“Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book too. It seems easy enough.”
I’m not sure I can sum up the fury that this response garnered when I told someone that I write and self-publish. Over the last six months I have been opening up to people a little about my erotica writing and my slowly growing library of dirty books. Sometimes I tell people I write, other times I tell them what I write about. If people do ask what my books are about, I can certainly recommend responding with ‘porn’ as a one word answer. Try it sometime, the looks you’ll receive are some of the funniest I’ve ever seen. It also has the advantage of telling me who I’m likely to get on with depending on their response.
However, what has been amazing has been the number of people who respond with a statement along the lines of the one above. There’s certainly a lot of people out there who like the idea of writing and may even have sat down to write a few thousand words or two on a subject and certainly, at points in my life, that would have been me too. The difference is though, is not quitting. If you were to take a look through my ideas book, you would find thousands of lost, unfinished stories that will never see a conclusion. Certainly, a writer is someone who ideas just fall out of and I have taken to keeping such an ideas book with me at all times just in case some awesome idea assails me and I don’t want to forget it.
The reason the above statement angers me so much though is how dismissive it is to writing and writers in general as if writing is something that any idiot can do. I certainly know a few professional actors who feel the same way. Writing takes dedication and skill that is acquired through years of practice with plenty of bashes to one’s ego along the way. However, as I said before, the key is not quitting and I think that’s true for a lot of passions.
Which is why the simplest and best piece of writing advice I’ve ever read comes from William Goldman, the author of ‘The Princess Bride’, one of my favourite books and films. In one of his many essays on writing, he stated plainly, “Write the damn thing.” It’s advice I freely give to anyone who asks how to get into writing. The reason I feel it’s such good advice is because the act of putting those words down onto paper marks a dividing line between a writer and a dreamer. Until those words are sat in print (either physically or electronically) all you have are ideas in your head and, without wanting to be too harsh, pretty much everyone has those. The act of writing, of turning those ideas into a reality is where the magic happens and is also where I feel a lot of potential writers fall down. I’ve written some amazing films in my head but unless I take the time to write the script, I’m just daydreaming.
It’s harsh advice and one that I dispense to others with love. I still believe that writing is such a passionate, beautiful pastime that I wish more people did it. As much as the opening response annoys me, I wish more people did try and write a complete book or even a story. Perhaps more people would come to appreciate the craft and maybe even we’d discover some new, amazing untapped writing talent out there as well. So, if you’ve got an idea for a story, write it. Take some time, hammer it out and get it down on paper but whatever you do, don’t quit. Because once you have that completed document, you can edit it, shape it, rewrite the bits you don’t like and polish it into something amazing. Not only that, but something even better will have happened: you will have leapt the boundary between being a dreamer and being a writer.
So if you’ve got a dream, write the damn thing. It’s worth it and so are you.
Writing has always been part of my life. Ever since I was young I can remember writing tall tales and weaving stories out of thin air. They’ve not always been great and sometimes not that original but the desire to write has remained with me always, no matter what form it took. I remember when I was younger being enamoured with the possibility of being a professional writer, of crafting stories which people then paid to read. As I grew older and entered the often depressing world of work, my interest in doing so grew but it was tempered with the crushing reality of how hard it was to become a professional writer. Life ticked on, I continued with my day job and yet the writing remained, always a desire, never to be realised.
This all changed with the advent of self-publishing of course. I remember with some amusement a lecture I attended at university where a publishing professional poured scorn on what was then called ‘vanity publishing’ where people would pay thousands just to get a book in print, regardless of its quality. Now the technology is available to allow anyone to self-publish, to move from being just a writer to being an author, a person with actual, digital books to their name. I only took that step a few months ago yet it has led me back to my earlier ambition and left me with a nagging thought: am I now a professional author?
For years my definition of that title was stupidly simple, that to be a professional people had to be willing to pay you for your work. Sure enough, people have, lovely people who decided to part with their hard earned wages in order to experience my flavour of filthy writing. The money is nice of course but I’m not in a position to quit the day job just yet. Perhaps if I were able to, then I could say that writing is my living and therefore I would be entitled to lay claim to the professional badge. However, I think there’s something more subtle going on here.
The very first thing that inspired me to look at self-publishing was a novel I bought from a sci-fi and fantasy convention about five years ago. The author was selling it from a stall and he was a thoroughly nice chap who had clearly sunk a lot of time into his story and its cover. However, it was not his effort that made me want to have a go myself but his lack of effort. Paragraphs were laid out poorly, spelling errors littered the manuscript and simple conventions on how to lay out dialogue had been discarded in favour of putting it into italics instead. In short, despite his many efforts to present a professional looking book, the dreadful layout and grammar made me give up trying to read it half way through. It still sits on my bookshelf and were you to look at my frighteningly large collection, it would not stand out as a self-published book until you attempted to read it. It stays there as a reminder of what not to do, of how an amazing, epic novel can be rendered dead by poor typography.
When I decided to traverse the murky waters of erotica, I thought it only sensible to do some research and so I went on a bit of a spending spree, trying a little of this and a little of that. I was somewhat surprised to find that similar habits were rife online. The same errors and some new, even worse ones were littered over many peoples’ writing and I was slightly taken aback that anyone would put their work out for purchase without some care and attention to how they were presented. Any author is guilty of a few spelling errors and typos no matter how many edits they go through, I can hardly claim to be perfect in that regard but nonetheless, I was still a little amazed at the poor quality that could be found online. In a way though, this led me neatly back to my initial question: what is a professional author?
The answer that I find satisfies me these days lies in the attitude with which one approaches creative works, especially those that are intended to be sold. The market for erotica is saturated and if we want to stand out, we need to be able to subscribe to the same standards of professionalism that a major publisher does. We might not be able to afford the professional covers, the mass publicity and hundreds of editors (hell, I’m working out of my study here) but we can still strive to ensure that our typography, our spelling, our grammar and layouts are as good as we can make them. There’ll always be a rogue typo but I’ve spotted some in many of the paperbacks that litter my home. Our desire to take our work seriously and to sell our readers something worthwhile and enjoyable should extend to every aspect of our writing and publishing careers. Being courteous in our tweets and interactions with our followers should be second nature, delivering a story to our readers that is polished and well-presented should be a natural extension of our desire to write. In short, we shouldn’t let our passion for writing end when we finish our first draft. It should be in our editing, our presentation and our marketing.
It doesn’t matter whether I can call myself professional in any academic sense, what matters is that I want to be and continue to strive to that standard with everything I do as an author. If we write amazing stories but then fail in our presentation and interactions, then we’re pretty much shooting ourselves in the foot.
One of the joys of entering the world of monster erotica is to consider the vast range of monsters that are out there to enjoy. This week I have been compiling a list of stories I want to tackle and, more importantly, the creatures that I want to feature in them. Situation and story are one thing but often the tale is woven around my intention of seeing my protagonists screwed by one exotic beast or another.
My list of monsters ‘to do’, if you’ll pardon the expression, keeps growing and with each beast added to the list I have began to wonder just where fantasy ends and monster porn begins. This came home to me this week when I added the undead to the list, based on a lover’s desire to see me fending off a dozen horny zombies. Why in a zombie apocalypse the undead would want to fuck my flesh rather than eat it I’m not sure but it certainly got my creative (and other) juices flowing.
Yet it was this scenario which made me begin to question whether it would still count as monster porn. Just because the monster in question is humanoid and still has a head and four limbs (give or take with zombies) does it make it any less of a monster or any less of a threat? I enjoy monster porn for the thrill of the beast using the character sexually, especially if the creature is capable of doing the character serious harm. A lot of the time, this is due to scale and size such as the plant monster from my first book or the dragon in the one I am currently working on but a monster does not have to be big to be a threat. This came into focus when considering werewolves or vampires as potential mates as well. Still dangerous but not to the scale of some creatures I could write about.
Which then led me onto my final thought: if we do consider werewolves and vampires to count towards monster erotica then are such popular works as Twilight a bridge to such material? Has the boom in monster porn been in part to the sudden resurgence of vampires and werewolves in popular fiction, serving a need to do more than just fall in love with the cursed creatures but to satisfy them in every way possible? If that’s the case then I can’t see monster erotica fading away any time soon but it also means I’m not going to look at the Young Adult section of my local bookstore in the same way again… x
One week ago, I pressed ‘publish’ on my Smashwords control panel and I took a step from being a prospective author to being a published one. Not a lot perhaps by some author’s perspectives, but quite a leap for others. I’ve lost count of the number of people I have met who have said they’d like to self publish but the number who have done so is much, much smaller. Even so, within this short space of time I’ve learnt several valuable lessons from the experience.
1) Thumbnails really kill covers
I felt that I’d come up with a strong image for my first cover. It was simple and straighforward and not out of line with what I had seen from other authors of the same genre. Then I saw it compressed down to a thumbnail and shuddered. What had been a decent enough cover became a random green blob that said nothing about my book. Changing it to something else is one of the first things on my to do list, right after finishing my next story.
2) Amazon really does dominate the marketplace
This is really no surprise but I was still amazed to see by how much. In only one week, every sale I have achieved has come through Amazon. Although I cut my teeth on Smashwords and I truly appreciate the amount of information they provide, I have not sold one copy through them. I may have my reservations about Amazon but I can’t deny that I’ve sold through them more successfully than anywhere else.
3) International Tax is far less interesting than it sounds
Believe me, it wasn’t that interesting to begin with either. For those who don’t know, I’m British and with that comes a whole song and dance with the IRS I never anticipated when I decided to go ahead with this self publishing adventure. Both Amazon and Smashwords are US based companies and so to be able to pay tax in my own country rather than in the US, takes a surprising amount of jiggery pokery to get over the IRS’ hurdles. I’m still not out of the woods even as I write this.
4) The Erotica writing community is varied, active and wonderfully bizarre
My story about how and why I chose to write this type of fiction is something I will tackle at another time but I knew that it was somewhat of a burgeoning genre with lots of first time authors breaking into it. I had already read a number of blogs and articles about it but the many and varied personalities writing for this genre is somewhat overwhelming. Although my Twitter account has only been open for a few weeks, I’ve already encountered some lovely people who are only too willing to pass their experiences on. I recommend any new author get on Twitter and start following people who write in the same genre, it really is an educational experience.
5) Self Publishing is a bug and I’ve definitely got it
I never intended this to be a one shot deal but I never really planned out how far I wanted to go with it either. When I started writing my first story, I had about three ideas for other books floating around my head. Now I have about twenty. Sci-fi and fantasy erotica is such a broad genre where almost anything goes so it’s almost impossible not to be inspired when you seen what subjects other writers have covered. I certainly intend to keep on writing and publishing so as long as there are people who want to read it, I have no plans to stop!