Kristina Wright

What It Means to be a Full-Time Writer

by Kristina Wright

Every month or so, I receive an email from an aspiring erotica writer. Often, they haven’t read anything I’ve ever written– they just Googled ‘erotica’ or ‘sex stories’ or something similar and up popped my blog, which is probably the least sexy blog ever written by an erotica writer. But they write to me anyway, inquiring about how they, too, can quit their day jobs and write erotica full-time. Or write anything full-time as one person told me: “I’d write anything if I could quit my job, erotica or science fiction or children’s books, whatever.” Which seems to me to be more about hating the current job than about a love for writing. And by “full-time” they mean make at least as much as they’re making at their current full-time job, if not more.

I’m a bit boggled by these emails, coming as they from strangers not familiar with me or my work or even  an idea about what it means to be a “full-time” writer. I’m equally boggled by the comments from friends and acquaintances alike (and sometimes strangers, too), who alternately joke about my “smut” writing or say things like, “I don’t want to get a real job when I retire. I want to be a writer.” Sigh… But I do know what they’re trying to say, I really do. What I do is not “real” to most people and I realize that. From the outside, what I do looks easy. Fun. Not work. Not effort. I try to explain the realities, but their eyes glaze over. Writing in and of itself is a very boring occupation to hear about. Writing is to other careers what golf is to sports. No one wants to hear about it, but from the outside it looks easy enough for anyone to do. What’s the big deal, right? You just write your fantasy or your dream from last night or an updated version of some story you read in high school. It’s as easy as hitting a little white ball into a little cup in the grass. How hard can that be, right? Until they attempt to do it. Then they’re looking for the magic backdoor into the world of being a full-time writer. The fun kind, of course.

I say I write full-time and I do, but it’s not 9-5 or 10-6 or Monday through Friday with weekends off. It’s when I can, as much as I can. It’s 11:30 AM until 4 or 5 PM, Monday through Thursday and sometimes 8 PM to midnight on those nights, too. It’s a few hours on Friday when my husband gets off work early and Saturday from the time the babies nap until Starbucks closes at 9:30 PM. It’s some Sundays when I’m under deadline, it’s even when I’m sick or tired or invited to go do something more fun. It’s staying up 3 AM writing a proposal on Thanksgiving morning when I have to get up at 7 AM to put the turkey in the oven. It’s thinking about and plotting stories when I wake up in the middle of the night, when I’m driving, when I’m playing with the two year old or putting the seven month old to bed. It’s cobbling anywhere from 30 to 50 hours a week from my schedule to do the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. That’s what writing “full-time” means to me. And sometimes I long for a regular schedule, normal hours, weekends and holidays off, not to mention a steady paycheck and vacation time and health benefits.  Full-time writers don’t get any of that. Sometimes we don’t even get a royalty check– I’ve seen royalty statements with negative signs in front of the numbers on the bottom line. Has a non-writer ever seen one of those from their full-time job?

I don’t think my schedule is what people have in mind when they say they want to do what I do. Not most of them, anyway. They don’t want to hear about the hours, or about the sheer hard work that goes into writing. Or about the rejections that come for stories only I love. They don’t want to know that they might put in six months of hard work into a manuscript that will never see the light of day. I have several manuscripts like that. Books that taught me a lot about writing but will never be published, which means I will never make any money on them. That’s the other thing aspiring writers are most interested in, after the easy and fun work schedule– the money. They envision bucket loads of cash raining down on them from the New York publishing gods. The polite ones assume I make more money than I do, the rude ones ask me outright how much I make. The answer varies from, “Not much” to “Enough to keep me in coffee” to “I can’t complain” to “How much do you make?”

Here’s the harsh truth none of them want to hear or believe about their own future-fantasy writing career: precious few full-time writers are just writers. We are freelance copyeditors and proofreaders. We ghostwrite memoirs and write advertising copy for the local freebie newspaper. We do technical writing and text book editing. We are fact-checkers and researchers. We are librarians and bookstore managers. We are anthologists and bloggers and artists. We teach three sections of College Composition at the community college each semester and we teach Writing the Personal Narrative at the local literary center. We hold writing workshops in library meeting rooms and we review books for a dozen different magazines and websites. We design blogs and websites for other writers and creative types and we do lots of things that have no real name but are somehow writing-related. Sometimes we do many of these things in any given year– and we still don’t make enough money to buy a new car or take a proper vacation.

Aspiring writers don’t want to hear the harsh realities of the easy and fun job of hanging out at Starbucks all day. They want to be the next Stephen King or Suzanne Collins or E.L. James. They want to be famous. They want that Glamour Shots photo they had taken five years ago (or that photo of them on that yacht that one time in St. Thomas) to be on the back of a shiny hardcover book in the front of Barnes & Noble. They have already chosen their pseudonym, it’s a combination of their mother’s maiden name and their favorite Jane Austen character. They spent a lot of money on a shiny new MacBook Pro but so far the only thing they’ve written are Facebook status updates about their muse and how they love the writing life. Mostly, they play Solitaire and drink $4 espresso drinks and send vague query letters to agents about the book they’re going to write if the agent can get them a three-book deal. When they haven’t gotten a response (much less an offer of representation) from an agent within the week, they write Facebook status updates about how the publishing industry is a clique, a dinosaur, a closed door to talented newcomers. Then they play another round of Solitaire and tell themselves they need to self-publish like what’s-her-name who made all that money on Amazon writing those vampire stories. Except they never bother to learn the ins and outs of successful self-publishing and none of the writers they have emailed randomly will tell them the secrets of being full-time writers. They assume it’s because those writers are intimidated by someone more talented– they never assume those writers are too busy writing, editing, teaching, etc., to tell them the truth: the only way to be a full-time writer is to find a way to write full-time, even if you also have a full-time “real” job, even if you have kids and a house and a chronic illness and elderly in-laws and, and, and… The only way to be a writer is to write. That is not what they want to hear. So they write a shitty review on Amazon for a book they never read, write a Facebook status update about how author X is a hack and her book is illiterate trash, then they go back to playing Solitaire, smug in the knowledge that when they do finally get around to writing and self-publishing their book, they will have the last laugh.

Does that sound harsh? A hack smut writer in her ivory tower pooh-poohing the brilliant aspiring writers who only need a bit of advice and an introduction to my agent, editor or publisher in order to become The Next Big Thing that I can never hope to be? Yeah, you caught me. Sorry. God knows I make so much money and I’m so wildly successful that any question about how to obtain my fun and easy lifestyle is to be perceived as a threat and immediately condemned. My apologies. Let me make it up to you and buy you a coffee while you tell me about your muse. What’s her name again?

What do I tell those questioning souls who email me for advice? I tell them all the same thing and, oddly enough, not one of them has ever written me back to thank me. I guess I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. But here is what I tell them: read a lot. Read everything. Read in the genre you want to write, yes, but also read outside of it. And write. For the love of all that is holy, write your ass off. Don’t write erotic romance because it’s the hot new (old) genre right now. Don’t write horror because you have a lifelong crush on Stephen King (I did and I do). Don’t write children’s books because they’re short and therefore must be easy to write. Write what you love to read. Write what inspires you and makes your heart go pitter-pat. Write the story you’re carrying around in your secret heart even if it doesn’t fit into any genre category. Write without thinking about the money, because the money might be years in coming if it comes at all. Hell, write without thinking about who might read what you’re writing. Write to please yourself. To turn yourself on. To scare yourself with how far off the deep end you’ve gone. Write with your real name at the top of the page, to remind you of who you are, not who you want other people to think you are. Forget about finding an agent or submitting your manuscript to a publisher until you actually have a manuscript to submit– a manuscript that has been written, edited and proofread, then read by a few trusted souls and edited again. A beautiful, as good as it can get manuscript that is representative of your very best work as a professional writer. Don’t have that yet? Then you’re not a writer. 

There are countless books and magazines and blogs about How to Be a Writer and I encourage all aspiring writers to read and understand as much about the craft as they can. But at the end of the day, the only thing you have are the words you have written. And if you haven’t written any words, you are not a writer. 

Oh, and one last thing: that word– aspiring? It’s bullshit. You either are a writer or you’re not. Which are you?

Building an Anthology from Scratch

by Kristina Wright

I have only been editing erotica and erotic romance anthologies since 2009, but I just signed the contract with Cleis Press to edit my eighth (eighth!) collection. With each new anthology, I try to streamline my guidelines and process to make it easier for the authors and, yes, for myself. This time around, I have an “auto reply” for submissions. Much as I want to respond to each submission, I will save those personal notes for the acceptances (and rejections). (Honestly, I think every editor should use an auto reply for acknowledging the receipt of submissions if the alternative is no acknowledgement at all.)

My story selection process may seem a bit convoluted. Or maybe it’s not. I really don’t know what the selection process is like for other editors, I just know what works for me. I read everything once and push it into one of three categories: Yes, Maybe, or No. The Yes and No piles are the smallest, at least initially. If I absolutely love, love, love something on the first read, of course I’m going to want to buy it immediately.

The No pile contains only the stories that have completely missed the mark. For a story to get a resounding No on a first reading means the author ignored the guidelines entirely or neglected to include all the necessary components. A paranormal erotic romance anthology must have stories that are 1) paranormal, 2) erotic and 3) romantic. Having two of the three will not cut it, unless it’s clear the author can flesh out the third element. No stories are often recycled stories that were intended for other anthologies and were never “freshened” up to fit a new set of guidelines. No stories are also the ones that are incorrectly formatted, lacking in correct grammar and punctuation or are generally the kind of mess that you’ve heard editors joke about. I’m happy to say that I haven’t come across too many of those stories– but yes, they do exist.

Finally, the Maybe pile is every other story– the good, well-written stories that I like and might very well buy, but I have to read everything first to see which ones I will choose. The Maybe pile also includes stories that might need a little tweaking– an additional scene for character development; a few hundred words cut from a story that has gone over the maximum word count; a plot twist added to give the story that extra umph to take it from good to great. Most stories are Maybe stories.

Once I’ve made the initial read of all the stories, I tackle the Maybe pile again, keeping in mind the stories I’ve already selected and the balance of the anthology. The second read is ruthless. I’m looking for stories that require a minimum of editing and complement the stories I’ve already chosen. I will shed a few tears when I cut some of the Maybe stories from the second reading. Okay, not really. But I will feel some regret to have to reject some very good stories. When I’m done with the second read, the Yes pile will be a little bigger, the No pile will be a lot bigger and there will still be stories in the Maybe pile. These will be the stories that, for whatever reason, make me hesitate before I reject them. They might have flaws, they might not be my cup of tea, they might be a little too “out there” or they might even be too similar to something else I’ve already filed in the Yes pile. But yet I won’t be able to say no to them. Not yet.

The third read is to answer one question: what’s missing? Here is where I’m willing to forgive the flaws, overlook the typos, see past the awkward dialogue to the diamond in the rough that is a good fit for the anthology. These are the stories I will buy because the authors have written something so unique I can’t forget about them.

You’d think I would be done after three readings, right? But no, then there’s a fourth, fifth and even a sixth reading. I read all of the Yes stories in the fourth reading, making sure I have enough stories to fill the book and that I’m in love with each and every story– and making sure I haven’t gone over my allotted page count, because that would mean having to cut a Yes story, which I don’t want to do. The fifth reading is to edit and put the stories in their proper order (which I will be attempting to do as I move through the third and fourth readings) and the sixth reading is the one where I put the book away for a few days, then read it with fresh eyes from beginning to end in one sitting to see if I’ve missed anything. That could be anything from having too many characters named Sarah or too many stories set in Maine or three stories in a row that are about shapeshifters or… whatever. It’s the tweaking reading, making sure everything is perfect before I send it off to my publisher.

Then, of course, there are the copyediting and proofreading reads after the book is returned to me. But those are easy by comparison because the book is finished and now it’s just a matter of fine tuning perfection. (I’m biased, what can I say?)

And that’s how I go about putting together an erotica anthology. And other than having to reject some great stories, I love every minute of it because I have met and gotten to work with the best authors in the genre.

How It All Started

by Kristina Wright

Let me tell you a story about why you’ll be seeing me here on the 28th of each month:

When I was invited to start blogging at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog, I said yes even though I didn’t have a clue what I would write about each month. I also wasn’t sure how I’d find the time. I’m kind of insanely busy these days, having had 2 babies in the past couple of years in addition to adding the title of anthology editor to my resume in that same time frame. But despite not knowing what I’ll be writing about on the 28th of each month (because I’m really a fiction writer and nonfiction is hard for me) or when I’ll even find the time to write (probably at 11:30 PM on the 27th…), I still said yes. And while it’s an honor to be included in the same lineup with some of my favorite writers (some of whom, I admit, intimidate me more than a little) there’s really only one reason I said yes: Adrienne Benedicks.

Adrienne is the woman behind the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. She’s the reason ERWA exists (and I remember back in the day when it was just ERA) and I can say with all certainty that she was the catalyst that started my erotica writing (and editing) career. And I bet I’m not the only author who can say that. I have met many wonderful editors and authors in the more than a decade I’ve been writing erotica (and now erotic romance), but it was Adrienne who gave me my start. She is amazing and tireless and kind and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for her or for ERWA. Seriously.

My erotica writing career started completely by accident in 1999. I had just published my first romance novel with Silhouette Books and my second novel had been rejected by them. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the book (I was told), it simply wasn’t what they wanted to see from me at that time. So I started down the tedious path of writing proposal after proposal (three-chapters-and-a-synopsis, ad infinitum) and having each one rejected. Part of it was I couldn’t seem to deliver another romantic suspense novel like my first book and part of it was I would be assigned to an editor who loved whatever I was currently working on, only to be reassigned to a new editor by the time the proposal was delivered. And so it goes…

I was burned out on novel proposals when I wrote a quirky little story called “Service Entrance.” It was about a married woman who pays a man for the privilege of giving him a blowjob. The story was little more than a writing exercise–something entirely different than anything I’d been writing for the previous year or so, something really “out there” and beyond the rules and regs of romance fiction. After writing novel proposals, I had actually finished something, even if it was only a subversive little short story. That in itself felt good. Refreshing! I had no idea what to do with the story–it wasn’t just sexy or erotic, it was downright dirty. I hadn’t read anything like it before and as an author who’d been told to cut several love scenes from her steamy romance novel, I was convinced I wouldn’t ever find a place that would publish it.

I might have filed “Service Entrance” away forever if not for my subscription to an electronic newsletter called Jane’s ‘Net Sex Guide and a timely call for submissions. The e-newsletter was put out by Jane Duvall, who was one of the first sex bloggers I ever read. The newsletter no longer exists, but Jane still runs the well-known adult website review blog Jane’s Guide. The editor of Jane’s ‘Net Sex Guide was none other than–ta da!– the wonderful Adrienne Benedicks. Each month, she featured a short story in the newsletter. I sent “Service Entrance” to Adrienne and she bought it within days. Not only was my head spinning from the quick turnaround time (at this point, I was used to waiting months for a response to a proposal that had only taken me weeks to write), Adrienne also sent me a lovely, flattering note of encouragement. That sale, and her kindness, changed my writing career and probably my life.

After that introduction, I discovered Adrienne’s Erotica Writers Association and sent “Service Entrance” off to editor Marcy Sheiner about a month later for consideration in an anthology she was editing. I didn’t think lightning could strike twice, but Marcy bought the story a few weeks later and “Service Entrance” went on to appear in the inaugural edition of Best Women’s Erotica (published in 2000). I was stunned. “Service Entrance” was my first erotica story and I had sold it twice in just a couple of months. I had not only found my niche, I’d found a home.

I have such appreciation and gratitude for Jane Duvall, Marcy Sheiner and–most of all– Adrienne Benedicks and her Erotica Readers and Writers Association for starting my career as an erotica writer. I just signed my seventh anthology contract with Cleis Press and I feel as if I have come full circle, being able to buy those first stories and send those encouraging notes. Giving back to the community that has given so much to me.

Hey, what do you know? Maybe my monthly blog posts here will have a theme after all.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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