Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Death of the Erotica Webzine?

I learned just a few days ago that the erotica webzine Oysters & Chocolate has closed down.  I expect everyone else knew this a while ago, but fortunately I’m used to being at the blunt edge of news and fashion trends.  In any case, I was very sad to hear that yet another fine erotica literary magazine has faded into history.

When I first started writing erotica, I dutifully sent my stories out by quaint snail-mail to print magazines like Libido and Yellow Silk.  Both of them ceased publication before my work was saleable enough to receive back more than a Xeroxed fortune-cookie-sized rejection.  However, soon enough I did have more luck with the then-revolutionary online magazines like Clean Sheets, Scarlet Letters, Playboy’s CyberClub, Fishnet, Ruthie’s Club, dearly departed Oysters & Chocolate, and finally The Erotic Woman and the ERWA galleries (the only two left standing from my publication list).  There are numerous other fine webzines that I won’t mention for space.  Most of these focused on an edgy, complex, not-always-feel-good—also known as “literary”--type of erotica. 

More important than a list of the fallen brave is the question of what is filling the void left by these magazines.  I don’t have a confident answer, but I’ll hazard a guess that it’s not uncommon for a new erotica writer to dash off a story, throw it up on Amazon for ninety-nine cents, then dive into the self-promotion madness before she even really knows who she is as a writer--all the while receiving plenty of encouragement for business savvy.  Of course, there are some publishers who still put out fine anthologies and welcome newcomers, but for me the webzine world was the perfect place to ease into publication and meet editors, not to mention share my work widely without imposing too much on my friends’ pocketbooks.

I have a temperament that has never loved rules or authority figures, so part of me is thrilled with the new “Wild West” atmosphere of self-publishing.  I firmly believe that anyone who takes the time to write about sex, even in a formulaic way, is going to be paying more attention to an important aspect of our humanity that is still reviled, even as it is harnessed to manipulate us by providing the addictive hit of “ideal” sex. (See Remittance Girl’s recent Apollonian & Dionysian Dialectic: Inner Conflicts and Revolutionary Acts for a discussion of this and other thought-provoking arguments about what makes for a compelling erotic story).

Yet I think we do lose something important with the demise of an editorial vision on the web.  As scary as gatekeeping editors can seem from the writer’s point of view, I appreciate that they work hard to select good stories for their readers.  With the advent of self-publishing, it’s the reader who has to wade through the slush pile—and pay for the privilege.  During the golden age of the webzine, you could click on over with confidence you’d be getting a certain level of quality.  For writers, the magazines also provided an easy way to research and be inspired by a wider variety of stories selected by veteran editors.  I learned a lot from my reading.

I may be flashing my West-Coast-hippie-romantic undies here, but I’m still dismayed by how often people invoke money as the reason they write erotica or retire from doing so.  Or rather how we’re all okay with that as the most important reason to do anything at all. 

“I thought I’d get as rich as E.L. James writing a dirty book, but it didn’t happen so I quit.” 

“Smart move, follow the money, honey—maybe try Hollywood or country music?”

Which reminds me that erotica webzines paid little or nothing.  This probably lessened their appeal to new writers as well.  Yes, I know, we all need to make a living and pay the orthodontist, but presumably most of us have sex for pleasure and emotional connection without plotting a way to get paid for it.  Why should writing about it be any different?  And why shouldn’t we enthusiastically celebrate authors who write on even without thousands in royalties?  (One inspiring example of the spiritual approach to writing erotica is described in Garce’s Confessions of a Craft Freak: Sex and the Apprentice Writer.)  I'm not saying refuse payment or stop promoting, just, you know, appreciate there are other ways to be a success.  Otherwise, we’re buying into the system that puts profit above all.  Really.

Now I definitely don't believe the golden past is unquestionably better than the alloyed present.  After all, in the old days ice cream only came in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, and now we have Americone Dream.  But while I’m reminiscing, I’m old enough to remember way back to about 2005 when traditional print editors suddenly decided they wanted to cash in on the erotica revolution.  Many writers I know got juicy contracts for anthologies with big publishers, which meant not just money but respect.  I had great hopes this would be the break-through for sexually explicit writing that dares to go deeper than titillation followed by a chaser of sin well punished.  Finally, we were being taken seriously by the Big Boys.  Alas, the hoped-for deluge of profits did not come and they dropped us cold, proclaiming erotica dead.

We could probably have an interesting discussion about whether 50 Shades of Grey genuinely revived the erotica cause or not, but obviously millions are still intrigued by sexuality and what other people do and think about it.  Like any writer, I hope my work will be read and appreciated, although I’d choose fewer readers who appreciate what I do over millions who are getting a faked sensibility in the name of sales.

I guess I’ll just pull out the Americone Dream while I wait and see how this chapter in the publishing-and-money saga plays out.  I can always soothe myself with the undying truth that whatever form it takes, humanity’s curiosity about sex and its meaning in our lives is here to stay.

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

10 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Donna. Thanks for saying it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wonderful post Donna. I am still reeling from the news of O&C's end. I was with them from the very beginning, and they - without doubt- formed my apprenticeship in erotica. It saddens me greatly just how may emails I get from 'get rich quick' would be writers, who think if James can make it big with poor writing, then so can they. Thy are frequently stunned to learn that I hardly make enough money to cover the bills. For me however,and many writers, the money is not the point. It is the creation of a story. The knowledge that there are people out there that I am making happy- that's the reward. Webzines were the perfect outlet for new writers - people who wanted to share their work, more than they wanted to make money from it. I can't imagine what will fill the void- and I fear it will indeed be a lot of very badly written stories popped out by self- publishers. Which is especially sad for those brilliant writers who self publish well constructed and properly edited pieces! I hope they don't all get lost in the landslide of bad editing and tacky tales! Kay xx

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Donna!

    I had recently heard of the demise of Oysters and Chocolate from the plaintive wail of another ERWA colleague who had just had her very first story published there and she was so proud and then - umph. I felt her pain, because I had critiqued her early drafts with her and liked that story a lot.

    It's amazing how fast things change. I always think that anthologies by Mammoth and Coming Together and the struggling webzines are the grandchildren of the old pulp magazines which gave us so many great popular fiction writers and stories. I love those old stories which benefited from tough editors who became famous in their own right.

    I see your have your name up in lights with your own Mammoth Anthology. I aspire for that distinction too someday. Thank god for Mammoth and ERWA.

    Garce,
    wondering what an Americone Dream tastes like . . .

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Donna!

    I had recently heard of the demise of Oysters and Chocolate from the plaintive wail of another ERWA colleague who had just had her very first story published there and she was so proud and then - umph. I felt her pain, because I had critiqued her early drafts with her and liked that story a lot.

    It's amazing how fast things change. I always think that anthologies by Mammoth and Coming Together and the struggling webzines are the grandchildren of the old pulp magazines which gave us so many great popular fiction writers and stories. I love those old stories which benefited from tough editors who became famous in their own right.

    I see your have your name up in lights with your own Mammoth Anthology. I aspire for that distinction too someday. Thank god for Mammoth and ERWA.

    Garce,
    wondering what an Americone Dream tastes like . . .

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you, RG!

    And Kay, yes, I think you put it more succinctly than I did, because what does bother me in this is the assumption that money is more important than the quality of the story, and that in a way, sexuality doesn't really deserve thought and attention. There is an element of prostitution to this. Not that sex work is in itself bad, but love makes for a more fully satisfying experience.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey Garce,

    I agree that the webzines and Coming Together are like the old pulp magazines. A grand tradition! I wonder how Maxim is going to choose his Best Mammoth now? There are anthologies, but does self-publishing count? He'll be swamped, lol!

    "Americone Dream" is a Ben&Jerry's flavor that was supposedly invented by Stephen Colbert (talk about a guy who knows how to cash in, although he is brilliant!). It's vanilla ice cream with bits of chocolate-covered waffle cone. I like the name better than the ice cream, although it's good. It's hard to pass up black raspberry or coconut ice cream for me--but neither of those were available in stores in the old days either....

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hello, Donna,

    "Finally, we were being taken seriously by the Big Boys."

    Nah. They never took us seriously. They were just following the money, too. In fact, it's become very clear that we are the only ones who take ourselves seriously. That is, however, something to be proud of. We write out of love.

    O&C, Cleansheets, Ruthie's Club - these were labors of love. In some sense I think the webzines were killed by economics, because even a free site has expenses it has to cover.

    There are also technology issues to blame. As more people access the Internet via mobile devices, full-blown websites that are not designed for mobile access lose market share/readers. And I will admit, even I'd rather read a story on my little tablet than in the browser, because I can't take the browser to bed.

    Finally - I'd love to see your West-Coast-hippie-romantic undies...! Are you an Aquarius like me?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for the insight into 'what came before'. As someone who is just stumbling his way into the world (and still in the 'just for fun' stage... possibly for keeps) it helps to get some perspective on the community's history.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yes, Lisabet, thanks for the reality check on "the Big Boys." If they had taken us seriously, they would have hung in there. Although come to think of it, I'm not sure they take anything seriously but money, lol. Still, it matters that we do take ourselves seriously--someone has to do it!

    I was born a boring Capricorn, but my other houses must have more lively signs, because I've been trying all my life to have more fun--especially with the tie-dyed underwear :-).

    ReplyDelete
  10. Welcome, John! After 16 years, I'm still writing erotica "just for fun" because it's one of the few endeavors where that works--and it's what I love about it!

    ReplyDelete