My Time At Necon

I returned from Necon this past Sunday. Necon is the Northeastern Writers Conference which is for horror writers but what I learned applies to any writer. The conference was held in a conference center in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

I was on one panel: Heroes Like Me: The Importance of Representation in Genre. There is more of a problem with representations of women in horror fiction and films than in romance or erotica. I’m happy to see that strong female characters who aren’t doormats or shrinking violets are much more popular in romance and erotic fiction now than they have been in the past. Women in these stories know what they want and they go after it. Sometimes, especially in the billionaire genre of romance, the heroine is inexperienced and rather naïve, but I’ve noticed she comes into her own as the story progresses. The hero often learns quite a bit from her. Hero and heroine are on equal footing in many of the stories.

Other panels included Guest of Honor interviews, Collections, and Editing. I was especially interested in the editing panel since I enjoy writing for anthologies. Some of the panelists were editing anthologies I had submitted to. I managed to snag some fine guests for my podcast Into The Abyss With Elizabeth Black. I took July off and I’ll start up shows again in August.

The best part about Necon was the same thing I liked about the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat – socializing. Everyone was friendly and on equal turf. The casual atmosphere was very relaxing. I didn’t have to pay $50 or more to talk to an author and have him or her sign a book. There was a pre-Necon party I attended at one guest’s house. I saw old friends and made new ones. The BBQ ribs and chicken were delicious and I even had stuffed clams. You can’t live in New England and not eat stuffed clams. There were gatherings in the outdoor courtyard every evening with saugies, which are hot dogs well known in Rhode Island. They’re longer than most hog dogs and they have casings. They were delicious on the grill. I mingled and chatted which isn’t easy for me since I tend to be on the shy side. I talked to other writers about what they were working on. I did not ask the editors of the anthology I submitted to when submitters would hear back. That would have been in bad form. I know the rejections and acceptances will come soon enough. The networking opportunities were very good.

I liked Necon and I will attend again next year, money permitting. I do highly recommend writers attend conferences and conventions when they can. Some good ones are Viable Paradise, Clarion, Readercon, Arisia, and the RWA convention. Some of these cons include agents and publishers. The opportunity to pitch yourself is more than welcome.

Who’s Destroying “Literature”—Agents, Readers or Writers Themselves?

by Donna George Storey

They say you have to have a provocative title to get eyeballs, but I couldn’t seem to come up with anything involving Fifty Shades of Grey this month and still keep my self-respect. Yet we all know there’s been a seismic shift in publishing over the past years, and few are certain where we’ll be when the rubble is cleared away.

Let’s face facts, “literature” and publishing are not what they used to be. Or at least not what I thought they were supposed to be as an undergraduate English major, dutifully paying homage to the Great Authors in my literature classes and paying somewhat more cynical, but nonetheless respectful, homage to the Possibly-Great Contemporary Authors who came down from New York to teach creative writing classes one afternoon a week.

Back in those golden days, being published meant your work was chosen by an eminent publishing house, carefully shaped by an expert editor, lovingly shepherded to market, and eventually taught to dewy-eyed undergraduates as a deathless example of the heights to which human creativity could climb.

I started publishing my more-or-less-literary work in 1997 when the vestiges of that old mirage were still quivering in the desert air, but I quickly learned that when your work is published, most (all?) authors, get a different view of the matter. Simply put, publishing is about making money, and any artistic value is secondary. Case in point: Fifty Shades of Grey.

Is anyone to “blame” for this turn from our higher nature toward the baser rewards of profit? Whether you see an impersonal historic force at work or prefer to find mustache-twirling villains, it’s always entertaining to point fingers. Onward to the first culprit.

Villain #1: The Agent

A literary agent is the traditional gatekeeper to elite publication. In the fantasy version, she or he selects talented new authors from the hopeful queries s/he receives, becomes best friends with said authors, and loyally supports their inevitable enshrinement in the literary canon.

In reality, of course, agents take a percentage of their clients’ earnings and thus, to make a living, need clients who actually earn something. A friend recently took a query-writing workshop from a relatively successful agent and came away with an interesting lesson. Agents care far less about the synopsis of your novel than your “platform,” or what you can contribute to profits through your established reputation, professional connections and marketing savvy. 

Agents are said to like “comparables”—that is a comparison to commercially successful works as in “My novel is a cross between the Bible and Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Harry Potter, Twilight and Pride and Prejudice.” This, of course, encourages a highly conservative approach to choosing clients. If everything must be comparable to a previous commercial success, where is the room for something different? Hollywood since Jaws gives us the answer… nowhere.

Still one can’t help but pity literary agents, whose jobs are clearly threatened by the Internet. Publishers Weekly recently posted an announcement from HarperCollins to the effect that they are starting a “digital-first” imprint to publish “new authors of visionary and transformational fiction” (like Fifty Shades of Grey?). This imprint, HarperLegend–a poignantly hopeful name–is open to unagented manuscripts, although the publishing house affirms it still deals mainly with the agented kind. But, really, why not hire more young college graduates to mind the slush pile and cut out the middlewoman?

Agents may deserve some blame for the death of the value of art over money, but like it or not, at least they’re going down with the ship.

Villain #2: The Reader

In my research for my historical novel, I’m learning about leisure pursuits before the advent of radio, television and the Internet. By 1890 or so, public entertainments—dance halls, amusement parks, and picture shows—were rapidly gaining in popularity, but most good clean fun was still had in the home where families sang around the piano and read aloud from edifying works while the ladies did their needlework by the kerosene lamp.

Writing short fiction for commercial magazines was still profitable enough to make F. Scott Fitzgerald a handsome income in the 1920s and as late as the 1970s, I remember that novels by Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow were must-reads for anyone who claimed the slightest cultivation.

Who reads now?

Sure, there’s free stuff on the internet, but what makes a reader shell out money to produce those profits the publishing houses require? Perhaps it was always so, but the main motivation seems to be “what’s in it for me?” Are we talking a self-help book that will assure instant, painless weight loss or immediate financial bounty? Did a celebrity write it? Is it already a bestseller all my friends are talking about that includes child abuse and tattoos? Did it win a literary prize and also come with the requisite child abuse and suicide? Can I make my own decision about what I want to read rather than rely on someone else’s opinion? (Nah, too much work. I rely on Amazon one-star reviews myself. If the pans are smart, I pass.)

Now the thoughtful reader has been a dying breed for quite some time. In her biography of Mary McCarthy, Carol Brightman writes of the critical response to The Group, a 1963 best-seller that frankly (for the time) explored the erotic lives of eight Vassar graduates:

“With reviews and parodies such as these, a new chapter in American literary life had begun, one in which the prominent reviewer wielded more power than the author, not because of the priestly functions of criticism but because fewer people took reading and writing seriously, and thus reviewers got the last word—especially when they were also famous authors, blocked, for the moment, from the ‘creative stuff.’ Dealing in reputations rather than texts put them in the cockpit of a world where reputation, meaning celebrity, was the common coin of the realm.” (Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World, p. 461)

Perhaps the thoughtful reader was never as abundant as we’d like to imagine, but we see that celebrity was certainly an important factor in publishing long before Rob Lowe took up his pen.

Villain #3: The First Fifty Pages

As those of you who have approached literary agents know, a fortunate query will be followed up by a request for the first fifty pages of the manuscript. If the agent believes these pages suggest a selling book, s/he will request the complete manuscript. Thus, it is very important to make sure the beginning of your book promises commercial success. The leisurely novel openings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are a thing of the past. The reader must be hooked as quickly as possible.

I recently read that it is likely that surprisingly few publishing insiders actually read the entire book. Certainly don’t expect the marketers, promoters or critics to do so. Recently I realized that this focus on the early hook explains a lot about my dissatisfaction with many of the books I read, whether fiction or nonfiction. Far too often, the promising, lively opening chapters fall flat so that by the end I feel duped and resentful of the author for betraying his promise. From now on, I’m going to pay attention to the timing of this downward dip of art and interest. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the decline beginning somewhere around page 51.

Here’s where we writers need to take responsibility. Yes, we must polish up those first fifty pages to be noticed by the professionals in the industry, but the rest of the book should be worth reading, too. Worse still are successful authors who are cajoled into reprising their bestsellers with sequels that seldom live up to the original. This is the saddest con of the publishing business.

In the end, however, I would suggest that the greatest villain is a naive, idealized view of the publishing industry, a view to which I must plead guilty in my life before my work was published. Books may seem like friends, but they were born of the bottom line.

Thus, a solitary writer cannot control the market, the publishing procedures, agents, editors or readers. We can try to write for reasons other than profit, even as we must pay some mind to marketability so that our work has the chance to reach a broader readership. Each of us can, in our own individual way, try to rebuild the fine art of storytelling as a way to connect with our readers in the spirit of trust, not profit.

By the time the tremors of new technologies in communications have subsided, publishing may end up a very different business, or it may have more or less the same fundamental characteristics in new wrapping. Yet readers will always love and appreciate a good story well told. All we have to do is write it.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at

Did Fifty Shades of Grey Kill the Erotica Revolution?

by Donna George Storey 

Remittance Girl’s farewell column this month got me thinking—as always and sadly for the last time here at the ERWA blog. What effect has the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon had upon erotica writers? When the tidal wave first hit back in 2012, there was hope expressed that the novels’ huge readership would seek out the works of other erotica writers now that they’d been exposed to the pleasures of sexually explicit stories. I also hoped we’d all rise together, but didn’t really believe it would happen.

All signs suggest it has not happened.

Not that Fifty Shades is the only oppressive factor in the radically changing publishing world, but it’s certainly played a role. I appreciate that this may be a romantic recasting of history, but my exposure to erotica began with the mainstream publication of Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus in 1977. Of course I’d read Penthouse and more avidly its sister publication Viva, which was supposedly aimed at women, but Nin’s work showed that erotic stories could be beautifully written and gain some respect, or at least a glowing review in the New York Times Book Review. That erotic writing could be intelligent and literary was a revolutionary concept for our society.

A decade later, literary erotica, especially that written by women, was much more widely available and I’d even say the variety and quality of writing was celebrated. In the mid-1990’s I was personally inspired to write erotica by Maxim Jakubowski’s 1996 edition of The Mammoth Book of International Erotica and Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica 1997. I was particularly taken with a piece in the latter entitled “Lunch” about a man who pays for a private luncheon show involving spinach dressed in the female lubricant of a woman who is aroused by a dwarf rubbing a scarf between her legs. Pretty creative as it goes, but the real draw for me was the friend who introduced the narrator to the show—a guy named Drew who was shamelessly intimate with his own sexual desires. I wanted to be Drew. Writing erotica promised a path to that self-knowledge.

After a lot of labor and the requisite callous rejections, I eventually began to be published by the erotica webzines like Clean Sheets, Scarlet Letters, Fishnet, Oysters and Chocolate and The Erotic Woman. Eventually my original inspirations, Maxim Jakubowski and Susie Bright, published my work, as well as great editors like Violet Blue, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Alison Tyler with publishers like Cleis and Seal. My work even got me checks from places I’d never dreamed I’d penetrate like Penthouse and the Playboy Cyber Club.

None of this ever made me rich. In fact, the day I got my Penthouse check, I was pulled over for running a “red light” while making a left turn (I swear it was yellow, but the cop didn’t buy it) and the generous fine ate up the entire payment for my story. Crime does not pay, obviously. However, I did enjoy being part of a vibrant community of writers, many of whom write columns here today.

Then, somehow, the webzines, the publishers, the interest in a variety of well-written erotic tales, it’s all disappeared.

Can we lay the blame on the Fifty Shades phenomenon? I think so. Certainly we can blame the publishing industry, which has seen that “erotic writing” can make tons of money, so therefore the only kind worth publishing is that which will make as much as Fifty Shades. Of course, since no one really knows why a certain work catches fire, publishers play it safe and back projects that are like Fifty Shades at the expense of other kinds of stories, ignoring the lesson of history that the real next big thing will not be a copycat, but will come from a different direction. Most importantly, we must remember that commercial publishing has never been about giving the public high-quality writing. It’s about making money with as little risk as possible.

In his column this month, Garce reminds artists that if we focus on being rock stars rather than musicians, we’ll lose our creative souls. There are some writers who genuinely love to create the kinds of stories that are seen as marketable today, and these people have found their time in the wake of Fifty Shades. For those of us who feel more inspired by stories about X-rated salad dressing, well, let me put my own cock-eyed optimism out there. The urge for erotic expression is always with us, no matter whether the official culture is Puritanism, Victorianism, Freudianism or FiftyShadesofGreyism. I believe our time will come again or at the very least, there are readers out there who will appreciate our stories.

Writing makes me feel more alive. It enriches my world in ways money never can. In certain moods I do despair that Fifty Shades has placed expectations on our genre that few if any can meet. But that’s only when I’m not writing what I love.

And writing what we love, what we were born to write, is always the answer.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at

Writing this Novel part VII

By Kathleen Bradean

I’ve been in the tiny universe of
erotica long enough that I understand the niches publishers inhabit, but you
might not. Perhaps you wrote your story with a publisher in mind. If you
didn’t, you’re going to have to do some research. Go to the publisher’s website
and check out their newest offerings. Read their submission guidelines. If
possible, read a couple of their books. Don’t waste their time and don’t waste yours
sending the wrong book to the wrong publisher.

Just as you wouldn’t submit a book
on puppy training to a publisher of cookbooks, you shouldn’t submit your erotic
romance novel to a publisher of (literary) erotica. If you don’t know the
difference between erotic romance and literary erotica, don’t feel bad. It’s
not a simple distinction and the line between the two is blurry at best. As a
generalization, erotic romance is written in the genre style of romance. It absolutely
requires a happy-ever-after or happily-for-now ending, and focuses on the relationship
between two (sometimes three) people. So yes, there’s graphic sex but it’s
about bonding the characters emotionally. 

Literary erotica is written in the
genre style of literary fiction, but it can have a happily-ever-after ending
and it may focus on a relationship. Rather than emotional bonding though, sex
scenes are (normally) used to define or change a character. 

Still don’t know
where your book falls in the spectrum? Erotic romance sells better than
literary erotica, so if you have a novel that dances on the foggy boundary (with requisite
happy ending), and sales matter to you, you might want to call it erotic romance and seek out those publishers.


Before you sign with any publisher,
send emails to several writers with books at that publisher. Ask them if their
publishing experience was good. Ask them if they get paid royalties regularly
and on time. Find someone who used to publish through them who doesn’t anymore
and ask why. Check Predators and Editors. If you’ve hung around writer’s lists
long enough, you’ve seen the horror stories of unpaid royalties, rights being
tied up in court, unprofessional and unscrupulous business practices, and a
host of other problems. Experienced writers place their books with several
different publishers to mitigate exposure to their publisher’s business
problems, but even a good shop can go to hell overnight, especially if it’s
small press and the owner is essentially the entire company. All it takes is a
car accident or sudden illness. I’m not saying be paranoid, but be aware of who
you’re entering into a contract with. It’s called due diligence. Do your
homework. Protect yourself.

Also check the terms of the
contract thoroughly and know what each paragraph means. There are websites that
will warn you about bad contract terms. Things I’ve turned down contracts for:
a clause that said I could never speak ill of the publisher or its employees.
First look rights (this sounds good but it isn’t for YOU). A contract that
meant they had my rights forever. A contract that demanded I prove my gender. Lousy
ebook royalties.  The right to use 100%
of my story for “advertising” with no additional compensation in any
publication or website the conglomerate owned. 
And yes, I tried to negotiate those terms because everyone says you can
negotiate. “Everyone” is either a writer with a lot of pull or a liar because for
the most part you’ll be told to sign it or go away. Only you can decide what’s
right for you and how desperate you are to be published.

Five or six years
ago, a large erotic romance e-publisher bought a novel from me. (Yes, I wrote a book that could pass as erotic romance. It happens.)  Three months after the contract was signed,
they sent an email that they tried to back date telling me that my novel was
rejected. Yeah, you can type a date from months ago in the body of an email,
but the time stamp of when it was received is all that counts, people. For some
reason telling me they changed their mind was out of the question, and so was
being polite or apologetic about it. I still have that SIGNED contract in my
files. Did I try to enforce it? No. I didn’t see the point. I didn’t want to do
business with a company that proved they had no morals. So just be aware that
even a signed contract means nothing unless you have
the means and desire to fight it in court if it is breached.


I had a publisher in mind when I
wrote Night Creatures (still playing with the title, I may make it Night
.)  so I didn’t have to research
them. I did, however, have to ask what they like to see in a submission and how
they wanted it formatted, because part of being a professional writer is taking
the business side seriously. If your writing doesn’t make your story stand out,
don’t for a second believe that comic sans font will. Giving the publisher what
they want, in the format they want it, and only what they want tells the
publisher that you’re a reasonable person who won’t give them trouble over
stupid things. (So if your manuscript is accepted, prove it by not being an ass
over stupid things. Seriously, writer folk, don’t be THAT writer.)  

After I knew what the publisher
wanted, I put together my submission package, which in this case was an email.
They didn’t ask for a synopsis (joy, rapture! I loathe writing a synopsis) so I
sent a simple cover letter (body of the email), formatted like a business email
(my full contact info, date, etc.), with all the usual cover letter info: title
of the work, genre, word count (complete) in the first paragraph. A brief
synopsis of the story (second paragraph). Wind up: thank you for your
consideration… in the third paragraph, and a signature block. The full
manuscript was an attachment.

Sent it off and waited. And waited…
After a couple months I sent a polite inquiry about where I was in the
submission process. Polite. Don’t even type with an attitude. It’s a discreet
cough, not a temper tantrum. And I got a very nice reply back that basically
said “We need a few more weeks.” Not a problem, so I waited.

And here’s where you may expect
that I say “And it’s coming out in October!” Well, no. The publisher wants me
to rewrite the first two chapters and resubmit. Did I collapse onto my fainting
couch? Did I send it off to a different publisher? No. Rejection isn’t
personal. It’s an opportunity to learn something. 

Being honest with
myself, I know that the first two chapters were the weakest part of my novel.
So I’m working on those chapters. I told the publisher that I would resubmit it
when I fixed my work, and I will. Now, if it’s turned down after that, I could
turn to another publisher, but because I understand the niche markets
publishers inhabit, I already know that there are few who would touch this edgy
piece. It’s dark and it’s bloody. I could self-publish. I think about those
options but it’s far too early in the process to give up on this publisher just

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


Babysitting the Baumgartners - The Movie
From Adam & Eve - Based on the Book by New York Times Bestselling Authors Selena Kitt



Pin It on Pinterest