Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Writing For Exposure And Other Frustrations

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.

-----



Several years ago, I made the huge mistake of applying for a writing job from an online site that required a few "sample articles" as examples of my work. I was to post them on the web site's forum, and get as many views as I could. I wasn't about to write anything new, so I posted my old stand-by article about the time I tested the Altoids mints blow job on my husband. That post alone got more views than anything else that was posted, and lots of people posted. I posted at least one other previously published article, which also got an amazing number of views – more than anyone else. I was confident that I had jumped through all the hoops and was on my way to paid employment.

I didn't get the job.

I didn't realize until later that the web site was farming for free content. I did all the legwork proving the time and product as well as promoting my posts, and the site didn't have to do a damned thing. I learned my lesson. I have never again sent sample articles to any writing job application that required them. That said, I understand reputable companies need to see examples of my writing to determine if I'm a good fit. I realize that. Instead of creating new content, I send links to existing articles so the company may see what I have already published. Sometimes I get a response, but I usually don't hear back from those companies. Now, I don't bother to send anything to companies asking for sample articles unless I can provide links. Burned once, shame on you. Burned twice, shame on me.

Why are writers so often asked to work for free? Or for "exposure"? Promising a vague form of exposure is another way of getting free content. There are some things I do as a means of promotion for which I am not paid. Writing on this blog is one of them. I gain an audience writing here, and it keeps my name out there in between books. I've written stories for charity anthologies because I like contributing to a good cause. However, I will not simply give someone a free story or article just because. No more content farming scams. No more free writing for web sites that make scads of money from advertising and subscriptions.

Designer Dan Cassaro ran into a similar "opportunity" when he was invited by Showtime – a company clearly needing to rub dimes together to pay for paper clips - to join a design "contest" he felt was really only a way of fishing for free content. The contest involved promoting the Floyd Mayweather-Marcos Maidana boxing match. Those who submitted designs for Showtime's use could – to quote the message Cassaro had received from Showtime – "be eligible for a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas and have your artwork displayed in the MGM Grand during fight week!" He let Showtime and everyone else within earshot know exactly what he thought about it, dripping with sarcasm:

"It is with great sadness that I must decline your enticing offer to work for you for free. I know that boxing matches in Las Vegas as extremely low-budget affairs, especially ones with nobodies like Floyd "Money" Mayweather. I heard he only pulled in 80 Million for this last fight! I also understand that a "mom and pop" cable channel like Showtime must rely on handouts just to keep the lights on these days. Thanks a lot, Obama! My only hope is that you can scrape up a few dollars from this grassroots event at the MGM Grand to put yourself back in the black. If that happens, you might consider using some of that money to compensate people to do the thing they are professionally trained to do."



Why are writers (and artists in general) so often expected to work for free – or for "exposure", as the request is often sugar-coated? Would you expect your dentist to give you a root canal for free? Do you pay the housecleaner? The car mechanic? Do your plumber and electrician walk away without monetary compensation once they do the job you've begged them to do because they are professionals and you are not trained to do the work they do? So why expect a writer to write for free?

Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison had plenty to say about those who expect writers to provide free content. A DVD company asked him if he'd let them use a very long and very interesting on-camera interview about the making of "Babylon Five". He said, sure, pay me. The woman who called was flabbergasted, as if she expected him to just fork over his hard work for free – even though she received a paycheck. Here's a portion of what he had to say about it.

“Does your boss get a paycheck? Do you pay the Telecity guy? Do you pay the cameraman? Do you pay the cutters? Do you pay the Teamsters when they schlep your stuff on the trucks? Then how—don’t you pay—would you go to a gas station and ask me to give you free gas? Would you go to the doctor and have him take out your spleen for nothing? How dare you call me and want me to work for nothing!”

If you want to read his entire rant – and it's worth reading – check out "Harlan Ellison On Getting Paid" at Print Magazine. There is also a link at that page to a video of his rant. It's from the film "Dreams With Sharp Teeth".

Ellison is not alone. This "we won't pay you" schtick is something lots of writers and other artists hear. Last year, hula hoop performer Revolva was contacted by Harpo, Oprah Winfrey's company, to perform at Oprah's "Live The Life You Want" event stop in San Jose, California. Revolva was thrilled -  until she realized Harpo had no intention of compensating her for hours, effort, or travel. In fact, Harpo intended to not pay any of the creative workers it contacted, despite the fact that tickets to this event cost anywhere from $99 to $999 just to get in the door. The events producers claimed they didn't have the budget to pay performers. Yes, that's right. A billionaire's tour didn't have the budget to pay performers. If Revolva and the other artists wanted To Live The Life They Want, they could have it - without being paid for it. She chose to not perform. She, like Ellison, had plenty to say about being not only asked but expected to work for free:

"Back to that spiritual lesson you had in store for me, Oprah. Maybe it’s because my car broke down, and I’m struggling. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and after all the requests for free or discount work, the one by a billionaire’s tour was the straw that broke my back. But I thought it through, and achieving “the life you want” is not always easy. The risks we have to take, to transform this culture into something more nurturing, involve looking at the way things are and saying, 'Hey, wait. That’s not cool!'"

It's ironic that this tour of Oprah's was about realizing your self-worth. Apparently, you're worth a great deal – as long as you don't expect to be compensated in cold hard cash.


Stories like these strike a nerve with artists, including writers. They grate my teeth. All of us get these messages, and they really harsh our cool. It's almost as if those doing the asking think artists create the works they create only out of "love" or an internal drive and have no interest or understanding of how money works. Granted, some writers do write for the love of it, but not all of them.

As Tom Cruise said in "Jerry Maguire", Show Me The Money!

The corollary to being expected to work for free is being expected to work for peanuts. We've all seen the calls for submissions on places like Craigslist where a potential employer requires an assload of work – but will only pay $20.00 for said job. I just counted three such jobs, including one that called for you to be available on weekends. Nope, nope, nope. The other way of parting writers from their money are Get Rich Quick schemes – something like "7 Easy Steps To Getting Paid As A Writer". Write a book telling people how to make money writing a book and watch the cash pour in. I've seen these ads on Facebook, and the comments are always some form of "f--- off!"

There is an old adage in creative work like writing – aim high and work your way down. Aim first for the pro rates. Aim for the big publishers. Aim for the best agents. Don't start at the bottom and work your way up because you don't think you have enough experience or talent. Don't downgrade yourself. Don't settle and demean yourself by doing a shitload of work for a paycheck that barely covers a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke.

The sad thing is there are plenty of writers and other artists who will eagerly take up these offers. They tend to be newbies who are so green they don't know any better. They may not feel they have a right to ask for money. Or they fall for the "exposure" line. They see stars when Oprah or Showtime contacts them, and they happily give over free content only to inevitably get little to nothing out of it, or at the very least not be compensated in a way that the very wealthy company can easily afford. As long as these people exist, the free content farms will continue to thrive. Don't ask to be paid what you're worth. Demand it. You have that right.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Passing Judgment

by Jean Roberta

Every writer who has hoped to win a prize, but didn’t, should serve a kind of literary jury duty by volunteering to be a judge in a book award contest. It’s much like being an editor, except that the only payment is fame, glamour, and a sense of accomplishment. :)

Last May, I went to the Bisexual Book Awards in New York City, a fun event at which the finalists read from their work. (My “bawdy novella,” The Flight of the Black Swan, was nominated, and so was Twice the Pleasure, an anthology of bisexual women’s erotica, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, in which I have a story, “Operetta,” which one reviewer called “a meringue.”) I didn’t seriously expect to win anything, since this is the best attitude to adopt at such times, and I didn’t. However, I was invited to be one of the judges in the “Erotica” category of the awards for books published in 2014. (The ceremony will be at the end of May 2015.)

I was grateful for the honour, and I accepted. Little did I know that over the coming months, 22 books (most in the form of PDFs) would arrive in my inbox and my actual mailbox. They were more diverse than some readers might expect, although writers of erotica generally know how broad our field is. Francesca Lia Block and Alison Tyler of Los Angeles were among the authors of nominated books, and one book was set in Canada. There was BDSM and a multicultural cast of characters. There was historical fiction and suspense. There was magic and shapeshifting, not all of it cute. There was lightness (more meringues) as well as heaviness and graphic murder. There were several self-published books, and several from publishers I hadn’t heard of before; I found this informative.

Meanwhile, in my actual life, there were student essays to grade, pets to feed, meals to cook, and floors to mop. (My spouse and I have been the official cleaning ladies of the local LGBT bar/watering hole for several months. We get paid in money and compliments from bar patrons who find relief in washrooms that show no signs of the previous night’s debauchery.)

The deadline for the Erotica judges’ decisions was March 15, a Sunday. This meant a three-day marathon of reading for me and, I suspect, for the other three judges, one of whom politely resigned due to a personal emergency.

Living in the imaginary world of one novel can be a delightful experience, best enjoyed on a beach or a luxury hotel room. Rushing from the imaginary world of one novel to the next, 22 times, is like being a lunatic or a mystic who can’t turn off the voices in her head. Some of the books were – ahem – more effective on my libido than others, but I didn’t want the state of my crotch to be the determining factor in my decisions.

I added criteria of my own to the official guidelines. I ruled out several books that were thinly-disguised (or undisguised) examples of m/m erotic romance with no sex scenes involving women. One of these novels, in particular, was well-written, moving, believable, and was part of a series starring intelligent, compassionate, three-dimensional characters who change over time. However, I needed a somewhat objective way to eliminate titles until I was left with a choice that could qualify as bisexual in every sense, as well as being quality literature.

None of the books I read seemed to dramatize the tired old joke that bisexuals will jump on anything that moves. Few of them seemed to be written by horny teenagers. Bisexuality, it seems, has come of age.

I asked for a time extension of one day, but I was reminded that the judging had to be wrapped up, sooner than later. When I exchanged emails with the remaining two judges and the organizer, I was surprised at how much overlap there was among our choices for the top five finalists. One novel, in particular, appealed to all of us, so we reached a bloodless agreement to name it the winner.

So now my role in the decision-making is over, and I’m waiting – along with all the authors of nominated books – for the public announcement of the winners in all the categories of the Bisexual Book Awards, which will undoubtedly be scheduled (as it was in 2014) close to the Lambdalit Awards so that writers and fans can attend both.

One thing I know beyond a doubt is that judging, no matter how many rules the judges impose on themselves, is always subjective. And of course, the more nominees there are, the more competition there is.

If your book was nominated for a book award of any kind, but you didn’t win, don’t fret. It’s not you, it’s us.
--------------

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Alchemist


by Kathleen Bradean

I know a writer--actually, I think every writer is tempted with these thoughts, but let's pretend it's just this one guy -- who was fairly good at short stories, but he wanted success in the form of a highly acclaimed and commercially successful literary novel. The writer would never admit this out loud, but he secretly believed that there was a formula to creating these rare books, so he spent hours analyzing novels that enjoyed some critical acclaim and commercial success in an attempt to distill the essence of the  magical formula hidden within. He wrote detailed outlines to analyze their pace. He picked apart paragraphs and plots and poked around their insides hoping to discover it. Year after year, he obsessed over this idea. He was looking to turn lead into gold. An alchemist.

I sympathized with the Alchemist. After all, wasn't I once so frustrated by the publishing landscape and relatively low sales of erotica that I was tempted to try my hand at a romance novel? Not because I thought romance novels were easy to write, but because the market for romance is so huge and back then my definition of success having thousands of readers.* My brilliant plan was thwarted by the fact that I have zero ability to write romance. Believe me, I tried. Anyone who thinks it's so simple obviously hasn't sat down and tried to write one. (And anyone who thinks romance is formulaic should consider that murder mysteries are too.)

Then I was struck by an epiphany. I already knew what the literary equivalent of the Philosopher's Stone was. The Alchemist doesn't need to spend hours trying to find this elusive magical ingredient anymore. *crooks finger* Come closer, and I will share this secret with you.

All he had to do was...

But first, a moment of 'catty sounding but not really meant that way' commentary on runaway best sellers such as The Da Vinci Code and Shades of Grey. Books that enjoy wild popularity like that usually aren't well-written, which is confusing as hell to writers. Why do we struggle with our craft when it appears not to matter?* This odd dichotomy happens because to reach those levels of sales, you have to get non-readers to read the books, and non-readers aren't as picky about writing quality as habitual readers are. Non-readers may even feel that those books are more accessible because the writing isn't literary or artistic. They're light, breezy reads that don't challenge the reader. (And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sorry. I can't support snobbery when it come to books.) Then there are books such as the Harry Potter series which are well-written (even though for a while there it was verrrrry fashionable for writers to pooh-pooh their artistic merit too) yet also sell heaps of copies and often to non-readers.

So what are the similarities here?

What's the big secret to their success?

*Back into whisper mode*

It's the characters.

Do you feel cheated? That's no big secret. But if you're the Alchemist, somehow, you've lost sight of this. Something about the characters in those best-selling books we love to hate make the story worth reading. Oh sure, a ripping yarn helps. A fantastic opening paragraph is also important. All the basics of a good story have to be there no matter how mediocre the execution. But I swear that no one would have bothered handing FSOG or Harry Potter off to a friend, saying 'You have to read this!" if the characters hadn't spoken to them. Characters are what we read for. We get wrapped up in what's happening to them. We cry at their losses. So yes, pay attention to your prose, and your plot, but give your readers what they want - someone worth reading about.


What we should study is the way these authors created that spark that made their characters compelling enough to follow around for several hundred pages. For some reason, this is the art of the craft we don't often talk about. Maybe it's so obvious that we can't see it. Or perhaps we feel if we get the grammar and the story structure prefect, it will make the character leap off the page, but I've read, and set aside unfinished, too many perfectly polished literary novels with drab characters to believe that's true. Mary Shelly cut right to the truth of writing when she created an entire novel around the idea of sparking life into an inanimate body!

Oddly enough, the Alchemist already writes fairly compelling characters, so he has to tools to write a successful novel. Now if he'd only stop diagramming sentences of literary masterpieces and just write, maybe he'd turn out a decent novel.



* Success means different things to different writers. Your ideas and goals may change. And don't let me imply that wanting to be number one the best seller's list isn't a perfectly legit dream for a writer, because you know I'd take that spot in a heartbeat.



Monday, March 23, 2015

Blurbtastic!

By Lucy Felthouse

Following on from my little rant last month about the dreaded sucknopsis, I thought I'd better do something more useful this time. And since, as you probably gathered if you read the previous post, synopses (??) are not my strong point, my natural progression was onto blurbs. Something I can do.

Yes, I am one of these rare writer-types that actually likes writing blurbs. Crazy, eh? I've even had folk pay me to write or re-write blurbs for them. I suspect my blurb writing skills come from the marketing side of my brain (my creative and marketing sides seem to live in a lovely harmony up in the old grey matter). When I graduated, I ended up in a PR & Marketing role and was immediately pointed in the direction of press releases, sales sheets and advertising copy, and told to "go create!"

Okay, those weren't the exact words they used, but the bottom line is I was thrown in at the deep end. Fortunately, I discovered I did have an aptitude for writing copy that would entice consumers and retailers to buy products, and I think this is something I've continued to improve on over time. So now, when it comes to writing a blurb, I find it pretty easy. It does require a certain amount of distancing yourself from your work, though. It's simple to think to yourself, oh well, this book is about X, Y and Z, if I just write that, people will get it, and buy the book.

But the thing to remember is that blurbs are meant to entice, to tempt, to intrigue. Not just tell people what the book is about (which is the difference between a synopsis and a blurb). You want to hint what the book is about (while giving enough information so that they know what the genre is, and if it's their kind of read), but without giving away any major plot points or twists. Try and pick out the most important themes of your book and find a way to include them in the blurb. If possible, ask a question, as many people's brains will be wired to want to know the answer to that question. And, of course, the way for them to get the answer... buy and read the book!

This may seem obvious, too, but mention your characters - or the main ones, anyway. Blurbs are fairly short and to the point, so you can't give any great detail, but if you can present potential readers with enough information about your characters and your plot to let them know whether it sounds like a book they'd be interested in, with characters they'd like to read about, then you're onto a winner.

Here's one of my own blurbs as an example:

Their love is forbidden by rules, religion and risk. Yet still they can’t resist. [a lead in. Not necessary, but the publication the story was originally written for wanted a short, enticing strap line. This is what I came up with, and I liked it so much I kept it. It immediately tells you that it's a love story, then goes on to indicate forbidden love, and risk. But then it teases - they can't resist. So you know pretty much straight away that this is no straightforward love affair, and not a simple story.]

Captain Hugh Wilkes is on his last tour of duty in Afghanistan. [Now you know the name of the lead character, and that he's military. You also have the setting of the story, not always necessary, but when it's as interesting as a war zone, it's probably worth a mention!] The British Army is withdrawing, and Wilkes expects his posting to be event-free [Now you know the character is a Brit, and that he's expecting no drama on his tour.]. That is, until he meets his Afghan interpreter, Rustam Balkhi, who awakens desires in Wilkes that he’d almost forgotten about, and that won’t be ignored. [Now you know that the potential love interest is an Afghan national, which goes some way to explain the part about their love being forbidden by rules, religion and risk. The fact that the story is M/M is now fairly obvious from the names, but the cover has two men on it - so there should be no confusion there!]

And there you have it - hopefully my notes in brackets all made sense, and pulled out what I believe are important points for a blurb. Basically, keep it short and to the point, don't give too much away, distance yourself from the story enough that you can see what will appeal to potential readers, and remember, you're selling your story to someone, making them think "Ooh! That sounds interesting. Click."

If you can, get someone you know and trust to be honest with you to read the blurb. Even better if they haven't read the story already - if they then want to read the story based on your blurb, then you know you've done a good job.

As with most things, writing blurbs takes practice. All publishers are different - some will literally take what you've written and use it, others will work with you to improve it, and others still will write something themselves. But the person that knows your story the best is you, so you've got the knowledge, the background, to know what will excite readers and pull them in. So it's definitely worth spending time on your blurb, especially if it'll be used word for word. You only have a short amount of time to make them want to click that buy button, so don't waste the opportunity!

I hope you find this useful. Of course, things like this vary from person to person, but you may find this works for you.

Happy Blurbing!
Lucy


*****

Author Bio:


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 at http://www.lucyfelthouse.co.uk. Join her on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to her newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/gMQb9

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Preserving the Author’s Voice

By Lisabet Sarai


In addition to writing erotica and erotic romance, I’m also an editor. Over the past decade and a half, I’ve edited three multi-author anthologies, two commercial (Sacred Exchange and Cream) and one for charity (Coming Together: In Vein). As editor of the Coming Together Presents series, I’ve also been responsible for shepherding six collections of short stories by single authors into publication. Right now I’m working with Daddy X (whom many of you will know from ERWA Storytime and Writers) to help him put together his full-length volume The Gonzo Collection, to be released by Excessica in April.

Writing and publishing is hard work. From researching obscure details to wrestling the recalcitrant muse, endless self-promoting to surviving snarky reviews, being an author is not for sissies. You need the energy of teenager, the thick skin of a water buffalo and the self-discipline of a saint.

Sometimes, though, I think that the editor role is even more difficult. If a book you write sucks, that reflects on you alone. When you’re the editor, on the other hand, you hold the fate of others in your hands. It’s not just your own reputation that’s on the line. Your colleagues depend on you to polish their work and make it shine. If the book crashes and burns—gets horrible reviews, or turns out to be full of errors—you take the authors down with you. That’s a heavy responsibility to bear.

Hence I have to be far more careful editing others’ work than self-editing my own. After all, I can rely on my editor to catch those typos or repeated words or slips in logic that I don’t see no matter how many times I review my manuscript. When I’m the editor, there’s no backup. If I miss some mistake, nobody else is going to find it—except, of course, critical readers.

The trickiest part of editing is keeping a light touch. The utmost delicacy is required. Sometimes I want to suggest significant revisions, to improve clarity or flow, to tighten a description or enliven some dialogue. I have to hold myself in check, recognizing that every author tells a story differently. There’s a very real danger in editing—especially when the editor is also an writer—that revisions will dilute the author’s distinctive voice. Some changes I could recommend might improve the work from a technical perspective but do violence to the author’s characteristic style. There’s a constant temptation to impose my own vision on the manuscript, especially when the author’s approach to structure, language and punctuation differ from my own.

I hope Daddy X won’t mind me using his work as an example. I love the boundless sexual enthusiasm in his stories, the wacky scenarios, his over-the-top descriptions and his sly humor. At the same time, his prose tends to have less continuity than mine. Where I’d put in a scene break or an explicit bridging paragraph, he’ll jump from one outrageous set of events to another without batting an eyelash. He also tends to make far heavier use of dialect than I’d feel comfortable with. And he seems to adore ellipsis and interrupted speech. It’s rare for his characters to get out a full sentence that doesn’t include an em dash or two.

If this were my book, I’d strip out eighty percent of the ellipses. I’d avoid using “ain’t”. I’d add transitional paragraphs to clarify the shifts in point of view, and I’d never have a character emit vocalizations like “Anh” or “Ooooowee!” or “Ogeg.”

But it’s not my book. It’s Daddy’s book, Daddy’s stories. If I were to set my red pen loose the way I would on a student term paper, that might stop being true. The resulting book would be more correct, grammatically. It might be easier to read. It would certainly be more conventional. My heavy-handed editing process, though, might well extinguish the spark that makes Daddy X’s work special.

I’m picking on the current book because it’s fresh in my mind, but I’ve felt the same tension in all my professional editing work. I have to constantly remind myself that there’s no one “right” way to write. My job as editor is to refine the raw material of the author’s initial draft without reshaping it too much. Preserving the author’s distinctive voice is as important as fixing his or her grammar.

I know from working with some of my own editors how hard they sometimes push for changes that I think are wrong. The authors with whom I work know they can always push back—that almost every change I make should be viewed as suggested rather than absolutely required. I hope they feel free to debate those suggestions, or simply reject them, if they think those revisions weaken the story they’re trying to tell.

In the end, my name will be on the final result, but I don’t want anyone to pick up the book and think “Gee, this sounds a lot like Lisabet’s prose.” That would indicate a utter and complete failure.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sexy Snippets for March



Okay, spank me. (I wish!) I completely forgot to set up Sexy Snippets Day for February. 

I won't make that mistake again. Today is the 19th of March, which means it's your day to heat up the Internet with your hottest erotic prose.

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.

Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!

Please follow the rules. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I'll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I'll say no more!

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