Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sexy Snippets for April


It's the 19th of April - the wettest month of the year in many locations. Today's your chance to add to the general soaked state of the world by posting your Sexy Snippets!

The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.

On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link, if you'd like.


Please follow the rules. If you post more than 200 words or more than one link, I'll remove your comment and ban you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. So play nice!

After you've posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.

Have fun!

~ Lisabet

Friday, April 18, 2014

Two Cool “New” Ways to Shame Sex Writers

by Donna George Storey

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to an article entitled: “Why Is It So Hard for Women to Write About Sex?” by Claire Dederer (The Atlantic Monthly, February 19, 2014). I clicked the link expecting something along the lines of an article I read at the end of the last century when I first started writing dirty stories, this one by Jane Smiley, who confessed that she was writing a new book with explicit sex scenes and found herself blushing as she wrote. After all, ladies aren’t supposed to descend to explicit descriptions of sex that might arouse, even while they touch upon topics like incest for the sake of literature.

However, to my surprise, The Atlantic article contained a new twist on the reason good girls feel shame when they write about sex. You see, Dederer is writing a memoir about sex, “specifically about having an awful lot of it awfully young—too young—as a teenager in the 1980s.” So far so good, in terms of a surefire hook for the publisher’s sales department. Yet Dederer’s difficulty with the writing process reportedly lies in the fact that she was and is ambivalent about sex, an experience of “doubt braided tightly with the desire.” More than that, apparently she actually thinks during sex and somehow got the message this is bad and she shouldn’t let anyone know that she does this. (I got that message, too, but have mostly moved beyond, thanks to erotica!)

Without going into a detailed summary of the article, what struck me most is that while Dederer acknowledges that female sexuality is seen as normal and real in our times, she worries that her attempts to express ambivalence, complexity or anything other than the sentiment that sex-is-awesome-give-me-more will make her “seem anti-woman, or anti-sex, or anti-sexual-woman (or just a downer).”

Moreover, according to Dederer, men don’t have this problem because their desire is visible in the uncomplicated form of an erection. Which, gentlemen, I hope you will agree, is a brutal simplification of the male experience of sex in our culture. Surely you feel ambivalence, know complexity, suffer pressure to speak of sex in certain accepted ways rather than challenge the cliches with honesty?

I’m not sure which bothers me more, the dehumanizing assertion that male sexuality is uncomplicated because we can see boners or the assumption that women are now allowed to write about sex but are only allowed to do so in positive and uncomplicated terms in order to affirm that women feel desire? As erotica writers, we are all aware of the restrictions of genre upon our writing, but I hadn’t realized it was this bad over in Literary Land. No wonder Dederer finds it hard to write about sex.

But for Dederer the landscape is not totally bleak. She has discovered a few female literary models that give her inspiration when she sits down to write about “giving a blow job to that creepy hippie Malcolm in the patchouli-smelling van in 1984.” One writer in particular, Lidia Yuknavitch, intrigued me enough to place a request for her novel, The Chronology of Water, through interlibrary loan. I liked the scene Dederer quoted from competitive swimmer Yuknavitch’s memoir about ogling the older female swimmers when she was a girl. At first she claimed to be horrified and disgusted, but in a humorous twist in the very next paragraph she confessed to being enthralled and aroused by their strong, hairy bodies.

Alas for the foes of sexual shame, The Chronology of Water yielded but another means to silence a writer taking tentative steps toward honest sexual expression. Allow me to share an extended passage from the introduction to Yuknavitch’s memoir written by her fellow writing group member, Chelsea Cain, the author of numerous best-selling thrillers.

Chuck Palahniuk brought up the idea of inviting her. ‘She writes this literary prose,’ he told us. ‘But she’s this big-breasted blond from Texas, and she used to be a stripper and she’s done heroin.’ Needless to say, we were impressed.

I already wanted her to sit by me.

There was more. Chuck told us that some really famous edgy writer—I didn’t recognize her name, but I pretended that I did—had given a talk at a conference about the State of Sex Scenes in Literature and she’d said that all sex scenes were shit, except for the sex written by Lidia Yuknavitch. Maybe Chuck didn’t tell us that. But someone in the group did. I don’t remember. I think I was still thinking about the stripper thing. A real-life ex-stripper in our writing group! So glamorous.

Yes, we said, invite her. Please.

She showed up a few weeks later, wearing a long black coat. I couldn’t see her breasts. She was quiet. She didn’t make eye contact. She did not sound like she was from Texas.

Frankly, I was a little disappointed.

Where was the big hair, the Lucite platform heels? The track marks?

Had Chuck made the whole thing up? (He does that sometimes.)

How was he describing me to people?

Wait, the great Chuck Palahniuk sponsored Yuknavitch for his writing group (even if he does stretch the truth a bit in introducing her)? Does it get cooler than that? But alas, I’m sure ERWA writers are all too familiar with Cain’s preconceptions about women who write about sex or have experience as sex workers or even have large breasts—we’re slutty exhibitionists who provide great material for characters in thrillers, never people with demure wardrobes and complex or even introverted personalities.

The most notable part of this excerpt, however, is the proclamation by the unnamed but famously edgy writer that Lidia Yuknavitch is the only writer on the face of the earth who can write good sex scenes. That’s right, folks, there’s only room for one voice to speak to us about sex in The Right Way!

Before we dismiss the unnamed famous writer’s opinion as a theatrical gesture—or a paid endorsement—might I point out that holding up some legendary stud or beguiling courtesan as a model against which ordinary mortals fall short is a time-honored way to shame people about their real sexuality. Allowing only a small elite of sexual superstars permission to express their experiences is another effective way of silencing the rest of us. Clearly the only thing worse than having ordinary sex is writing about sex in a way that doesn’t crown you as the bestest, coolest sex writer ever.

But remember, this only works if we feel shame about our sexuality and our ability to express it. It probably sells a lot of books, too, this idea that one gifted individual has a special knowledge and skill in sex writing that no one else can match. We eagerly reach for enlightenment from without and, for me at least, always come away unsatisfied.

Given that the literati seem to buy that there are but a very few acceptable ways to write about sex mere decades after respectable people were finally given permission to write about it at all, a question bears asking—how much progress have we really made when it comes to the opportunity to express sexual experience with honesty, whether that be joyful, dark, or a combination of the two? In my opinion, ERWA writers consistently and generously illustrate how well this can be done, even if The Atlantic isn’t giving us equal time to talk about how fun and easy it is. At the same time, we do live in a sex-phobic culture that is very adept at twisting old weapons into new ones to keep too many people scared they'll do it wrong.

Here is the dirty secret beneath all of this judgment and angst—if you want to write your truth about sex, you can’t do it wrong. There is room for many voices and many experiences, the more the better. Each of us can make up his or her own mind about what touches, amuses, arouses, angers or even shames us.

Start there and writing about sex becomes much easier.

And so I send my best wishes to all courageous writers who speak their erotic truth in spite of the cultural forces aligned against us. May you all, woman or man, find writing about sex inspiring, soul-expanding and challenging in the best of ways.

Enjoy!

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Three Workouts for Erotic Writers: The Could You Would You, The Tarot Spread and the Jazz Riff


You learn the most from writers who are considerably better than you are and you learn a lot from writers who are worse than you are. But if I were able to go back in time and meet someone I'd probably choose William Shakespeare, not the least because he spoke pretty good English so you can have a beer with him, but also I'd want to pepper him with questions about craft. Among other things I'd want him to show me how to cut a feather quill and write with it and ask him - considering how expensive paper is, do you revise, Will? Do you write drafts? Do you rewrite? Yes? How many times? Do you write asymmetrically like I do, or front to back with an outline? I don't have to ask him where he got his ideas, because the fact is I already know the answer to that. 

 He used the Tarot Spread and The Jazz Riff.

One of the finest craft books I've studied, and I've studied quite a few, is a book specifically about erotic writing by the venerable Susie Bright of "Best American Erotica" fame, called "How to Write a Dirty Story". If you've never read a book on erotica craft and want to try just one, try this one. Its full of scholarly analysis, feminism, business wisdom and nuts and bolts exercises that truly work. I'm going to explain a couple of her exercises plus one of my own invention based on something I read in Stephen King's book on craft "On Writing".
Attend.

Could You Would You?
When men are sitting around in public places as I am at this moment pecking away in the back of my favorite coffee shop we play a game in our heads which I'm very sure women play too. You see a hot looking woman walk by in summer clothes, tiny shorts and flips flops, brasserie optional and your eyes follow her and imagine her naked. You ask yourself - If you could fuck her would you do it? The key word being "Could". Meaning if you could fuck her without totally destroying your marriage, breaking the heart of a good spouse who loves you, causing your kid to hate you with contempt and losing your job and good name just so you can stick your selfish little dick in there and hammer her a good one for a couple of minutes until you get off - yeah, meaning something like that maybe - would you? You survey the room, imagine a perfect world of no consequences and - that woman? No. That woman there? Boy Howdy. And twice on Sunday. How about that one? The interesting question is to explore what kind of woman turns you on and why they do.

Suzie Bright takes this game a little further and asks you to play with your fantasies and write them down in a series of three scenarios. You should stop reading this, get some paper and a pen and work this out.because if you take this craft exercise seriously this is definitely worth your time.
You still sitting there, bub?
G'wan, find a pen, get out of here. Scat.
Okay now -
Ms Bright writes:

"Give yourself two minutes to answer each question. When your time is up, stop, even
if you haven't finished your sentence:

  1. Write down an erotic fantasy about a sexual experience you would have in a minute if it were offered to you, no questions asked. It should be about something you would have no reservations or conditions about doing in real life.
  2. Write down an erotic fantasy about a sexual experience you would have only under certain conditions. You could give yourself up whole heartedly under these conditions, but otherwise not at all.
  3. Write down an erotic fantasy that is completely satisfying to you in your imagination but that you could not do either because it is physically impossible or something you could never bring yourself to do in real life. But in your imagination it is completely fulfilling.
I actually got a decent story from number 2 - would maybe do if you could. My fantasy was that I would like to experience sex and orgasm as a woman in a woman's body to see how it differs from the male experience of excitement and release, but only if I could magically be a man again afterward. That became "The Happy Resurrection of Gregor Samsa", Franz Kafka's character from "The Metamorphosis" who awoke to find himself changed into " a monstrous vermin", usually depicted as a huge cockroach. I imagined the Samsa-cockroach awakening now incarnated as a woman and then looking for sex. Lisabet helped me get the female sensations right with that one.

The Character Splits (Tarot Card Spread) Exercise
Another exercise that Susie Bright explains in detail, though I will not, is "The Character Splits Exercise". I've also written about this on the ERWA blog as the "Found Story".
Natural evolution has preserved life for 3 billion years in this world by incorporating random elements into the genetic mix, using sex to combine random genetics into constantly changing and adapting life forms. If God wants one thing for you in this world - it's to get laid. Then you die. This is how organic life responds to contingency, say, mega-volcanoes and big ass asteroids. You can write stories this way too.
Susie Bright describes the Character Splits exercise:

Take five scraps of paper and write one name on each, the name of a family member or a close friend:
  1. Lisabet
  2. Renee
  3. Jack
  4. Maria
  5. Uncle Tony
Take five scraps of paper in a separate pile and name five famous people:
  1. Yoko Ono
  2. Brad Pitt
  3. Justin Bieber
  4. Ernest Hemingway
  5. Count Dracula
Finally in a third pile take five scraps of paper naming simple events of the day:
  1. Showering
  2. Eating Breakfast
  3. Walking the dog
  4. Waiting in a line
  5. Paying bills
Pick an element at random from each pile and combine them. Say, Lisabet and Brad Pitt and Showering. (In my way of thinking this is like drawing card images from a Tarot deck and combining them and then listening to your intuition to see what story they suggest)
Take this scrap pile of elements and compose it into an erotic fantasy, Say Lisabet getting it on with Brad Pitt in the shower, that's an easy one, or Yoko Ono running into Count Dracula one evening while walking the dog and having a tryst in the bushes. What would Yoko Ono and Count Dracula talk about in the afterglow? Do you really prefer virgins? Did you really split up the Beatles?

Your people. Your mundane activities. Your tarot cards. The key is to draw on random elements you normally wouldn't be thinking of and combining them into something that would not have occurred to you. You can do this with stories too. Take down a book of fairy tales, a book of war stories and maybe a book of poetry, things that have nothing to do with each other, rip random paragraphs from each and shuffle them and challenge yourself to turn them into something. The key is challenge.


The Jazz Riff
Modern jazz bands often have a front man who noodles off some kind of a spontaneous melody for a few measures and tosses it to the next player who noodles around off it, then tosses it to the next player and the next. So you have a central melody interpreted on different instruments by different styles.
Stephen King wrote a wonderful craft book and autobiography called "On Writing" in which he offers encouragement to us wanna-bes and some very practical tricks of the trade. One of the things he explains in detail that I absolutely took to heart is the lost art of "pastiche", the literary version of a jazz riff. When he was starting out he would take a paragraph from a favorite writer, some paragraph he especially loved and would copy it out it out with a pencil - not a keyboard - with a pencil slowly, so he could mouth the sounds of those words. So he could FEEL those words. So he could think in his head with that sound and that feeling. To BE that writer for a little while. Word for word I've patiently copied paragraphs on stacks of yellow legal pads from Ray Bradbury, Angela Carter and Vladimir Nabokov, verbal high wire walkers who can knock you on your ass with a single phrase. Trying to hear them in my head, trying to get that sound and keep it for myself. Trying to love words the way they do. I don;t understand writer's who don;t love language. If you want to improve yourself as a writer, don;t worry about style, learn to love words. Read poetry. Listen for the music. Pastiche the music. Play the notes along with poets you love. When writing an action scene I take down my Robert E Howard and his punchy fast moving descriptions of skulls being "split to the teeth" with battle axes. I want that sound. When writing a sex scene I fill my head with Anais Nin. Dialogue, I consult my Ernest Hemingway and Elmore Leonard. Not for their words which belong to them - for their music.
When I get stuck I have a copy of John Updike or Angela Carter in easy reach, crack it open at random with my thumbs and riff off of the first thing I see:
"She sits in a chair covered in moth-ravaged burgundy, at the low round table and distributes the cards; sometimes the lark sings but often remains a sullen mound of drab feathers." "The Lady of the House of Love" Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories)
And I might go: "Nixie sat sullenly in the moth chewed chair, humped like a storm bedraggled raven, a sulking, sullen mound of feathers." Once I get that first sentence going the rest often follows. But you only get to do that if you love words and sentences. Love is the thing, always.






Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Gaze, Erotica and the Aesthetics of a Hog-tie

"Don't you appreciate the visual aesthetics of a good hog-tie?" he asked.
I thought about it a long time.  I've never hogtied anyone. I've never had the desire to hogtie anyone. I've been hogtied myself, but one can't appreciate the visual aesthetics in that position.  Of course, I have seen other people hogtied, both in the flesh and remediated in porn, but I have come to realize I lack the mental faculties needed to project myself into the visual image of the hogtied individual.

You can imagine, this makes porn a disappointment for me, because so little of it is actually made for the female gaze.

Why can't I have a photograph of a middle-aged man in a conservative suit with his fly down and his cock in his hand?

I've complained about this and been pointed to gay porn. For some women, gay porn works. It doesn't work at all for me. I find it viscerally disorienting because I perceive that this erotic gesture is not being aimed at me. I'm back being a voyeur again.

And it occurs to me that, in order for women to enjoy porn, they either have to be toppish and at least bisexual. Or they have to do something rather intricate: they need split themselves into two.

One part projects themselves into the body of the object of desire and the other does a sort of interesting recursive thing: occupying the place of the viewer, with a male gaze, and imagining themselves being the object of desire that the viewer wants to see.

We do a similar thing when we read. We split ourselves. One part acknowledges that this is a fictional textual remediation of something erotic. The other part projects itself into the text and, immersed there, vicariously experiences the happenings in the story. I have no problem doing that. In fact, I'm an expert at it.

But when it comes to visual stuff, it just doesn't work for me. The woman in the picture doesn't look like me, and, if it's a video, she doesn't sound like me or act like I'd act. She doesn't wriggle like I wriggle. She doesn't mew like I mew. Her breasts are not my breasts; her hips are not mine either.  And, more importantly, I know it's staged so I don't trust anything she is doing to be a true indication of what she's feeling inside. So, weirdly, I am totally devoid of any empathetic feeling at all. Certainly not any erotic empathy. Wondering how long it might have taken to shoot this scene and who was fluffing the male actor distracts me.

And, although I am sometimes very attracted to certain women, I can't honestly say I'm bi. But then I can't really say I'm straight either. There are people, regardless of their gender, to whom I'm attracted. However, I don't have dominant tendencies. So I can't enjoy the view from the top in and of itself.

Strangely enough, this is not true when it comes to text. I can easily mediate and translate the view from the top in writing.  Reading a story written from either the view of the dominant or the submissive, I have no problem, if the writing is halfway decent, finding my way to the sweet spot of the reading experience. It doesn't even have to be a kink I like. As long as I am offered some insight into how either of the parties feel, I can get in.

Before you go accusing me of going on an anti-porn feminist diatribe, let me try and explain why I think text is different to images. And why I think erotic writing is different to porn writing. Or at least what I have come to believe is one of the differences.

Beyond the whole 'porn doesn't contain conflict' thing, which is also true, it makes a lot of automatic assumptions about the viewer (or the reader). It takes many things as a given. Orientation, gender-role, how the viewer consumes experience, how he or she translates it internally.

I have come to believe that really good erotica doesn't make those assumptions. Like good writing in general, it doesn't assume an automatic alignment of desire between the reader and the narrator. The text slowly, and at its best, unobtrusively offers you reasons to find commonality. Information about who the narrator is and why they are turned on by this helps, but it is also the silences, the gaps, the things the reader is not told, that allow them to find alignments where none are even offered.

To some extent, reading is narcissistic. It is about seeing where you can fit yourself in to the world of the story. Even as you acknowledge that it is a fiction and it is about characters who aren't you. Nonetheless, it is both the details and the gaps that ease the reader into internalizing and personalizing the story.

And unless someone has specified looks, and race and social status down to a boring level, I seem to have no problem looking past my difference to the character and immersing. Most notably because physical attributes aside, feelings are much more universal. As long as I get a sense of what the characters are feeling, and I can relate to it, I'm in like a dirty shirt.

This last thing is probably why visual and textual porn doesn't work for me. The assumptions made in the positioning of the consumer, viewer, reader confront me with my difference.  And with no communication of what is going on from an interior perspective, I have no way in.

"I just can't believe you can't see how fucking beautiful this is," he says, showing me a picture of a woman hogtied, artfully positioned on a red velvet settee. She is white, with dark hair, wearing a leather corset, stockings, fuck me pumps and a lot of white rope.

"I just don't find her attractive. It doesn't make me want to fuck her."

"You're not supposed to want to fuck her. You're supposed to want to be her."

"She doesn't look anything like me."

"Can't you picture you instead of her there, on the couch?"

"No. This is not a picture of me hogtied on a couch. It's a picture of someone else hogtied on a couch."

"But look at those knots. Aren't they lovely?"

"If I'm supposed to want to be her, how would I see the knots?"

"You wouldn't. But you can appreciate them, can't you?"

"Not really."

He's getting frustrated. I can tell. "Jesus, you're supposed to look at this and want to be in her position. You're supposed to want me to want you like that."

"Who says?"

"What?"

"You said 'You're supposed to'. Who says I'm supposed to?"

"Jeeze. For fuck sakes. I don't know. People who like kink."

"The kinky powers that be?"

"Yeah."

"That explains everything."

"What."

"I have a bad reaction to authority."

"You're not a real submissive, are you?"

"Probably not."
Lacan famously said: "There is no sexual relationship."

I think this was what he was getting at. It would have been easier to say, 'Wow, that's hot.' Then I probably would have gotten laid.  But I would have been lying. I can think it's hot that he thinks it's hot, but that's not what he wants. He wants me to put myself in his shoes. He wants me to desire what he desires. If I could do that, we'd be twins. And I would want to hogtie him. I'm pretty certain he doesn't want that.

I disagree with Lacan. There is such a thing as a sexual relationship, but it relies on our ability to accept the other's object of desire without having to desire it ourselves. A kind of laissez-faire that only happens when you really know someone.

Our society stresses the positive nature of accord. It has a model of lovers in which they want exactly the same thing. But I suspect that, a lot of the time, one of them might just be pretending.

Or, better still, enjoying the fact that the other wants whatever it is. It is possible to enjoy someone's desire without needing to share it. This is where I think he's wrong. That admiration, that gratification that one gets from witnessing someone else's desire... that is a sexual relationship. But they are rarer than we care to admit.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Write What You Do Not Know

By Robin Juliet (Guest Blogger)

“She fired me because of my writing. She was worried about her reputation.”

“That doesn't make any sense. I thought you were a serious writer. What do you write, porn?”

Fear coursed through me when I read my mother's best friend's words. Do I write porn? Is that what I do? How do I explain my decision to write erotica?

In many ways, erotica books chose me.

Unlike many, I did not come to this genre through reading. I have never been one to devour smut as a consumer. This is not to say I judge the genre harshly, it's just never been on my radar screen as a reader.

Rather, I came to erotica through my writing.

Like most aspiring writers, I was told to “write what you know.” I get that. Start with a situation with which you have some familiarity so it rings true and isn't based entirely on stereotypes and cliché. I still agree with the adage and work with it to a degree.

But, the fact of the matter is, the reason I write erotica is because of what I don't know. And, what I still don't understand is how and why and who and what we all do for sex. What makes sex interesting for me is when the physical sensation mingles with the emotional (or sometimes even spiritual) piece of who we are.

Human sexuality, and all of the psychological aftermath that comes along with sex, has me stumped:

  • How can you have amazing chemistry with someone you don't even like?
  • Why do some people go POOF?
  • What makes someone a great lover? A terrible lover?
  • Is it ever possible to have ongoing casual sex with a favorite lover without getting attached?

Instead of claiming to know the answers to these questions, I prefer to write fiction where I place characters in these situations and find out what happens to them.

I don't know the answers.
Neither do my characters.
Do erotica readers?

Not knowing is what makes erotica interesting. Not knowing is the difference between erotica and porn. Not knowing is why I write it. And, not knowing is why they come back for more.

“Are you saying your writing is considered porn?”

“By some people. You wouldn't like them.”

“Good grief.”

“It's what I gravitate to as a writer. I'm into the psychological play more than the sex, but people focus on the sex. It's nothing worse than what you might find on HBO.”

Silence.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” I told her.

“Oh my dear, the disappointment is certainly not with you but with the idiots who have stupidly labeled your writing. One day, hopefully sooner rather than later, you can shove it down their . . . you know what I mean.”


About Robin

We cannot help but rubberneck when erotic romance author Robin Juliet explores the psychological train wreck that occurs when lust and love collide.
Never one to shy away from breaking out the lube, Ms. Juliet writes contemporary erotic romances where lust trumps love and happily ever after gets twisted beyond recognition.

Ms. Juliet lives and writes in Denver, Colorado with her dog Bennett. You can reach her at robinjulietwrites [at] gmail [dot] com


Links

Robin Juliet's newest novella, Involuntary Reflex, is now available in paperback at: https://www.createspace.com/4742348

Twitter @robin_juliet


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: Meet Me Halfway


(thanks to the great WriteSex site, where this first appeared

Meet Me Halfway

Let’s open with a joke: a guy pleads with god over and over: “Please, Lord, let me win the lottery.” Finally, god answers: “Meet me halfway – buy a ticket!”

Back when publishers only put out – gasp – actually printed-on-paper books I was known as a writer who would give anything I did that extra mile: readings, interviews, PR events, press releases … you name it, I’d do it. To be honest, I’ve always had a small advantage in that my (unfinished) degree was in advertising and I’ve less-than-secretly really enjoyed creating all kinds of PR stuff. I’ve always felt that a good ad, or marketing plan, can be just as fun and creative as actually writing the book itself.

Sure, some of my PR stuff has gotten me (ahem) in some trouble … though I still contest that the “other” M.Christian who staged that rather infamous plagiarism claim over the novel Me2 was at fault and not me, the one-and-only; or that my claim to amputate a finger as a stunt for Finger’s Breadth was totally taken out of context…

Anyway, the fact is I’ve always looked at publishers as people to work with when it comes to trying to get the word out about my books. Sure, some publishers have been more responsive and accepting than others and, yes, I still have bruises from working with a few who couldn’t have cared less about me and my books, but in the end most of them have been extremely happy to see my excitement when one of their editions hit the shelves.

Duh, things have changed a lot since then – but in many ways things haven’t changed at all. Books are still books, even if they are now digital files and not dead trees, and bookstores are still in the business of selling those books, even if they’re now Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo instead of brick-and-mortar establishments … and publishers still want to work with authors who want to work with them.

Not going into the whole publisher-versus-self-publishing thing (in a word: don’t) one thing that has totally changed is the importance of marketing, social media, and public relations. Simply put, it’s gone from being somewhat necessary to absolutely essential.

But this post isn’t about Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blogs and the rest of that stuff. Instead I want to talk about how you work with a publisher: what they do, what you do, and how to make it all work for the best.

A very common myth is that publishers are finger-steepling, mustache-twirling villains who pay for their volcano lairs and diamond-collared Persian cats with the sweat of writers. Okay, a few do, but the good ones started as writers themselves and have simply worked their way up to being in a position to try and help other writers – and, sure, make some bucks along the way.

Another common myth is that publishers don’t care about their writers. Okay, let’s be honest: a writer who sells a lot of books is definitely going to get the lion’s share of attention, but a good publisher knows that any book in their catalogue can be the one to go from one sale a month to ten a day.

There’s a very important factor: publishers deal with a lot of writers – some of whom have written dozens of books while others have two or three … or only one. With that many titles you can’t really expect a publisher to be able to give you 100% attention 100% of the time. Yes, they want you to succeed – they have a vested interest in your success, after all – but they have to try and bring that same level of success to as many of their writers and books as possible.

That does not let them off the hook when it comes to doing their jobs. A good publisher, most importantly, knows the business of publishing. Often this means they have to do things that authors don’t like: saving money on covers (or refusing to use your aunt’s watercolors as cover art), asking for changes to books or titles, requiring authors to think about social media and audience, asking for copyedited or clean manuscripts … and so forth. They do this not because they enjoy watching a writer cringe, but because they have lots of experience with what won’t sell, what might sell, what is worth a lot of time and what isn’t.

Believe it or not, publishers are also people: they work very hard – too hard in some cases – to be the publisher they, as writers, would want to work with. As such, they don’t just want to make a book a runaway bestseller; they want to make that book’s author excited and happy about their work.

Personal disclosure time: yes, I am a writer but I also have the honor of being an Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks. To put it mildly, it has been an eye-opening experience to start out looking at publishers as a writer, and end up looking at writers as a publisher.

During all this I try to remember my own excitement of when my books came out, and all the plans and strategies and so forth I had the pleasure of putting together. It was stressful and depressing more often than not, but then there were the wonderful moments when I felt the publisher was also thrilled about me and my work. As a publisher, I’ve tried to return to the favor to other writers.

Did you feel a “but” coming? Well, you should because sitting on the other side of the fence I’ve noticed that a few – not a lot, thankfully, but still far too many – writers want to win the lottery but won’t buy a flipping ticket.

Okay, I promise I won’t turn this into a “get off my lawn” rant but I do have a few words for advice for dealing with publishers – and how to making the transition from A Writer to A Cherished Author.

For one thing, always remember you are just one of many writers a publisher has to deal with. Yes, you have rights and a publisher should always respect and care about you and your work – but being demanding or a prima donna will get you nothing.

A good publisher will work very hard on marketing, promotions, exposure, new ways of doing anything, etc. – but, and this is extremely important, you need to as well. In short, buy a ticket!

Don’t have a website? Make one! Don’t have a Facebook page? Create one! Don’t have a Twitter feed? Sign up! Don’t have a Goodreads, RedRoom, etc., presence? Get moving!

The same goes for following your publisher’s social media links and such. Sign up and friend and favor them, and when your book comes out let your publisher know that you are excited and happy about it. Tell them of your marketing plans, send them your press releases, talk to them about the ways you are working to reach your audience … don’t just sit back and wait for them to do all the work.

Social media is timeless: your book might sell tomorrow or next year, which means that your marketing and such should also never stop. It breaks my heart when authors decide that their book is a failure when they don’t immediately see a fat royalty check – when the fact is the book is a failure because it is they who have given up on it. Publishers feel the same way: none of them want to hear that they screwed up by not making a book a bestseller when the author walked away from the title after a few months.

I could go on, and I will in more columns, but let’s wind down by restating the point of this post: working with a publisher is a partnership. They have duties and responsibilities but you, the author, have to step up and enthusiastically show that you, too, want to make your book into a magical, hotter-than-hot, golden ticket.