I promised I’d tell you the dumb things I did as well as the smart ones. Well, I have to admit I made a mistake, one that forced me to delay my release for a month. It’s a little embarrassing to admit. Live and learn, I guess. Sharing is done in the hope you consider your situation and don’t do the same thing, for whatever reason.
I need to explain the background first, and it starts months ago. I had spent a lot of time learning the craft, and I needed to start understanding the business side of our art. There were a number of presentations at our RWA chapter, and one of the first I went to taught us about PR and the importance of branding. I bought the presenter’s book, and read (and reread) it. Before I began, as she suggested, I brainstormed with soulmate about what brand Erika Moran would be – what kind of things did I want to write about, how would I position myself in the market. At the time I did this I had no plans whatever about indie-pubbing, but everything I was learning emphasized that an author must be prepared to do her own promotion and PR.
I have seven or eight handwritten pages of notes from that session, but the important one was a summary. I want to write romantic erotica. I want to tell stories that I enjoy, that are sexy, and that deal with my favorite things, but they should not be so immersed in sex that you would be ashamed to be seen reading them. On the other hand, they don’t have to be so squeaky clean you want to share them with your mom. It’s a hard line to walk, but I want to tell stories that are sexy, not smutty. Well, not too smutty. There is a point at which it stops being romantic erotica and just becomes a dirty book…
I began to submit stories to different e-publishers. I had no chance whatever of making it with a big time print house, but I thought I had a chance with the smaller publishers. I used the other stories I found in my genre as a guide to the appropriate level of sexiness. And, even though I haven’t got a contract yet, I feel like I succeeded in what I wanted to accomplish – the stories I wrote and submitted met my standards.
Of course, during all this time the whole indie-pub thing was growing, from a whisper, a few people talking about it, to a viral buzz. It often came up in blog posts, websites I found, and finally, in RWA chapter meetings. On my first visit to a new chapter there was an intense discussion, and one of the things of interest to me was that one author who was discussing her success wrote romantic erotica. Several of us cornered her, picked her brain, and that was the start of my becoming serious about it. In the course of the conversation she made a comment which stuck – “Just put Spanking in the title and anything you write will sell like hotcakes.”
Uh… Okay. But how about the rest of the book? I decided to do a study of the competition when I got home. That night I looked (I don’t recall if the first search was Amazon or Barnes and Noble) and she was right – when I searched for spanking I found several hundred titles. When I looked for Erotica I found a lot too. But when I searched for Romantic Erotica I only found one. One? I found that difficult to believe, but that was the way it looked. I started reading some of what was there, and it was… squiggy. It kind of left you with that Ish feeling – many were barely literate, others read like something a twelve year old boy dreamed. Many had the same phrase – something like “And then he f***ed her c***” repeated three times on most pages. This is why I went to college? More to the point, this is how everybody is telling me to make my mark in the world of letters? Not to mention a lot of money?
I took a deep breath. Yes I can write this stuff. It kind of gives you the feeling that you are, to use a word none of likes to see applying even remotely to ourselves, prostituting my art. But I can do this. I guess.
Much of the rest of this series of blogs relates to the nuts and bolts of getting there. All of us deal with our creative issues our own way, and I decided to just do it. This was, after all, an alternative to the way I have written everything else. I banged out (please, no snide remarks) a 10,000 word short story, literate even, and way more biased towards erotica than romantic. I wasn’t really happy about it – I kept having the nagging feeling that I was violating my own standards, but – this is a solitary profession. Sometimes the only validation we get is from our fellow authors. And soulmate will love me no matter what I write.
I have both Beta Readers and Critique Partners – the difference being that many of the first group are not just friends, but true believers – involved in one way or another in the world of kink – while the latter group are authors, published authors in fact. Of course I get different kinds of response. I got the responses I expected from the first group – they have diverse tastes, but I had chosen them for that reason, so no one person would like everything but as a group, they keep me honest. So far, so good.
At first the critique response was mostly about the kinds of things we all think about – voice, POV, sensuality, and we went back and forth once. Bear in mind I was getting over the flu at this point, and just getting back to working on the story. What came next was beautiful, was wonderful, and changed everything. I want to quote from the email…
“Got a question for you, as a friend gently prodding you to consider your decision from another angle: if you are writing this story as erotica, not as erotic romantic, and you have established Erika Moran as an author who writes erotic romance, why are you writing this story under her name? Seems to me you are going against the brand that you have beautifully established on your web site.”
Thank you, so much, Chellsie. Having a friend who is willing to tell you is worth everything in the world. I thought about it for twenty four hours, searching for understanding to go with the enlightenment, but it was the classic a-ha moment – I had been thinking more about fitting the story in with its competition rather than staying true to my own principles. I went back and re-did my research and I have no idea what I did wrong the first time – maybe it was because I was searching from a PC instead of a Kindle, but anyway I found close to a thousand books under the keyword romantic erotica – far more than the straight erotica I had found before. More than that, most of them would pass a casual literacy test, the excerpts and the first few I read were interesting, and I didn’t see the repetitious “f’ed her c” at all. Well, at least not much. I felt really good about myself. I was back where I belonged.
So I blew off the schedule, replotted the story, and started writing. Rewriting. And revising. Yes, it has to make another pass out to everybody, and yes, it has to go to the editor again, and yes, I need to talk to the ad guys to change our dates (Maureen. bless her heart, is doing that part for me). I think I lost a month, but it’s worth it. It has grown into Novella length in the process, and I have something I’m much prouder to put my name on. I guess Mom was right – stay true to yourself, and if it doesn’t feel right don’t do it.