Is it possible the turn of a new year has already arrived? Throughout 2011, this erotic writing feast has taken us from the seeds of a developing story through the writing of first and final drafts, a pondering of the question of how much sex erotica needs and the giving and receiving of feedback. And just as no fine meal is complete without dessert, no discussion of the writing process is complete without a consideration of a sweet ending—receiving the news that your story has been accepted for publication.
As I looked back over the past year’s columns, I noticed a recurring theme that had not been part of my original conception of the feast, but that invariably crept into my essay every time I sat down to write a new installment. I’m speaking of a major myth of the writing life that both mesmerizes and mocks us at every step of the process, namely that for a “real” writer, it all comes easy. The path to publication is perhaps the cruelest of these myths, because most non-writers judge our worth by whether and how often we’ve been published. Naturally, talented writers will be published immediately and regularly in The New Yorker or at least Playboy. I felt embarrassed to call myself a writer for many years even when I was published because my accomplishments never seemed abundant or prestigious enough to satisfy the critics. Fortunately somewhere along the way, I finally understood that it is the writing itself that earns you the title. If you write with sincere effort, you are a writer. Welcome to the club!
Still I will not say that publication doesn’t matter. With nearly 150 acceptances, you might think I’d be a bit jaded, but the truth is, my spirit always soars when an editor informs me my story was chosen for a new anthology. And while I’m throwing around numbers, I’ll also admit that I stopped counting the rejections at about 500. Getting published is not easy, and I’ve suffered more gut-wrenching emotional agony in the process than I’d like to remember.
Publication is the part of the writing process over which the writer has the least control, which is why how-to articles and books on this topic are so popular. When I first started sending out stories, I devoured this advice, my fingers trembling eagerly as I reached for the next fail-proof way to woo editors. Yet, out of dozens of articles, I only remember one suggestion with any clarity. It comes from an issue of Poets and Writers back when it resembled a church newsletter of Xeroxed pages stapled together. This particular article promised a sure-fire way to get your stories picked up by an editor. What, you ask, was that secret?
“Write a good story.”
In case you’re expecting me to say that I now heartily agree that’s the only real advice you’ll ever need, I’m thankfully going to disappoint you. There no doubt that if you write a good story, whatever that might mean to a particular editor, your chances of publication will rise considerably. But I have a few more practical and collegial pieces of advice I’ve gathered from almost fifteen years of acceptances to increase the likelihood you’ll get published, perhaps not “today!” (my nod to the come-on promises of my past) but one day in the future. For indeed there is no sweeter finish to the writer’s feast.
1. Be Persistent
Writers will admit they’ve received lots of rejections, but few of them tell the whole truth about how long and hard the road to publication can be. One author I know spent eight years sending out stories before one was accepted. He now has a two-book deal with a New York publisher. Another won a prize with her first story, then didn’t get another acceptance for three years. Granted these are writers of literary fiction, a market much hard to break into than erotica, but the same spirit of perseverance is required in any genre. We’re not talking a few cute smears of mud on your cheek and an ornamental drop of perspiration on your brow. This effort may well take years, tears and plenty of real sweat. It will hurt you to your soul. You will want to give up many times.
But don’t. Keep trying. And trying. And trying. Allow yourself some period of time to feel hurt by a rejection, then award yourself one more experience point and send the story out again to an appropriate market (more on that below). Keep writing new stories. Experiment with style and voice and theme. Have lots of fun playing with words and being the creator of your own little worlds. Send out the new stories. And remember the people at the cocktail parties are wrong. Publication does not make you a writer. Showing up at the page and writing with your whole heart makes you a writer.
I once read a disturbingly fascinating book about how to pick up beautiful women. The pick-up artist counseled his students to practice their technique at least several times a week by trying out come-on strategies in bars, restaurants, airports, and so on, without any investment in the outcome. With time, he promised, the rewards of this persistence would arrive in the form of a beautiful woman in your bed (although the advice on what to do once you had her there was lean). Sending out stories is, in my opinion, a nobler endeavor, but the same advice holds true.
Never give up. There is only one certainty in the submission game: if you stop sending stories out, you will indeed never be published.
2. Be Professional
Publishing is a business, and you’ll do better if you act professionally and respectfully. Editors are not the handmaidens to your literary talent and potential. Yes, there was a time in the 1920’s when editor Maxwell Perkins perceived great genius in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first draft of Trimalchio in West Egg and expertly shaped it into the enduring classic The Great Gatsby. Those days are long gone.
Editors expect finished, carefully edited work. No matter how promising your talent, if you send hastily written, sloppily formatted stories, you will be not regarded as a serious writer. Remember also that editors often read hundreds of submissions and do not owe you a reason for a rejection. If they do bother, it is actually a compliment—although your non-writer friends will definitely look at you askance when you crow about your “nice” rejection.
On the other hand, if an editor and/or publisher doesn’t treat you respectfully—for example, they’ve had a story for a year, and don’t respond to polite queries as to the status—withdraw your story and move on.
I could spend a whole year of columns on specific advice for sending out stories, but fortunately, a very accomplished writer and columnist has already done just that. I highly recommend a series of columns in the ERWA archives by Shanna Germain: “How to Properly & Professionally Prepare, Package and Present Your Work To Markets.” Shanna approaches the topic from the standpoint of both writer and editor and covers query letters, researching markets, keeping track of submissions, graceful ways to deal with acceptances and rejections (yes, the former can be as challenging as the latter), working with editors and contracts. I wish I’d had this resource when I was first starting out!
3. Do Research—With Your Gut
“Please read our publications before you submit.” You’ll find these guidelines in almost every journal and many calls for anthologies. Back when I was submitting to literary magazines, I suspected this was just a clever way to sell more copies of journals with circulations of 500, and perhaps it is. Yet I now appreciate that this is excellent advice, especially if you trust your instincts as you read.
I highly recommend you research markets and read at least a few anthologies and online journals in your chosen genre, whether erotica, erotic romance or literary erotica. Editors are human beings with unique tastes, and while it’s always a crap shoot in that your fresh voice might enchant someone who doesn’t tend to publish your style, familiarizing myself with the range of stories they publish is one strategy that has seemed to pay off. Often a call for submissions will specify what an editor wants, and you should take it to heart. However, only by reading stories they’ve already published do you get a sense of what they really want.
If I’ve read several stories in an online journal and think—”Why would anyone publish this?”—then I know my tastes and goals do not match those of the editor. No matter how good I think my story is, he will probably not appreciate its merits. If I find I am enjoying most of the stories, even getting inspired by them, then the chances for a match are much better. Be sure to mention in your brief cover letter that you enjoyed certain stories by title—but only if it’s true! This is basic advice, but my twist on it is the importance of your gut feeling rather than admiring structure or diction. “Good” stories speak to the emotions, so judge them accordingly.
To return to our singles’ bar analogy, sending out stories without researching markets is like trying your pick-up line on every woman standing at the bar, starting left to right. Doing a little careful reading and responding from your gut is more like sauntering up to the one woman who’s been checking you out and flashing seductive smiles. The percentages are surely more in your favor with the latter.
Online journals such as Clean Sheets, The Erotic Woman, and Oysters and Chocolate are good places to start your research at a very low cost—free! Another great resource is Maxim Jakubowski’s annual Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, which draws from many different publications and styles and is an excellent overview of the state of erotica publishing. When I like a story, I check out the name of the publisher in the index and keep an eye out for opportunities with them.
The very, very best place on the planet to research erotica markets is the Authors’ Resources page here at ERWA. That’s how I discovered the call that led to my first print publication, and it’s still my favorite spot for submission information today. Another supplementary resource is Duotrope, which is not nearly as comprehensive for erotica, but lists literary and some genre magazines that take stories with erotic content.
Two Desserts and a Whole Frickin’ Basket of Cookies
Congratulations! You lasted through the lecture, now it’s time for your reward! In honor of this double December-January issue, I’m offering two desserts: a creamy, decadent winter solstice treat for December and an austere, yet in some ways more satisfying, sweet for the start of the New Year.
The first, Eggnog Ice Cream with Hot Buttered Rum Sauce, has pleased many holiday guests at my table. With a Cuisinart ice cream maker—I keep the canister in my freezer for impromptu batches—it’s much easier to prepare than the crushed-ice-and-rock-salt ordeal of my childhood. Since my family likes a slightly lighter ice cream, I use 2 cups each of cream and whole milk, but I wanted to offer the original recipe if you like your holiday desserts rich. Believe me, this dessert is as luscious as getting an editor’s email of acceptance in your in-box!
When January comes, however, we’re all ready for lighter eating, and fortunately nature provides the perfect dessert at the perfect time—the sweet, easy-to-peel tangerine. In the past few years I’ve noticed many exciting new varieties appearing at my local greengrocer. The Satsuma, a nostalgic reminder of my years in Japan, has been joined by the Murcott (or Honey), a hybrid tangerine-orange. Clementimes are the most ubiquitous, with a thin skin and reliable sweetness. I enjoy doing a taste test of several varieties at one time. They’re small and low in calories, so why not? All of these juicy, jewel-like beauties have a peak season from December through March. This will tide you over until my next column which will begin a brand-new theme—my favorite secrets of writing coupled with a basketful of my favorite fancy cookie recipes for dessert all year long.
See you then and a Happy Winter Holiday and a Happy New Year to all!
Eggnog Ice Cream with Hot Buttered Rum Sauce
from Bon Appetit, December 2001 (6-8 servings)
3 cups whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/4 dark rum (go a bit scant on this)
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed golden brown sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons dark rum
For Ice Cream:
Combine whipping cream and milk in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring to simmer. Whisk egg yolks and sugar in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and stir constantly over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on the back of a spoon when a finger is drawn across, about 5 minutes (do not boil). Strain into a large bowl. Mix in rum and nutmeg. Refrigerate until cold. Process mixture in an ice cream maker. Transfer to container and freeze. Can be made four days in advance.
Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, cream, and corn syrup and stir until sugar dissolves. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Mix in rum. Cool slightly. Can be made one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before serving.
Donna George Storey
December 2011 – January 2012
“Cooking up a Storey” © 2011 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.