of energy and time to promote a $0.99 short story.
Suppose you want to do a blog tour. Where do you start? There are two main
options: organize it yourself, or hire a service. I’ve
used both alternatives. Either way, you’re looking at significant
work. (Your publisher may organize a tour, as well. That’s always nice, though
in my limited experience, the services have done a better job.)
The advantage of organizing everything on your own is that you have total
control. You can pick blog hosts who you know are reliable, who have
attractive blogs, and whose blogs are compatible with the theme and
genre of the book you’re promoting. Of course, you save money too
There are two disadvantages to organizing your own tour. First, it’s more
work, because in addition to writing the posts, you have to “wrangle”
the hosts: get them on the schedule, send them the post material,
follow up to make sure they’ve got it, make sure you’ve got their
links right, etc. It takes a lot of organization.
The second disadvantage is that your tour may have a more limited reach.
You’ll probably be contacting bloggers you already know. Chances
are their readerships overlap with yours. You want your tour to reach
as many new people as possible, but that impact might be reduced if
you have your friends act as hosts.
On the other hand, using a service can be pricey. The services I’ve
worked with charge anywhere from $50 up depending on the type and
length of the tour. Generally, the longer the tour and the more
stops, the higher the price. In addition, although you might think it
would be a lot less work, using a service doesn’t reduce the effort
much, at least if you’re writing individual posts for each stop, as
I prefer to do. (If you want readers to stop at multiple sites, I
believe that you really should give them new content at each site.)
The biggest advantage of a service (potentially at least) is greater
exposure. Established promotion companies have a large pool of blog
hosts, often in many different genres. Chances are that you’re not
personally familiar with many of these blogs. Usually that’s good
(though I’ve had my posts appear at blogs that made me really
cringe due to their poor graphic design or their cheesy
advertisements). Readers who may have never heard of you will learn
about your book and perhaps be tempted to buy it.
Once you’ve created the blog content and sent it to your service, they
handle the host wrangling. The one I’ve used most does a really
good job of follow-up with blog hosts. You still need to visit each
stop, though, and promote your tour. However, the service should be
doing this in parallel, so ultimately more people should get the
word. Some services will create tour-specific graphics for you
(buttons or banners) as an added benefit. Most include Facebook and
Twitter promo as part of their package.
I should mention that some services offer “review-only” tours. This
means that the hosts agree to read and post a review of your book on
their blogs. I’ve never done this—it
tends to be more expensive, plus I know from experience that the
quality of many reviews tends to be poor—but
this is one possible way to get your book read.
Remember when you’re considering a blog tour, you should factor in the cost
of the prizes (if any) and your time, as well as the fees for any
promotional services. I’d say that on average, a tour organized by
a service will cost at least $100.
So, is it worth it? Do blog tours sell books? Alas, we’d like to know
the answer to that question for every marketing activity, but it’s
damnably difficult to get reliable information.
Personally, I use blog tours as a way to expand my email list. (I will personally
invite people who comment whose names I don’t recognize to join;
you should never add people without permission.) Also, it gets my
work in front of new readers. I usually give away a free book at each
stop (a short story formatted in PDF, with a cover), not just as an
inducement, but also to increase the number of people who have
actually read something by me. My hope is that they’ll like my
writing, and want more.
this point you may shrug and say to yourself, “What’s the point?
You can’t tell if the tour is actually increasing sales. It’s a
huge amount of work. It’s expensive. Why bother?”
Well, you can say the same thing about every kind of marketing. The hard
truth, though, is that if you don’t market your books, nobody will
read them. This has nothing to do with quality. It’s a matter of
visibility. You have to make your audience aware that you, and your
books, exist. That doesn’t guarantee sales by any means, but it’s
a necessary precondition for sales.
You don’t have to market. You’re free to choose. However, you
can’t complain about obscurity if you never try to shine the light
of publicity on your writing.
As for me, I enjoy doing blog tours, despite the work. I know that I’m
skilled at writing engaging posts, so this activity draws on my
talents. I like meeting new authors (hosts) and new readers. I find
the sort of interaction that occurs during a blog tour far more
meaningful that “Likes” on Facebook or snippets shared on
I’ve probably done at least ten tours over the years. I’m nowhere near a
best seller. Perhaps you shouldn’t listen to my advice at all.
However, if you have questions about the process, I’m more than
happy to share my experience.
By Lisabet Sarai
I guess I must be really out of the loop, because it was only this month that I first encountered the term “30 day cliff”. That was in a discussion on the Excessica authors’ forum. Some of my colleagues were lamenting about the difficulty of bringing out releases frequently enough to keep them from “falling off the thirty day cliff”. From context I surmised that people believed you had to get a new book out every month in order to retain readers’ attention.
At first I shrugged off the whole topic. A book a month? Preposterous! And what was so magical about 30 days, anyway? I figured this must be one of those marketing rules that get bandied about the Internet with no real support from the data at all.
When I did a bit of research, however, I discovered that the 30 day limit apparently has its source in Amazon’s all powerful algorithms. The article below, for example, provides quite graphic evidence for this sales precipice.
Just what authors need. Something else to worry about.
Writing well is hard work. Heck, even writing poorly takes time. Then there’s the editing (for those of us who care about that step), cover art, penning the blurb, and formatting for different publishing platforms (if you’re self-publishing or working with a co-op like Excessica). Updating your website and blog. Sending out tweets or posting your news on Facebook. Begging your author friends to feature your newly birthed literary baby on their blogs, Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. Submitting the manuscript to review sites. Arranging blog tours. Running contests to attract readers. Running around like the proverbial decapitated fowl, waving your arms and shouting, “Look, look, I’ve got a new book! Buy my great new book!” until you’re exhausted and hoarse.
Do that every single month? Are you nuts?
Sure, I know some authors who do this, and more. I have one or two colleagues who send me media kits for their latest titles pretty much monthly, for posting on my blog. Some of them are quite well-known—certainly compared to me. Many of them write well, too, although I have noticed that their excerpts all sound similar. I guess if you’ve found a formula that’s successful, it’s crazy not to stick with it.
Doesn’t work for me, though. I have limited time to devote to my writing career, such as it is. Marketing already takes a serious bite out of that allocation. I’d love to have more people buy my books, not just because I’d like to make more money but because I want to share my erotic visions with a wider audience. However, pressure dries up the creative flow, at least for me. If I have to force myself to write, I know I won’t be satisfied with the results.
I’m pretty confident I could turn out a new 30K book every month—especially if I quit my day job—but I’m also certain these books wouldn’t be very original, or surprising, or memorable. Probably I’d write yet another BDSM initiation story, with a self-assured, ironic, slightly distant hero and an intelligent, feisty heroine who’s aroused and appalled at her own desire to surrender. That’s my Ur-story, one I’ve already written dozens of times, one I love but try to escape for the sake of novelty and exploring new territory. That story sells. I know it does. I could change the names, the location, the initial scenario, the sexual actions and the kinky implements, and sell it again and again.
The notion makes me slightly nauseous.
So despite the clamor by my colleagues—in defiance of the current market wisdom—I choose to turn my back on the precipice. I reject the anxiety whipped up by the pundits and claim my right to define for myself what it means to be a successful author. For me, the criteria include quality, diversity, originality and authenticity. Frequency just doesn’t enter into the equation.
By Lisabet Sarai
If I were looking for a logo, I might choose a Pu Pu Platter.
Do any of you remember those pseudo-Polynesian appetizer assortments, complete with the fiery wrought-iron cauldron in the middle to heat up all the finger food? Do they still exist? When I went searching for images on my favorite stock photo site, I came up with zero hits. Are PuPu Platters totally passé? Have they gone the way of granny glasses and lava lights?
Modern concerns with healthy eating have probably played a role in the platter’s demise. It’s difficult to imagine a more fat-and-cholesterol intensive repast than the traditional fried wonton, crispy egg rolls, barbecued spareribs, battered giant shrimp, cheese-filled crab puffs, and all the other delicacies that might show up ranged around the flaming Sterno. One PuPu Platter can undo weeks of toil at the gym.
But God, how I loved them! Indeed, I recall that on my first real date, my companion (with whom I was highly enamored) ordered us one. This may explain my lingering fondness; PuPu Platters are somehow mixed up in my mind with sex. (Not that I had sex on my first date, of course, but a teenager’s hormones color everything in her world). And there are some similarities, after all. A PuPu Platter is decadent, all luscious flavor with little food value. You devour the components with your fingers and lick off the juices afterward. And you can’t eat one all by yourself. PuPu Platters are made to be shared.
The real attraction for me, though, is variety. (I also adore mezze plates – Middle Eastern appetizer assortments.) A taste of this, a hint of that, never enough of any one dish to be bored – that’s what I love. Diversity is my ideal in life. I want to sample a wide range of different experiences, rather than being forced to choose one dish, one path, even one person – although I have been married to the same guy for more than thirty years. (He likes variety, too.)
As a reader, I also seek out diversity. Anyone who scrolls through my books on Goodreads will find plenty of erotica, true, but also romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, classics, historical novels, biographies, plays, poetry, a bit of almost everything. If you focus in on the erotica, you’ll see I read and review work ranging from extreme hard core BDSM to sweet vanilla. I read and enjoy gay, lesbian, bisexual and multi-partner fiction – contemporary, historical, futuristic – really, whatever I can get my hands on.
Most authors write what they like to read. Hence it’s not surprising my books are all over the map. At this point I’ve published nine novels (defined as works over 50K words). Two are gay erotic romance – one paranormal, one sci fi. One is M/F and F/F erotic noir. One is M/F paranormal. One is steampunk BDSM paranormal ménage. My first three are even harder to classify, offering a bit of everything, from a sexual perspective – from exhibitionism to enemas – with many assortments of gender and in one case, a parallel historical subplot.
I’m proud of my books. I like the challenge of tacking new genres as well as new forms. However, lately I’ve started to believe that diversity can be a liability to an author’s career. When someone asks you what you write, “almost everything” may not be a strategic answer.
Think about the authors whose names are household words. Steven King writes horror. Anne Rice writes paranormal. P.D. James writes (or wrote) mysteries. Tom Clancy and David Balducci write political thrillers. John Grisham writes legal thrillers. Nora Roberts writes romance. J.K. Rowling writes fantasy. (Remember how nasty the critics were when she published her realistic contemporary novel, A Casual Vacancy?)
I couldn’t think of any really popular writers whose books vary as much as mine do, from one to the next.
Meanwhile, my favorite authors are the ones who can write anything – and do. M.Christian comes to mind as maybe the best example. His backlist includes science fiction, horror, and just about every sort of erotica you can think of. I’ll devour anything by Kathleen Bradean/Jay Lygon. Jonathan Lethem’s wild imagination produces something different in every offering. And though I haven’t read anything by him in a long time, John Barth used to delight me with each new novel. I never knew what to expect – and that’s the way I liked it.
Of course, in answer to the question, “what do you write?”, I could say “erotica”. That doesn’t pin things down much, though. Some erotica readers are pretty picky about the themes and topics they want to read. I know people who find anything other than BDSM fiction totally boring. Others have complained they can’t find hot vanilla M/F stories anymore. The segment of the erotica market that’s reading primarily for arousal wants stories that push their particular buttons. Someone who gets off on water sports isn’t interested in femdom. And so on.
Anyway, the “erotica” answer isn’t strictly true. I also write erotic romance, which has a different audience. I’ve been told in no uncertain terms by some erotica readers that my stories were too tainted by romance. Meanwhile, I’ve had romance readers shy away from my work as “too hot” and “too much like porn”. I’ve considered adopting a new tag line: “Too raw for romance, too sweet for smut.” (I’m only halfway joking.)
I guess I have to accept the fact that the majority of readers does not value variety to the extent I do. Instead they are seeking predictability – the antithesis of enjoyment, from my perspective!
This is a bit depressing, if I allow myself to dwell on it.
Am I willing to focus on one sub-genre in order to become popular? If I were making my living as an author, I think I’d have to. Fortunately, I have the luxury of writing what I feel like – of indulging my love of diversity. As long as I don’t care if my work sells…
Now all I have to do is find readers with similar tastes.
Anyone care to share a Pu Pu Platter?
This post was originally featured on the Writer Marketing Services blog.
I’m sure some of you have seen messages and notes about Thunderclap floating around the web and wondered what it is. I know I’ve had several clients ask me about it, which is why I’m writing this post.
Basically, it is a free promotional tool (though there are paid options you can explore) to help you get the word out about something. For the purposes of this post, I’ll use books as an example, as it’s what I deal with.
You sign up for a free account at Thunderclap.it, and follow the simple instructions to set up your campaign. Use graphics from your book if you can, as that way you’re increasing visibility of your book to those that click through to support your campaign. Spend some time crafting your message, adding some relevant hashtags if you’ve got room – bear in mind that this message will go out once and hopefully to an awful lot of people, so you want it to have punch, something to really make people want to click on the link you’ve provided. I’d also recommend only opting for 100 supporters the first time around – it sounds like a small number, especially if you have lots of social media savvy friends, but it’s tougher than you think to get people to click that link.
Once you’re happy with what you’ve done, submit your campaign and wait for Thunderclap to approve it (you can speed this process up by paying, but I’ve never done this). Then, when approval arrives, the really hard work begins. You have to get supporters.
Supporters are the whole point of Thunderclap – they’re the ones that are signing up to send out your message on the date and time you’ve selected. I think, since Thunderclap is fairly new, that people may be shying away from supporting Thunderclaps as they don’t fully understand what it means. So, in a nutshell, here goes: supporters are pledging to help you, by donating a Tweet, a Facebook status or a Tumblr post (or indeed, any combination of those three). That’s all. They’ll see the message they’re pledging to send out, hit those support buttons, and, providing you get enough supporters to “tip” the campaign, their social media account/s will automatically send out the message on the date and time you’ve selected.
The point of all this? Well, since we’re talking books – it’s to drive sales. If you have an upcoming book, you can set something up in advance to go out on your release date – then you’ve got a while to promote the Thunderclap, get your supporters and then you’ll get a big boost on social media on the day, which will hopefully get people clicking those buy buttons and pushing you up the respective retailer charts. Cool, huh?
There is more to it than just getting the supporters, though. Sorry to complicate matters 🙂 Ideally you need supporters that Tweet/share/Tumble about books in your genre – so in turn their followers/friends/etc are more likely to be interested in your book. Also, it goes without saying that the more followers/friends/readers your supporters have, the more people are likely to see your message once it goes out. So if you can attract people with a large reach on social media, all the better.
But to keep things simple, maybe start out small, and once you’ve dipped your toe in the Thunderclap water and seen how it all works – you can be more adventurous next time.
Bottom line: make sure you’ve crafted a powerful message to go out, that will catch people’s eyes and make them want to click. Then sit back and (hopefully) watch your sales increase.
Want to see how it works from a supporter’s angle? Here are three Thunderclaps you can sign up for (and I’d be grateful of your help):
I hope this has helped you. Feel free to share far and wide on the web, to help people gain an understanding of how it works. If I get lots of questions and queries, I may do another article at a later date with more specifics.
Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and
erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over 100
publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include several
editions of Best Bondage Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica 2013 and Best Erotic
Romance 2014. Another string to her bow is editing, and she has edited and
co-edited a number of anthologies, and also edits for a small publishing house.
She owns Erotica For All, is book
editor for Cliterati, and is one eighth
of The Brit Babes. Find out more
Join her on Facebook
and Twitter, and subscribe to her
newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/gMQb9
By Lisabet Sarai
A word to readers: this blog post has nothing to do with BDSM. However, it does feature some pain.
A few months ago, inspired by one of my blog posts here, Donna George Storey challenged ERWA followers to take the NWWTHYW challenge. “NWWTHYW” stands for “National Write Whatever The Hell You Want”. We declared March to be NWWTHYW month at ERWA and even established a special blog page for people to share their experiences.
I was pretty quiet during that month. I felt like a hypocrite. Because even as my fellow authors were crowing about setting their muses free and flying high on the currents of their personal visions, I was laboriously twisting and reshaping my most recent novel, trying to fit it into the pigeon hole established by my publisher. While other blog commenters basked in the glow of their creative fervor, I was agonizing about just how much I’d have to cut and rewrite in order to satisfy the submissions editor.
A bit of history is required to understand the situation. Late in 2013 I responded to a call for short erotic romance works (15-20K) on a particular theme. This theme was supposed to provide the foundation for a new imprint with this (highly successful) publisher. They planned to put lots of energy into marketing the series, as it was part of a major rebranding effort.
The publisher was quite specific about what type of story was required: light, humorous, romantic, with a bit of a chick lit flavor. BDSM and ménage were okay as long as things didn’t get too intense. The first few ideas I had didn’t get the editor’s approval, but then I hit on a winning concept and went on to write Her Secret Ingredient. This is a slightly silly story about an ambitious female chef who tries to seduce the devastatingly handsome but authoritarian Frenchman running the cooking network where she’s been hired as a special guest. Instead she snags the rumpled but attractive producer, who turns out to be a closet Dom.
After this book came out, in late 2013, the publisher asked if I would be interested in writing a novel-length sequel. After a bit of wavering, I decided to give it a try. I wrote a blurb and sent it to the editor. She loved it. So I plunged in, making steady progress. I submitted the book on Valentine’s Day, and waited for a response. I thought the book was pretty good. I’d managed to broaden and deepen the characterization, focusing on a BDSM triangle in which my heroine dominates the French chef but submits to the producer. The plot premise of a series of on-location cooking shows in France gave me lots of opportunities for local color. (Since I took a three week vacation to France in 2013, I had plenty of material!)
This publisher usually turns submissions from their established authors around in a few days to a week. In this case, though, several weeks went by without my hearing anything. Finally I inquired about the status of the book.
Well (the editor said), The Ingredients of Bliss was well-written (a sop to my pride?) but the dark, raw tone didn’t fit well with the imprint. And wasn’t the plot a bit too elaborate for a romance? (In a case of mistaken identity, the heroes are kidnapped by a Hong Kong drug cartel and the heroine must figure out how to save them.) Meanwhile, could I make this be a true ménage, with Emily be equally in love with both of the men (producer Harry and chef Etienne), rather than having her feelings portrayed as ambiguous? Or else could I tone down her relationship with Etienne and focus more strongly on the fact that she and Harry are in love? Readers won’t like her if they think she’s fickle. And while we’re talking about fickle, the fact that she’s attracted to and considering having sex with the villain (who happens to be a dead-ringer for Etienne) is just not acceptable. Oh, and the little hints about F/F attraction to the police officer who’s helping her? Our readers don’t really like F/F interactions in a heterosexual book.
Dark, raw tone? She should read some of my other stuff! Bangkok Noir, or Exposure, for instance. Okay, the book includes a bloody gun battle and an attempted rape (by the villain) with some strong language, as well as a gory but erotic nightmare, but none of this is gratuitous. It all advances the plot and helps develop the heroine’s character.
As for Emily’s “fickleness”, her uncertainty about her true feelings, I see this as the core emotional conflict in the story. While she fights for her lovers’ lives, she’s also trying to come to terms with her dual attraction and to decide which, if either, of the men she Loves. (I deliberately capitalize the word, since I mean “love” in the romance sense of soul-mate/long-term commitment.)
Sure, she’s not in love with the gangster Jean Le Requin, but the plot requires her to seduce him in order to achieve her goals. Given that he looks and even smells like one of her lovers, wouldn’t she react to him physically, even if her emotions weren’t involved?
Meanwhile, what’s with the “too much plot” issue? This is, after all, a novel. Sixty five thousand words. I can’t just fill that up with one love scene after another, no matter how creative the BDSM! I’d get bored, even if my readers wouldn’t.
My first reaction was to pull the book and submit it elsewhere. “This is National Write Whatever The Hell You Want Month”, I told myself. “Why should I compromise my artistic vision to fit the expectations of somebody else?”
I soon realized, though, that the novel would lose a lot if it were not associated with the original short story. So I bit the bullet and did a revision, trying to address at least some of the editor’s concerns. This was pretty tough. My work has a lot of inertia. I revise continually while I am working, but once I write “The End”, the book starts to fossilize. I don’t have trouble modifying a few sentences or paragraphs, but for better or worse, my stories tend resist major structural changes.
In this first round of edits, I removed the part where the villain fingers Emily to orgasm at the Grand Prix races, destroying her fancy lingerie in the process (though I was really fond of that scene). I took out a passage where she’s guiltily contemplating the pleasures of screwing him. I added more declarations of love between Emily and Harry. I streamlined the plot a bit and tried to make the details more coherent.
The modifications were not substantial enough to satisfy the editor.
I tried again, completely removing any hint of attraction between Emily and Jean. I softened the attempted rape scene quite a lot, removing both the most extreme epithets and much of the physical violence. Without being asked, I excised the terrifying erotic dream, which had an extremely dark tone.
Better. Can you try one more time, please? And while you’re at it, could you edit the blurb? It’s a bit long and elaborate and gives the plot away. Can you take out some of the details, to help build suspense? Oh, and it would be good to focus more on Harry and less on Etienne. Don’t want to give potential readers false impressions.
I sent in a third revision. As far as the blurb was concerned, I made some minor changes, but I told the editor that I disagreed with many of her comments. The suspense in this book (I wrote) does not revolve around the kidnap plot but rather around Emily’s ambivalence regarding her two lovers and the roles of dominant and submissive.
Finally, the book was accepted. I suspect that the editor may have been tired of all the negotiation. Or who knows, maybe they really do like it.
Other authors I’ve talked to have told me this is a normal process that they’ve been through many times. However, being asked to do multiple rounds of substantive edits like this was a new experience for me, an experience that I found quite unpleasant. At several points I was tempted to throw down my toys and walk away in a huff.
I kept at it for several reasons. First, this publisher has always treated me very well (and I don’t want to imply that they were anything less than professional and courteous during this process, either). Part of me (the part that always tried to get straight A’s) felt guilty and embarrassed that I hadn’t met their expectations. Second, I knew it would be hard to sell this book elsewhere. I could find a publisher – that wouldn’t be a problem – but despite my relative lack of success, I had targeted this specific imprint and the book would be something of an orphan otherwise.
Still, I feel a bit sheepish after championing NWWTHYW and blogging about “writing commando”. After all is said and done, I guess I’m just another pussy-whipped author, meekly adapting my work to fit the market. (Okay, maybe not “meekly”!) Was this a matter of principle? Should I have stood my ground? Did I betray my Art?
When I get to this point, I have to laugh at myself. I don’t view my words as sacred. I write to entertain myself and my readers, and to explore certain ideas and scenarios I find intriguing. And of course, to make a bit of money, if I can. Yes, these edits skewed the book away from my original vision, but so what? The revised book probably will be more popular than the original would have been. I don’t doubt that it’s closer to what this publisher’s readers want.
After all, this is just one book. I can always go dark, deep and raw in the next.
This post has been reblogged from Writer Marketing Services.
I’m writing this post due to popular demand. I’ve had several clients ask me about Triberr, what it is, why they should be using it and how much time it will take up. I’ll do my best to answer these questions, and probably more, without writing a blog post that will be the same length as my latest novel 😉
1. What is Triberr?
Triberr is a type of social sharing site where a user will join “tribes” that are relevant to the content they create on their blogs. So, for example, I’m in several writing, erotica, erotic romance and romance-type tribes. Once a user’s account is set up correctly, their blog’s RSS feed will automatically add each new post into the streams of people who are in the same tribes as them. The idea of this is that because people in tribes share similar interests, the posts they will see in their streams are things they will want to share with their own followers. Which brings me neatly onto point #2.
2. Why should you be using it?
Because it increases your reach. Massively. At the time of writing this post, I have 5,653 Twitter followers. So when I go into Triberr and approve other people’s relevant posts (this is key for me. I don’t want to alienate my followers by Tweeting stuff about children’s books or young adult), they will automatically be Tweeted onto my account. Not all at once, but at intervals set by me, which are half an hour.
Imagine this reversed. Because each of my blog posts are fed into Triberr, they’ll appear on my tribemates’ feeds and they’ll share them. So without Triberr, my Tweets would be seen by 5,653 people and probably then by others because my followers have Retweeted me. But with Triberr, my blog posts are automatically fed to the Twitter feed of every tribemate that approved my post – and because I’m in tribes that are relevant to my work, this is most of them. So, depending on how many Twitter followers each of my tribemates has, you can see how much my reach increases. The biggest reach of the tribes that I’m in is 452,533 people! That’s HUGE!
3. How much time will it take up?
Not much is the short answer. If you simply join us as a member and don’t have a tribe of your own (there are currently enough tribes out there that you don’t need to worry about setting up your own), it’s a quick and easy thing. Now I have everything set up correctly, I probably spend ten minutes per day approving relevant posts. I know we’re all busy people, but this is a tiny portion of time compared to the potential benefits. Because if you’re seen to be active, to be approving other people’s posts, then they’ll approve yours, too. So where your blog posts might have only reached 6,000 followers beforehand, with Triberr this is multiplied many fold with a small amount of time on your part.
I realise this is a really, really short piece which doesn’t go into the nitty-gritty of setting up Triberr, finding tribes and so on, but as I said I didn’t want to write a novel in a blog post 😉 . Ultimately, even if you’re not technically-minded, once Triberr is set up, it’s just a matter of going in once a day, going to your stream and hovering over that share button for each post you want to share. Technology does the rest for you. If you don’t want to share a post, then click the hide link. You’ll soon get into a rhythm. Once your stream is empty, give yourself a pat on the back and move onto the next item on your to-do list. But don’t forget to watch traffic to your site increase, especially if you’ve taken the time to write engaging blog post titles – something I personally am working on improving, and am already seeing results.
So, there’s Triberr in brief. If I end up with lots more questions and feedback on this post, then I may well write another article in a couple of weeks about the more nitty-gritty side of things.
P.S. If you’re an erotica or erotic romance author and want to get started – come check out my tribe.
By Lisabet Sarai
As erotic romance becomes increasingly
popular, I’ve noticed a trend among authors of erotica to denigrate
the genre. ER panders to readers who aren’t comfortable with “real”
erotica, some argue, sanitizing sex by requiring that the individuals
doing the nasty be “in love”. ER is tame and conservative,
according to others, not to mention stereotyped. True creativity
isn’t possible within the rigid constraints of the genre. ER
reinforces traditional cultural mores which favor monogamous,
committed relationships, especially those in which the woman is
subservient to the man, the social critics complain. The happy
endings required by romance just aren’t realistic, runs another
popular objection, and they make romance too predictable.
Recently a well-known erotica author
reviewed one of my novels on Goodreads. She commented that she would
have given it five stars, but she dropped her rating to four because
the book was too “romancey”. This is for a novel in which the
heroine is boffing three different men, as well as a spare woman or
There’s a kernel of truth in all of the
arguments above. I’ve read blog posts by authors of erotic romance
who loudly protest that what they write is distinct from “erotica”
(or “porn”) because they’re focusing on characters and
relationships instead of “just sex”. It may be that these
individuals have never encountered well-crafted erotica, but the
stridency of their tone suggests a level of fear or repulsion
associated with sexuality. (Or maybe they’re just afraid of the
social stigma attached to being overtly sexual.)
Some erotic romance is indeed tame and
conventional, by my standards at least, focusing as it does on
vanilla sex initiated mostly by the male. On the other hand, some
folks enjoy vanilla erotica, too. And yes, I get annoyed with
romances where marriage seems to be the ultimate goal in life, but
these days there are plenty of ER stories where matrimony is never
Predictability is a huge
challenge for a romance author. In some ways, the HEA or HFN required
makes crafting a romance more difficult than producing a tale
construed as erotica, which is free to end ambiguously or even badly
for the characters. Romance readers know, at some level, that
everything will work out. It takes consummate skill to create
narrative conflicts so compelling that readers will wonder just how a
happy ending could be possible. It’s tough, but it can be done.
Erastes’ M/M romance Standish sticks in my mind as a tour
de force in this regard. Twenty pages from the end, I couldn’t
imagine how the protagonists could ever reconcile, yet when they did,
I found the resolution completely believable.
A lot of the romance I read is boring –
poorly crafted, with amateurish language, hackneyed premises,
cardboard characters and implausible or sometimes non-existent plots.
However, there’s plenty of awful erotica out there, too. Those of us
who hang out at ERWA don’t tend to see it as much, but spend a little
while browsing the self-styled “erotica” on Amazon if you don’t
believe me. The explosion of e-publishing and self-publishing has
resulted in a flood of terrible books in pretty much every genre.
There are probably more of them labeled romance than anything else,
simply because romance is the single most popular category of books.
I write for both audiences. Based on
comments I’ve seen on the ERWA Writers list, I think some erotica
authors harbor some serious misconceptions about erotic romance.
Romance has changed – a lot. For a
great discussion of romance then versus now, check out Sheila
Claydon’s recent post at Beyond Romance
No longer are heroines wimpy and helpless, just waiting to be saved
by the big, blustery alpha male. They’re not shy or reluctant about
sex anymore, either, worried about preserving their virginity or
hankering to make a good marriage. The
more realistic HFN (happy for now) is a perfectly acceptable
alternative to happily ever after.
Today’s erotic romance celebrates
sexual pleasure every bit as enthusiastically as erotica, and
includes many of the same activities – oral sex, anal sex, group
sex, exhibitionism and voyeurism, sex toys, bondage, discipline,
whipping, spanking, piercing, branding, knife play. You’ll find
casual sex in romance too, though the participants usually end up in
a more enduring relationship as opposed to simply going their own
satisfied ways afterward. And of course, these days romance doesn’t
have to be straight. Gay ménage
is very popular, as is bisexual (M/M/F) ménage.
The market for lesbian romance appears to be smaller, but still energetic and loyal.
trying to argue that there’s no difference between erotica and erotic
romance? Of course not. However, the dividing line isn’t sharply
defined either. Several of my own novels, originally written as
erotica, are now being sold as erotic romance. Indeed the erotica
versus erotic romance dichotomy may be more a question of different
target markets than clearly different content (at least in the
I believe that the popularity of romance has benefits for erotica.
Erotic romance has helped readers become comfortable with stories
about sex and has aroused their curiosity about more extreme or novel
activities. Of course the publication of FSOG has accelerated this
trend, but the drift in readers from pure erotic romance toward
erotica has been going on for quite a while.
sales lag romance, but they’ve still grown phenomenally since the
advent of ebooks. I think we’re seeing significant spillover. When
romance readers want a bit “more” – more extremes of emotion,
more breaking of taboos, more surprises – they turn to erotica.
of you may be shaking your heads right now. You’re wondering if an
alien has slipped into the skin formerly occupied by Lisabet Sarai,
because this post seems to contradict things I’ve written previously.
It’s true that in the past I have lamented the co-opting of erotica
by erotic romance. It does bother me that publishers like Cleis, who
previously focused on exceptional literary erotica, now targets the
romance reading community with many of their titles. Black Lace
flipped years ago, from “erotica by women, for women” to erotic
romance. Eighty percent of new publishers who want erotic content
also specify that they want a relationship and at least a happy for
starting to become a bit more comfortable with this development,
however. Publishing is a business. The erotic romance audience is many
times larger than the audience for “pure” erotica. It makes sense
from a financial perspective to give those readers what they want.
I’d much rather have readers introduced to explicit romance via the
quality writing in a Cleis anthology than through some of the
alternatives. And Cleis does still field calls for books with no
romance elements required.
members of our community believe that the ascent of erotic romance is
a dangerous development for erotica – that it is the essence of
erotica to explore the edgy, uncomfortable aspects of sexuality that
might send romance readers screaming and that romance is blunting
those edges. I know I’m going to get some flak for this column from
Remittance Girl and Donna George Storey, for instance. Look, though,
at what these authors are doing in response to the romance boom.
They’re starting their own
presses to publish more transgressive stories. They’re
self-publishing tales that don’t end happily. And they’re finding
readers – perhaps not millions, but more, I contend, than they
would have if erotic romance were less popular.
brings me to a final theory as to why erotica authors tend to diss
romance. We’re jealous. Heck, I admit that I’m jealous, and I
actually publish erotic romance, though my books are apparently too
far from the mainstream to sell zillions of copies. We resent the
fact that our worthy literary endeavors remain obscure while sloppily
written, derivative romance sells. We rail against the fact that the
number of people who want to read happy endings far exceeds those with broader preferences.
not the fault of the romance genre. And I think we need to get over it, because
bitterness and envy don’t necessarily foster creativity.
By Lisabet Sarai
Decades ago I read a science fiction
story about a planet where trends, fads and fashions would rise and
fall in a single night. The clothing styles popular at nine in the
evening might be totally different from those worn at four in the
morning. A unknown performer might become a instant celebrity, with
billions of admirers, then fade back into obscurity within twenty
four hours. Even language could evolve overnight, with new words
coined and yesterday’s favorite terms falling into disuse.
I wish I could remember the title or
author of this prophetic tale. It seemed original, almost
far-fetched, in the nineteen eighties. Now, aside from some expansion
of time frame, it quite accurately describes the reality of our
networked world, and especially the world of publishing.
Thousands of words have been devoted to
the “50 Shades of Grey phenomenon”. The popular media have
dissected the appeal of BDSM to the “mommies” who made the book
such a hit or wondered whether the book signals a precipitous decline
in morality. Erotica bloggers have rejoiced at the popular spotlight
shone on our genre or bemoaned the poor literary quality of the book
itself. Feminists have castigated the shallowness of the heroine,
questioning the consequences for the current generation of young
Everywhere I turn, people seem to be
debating the implications of E.L. James’ incredible success. On one
writers email list I subscribe to, a member asked, only
half-facetiously, whether 50 Shades of Grey might be some sort
of devious plot by the traditional publishing industry to test the
waters as to the popular acceptability of erotic fiction. Is 50
Shades of Grey a conspiracy? A fluke? An indicator of the tyranny
of mediocrity? A harbinger of things to come?
In my view, FSOG is significant
because it demonstrates the near-random amplifying effects of the
social Internet. The book started life as a series published on a fan
fiction web board. It happened to strike a chord with the
subscribers, then gained popularity via grass-roots dissemination of
information to new readers. The buzz grew exponentially, facilitated
by the ease of tweeting, forwarding, sharing and syndication in
today’s socially-oriented Web infrastructure.
I’m not going to say anything more
about this book – partly because I believe that more than enough
has been said already. My main point in this post is that the
Internet is a huge amplifier of ideas. Under the right
circumstances, a book, a song, a video, or a news story can attract
the attention of literally millions of people within a matter of
days. However, despite what many believe, it’s extremely difficult to
predict exactly what content will “go viral”. The content itself
is not necessarily the primary determinant of popularity. It’s all in
the luck of the draw.
Nevertheless, despite the random
element in Internet amplification, everyone is trying to game the
system. Publishing has become a frantic attempt to utilize viral
nature of the Internet to gain attention for one’s books. Almost
every professional author that I know spends significant amounts of
time on blogging, tweeting, Facebook, Internet chats, and other
promotional activity. We create banners and trailers to display on
review sites. We “like” each other’s books and leave comments on
each other’s posts. The goal is to seed the Internet as densely as
possible with references to our names and our books. In this scrabble
to be part of the Next Big Thing, books themselves hardly seem to
Last year, Amazon.com introduced the
Kindle Select program and generated a frenzy of excitement among both
readers and authors. A book enrolled in this program is available
exclusively for the Kindle. In return for granting Amazon these
exclusive sales rights, authors or publishers receive 70% of the
sales price of their books – significantly more than most ebook
publishers offer. In addition, publishers/authors are allowed five
promotional days for each title – days when the books can be
offered for free. Judicious use of these promo days can build the
buzz for a new book. Downloads of the free book affect the ranking of
the book when it’s for sale. “Likes”, tagging, reviews, and
actual purchases also push up the book’s rank.
Since this program came into effect, a
whole ecosystem has developed around it. There are a dozen
newsletters to inform readers about the latest Kindle releases. Many
sell advertisements to authors who want to increase their visibility.
There are websites and forums, for readers and authors. Self-styled
marketing gurus blog or publish their own books on how to get your
Kindle book to the top of the charts. I wouldn’t be surprised to
discover someone had published a book on how to get rich by telling
Amazon authors how to get rich. If so, I’m sure that author
hopes to ride the crest of the Kindle Select wave to personal
Toward the end of last year, one of my
publishers decided to go exclusive on Amazon for all new titles. I
have to admit that the initial effect on my royalties was dramatic –
and I’m nowhere near the top seller for this company. Now, every day
on the authors’ email list, my colleagues discuss their rankings
(sometimes on an hourly basis), announce their free days, and beg the
other authors to like and tag their books. The publishers are
spending lots of money on newsletter ads to draw in readers. They’ve
had some success manipulating the rankings of our books; my peers are
Personally, I’m skeptical. I doubt this
approach is sustainable. If we can work the system, so can everyone
else. Furthermore, the number of titles available on the Kindle is
growing at an astronomical rate – especially in the categories of
erotica and erotic romance. A goodly number of them are shovel-ware
or even plagiarized. (See
The competition is just plain ridiculous. Even for legitimate authors
(which I define as authors who actually care about what they put
their name on), tagging, liking and other actions are eventually all
going to cancel each other out.
I’d like to believe that when the
situation levels off, the best books will be the ones with the
highest sales. But experience suggests otherwise.
Meanwhile, after an initial jump in my
royalties, they’ve begun to fall. I need another release to push them
back up. I do have a book in the pipeline; it may be a few weeks
before it’s released. But how many other Kindle titles will show up
in the meantime?
Amazon is just one example of my point.
The Internet is dynamic, constantly changing and far too complex for
any individual to grasp. Strategies for search engine optimization
become obsolete almost as soon as they’re discovered, as Google and
its competitors tweak their algorithms. Two months ago the hottest
new facility for social networking was Google+. Last month it was
Triberr. Now everyone’s talking about Pinterest. If you can catch a
viral wave, ride it for all its worth – but I don’t think it’s
possible to summon one on demand.
And yet, authors can’t afford to
completely ignore the amplifying influences of today’s ubiquitous
connectivity. Or can they? One of the most successful authors I know
doesn’t blog, or tweet, or hang out on Facebook. She has a single
email list where she communicates with her fans (more than 500 of
them) – and she writes, every day, despite being a single mother
with two young daughters. Since she was first published, a handful of
years ago, she has produced over a hundred books (mostly novella
length). The majority of her fans buy every single one.
Meanwhile, here I am, spending hours
writing a blog post instead of my current work in progress.