The Discussion

by | January 29, 2015 | General | 5 comments

by Jean Roberta

[NOTE: This blog was supposed to go live on January 26, but too much multi-tasking caused me to miss my turn. Please excuse me for posting late.]

Those of you who read this blog are probably aware that a writer’s mind is a busy place, somewhat like Hyde Park Corner in London, England, where random strangers can show up and argue with each other. (That’s the only real-world location I know of that is designated for such activity.)

Apparently there is a stampede among writers to self-publish and sell the work on social media, including the various Amazon sites. Even non-writer friends have advised me to do this and thereby make lots of money. Hence the following internal argument.

Inner Cheerleader: Jean, you don’t have to limit yourself to working with established publishing companies. They just want to make money by selling your work.

Jean: Yes, just as the university that employs me just wants to recruit fee-paying students to sit in my classes. Everyone has a financial motive, even charity organizations. They “just” need to make a profit so they can spend it on good causes.

You sound like various bystanders who have reminded me that I don’t have to limit myself to: 1) writing about sex, 2) writing about women, 3) writing about lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or trans folks, 4) writing about Canadians (or about Canadian settings), etc. (Sarcastically) Why don’t I expand my range by writing stories about White Anglo-Saxon male American billionaires who fall in love with younger, poorer women? Oh, that’s been done.

Inner Cheerleader: But you need to keep up with current trends. What sells? Why couldn’t you tap into the zeitgeist? You can’t depend on publishers to promote your work. They don’t do that any more. Your colleague knows a woman who claims she is planning to retire from teaching in a university because she can earn a living by writing about sex with Bigfoot. There’s a market for that.

Jean: I don’t understand the appeal. I don’t think I could write that stuff convincingly.

Inner Cheerleader: If sincerity is your thing, you could exploit it. Why don’t you post a series of articles about your experience in the sex trade?

Jean: That was in the early 1980s. I don’t want to become known as Ye Antique Harlot from Times of Yore. It’s bad enough that the local media sometimes contacts me when there is a change in the laws about prostitution – because they can’t find anyone currently making a living that way. I really don’t want to speak on behalf of marginalized people young enough to be my grandchildren, who are already silenced by legal threats and social stigma.

Inner Cheerleader: But people want to read about sex. You need to have more of a public image. Why don’t you have some sexy photos taken of yourself, and post them in every place that will accept them?

Jean: You seem to be forgetting my age. You have no solid evidence that thrusting my greyish-brown bush (surrounded by cellulite) or the thin skin of my cleavage in the face of the public at large would lead to sales of my writing.

Inner Cheerleader: Photoshop is your friend. And you could be mysterious about your age.

Jean: The birthdates of published writers appear in their books. It’s a way of establishing legal identity.

Inner Cheerleader: Well, why don’t you write a tell-all autobiography, focusing on sex?

Jean: That sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Besides, my actual life is less satisfying in several ways than the stories I make up, which I why I write fiction in the first place. Most people like a plot arc: character sets forth on a journey, encounters difficulties, dragons and orcs, but discovers inner resources, soldiers on, and reaches a place of resolution. That is not a summary of my life, or any actual life I know of. Metaphorically, a life journey can be like that, but we all live in the mundane world.

I like to discuss my life-experience indirectly, by writing: 1) fiction, and 2) non-fiction. Sometimes poetry, though that seems to attract few readers these days.

Inner Cheerleader: I give up. I tried to help you. Don’t blame me if you never become a successful writer.

Jean: Dear narrow-minded aspect of my psyche, your conception of “success” is not the one accepted by most of the scholars I know. Whether my words succeed in lasting longer than I do, only time will tell.


Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica ( Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links:


  1. Rachel Green

    You make a good point. One of my publishers sends me small monthly cheques in dollars, whose value doesn't cover the amount the bank charges me to deposit it. Thus, although I have a novel ready to go to them (the fourth 'Meinwen Investigates') I'm more tempted to self publish, where at least I can spend the royalties.

  2. Daddy X

    Hi Jean-
    You say:
    Most people like a plot arc: character sets forth on a journey, encounters difficulties, dragons and orcs, but discovers inner resources, soldiers on, and reaches a place of resolution.

    Isn't it funny that fiction has to have beginning, a plausible story arc and a satisfying end to seem real, but real life is anything but that.

    • Jean Roberta

      Daddy X, isn't that the ultimate joke? The older I get, the more I wonder what is the theme or message in my actual life-story — and did I miss the climax of the plot? 🙂

  3. Jean Roberta

    Rachel, the bank charges that are larger than the royalties sound like something you could work into a narrative. You're so good at showing the absurdity of a society run by accountants and lawyers, who can pass for demons and vice versa. In your case, self-publishing might enable you to appeal directly to a cult following. 🙂

  4. Lisabet Sarai

    Oh Jean! I know this is intended to be ironic, but it definitely made me chuckle:

    " I don’t want to become known as Ye Antique Harlot from Times of Yore."

    I love what you write. Don't change.

    However – if you're feeling oppressed by publishers and their constraints, why not try self-publishing? There's no reason not to these days. As more and more books come out, it seems we get less and less from the publishing companies

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