What I Wish I’d Known: Staying in the Saddle


I’ve been using horse analogies all along with these columns so it seems very appropriate to wrap up this year’s work for ERWA with another one. If you want to stay in the saddle as an erotica writer (or any kind of writer, for that matter), there are definitely tips and techniques that can help. After eight years of writing, selling, editing, and acquiring erotic fiction, I’ve got some ideas to offer. And I have generous writer and editor friends who are professionals in the field with their own input. So, here are some tips to keep in mind as you saddle up for your own ride.

Jay Lygon, author of the critically-acclaimed Chaos Magic series, cautions against submitting a story before it’s ready. “Before I sold my first piece, there was this great burning need to make that first sale, so I often sent out things sooner than I should have. When I see some of my older work now, I cringe. Patience, I’ve learned, can save a lot of embarrassment down the line.”

Just as you shouldn’t get in the saddle to ride a horse without checking your girth, you don’t want to so anxious about sending out work that you’re sending out drafts. Take the time to let a piece sit, to let a beat reader review it, and make the piece as strong as you can.

Rob Rosen, author of Divas Las Vegas and the forthcoming, Hot Lava, suggests being open to all types of writing, not just erotica. ” I painted with a broad brushstroke, so to speak, when I started out. I wrote in every genre imaginable and submitted to every site and publisher I could find, honing my craft along the way. That’s how I got involved in writing speculative fiction. I just tried everything and that’s one field I was able to, rather quickly, get published in. Now, it’s my favorite style of writing, with more than 50 anthologies to my credit.” With over 125 anthology sales in various genres, and experience for both Men and Freshmen, Rosen’s suggestions are solid ones.

Angela Benedetti, author of the A Hidden Magic “Read a lot.  Read outside your genre.  Read fiction from other times and places.  And read non-fiction.  Reading a wide variety of fiction will expose you to different styles and forms of literature, and reading non-fiction will give you more things to write about.  Reading very little, or reading only in your genre, will limit your raw material which will usually result in a limited scope for your fiction.”

Expanding your comfort zone when it comes to both reading and writing can enhance your ideas, your storylines, and your craft. A non-fiction piece may inspire with a classis “what if?” scenario, and a fiction piece may get you thinking about the real-life implications of a story’s main idea. By being open to any and all types, genres, and styles of writing, you’ll be starting down the bridle path to fiction sales.

Once you’re out on the trail and making some sales, KIL Kenny, author of Halfway and the recently released Splash, and who is also a senior editor at Torquere Press, has suggestions for making your ride a long one. One word: professionalism. Kenny says, “I do a lot of handholding because I work with a lot of new authors, and the typical attitude is that they have a right to an indefinite amount of my time, energy, sympathy, patience, etc. Like I’ve been assigned to be their kindergarten teacher, therapist, and mother, all in one. Boundaries, appropriateness, moderation—nope. This is not a fanfic community, where emo-drama is half the fun. A publisher/editor is not there to nurture your Muse, nor is she there to soothe your anxieties, research promotional opportunities for you, or listen to your tales of personal woe. Your editor has a business obligation to your publisher to provide a publication-ready manuscript. The editor, in other words, is paid by the publisher to take care of the publisher’s requirements. Maintaining professional boundaries and treating your deadlines and obligations as professional priorities will get you everywhere in this business.”

Benedetti has her own experience on this topic. “Behave like a professional.  Hit your deadlines, follow guidelines.  (Query the editor if you have something that might or might not qualify; that lets them know that you did read the guidelines and have a legitimate question, as opposed to being someone who can’t be bothered to check and just spams their stories wherever.)  Be reasonable when going over edits, and save your squawking for changes that you think would really hurt your story or your reputation.  If you want to argue against a change, be calm and professional, and willing to discuss the editor’s reasons, and explain your own.  The best change might be some third option, if you weren’t communicating clearly and the editor didn’t get what you were trying to say.  My personal philosophy with edits is that a tie goes to the editor; I only argue when I feel very strongly about something.”

About professionalism, Rosen says, “… don’t be over-friendly, just keep it professional. Most of these editors and publishers have very, very little time for you. And they hate chit-chat. And many of them (too many) won’t send you rejection letters, so after six months, if you haven’t heard back from them, just move on to the next one.”

If you do get a rejection in hand, Lygon says try to learn from it. “The funny thing is that I learned a lot more about story writing and the business side of publishing from the rejections than I did from the acceptances, so the rejections ultimately helped me.”

Once you’re firmly in the saddle and out on the trail/marketplace, you still have work to do. Authors these days are often solely responsible for marketing their work. As the publishing models continue to change, I’m seeing that authors will on be taking on more of these functions as the traditional print publishers wheeze their way to extinction. Rosen says, “I wish I had learned the marketing side of things first. It would’ve made it all so much easier. About what online clubs to join, who to buddy up with, what to pay attention to. But that’s all just trial and error, I suppose. So now I tell people to join everything and always keep your name out there. Advertise on Facebook, it’s cheap and easy.”

Benedetti has a common-sense yet often overlooked suggestion. “Do your marketing under the name that’s on your book covers.  If you publish under Jane Author, then your blog, your journal, your Yahoo ID, your Goodreads account—anything you use to market your books—should be JaneAuthor (or at least Jane) not Puppyluvr42, or whatever ID you set up before you made that first sale.  Successful marketing is about repetition; if you’re posting promo under Puppyluvr42, readers will only see your name when they read the body of your post.  If you’re posting under JaneAuthor, they’ll see your name when they look at their sidebar, their RSS feed list, their blogroll, your comments in their e-mail—all kinds of places.  Take advantage of that.”

Clearly the biggest “what I wish I’d known” lesson for many writers is this one: writing is a creative endeavor, but publishing is a business.

Rosen says, “The business end of things and the writing end of things are like night and day. At times, like good and evil, or, more aptly, a necessary evil. I think, we as writers love our craft, love to sit down alone with our thoughts, pulling brand new worlds and characters out of the farthest recesses of our creative brains. Publishing, on the other hand, is nothing but work, drudgery, that necessary obstacle to getting our work in the hands of the teaming masses. So, that being said, the one tip I can offer is to learn how to market yourself, read all the online tips for getting your work published, how to write the perfect cover letter, learn what to say and how to say it in order to get your work published.”

Beneditti reminds writers to maintain a business-like demeanor everywhere.” Be professional in public, not just with your editor.  There are plenty of readers out there who’ll drop a writer, or never try their work in the first place, if they think the writer’s behaving like a jerk.  Don’t argue with readers, don’t snark at reviewers, and when you accumulate fans, don’t send them to harass people who’ve said uncomplimentary things about your book.  If you must rant, do so in e-mail to a friend you absolutely trust.  In person to your spouse or best friend is even better; cuss out loud if you must, while typing politely.”

KIL Kenny reminds writers of the publisher’s perspective on all this. “Above all, authors need to remember that a publisher is in the business of selling books. A publisher does not make artistic judgments, personal judgments, or moral judgments. A publisher builds a paying customer base by supplying books that meet a specific taste. The acceptance or rejection of your book is based solely on the criterion: “Can I sell this book?” Different publishers can sell different books because the paying customer base each publisher develops is unique. But the same bottom line is true for every publisher: will my paying customers plonk down cash for this story? The sooner authors wrap their heads around this truth, the easier it becomes to do the slog work that underlies all the inspiration and creativity.”

So when you’re getting ready to hit the trail, take some time to do your prep work by saddling up correctly (following guidelines, researching the business); following the trail markers (behave professionally, write strongly); and getting back to the stable on time (meet your deadlines, remember this is business, not personal.)

And do celebrate your successes when you have them. Whether it’s a dinner out for a story sale, or signing up for a year’s worth of monthly massages when you get a book contract, take the time to acknowledge your achievement. Then sit down and start writing something new.

It’s been a pleasure writing these columns for ERWA, working with Adrienne, and hearing from readers. I hope these have been helpful, and I wish you the very best of success with your writing endeavors!

Vincent Diamond
December 2010 – January 2011

“Serious about Smut” © 2010 Vincent Diamond. All rights reserved.

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