Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Some Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way



I’ve put off writing this post for a long time because I didn’t want it to sound like sour grapes. I wanted it to be observations of one writer’s journey, and I wanted it to be something positive, something I hope will be helpful to other writers, writers with less experience than I’ve had. I couldn’t write it with a bitter taste in my mouth. I had to wait until I could write it from a place of not feeling hard-done-by, a place of having no regrets, and a place of looking forward to what comes next in my writing journey.

There are hard lessons I’ve learned through my years as a novelist that I was told early on, back before I had anything published, back when I had stars in my eyes of making the NYT Best Seller list, of making that bank breaking publishing deal. Every published writer that I ever met in person, heard speak, or saw at a conference, tried to say to the whole audience of starry-eyed newbies -- some gently; some not so much -- that if you don’t do it for the love of writing, for the love of story, then best quit now. Writing novels is not the way to get rich quick, and it’s most definitely not for the faint of heart. 

I can only speak from my own experience, but I’d be willing to bet that every one of us went away from those author encounters as sure as we were of our own name that we would be the exception to the rule, that we would be the one to sign the big book deal. 

There’s no gentle way to say it, so usually I just don’t say it at all. didn’t believe it, and I doubt any other novice writer in the history of writing ever believes it either. I would never discourage anyone. I would never want anyone to miss out on the passion, the ritual, the incredible connection I feel to the written word, to story, BUT there are a few hard lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to share, and before I do, I would like to add a disclaimer. 

DISCLAIMER: Write! Don’t ever stop writing! Do it for love! Do it for passion! Do it for sheer unadulterated pleasure! Do it for the agony and the pain and the journey! BUT try to do the impossible and write from a place of no expectations beyond that of the journey. The journey is SO worth it! I wouldn’t have missed out on any of it! 


Hard Lesson One: Publishing is a business. The industry does not, cannot, love me no matter how fabulous my writing is, no matter what a really great person I may be. It moves with the business trends, it moves with the money. Why should I expect it to be otherwise? It’s never anything personal, and yet we writers tend to view it that way because … well I don’t know about you lot, but I’m certainly a special snowflake. 

Hard Lesson Two: Get a F*cking Life! This lesson nearly killed me. I work for myself; that means I have no set hours; I have no agenda. I have no children, so no one is making demands on my time, and my husband travels a lot. I believed that the more time I spent writing, promoting, doing what all good novelists in the age of social media are supposed to do, the more the industry would realize what a special snowflake I really am and the more it would love me and THEN I’d get the big deal. 

Health wrecked, seriously OD-ing on sour grapes, and finding myself on the disappointing side of the 50SoG phenomenon with a gazillion other writers, I remembered all the things I USED to do before I began obsessively chasing the elusive big deal that was always out there just beyond my reach. I went back to the gym, I started walking again. I spent more time doing things totally unrelated to writing. I found that the less obsessive I became, the better my writing got and the more I was able to open my fist and let go of that white-knuckled effort to control. The more I began to enjoy my writing again, the less it mattered that the publishing industry didn’t love me.

Life is short, and writing is a long journey. If I’m in it for the long haul, then I need a life, a real life. I need real experiences, experiences that inspire, that tease, that ache and hurt and innervate. I have to find the place at the center because that’s really the place from which I write anyway. And the surprising truth is that sometimes I’m closest to the most powerful writing when I’m farthest away from my keyboard.

Hard Lesson Three: Learn to Let Go. The hard truth is that, to a large degree, that elusive publishing deal, ANY publishing deal depends on luck -- a name-dropping at the right time, catching the eye of the right editor or agent, someone who loves what you wrote. Sadly, it isn’t about being so brilliant that the world recognizes my total genius. It’s less about quality and more about circumstances – what’s selling in the market at the time. If my work fits in with the trends, I might get lucky. 


Having said all of that, hope springs eternal. Letting go just a little bit means I’m able to see things more clearly and the Muse is able to beat it into my thick skull that it’s time to be adventurous again, it’s time to play with words again. It’s
been a terrifying delight this past year to write stories that have been in my heart for a long time, but I’ve not had time, nor courage, to write – terrifying in that I don’t know if I can sell them, delightful in that I feel like I’ve come home after being gone a long time. Oh it’s not a total change. I’m still writing erotica, still loving it, but I’m doing it from a much more relaxed place.

Today I spent three glorious hours “walking a novel.” It’s all plotted and in my head now. I’ll start the actual writing in a couple of days, when my decks are clear. I can’t wait!  I have no idea what will happen next, but what I do know is that the hard lessons are worth learning as quickly as possible because what’s beyond them is WAAAY too exciting to miss out on. 

12 comments:

  1. This should be required reading for all aspiring writers. You've plainly stated what we all come to terms with, eventually. I have 4 kids and college bills to pay, so I work 2 jobs that keep me out of the house all day and into the night. I don't have the time to promote that I wish I did...hell, I don't even have time to write during the school year! I live for summer, telling the characters yelling at me in my head to please be patient, that I'll have time to write their stories in a few months. Sigh.

    But I have no idea what one has to do to catch the universal zeitgeist. I've tried sending copies of my paperbacks to places I thought might have readers who would enjoy them. I've promoted all day and night in the summer, when presumably people have more time to read. I've given away lots of free books, paperback and e-Books. I've got one of my novels as a permanently free download at Smashwords, just hoping that some reader might decide to buy the rest of the series (no luck, they just ask for them as freebies, either to me directly, or to sites that Google-alert tells me about.)

    But still the stories present themselves to me, sometimes in dreams, sometimes during my waking hours. The characters grow and demand a life of their own, outside of my head. And having begun this journey, I'm loathe to give it up. So whenever I can, I park myself at my laptop and have at it.

    Yes, by all means, keep writing. The only way to get better is to keep doing it. Hope for, but don't expect, a miracle. Have realistic expectations. For me, a royalties check that would buy me more than a cup of expensive coffee is a real treat. One in the 3 figure-amount would have me dancing in the street.

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  2. Great lessons - but unfortunately, I think these are ones everyone has to learn for themselves. However, I hope everyone who reads this seriously listens to your comments about self-care. That's so important and it's good that you brought it up.

    I don't read it as sour grapes though. Your comments didn't strike me as bitter.

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  3. K.D., you're at the same place as me here. I never seriously intended to be a best-selling, famous, rich author...indeed, though I've written all my life, I never saw myself working as a professional author at all, until it happened. Yet once I was published, once I'd seen a bit of cash flow into my account because of my book, I found myself addicted to the process.

    And the harder I tried to be "successful", the more frustrated and tense I became. My relationship with my husband suffered. My mental health suffered.

    I've finally come around to the realizations that a) I can't control fame; b) what I love most is writing the stories that come to me, regardless of whether they're what the "market" wants. I am learning to let go.

    The funny thing is that my most recent novel, created in that head-space of writing exactly what I feel like, has received the most positive feedback I've gotten on any book.

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  4. K.D., thank you. I wouldn't say sour grapes in my case, more like shock. I'm not sure that the great writers we all admire could succeed as newbies in this market where in addition to mastering the craft of writing, you have to be a shrewd and relentless self pomoter across platforms requiring considerable skill to master. Worster, things that worked for established authors, such as blogging, are of minimal impact for newbies. Blogs made established authors more accessible so they were a great vehicle-once. Web pages are another example. They require considerable creativity to create, promote and manage-time away from the fundamental discipline of writing. Some authors seem to have a bottomless well of creative abilities. Not me. However I did step away from writing new material after the release of my latest novella (pictured on left). I did blog hops, created a special Facebook site dedicated to mermaids, befriended hundreds on Facebook, did generous give aways, aligned myself with a creative woman who made beauty products (who created a special scent, The Memory of Mermaids, incorporated into her mermaid theme products). I hired a a promoter. To date I have more reviews than sales.
    No. I'm not surrendering but I don't plan to do much promoting in the future.
    In place of luck, my mentor says marketplace success is a convergence of highly unlikely events.
    The good news is I have published enough material that I have a good sense of my own voice so I can really begin to learn the craft.

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  5. Great article and brutally to the point. I've been writing porn for about 4 years now and everything you've said has struck a cord with me. I've learned not to schedule my work but work with the feeling strikes me. If I force myself to write, the result looks exactly like I forced myself to write. I'm copying this article to keep reminding myself to stay on the straight and narrow.

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    1. Another couple of thoughts, take them for what they are worth.
      1 ) Stop trying to get published in print and go for eStories. Until you are famous or very lucky, your chances in print are very slim. Just read Stephen King's journey to see how many books he wrote that were rejected. Then once he was discovered, all of his rejected books are now popular.

      When you self-publish, you at least can be assured that it will get out there. Of course there is the 900# gorilla in the room that you have to have talent, well ignoring 50SoG that is.
      2 ) Write what turns you on as it is typically apparent that you are writing something that you don't really believe in. Trust me a librarian writing BDSM is a poor combination.
      3 ) While you shouldn't just write what is popular, write what's popular that you enjoy. Read other people's blurb and stories that are popular for clues on how your blurb and stories should read. Generally speaking I haven't found too many books on writing that I felt helped me. You need to understand how to properly format your sentences, etc. How to use quotes is a big one. But someone that tries to tell you how to write a story is not going to be much help on how to properly whip your subjects into submission.
      4 ) Stop giving away your stories, after all you know what they are worth and your readers are going to assume the same thing. Making 35% of 99 cents is still better than making 100% of $0. You should have a handful of free stories that illustrate your writing style and what you typically write about but beyond that it's pay to play.
      5 ) If you publish on many sites, try to publish monthly as Amazon kicks you to the curb after your story is a month old. So publish as often as you can because a monthly cycle is pretty hard to do.
      6 ) Confession, I'm am not famous and don't make a lot of money like probably 99% of porn writers. I've published about 15 eStories and make a few thousand dollars a month. But I typically get 4-5 stars on my reviews, so at least some people like my work.

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    2. Sorry a few thousand dollars a year not month! I wish.

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  6. Luckily, I never had any illusions of being a best-selling author. That way, at least I was able to stay pretty faithful to myself, not trying to write for a particular market. After a long time in the antiques business, I learned to buy what I liked. Whenever I bought something I didn't like (but thought would sell) I could be quite disappointed when it didn't. At least, when I liked something that didn't sell, at least I could live with the piece. Just extrapolated that to writing.

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  7. This is a pure tonic of wisdom; a welcome bit of common sense amid the relentless harping about marketing and promotion that seems to consume others who call themselves writers, but come across more like stock brokers. Thanks for the reality check, K.D.

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  8. Great article, and very close to home.
    I agree that it's important to write for yourself first, and hope it coincides with what readers want.
    I'm not good at sell-promotion - I'd rather spend time writing stories than writing on Twitter and FB or wherever I should be keeping a presence on social media.
    But I think the sad truth is that there are almost as many erotica writers as there are readers. The market is so over-saturated that everyone is fighting to get their own stories read by giving free stories. I saw recently that Smashwords has over 62,000 free Ebooks - there's enough smut for people to read without ever needing to pay for one.
    I gave the first of my Pillow Talk series away and was thrilled when the downloads took it into Excessica's Top 10. But the subsequent stories in the series were largely ignored - even though they cost less than a chocolate bar.
    So I try and write the types of stories I like to read, and also try not to get too depressed when the royalties figures tell me how few other people are reading them. I treat writing as a hobby - it's something I enjoy doing. I think of it like playing tennis - I know I'm never going to win a Grand Slam, but it's nice to hit a few shots you're proud of.

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  9. This is very sensible, K.D., and clearly laid-out. I have to laugh whenever someone politely refers to me as a "successful writer." By what standards? Compared to whom? But the process is often its own reward.

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  10. Fantastic article, KD! Telling it like it is. Love the passion!

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