(From the archives here's one of my classic Confessions columns. Enjoy!)
While it isn't the most important thing to do before sending off a story (that's reserved for writing the story itself), drafting an effective cover letter is probably right below it.
So here is a quick sample of what to do and NOT when putting together a cover letter to go with your story. That being said, remember that I'm just one of many (many) editors out there, each with their own quirks and buttons to push. Like writing the story itself, practice and sensitivity is will teach you a lot, but this will give you a start.
So ... Don't Do What Bad Johnny Don't Does:
Dear M. (1),
Here is my story (2) for your collection (3), it's about a guy and a girl who fall in love on the Titanic (4). I haven't written anything like this before (5), but your book looked easy enough to get into (6). My friends say I'm pretty creative (7). Please fill out and send back the enclosed postcard (8). If I have not heard from you in two months (9) I will consider this story rejected and send it somewhere else (10). I am also sending this story to other people. If they want it, I'll write to let you know (11).
I noticed that your guidelines say First North American Serial rights. What's that (12)? If I don't have all rights then I do not want you to use my story (13).
I work at the DMV (14) and have three cats named Mumbles, Blotchy and Kismet (15).
Mistress Divine (16)
(1) Don't be cute. If you don't know the editor's name, or first name, or if the name is real or a pseudonym, just say "Hello" or "Editor" or somesuch.
(2) Answer the basic questions up front: how long is the story, is it original or a reprint, what's the title?
(3) What book are you submitting to? Editors often have more than one open at any time and it can get very confusing. Also, try and know what the hell you're talking about: a 'collection' is a book of short stories by one author, an 'anthology' is a book of short stories by multiple authors. Demonstrate that you know what you're submitting to.
(4) You don't need to spell out the plot, but this raises another issue: don't submit inappropriate stories. If this submission was to a gay or lesbian book, it would result in an instant rejection and a ticked-off editor.
(5) The story might be great, but this already has you pegged as a twit. If you haven't been published before don't say anything, but if you have then DEFINITELY say so, making sure to note what kind of markets you've been in (anthology, novel, website and so forth). Don't assume the editor has heard of where you've been or who you are, either. Too often I get stories from people who list a litany of previous publications that I've never heard of. Not that I need to, but when they make them sound like I should it just makes them sound arrogant. Which is not a good thing.
(6) Gee, thanks so much. Loser.
(7) Friends, lovers, Significant Others and so forth -- who cares?
(8) Not happening. I have a stack of manuscripts next to me for a project I'm doing. The deadline for submissions is in two months. I will probably not start reading them until at least then, so your postcard is just going to sit there. Also, remember that editors want as smooth a transition from their brain to your story as possible; anything they have to respond to, fill out, or baby-sit is just going to annoy them.
(9) Get real -- sometimes editors take six months to a year to respond. This is not to say they are lazy or cruel; they're just busy or dealing with a lot of other things. Six months is the usual cut-off time, meaning that after six months you can either consider your story rejected or you can write a polite little note asking how the project is going. By the way, writing rude or demanding notes is going to get you nothing but rejected or a bad reputation -- and who wants that?
(10) When I get something like this I still read the story but to be honest it would take something of genius level quality for me to look beyond this arrogance. Besides, what this approach says more than anything is that even if the story is great, you are going to be too much of a pain to work with. Better to find a 'just as good' story from someone else than put up with this kind of an attitude.
(11) This is called simultaneous submission: sending a story to two places at once, thinking that it will cut down on the frustration of having to wait for one place to reject it before sending it along to another editor. Don't do it -- unless the Call for Submissions says it's okay, of course. Even then, though, it's not a good idea because technically you'd have to send it to two places that think it's okay, which is damned rare. The problem is that if one place wants your work, then you have to go to the other places you sent it to tell them so -- which very often results in one very pissed editor. Don't do it. We all hate having to wait for one place to reject our work, but that's just part of the game. Live with it.
(12) Many editors are more than willing to answer simple questions about their projects, but just as many others will never respond -- especially to questions that can easily be answered by reading a basic writing book (or reading columns like this one). Know as much as you can and then, only then, write to ask questions.
(13) This story is automatically rejected. Tough luck. Things like payment, rights, and so forth are very rarely in the editor's control. Besides, this is a clear signal that, once again, the author is simply going to be way too much trouble to deal with. Better to send out that rejection form letter and move onto the next story.
(14) Who cares?
(15) Really, who cares?
(16) Another sign of a loser. It's perfectly okay to use a pseudonym but something as wacky as this is just going to mark you as a novice. Also, cover letters are a place for you, as a person, to write to the editor, another person. Put your pseudonym on your story, don't sign your cover letter with it.
(17) Email address -- this is great, but it's also very obviously a work address, which makes a lot of editors very nervous. First of all, people leave jobs all the time so way too often, these addresses have very short lives. Second, work email servers are rarely secure -- at least from the eyes of prying bosses. Do you really want your supervisor to see your rejection from a Big Tits In Bondage book? I don't think so.
Do What Johnny Does Does
Hi, Chris (1),
It was with great excitement (2) that I read your call for submissions for your new anthology, Love Beast (3). I've long been a fan not only of werewolf erotica (4) but also your books and stories as well (5)
I've been published in about twelve websites, including Sex Chat, Litsmut, and Erotically Yours, and in two anthologies, Best of Chocolate Erotica (Filthy Books) and Clickty-Clack, Erotic Train Stories (Red Ball Books) (6).
Enclosed is my 2,300 word original story, "When Hairy Met Sally" (7). I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it (which is a lot) (8). Please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions (9).
In the meantime best of luck with your projects and keep up the great work .(10)
Molly Riggs (11)
(1) Nice; she knows my real first name is Chris. A bit of research on an editor or potential market never hurt anyone.
(2) It's perfectly okay to be enthusiastic. No one likes to get a story from someone who thinks your project is dull.
(3) She knows the book and the title.
(4) She knows the genre and likes it. You'd be surprised the number of people who either pass out backhanded compliments or joke about anthologies or projects thinking it's endearing or shows a 'with it' attitude. Believe me, it's neither -- just annoying.
(5) Editing can be a lonely business, what with having to reject people all the time. Getting a nice little compliment can mean a lot. It won't change a bad story into an acceptable one, but making an editor smile is always a good thing.
(6) The bio is brief, to the point, and explains the markets. You don't need to list everything you've ever sold to, just the key points.
(7) Everything about the story is there: the title, the words, if it's original or a reprint (and, of course if it's a reprint you should also say when and where it first appeared, even if it's a website).
(8) Again, a little smile is a good thing. I know this is awfully trite but when the sentiment is heartfelt and the writer's sense of enjoyment is true, it does mean something to an editor. I want people to enjoy writing for one of my books, even if I don't take the story.
(9) Good email address (obviously not work) and an invitation to chat if needed. Good points there.
(10) Okay, maybe it's a bit thick here but this person is also clearly very nice, professional, eager and more than likely will either be easy to work with or, if need be, reject without drama.
(11) Real name -- I'd much rather work with a person than an identity. I also know that "Molly" is not playing games with who she is, and what she is, just to try and make a sale.
There's more, as said, but this at least will keep you from stepping on too many toes -- even before your story gets read. If there's a lesson in this, it's to remember that an editor is, deep down, a person trying to do the best job they can, just like you. Treat them as such and they'll return the favor.
Monday, March 30, 2009
(From the archives here's one of my classic Confessions columns. Enjoy!)
Sunday, March 29, 2009
It’s hard to believe another month has gone by and we’re ready to discuss more tips on shameless self-promotion for writers! In my column this month I focus on one of the most important ways to reach potential readers of your book in our Internet age: your website or blog-site (which is like a website but not as expensive).
As I was researching this month’s column, I got to chatting with Lisabet Sarai, who will be well-known to fans of ERWA as the provocatively-clad Erotic Lure tour guide. Lisabet’s smart and very sexy short fiction can be found in numerous anthologies and she’s a prolific master of the erotic novel as well. Her classic debut novel Raw Silk, which takes place in sultry Thailand, was an inspiration for my own first novel set in the far east. Her latest release is the erotic thriller, Exposure.
Lisabet has recently redesigned her website to accommodate her ever-growing list of publications, and she agreed to share some of her insights into the process with the Shameless Self-Promotion Badge Squad.
SSP: I know you recently redesigned your site. Did you have particular goals for the new site?
LS: I implemented my original site back in 2000, after the first publication of my first novel (it's now on its third publisher!), using a WSIWYG tool called NetObjects Fusion. Over time, it grew to over 80 pages of static HTML. Generally, I got positive feedback about the site content, but I decided that I needed a new site for a variety of reasons.
1. The tool I was using had bugs that were causing me increasing frustration. It also produced only frames-based designs, which had started to look very old-fashioned. Furthermore, for every page I created, it generated a new header graphic. Both the frames and the superfluous graphics multiplied the number of files I had to manage and increased the amount of disk space my site consumed.
2. The site had grown so large that it was unfocused. I wanted to start from scratch, reorganizing to provide easier navigation and a clearer structure. I've moved into the epublishing and the romance worlds in the last few years, and I felt that my site was not especially effective as a vehicle for marketing. I wanted to make it easy and fast for visitors to find and buy my books.
Aside from simplicity and focus, my main goal for the site was fast and simple update. Things change so fast now, compared to eight years ago! I have new publishing credits every month or two. I run contests. I add free stories. I publish my newsletter as a page on my site. I needed to be able to create new pages or modify existing pages really quickly.
Finally, I wanted to give my readers a bit of a sense of who I am. This was the main goal of my original site (not, at the time, promotion. I had the crazy idea that the publisher would do the promotion LOL!), and I carried much of the personal content (with updates) over to the new site.
I know basic HTML - not fancy formatting or graphic design, but the core ideas and markup elements. So I decided to ask a professional web designer to create the graphics and layout for two templates - for the front page and inner pages. Then I took over, adding the body content, which was all pretty simple.
This has worked incredibly well. I can add a new page in minutes. All I do is copy a close existing page, and update the content. I have separate pages for books that have been published versus those that are coming soon, with parallel formats. On release day, all I need to do is select and cut the section from the "coming soon" page and paste it into my current pubs page, then upload the pages to my web host.
What features do you appreciate in another author’s website?
The features that I appreciate in another author's site are the same ones I have sought in my own:
--Simple, clean design and layout. I hate animated gifs, flashy graphics, embedded videos, music... I'm a writer! I feel that an author's site should focus on words. (I will be the first to admit, I am quite old-fashioned. I use MySpace, but most MySpace profile pages make me nauseous!)
--Ease of reading. Please spare me the purple text of the black background, the huge or the tiny fonts, the thousands of text colors!
--Good content, of course. An author's website should allow you to get a sense of his or her style and preferred subject matter.
Have the contests you’ve sponsored on your site been helpful for promotion?
I'm really not sure. My main goal with my contests is to get more people into my notification network - on my Yahoo list and/or my mailing list. I also try to reply personally to contest entrants in order to establish a personal connection. Another writer commented on a publisher's list that you have to build your readership one person at a time. That's my intent with contests. I don't really expect them to translate directly into sales.
I will say that my new site makes the mechanics of contests much easier - because of the ease of update.
Any advice you have for newbies in designing a website for promotional purposes?
--Keep it simple - graphically and in terms of navigation
--Make it easy for your visitors to find information about your books, to read excerpts and buy the books
--Consult a professional about the graphic design unless you happen to have skills in that area
--Test on multiple browsers and with multiple screen resolutions
--Remember that not everyone has a fast Internet connection, even now. Big or numerous graphics take time to download.
--Use a variant of your pen name as your domain, if at all possible.
--Weigh carefully the costs and benefits of having someone else responsible for your updates. If you depend on someone else, you will not have the same flexibility and freedom.
Thanks so much for sharing this helpful information, Lisabet!
Find out more about Donna George Storey and her adventures in shameless self-promotion at her blog.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Writers are often asked “where do you get your ideas from?” It’s a valid question. My usual response (I steal plots) is probably not a valid answer. However, “where do you get your ideas from?” is not a question that’s often levelled at erotic fiction writers. I think the reason for this is that most people know where we get our ideas from. We erotic fiction writers get our ideas from having sex.
Admittedly, this is the other reason why I invariably take a fat pencil into the bedroom. I did try using a pen in the bedroom but it would often lead to making a terrible mess on the sheets. And sometimes the pen would dribble ink. There were occasions when I tried to take a laptop into the bedroom for the purpose of making notes for story ideas. However, I can’t do that any longer since my floppy has become obsolete.
Of course there are disadvantages to using this method for collecting and remembering ideas. The main problem is that it means having to have sex with the lights on. I don’t like this kinky variation on traditional missionary-position-in-the-dark-lie-back-and-think-of-England sex. If the good Lord had meant us to see what we were doing in the bedroom he wouldn’t have made sex happen at night.
And I’m not alone in thinking that sex with the lights on is unnatural.
My wife (rightly) objects to sex with the lights on unless she’s wearing the blindfold or (as an alternative) I’m wearing the gas mask to improve my appearance. I’ve repeatedly told her that the gas mask doesn’t improve my appearance – it hides my face. However, she insists that this is a considerable improvement.
So, we get our ideas whilst we’re having sex.
I don’t just mean erotic fiction writers get their ideas whilst having sex. My wife had an idea to plaster the bedroom ceiling the other week. That thought came to her whilst she wasn’t wearing the blindfold. By the time we’d finished that particular session she’d come up with ideas for new curtains, improved wardrobe space and an improvement on the room’s Feng Shui that would harmonise our entire lives. It had clearly been quite a productive three minutes.
She’s also had ideas for modifying my gas mask so that it doesn’t make a Darth-Vader-esque wheezing sound every time I happen on the prospect of an exciting story development. That idea wasn’t particularly great because the modification meant my brain stopped receiving oxygen for half an hour, although it’s not like it caused any permanent brain lettuce.
I find it’s quite stimulating to think about character development, plot lines and Freytag’s pyramid during intercourse. It certainly beats trying to remember the more mundane things relating to sex, such as where I put the salad tongs and whose turn is to use the stapler.
Only last week, during our monthly episode of congress (please excuse the dirty language there but we’re all adults reading this, aren’t we?) I had a brilliant idea for a novel. I say it was last week, it could have been the month before because we’re like rabbits and we do it every fourth Saturday night whether I want to or not! But, during coitus (there’s some more of that dirty language) I had a brilliant idea for a novel that I knew would be a bestseller and the source of international literary acclaim.
Unfortunately, the idea for the novel was The Story of O, so I might have to learn French before I can write it down. Nevertheless, I shall struggle on to try and get other, equally brilliant ideas for my readers.
It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Monday, March 9, 2009
You’re going to have be patient here. I hate introducing myself. Or, to be more accurate: I’m not very good at introducing myself and I hate doing things at which I’m not very good. This means I don’t do much. I sit and I write and I drink copious amounts of coffee. I’m good at all three of those. Especially the sitting. And the coffee drinking. As to the writing…
So, I was introducing myself, wasn’t I? My name’s Ashley. Ashley Lister. Hello. How are you? Good. It’s a pleasure to meet you. You’re looking very hot. Not “hot” in a sweaty kind of way. I mean “hot” in a sexy way. Great. I’m glad we’ve cleared up that misunderstanding.
Adrienne at ERWA has asked me if I’d like to occasionally contribute to the ERWA blog. I write a column (or two) for ERWA. I review books. I interview authors. And I’m also a published author with a handful of erotic fiction titles to my credit and some short stories. I won’t state the exact number for two reasons: one, it will sound like I’m bragging; and two, I’ve never bothered keeping count so the figure I write down is bound to be inaccurate.
What will I be blogging about? Wow! Don’t you ask a lot of questions? OK. Since you asked, I’ll be blogging about the trails and tribbles of being an erotic fiction author. (I’m aware I should have written trials and tribulations but I’m too big a STTNG fan to depend on such clichés).
What sort of trails and tribbles are involved in being an erotic fiction author? Well, keep reading and you’ll find out. I’ve got to warn you now – it’s not easy. Most days are a challenge. It’s hard work being a raunchy writer who’s scintillatingly sexy, ludicrously literate and arousingly articulate, but I’m a lot like haemorrhoids in that I thrive under pressure. I’m a lot like haemorrhoids in other ways too – a natural born pain in the chair.
Great, this is going well, isn’t it? Can you see why I hate introducing myself? This is my first attempt at blogging here and already I’ve mentioned haemorrhoids and they’re not something you should bring out in polite company. Not even if they’re pickled and in a sanitized jar with the words A MEMENTO FROM THE HOSPITAL written on the side.
Anyway, haemorrhoids aside, I know you’ve already got some skilled and sexy bloggers on here, serving up pithy quips, saucy suggestions and other wonderful words of wisdom, so perhaps you should look on me as punctuation between the good stuff. A little like the human equivalent of a colon or a period – both of which I’ve been called before today.
Looking forward to blogging for you…
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Please take a moment to see if you qualify to partake in an important academic research study. It is part of a PhD dissertation on Post-Menopausal Women's Sexuality. Feel free to pass this information on to friends and relatives who are post-menopausal baby boomers.
What is the relationship amongst postmenopausal women's sexual desire, sexual arousal, sexual quality of life and experience with explicit sex videos?
You are invited to participate in a research study. The purpose of this study is to discover the patterns that may exist among postmenopausal women's sexual quality of life, sexual arousal and desire
functioning, demographics, and experience along with benefits derived from viewing explicit sex videos.
The person conducting this study is Susana Mayer. She is a certified clinical sexologist and doctoral candidate at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. This research is being conducted for her dissertation.
REQUIREMENTS TO PARTICIPATE IN STUDY
Women who are naturally menopausal (last date of menstruation a minimum of one year ago), born in or between 1946 –1964. Women who view explicit sex videos (genitals exposed). Various types of films fall under this category- romantic, porn, instructional, with and without plots. Women who presently have at least one sexual partner of the opposite sex, and consider themselves sexually active (with and without intercourse).
Full details, qualifications, and on-line survey can be accessed at:
Posted by Adrienne at 12:12 PM