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'07 Authors Insider Tips

by Louisa Burton
Formatting Your Manuscript
Scams / Choosing an Agent
Pitching Your Novel...
From The Call to Published...

Hard Business
From Greg Herren
Who Is Telling This Story?
It’s Work, Not A Hobby
Where Ideas Come From

Sexy on the Page
With Shanna Germain
Plotting Erotic Fiction
Seducing Your Muse
Creating Characters...
Description, Action & Dialogue
Fucking on Paper
Ten No-Nos of Erotic Fiction
Climactic Moments: First Draft
Critique Groups
Revising Your Erotic Story
Finding the Perfect Markets...
Just Submit Already
Rejections and Acceptances

Two Girls Kissing
With Amie M. Evans
Verb Tense Confusion
Coming Up with Story Ideas
Attend a Writers’ Conference
The Fundamentals of POV
Should I Sign That?
Etiquette for Authors
Erotica is Serious Work
No Body Writes for Free...
Shameless Self Promotions
The Myth of Writer's Block

The Write Stuff
From Ashley Lister
The Time is Write
The Beautiful People
A Book by Any Other...
Synopsis: the Necessary Evil
Erotica or Porn?
Feedback Whine

2007 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
What's it like being a writer?
An Apology to Salespeople

Get All Worked Up
With J.T. Benjamin
About Secrets
The Perfect Fuck
About Choices
The Age of Consent
The Kingmaker
Kids and Sex
The Price of Beauty
The G.O.P.
All Worked Up About Hate
Real Men

Pondering Porn
With Ann Regentin
Good Sex: A Physics Lesson
Meet Frankenstein
Thoughts on the Orgasm Gap
The Very Bloody Marys
The Doomsday Erection
Online Threesome Porn

By Louisa Burton

The Novelist's Submission vs. the Editor's Domination:
How to End up on Top

Part I—Literary Scams and Choosing an Agent

Most aspiring authors are under the impression that being a professional novelist is just about the most awesome, fun, satisfying job in the universe. They're right. I've had other jobs, and I've got to tell you, getting paid to sit around in your ugliest high-water sweatpants with your feet up, a computer on your lap, and a cat purring next to you ROCKS BIG TIME. Because everybody with a book in them knows this, and because getting into print for the first time can be such a grueling and demoralizing process, unpublished writers tend to ooze desperation. This isn't an insult; it's those who are the most desperate and hungry for something who have the best shot at getting it. But there is a downside, which is that desperation emits its own inimitable perfume, a subtle if slightly bitter bouquet that is all too alluring to the con artists and incompetents who infest the world of publishing.

In my novel writing courses, I always caution my students about the various scams and swindles to which unpublished novelists are susceptible nowadays. I give them tips on how to find a legitimate agent and publisher, as well as pitfalls to steer clear of: "agents" who make their living from fees and kickbacks, vanity presses, fraudulent book doctors, phony contests...

Nevertheless, about six or eight months later, a former student will invariably email me saying, "Omigod, I'm so excited! I've been contacted out of the blue by an agent named Thievish Mountebank in Bilk, Montana, who wants me to send him my manuscript for Sucker Punch!! He says in today's increasingly competitive publishing market, a ms. has to be perfect to catch an editor's eye, so he suggests I have it looked over first by an independent editor he knows of called Janus Guile, who's in the same building as his. It costs $1,200, but he says it will give me a real edge. I think I'm gonna go for it, but I just thought I'd run it past you first and see what you think."

What I think is that everyone who has a novel they want to get published should go to Writer Beware and read every freakin word from beginning to end. And then read it again. For those who don't know, Writer Beware is a longstanding project of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Committee on Writing Scams. The committee researches literary fraud, posts informative articles about it, exposes new scams, maintains a database of questionable individuals, offers a free service for writers needing information about particular agents and editors, and assists law enforcement agencies with their investigations into these matters. And yes, they cover electronic publishing. Seriously, bookmark this URL:

A good rule of thumb when you're unsure about whether a certain practice is kosher or not: In the publishing industry, money flows to the author, not from him. We don't pay to have our books published; we get paid. If someone is asking you for money for any reason, that's a big red flag that things may not be on the up and up.

Okay, my standard caveat: I have little experience with e-publishing, so this article primarily concerns traditional print publication. That said, most of this advice is applicable to e-publishing. Naturally, with an e-publisher, you'll be communicating and submitting via email rather than snail mail. Bottom line: Go to the e-publisher's website, check out their submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter.

On to agents: Should you try to get one?


I realize there are folks who say you don't really need one, that you can sell the book yourself and save the agent's 15% commission, but that's just a tad shortsighted. If you've got an agent, nine times out of ten he or she is going to get you a bigger advance, higher royalties, and much better terms overall. As for selling the book yourself, a) unagented manuscripts usually take longer than agented ones to get read and don't carry as much weight, and b) selling the book is only part of what good agents do. They negotiate your contracts, advise you editorially, review your royalty statements, solicit the sale of subsidiary rights to your work, schmooze your editor and promote you to others, unearth publishing opportunities you would never have found on your own, handle that hard phone call the very thought of which makes you want to hurl...

And let's not forget the part where they get you more money. Do not, I beg you, tell me the money means nothing, because as I already established, making a living as a writer ROCKS BIG TIME. It means you get to spend your entire day writing instead of just those stolen moments when your boss isn't lurking around to see what you're actually using the computer for. And by the way, it really is nice having someone else pester your editor about where that *&^% check is so that you and said editor can enjoy a relationship based on art rather than filthy lucre.

"But Louisa," you ask, "is it not better to have no agent at all than a bad agent?" Why, how perceptive of you! Yes, indeed it is. A bad agent—one the editors don't respect, or who never returns your call and emails, who doesn't really know what he's doing, or who doesn't really get your book and submits it inappropriately—can wreak havoc with a writer's career. Yes, it can be hard for an unpublished author to land an experienced agent, but do not go with Thievish Mountebank just because no one else will represent you. You can submit your book to publishers yourself while you continue hunting for an agent who meets your criteria for legitimacy and professionalism. (In fact, it's not a bad idea to do that anyway, as long as you do it the right way; more on that next month.) The process of submitting your book unagented may take longer and be more challenging, but there are ways to help things along, such as pitching to editors at writers' conferences and submitting to writing competitions that are judged by editors who acquire your kind of book.

There are various ways to find out about agents who rep your genre, such as word of mouth, writing organizations, and online writers' forums. There are also online publications and services that charge subscription fees but are worth checking out, such as Writers' Market and Publishers Marketplace (where you can look up an agent's actual sales). An agent I know has this clever piece of advice: Go to the bookstore and look at the dedication pages of novels that are similar to yours. Authors often dedicate books to their agents (and if that isn't an indication of how important these people are to us, I don't know what is). Take a memo pad with you and write the names down, then look them up when you get home.

At the risk of coming off as paranoid after that Writer Beware business above, I need to point out that there is no qualifying or licensing procedure required for someone to hang out her shingle as a literary agent. Anyone can call herself an agent, and a lot of them have no business doing so. I therefore recommend that, when coming up with your list of agents to submit to, you check it against the membership of the Association of Authors' Representatives. In order to be a member of the AAR, an agent has to meet certain professional standards and subscribe to its Canon of Ethics. Among other things, they must avoid conflicts of interest, handle their clients' funds competently, securely, and privately, and keep their clients informed about everything that's going on with their work. They are also enjoined from accepting "secret profits" or reading fees. (They can, however, charge their clients for long distance phone calls, photocopying, postage, and the like.)

If an agent is interested in representing you, it's a good idea to interview him or her over the phone to determine whether they're a good match for you (not that you're going to call it an interview; be a little smoother than that). If you'd like, you can ask for the names and email addresses of some of the agent's clients for reference purposes, but how many agents are going to have you talk to clients with whom they have a less than fabulous relationship? In terms of personality, it's important that this person be someone with whom you can see yourself—and editors—forging a comfortable, trusting relationship. Agents tend to be self-assured people—they couldn't do their job otherwise—but if the one you're considering comes off as obnoxious, think long and hard about whether you want editors picturing him whenever they hear your name.

The agent is essentially the client's employee—we pay them to market our work—yet when it comes to taking on new clients, they're the ones who do the choosing. This may seem backward, but you wouldn't want it any other way. Have you ever tried to sell a product you didn't believe in? I have. I didn't make very many sales. You want an agent who loves and believes in your novel, which means you've got to let them read it and say yea or nay.

The process of sending your work to agents is much the same as with editors. You want to multiple submit to both, and there's nothing to stop you from submitting to both at the same time. More about that next month in Part II of this article, when I'll hold forth about identifying likely publishers, granting exclusives, pitching your book in person and on paper, query letters, partials, synopses, and perhaps most important of all: how to tell a revision letter from a rejection letter.

Louisa Burton
October 2007

"FictionCraft" © 2007 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.

About the Author:
Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martin’s. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at

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'07 Book Reviews


A for Amour / B for Bondage
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Cream: The Best of ERWA
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Coming Together for the Cure
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F is for Fetish
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Got a Minute?
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He's on Top
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Love on the Dark Side
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Lust: ...Fantasies for Women
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The Mammoth Book Vol 6
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Naughty Spanking Stories
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Quickies 1
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She's on Top
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Sixteen of the Best
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Amorous Woman
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The Boss
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Burning Bright
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Call Me By Your Name
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Dark Designs
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Equal Opportunities
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Gothic Blue
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The Lords of Satyr: Nicholas
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Riding the Storm
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Suite Seventeen
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Sweet as Sin
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