by Jean Roberta
Writing about sex and sexual relationships in all their complexity and then finding a suitable public venue for a story are parallel to deciding what kind of date you want, searching the dating pool for someone who comes as close to your fantasy as possible, then negotiating a relationship. And you need to brace yourself for the possibility that a Significant Other, a narrative, or a publishing contract might make you so uncomfortable that you want to run out the door.
Finding ideas for a story is not hard to do if you sift through your stream of consciousness, the current issues that attract your attention, and the dreams you have at night. However, not all ideas are equally worthy of being developed into a plot starring multi-dimensional characters in a well-described location. If you dreamed of riding a camel with wings to an island populated by kittens with poisonous fangs, could you persuade a reader that all this is meaningful? If the hero of your story is captured by man-hating Amazon warriors while trying to rescue a cave full of man-loving sex slaves with enormous breasts, would this epic impress a diverse group of readers?
Not all ideas that seem stupid at second glance deserve to be completely trashed, but in some cases, it’s easier to start over with a different plot catalyst and cast of characters than to add depth and complexity to a scene or a plot that no longer sparks joy.
Finishing a story, novella, novel or multi-novel series to your own satisfaction is only Phase 1 of the process, unless you are content never to see your work in print, or hear it recorded. If your piece was written in response to a call-for-submissions, you need to send the thing off before the deadline, and hope for the best. If you simply wrote the story because it was nagging you to write it, you need to find a suitable editor/publisher to send it to. Chances are, few of the venues you know of are a perfect match for your story, if any. Will a particular editor who prefers contemporary realism make an exception for a historical fantasy? Probably not. If the story includes explicit sex, does that make it erotica? How much sex is a deal-breaker for a publisher who specializes in, say, romantic suspense?
If you want to self-publish, you need a set of technical skills and a flare for self-promotion. If you want to lease your work to a traditional publisher, is there anything in the contract that gives you pause? (As a case in point, the old Black Lace line of women’s erotica, published in the UK, was known for paying very well for rights that seemed to stretch endlessly into the future.)
Writers who experience writer’s block, or a series of rejections, or unexpected demands for sweeping revisions, or exploitation in various forms sometimes threaten to give it all up and fill their spare time with heavy drinking and mindless entertainment instead. Writers in this mood need to be comforted. Other writers usually encourage the desperate to get back on the horse that threw them, and continue the journey. Keep going is a slogan that has led to many a success after failure.
If “persist” is your motto, however, the question is persist at what? Persist against all odds? Persist at going deeper into debt as a full-time writer when you have dependents to support? Is there never a time when giving up, at least in part and temporarily, would be a wiser choice?
About the year 2000, when I rarely got responses to my erotic story submissions, let alone acceptances, my sympathetic girlfriend advised me to be “more assertive.” She thought I should respond to rejection by demanding explanations. This didn’t mean she actually approved of my stories about sex, especially lesbian sex, but she didn’t think any of the callous editors out there had a right to reject my work, especially if they were accepting raunchy stories by writers who undoubtedly had less class or brilliance than I had.
After a year of silence from the publishing biz, I followed Girlfriend’s advice by writing and snail-mailing letters to four editors I had never met. I acknowledged that editors have a right to make choices which can be difficult, but I pointed out that writers are the source of all writing, and therefore I felt that editors who rely on writers to send them material should respond with clear answers. I wanted those faraway strangers to confirm that my typed pages had arrived on their desks, and I actually got some polite responses, which encouraged me to keep going.
Since then, I’ve been relieved that I didn’t burn bridges by demanding reasons why my unique erotica had been shot down by idiots.
Long before the “me-too” movement began, I remembered being confronted by guys who didn’t see why they should take no for an answer. Was I dating someone else? Was I a snob because my father was a university professor? Why did I think I was too good to get fucked—with no protection—by guys I hardly knew? (Apparently no logical explanations came to the minds of the ones I disappointed.)
My common sense advised me not to behave like That Guy. When I interacted with other writers on-line, I read several similar lists of do’s and don’ts, including the stern admonishment not to argue with the editor who rejected your submission, no matter how unfair you think that was. The logic of that rule was clear to me. As someone apparently said in ancient Rome, there is no explaining taste.
To sum up, I find that persistence during the long haul is probably the most essential quality for a writer, since it will accomplish more than talent alone. However, it needs to be a qualified and disciplined persistence, like that of a river that finds its way to the sea by swerving around boulders instead of making a big splash, drenching everything in sight, then drying up.
Just as a relationship with another person requires tact and negotiating skills, so does a relationship with your Muse, with the gatekeepers of the publishing world, and with all the readers you hope to reach.