Saturday, March 28, 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
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
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.
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.
Posted by Kathleen Bradean at 12:30 AM
Monday, March 23, 2015
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.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
By Lisabet Sarai
Thursday, March 19, 2015
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!