The Writer & Erotica

I was clearing my Hotmail Inbox this morning,and came across a bulletin from the site ‘The Art Of Manliness’.

I’ve subscribed to their postings for several years. The site tackles some interesting subjects,giving useful advice – though it’s unintentionally humorous at times. The old advertising photos that it uses to illustrate articles,have a certain whimsy. It’s free to sign-up to – see the subscription box at the side of their page.

The bulletin that caught my eye was by author Marcus Brotherton,and is titled The 5 Insanely Difficult Steps to Writing a Commercially-Published Novel’

After writing a novel in 2014,I particularly agreed with what he has to say about how hard it is to get your work known :

But I’d also say to be prepared for a heavy dose of reality. Commercial publishing is a mercenary business, and works of fiction are harder to get published than non-fiction books. Publishing fiction is a longshot at best, and there are no fail-safe solutions anyone can prescribe to guarantee you success.

So, I offer a paradoxical sort of encouragement. For anyone contemplating writing a novel, I’d give two messages: both “you can do it” and “beware,” at the same time. The caution means that almost anyone can write and publish a novel, true, but there’s a high price to pay to do it, for which you need to be prepared. I’d be doing you a disservice if I told you otherwise.

One of the main problems is that people tend to think that the actual writing of the book is the only battle they will face in the process. But the writing is only about a quarter of what’s needed. The second quarter is the fight to get your manuscript published. The next quarter is relentlessly marketing your book once it comes out, which publishers expect you to do these days.

Then the final quarter is going to primal scream therapy after your book sales fail miserably, because by then you’re depressed and broke and visionless, and insanely jealous of John Grisham, James Patterson, Ken Follett, and Lee Child—pretty much the only four male scribblers who actually make money at this game.

People who haven’t done it,think that the actual writing of a story is the difficult part,but it’s all of the business side of it that takes time,effort and patience.

I’ve been self-publishing online for about eighteen months,initially on Smashwords,then on Amazon. I write novels,short stories,novellas,poetry and song lyrics. Although I’m confident in the worth of my writing,the actual marketing of it has been both intriguing and frustrating.

Sales have been poor,so as a ploy to raise my profile I decided to give all of my books away for free two months ago. I hoped that this might help to launch my novel ‘The Perfect Murderer’,that I laboured so hard at in 2014. Downloads of my books picked up and were encouraging,for after all the price was right.

Help yourself,while they’re still free – you might need to turn off Smashword’s Adult Filter to see them all.

I decided to compile a couple more collections of my poetry,including some erotic verse. I published ‘What Do You Like ?’ on Smashwords ten days ago,and to my astonishment it’s been downloaded 361 times ! Had I been charging my usual $2.99 for poetry,and if they’d been prepared to pay,I’d have earned $1,079 or about £708.

I’m beginning to understand why there are so many stories about sex on Smashwords. I’ve been looking down my nose at them all a bit,thinking they were just jumping on the 50 Shades band-waggon. But if it’s sex that sells,then that’s what writers will write. I expect that many of them are like me,who were exasperated at their best literary efforts being ignored,so wrote something naughtier and were amazed at the results.

The next time that you see someone using a Kindle in public,to read a book,I bet that they’ll be secretly getting turned-on by something erotic ! The very anonymity of these e-reading devices has led to a boom in erotic writing.

I’m a long way from being a prude,but some of the titles that I see published appear to cross over the fine boundary between erotica and pornography. As the old adage goes – ‘ Being erotic is when you make love to someone using a feather. Pornographic is when you use the whole chicken !’

Writing fiction,one has to get into the mind-set of whoever you’re describing. This can have quite an effect,as I found when researching ‘The Perfect Murderer’ where I had violent nightmares about shady figures stalking me. I can’t say that writing erotica was particularly arousing though,but I’ve got enough happy memories to draw upon to make it sound realistic.

I’m really not sure what to tackle next,and whether I should ditch any literary aspirations at all,but write in a shallow,steamy and titillating way,promoting by book with sexual tags – erotic,sex scenes,kinky,insatiable etc,etc.

To add to my confusion,I put together a second collection of erotic verse,which I published at the weekend. I already had five poems about sex that were unpublished,so wrote four more. These were more overtly sexual than the others,to make the collection steamier. The irony is,that I felt about as erotic as a cold used tea-bag,as I sat here in 50 degrees wearing fifteen garments,including woolly gloves,and with my feet resting on a hot-water bottle.

I expected the new book ‘Chasing Big ‘O’ ‘ to be noticed and downloaded lots,for after all I’d used the alluring tags of ‘erotica’,’sex’ and ‘orgasm’ to describe it. To my surprise,only twenty people have downloaded it so far – I guessed that at least 100 would do so over the weekend. The reason that they haven’t may simply be down to the new book not having naked flesh on the cover. Instead it shows a fragmenting female statue. This means that readers aren’t even bothering to use the tags to search – simply looking for something that might be rude.

This amateur market research has only produced one firm conclusion – readers like erotic verse and stories.

I’m not the first writer to be confronted with this trap. One of my favourite crime authors is Lawrence Block,whose recovering alcoholic detective hero was partly instrumental in helping me to quit booze nineteen years ago. Like the famed writer Donald Westlake,Block started off his career writing porn paperbacks under a series of pen-names. Those were the days when such a trade was seen as shameful,rather than a reason for instant celebrity and admiration.

Onwards,and who knows where ? 

The writer who made millions by self-publishing online

A couple of years ago, Amanda Hocking needed to raise a few hundred dollars so, in desperation, made her unpublished novel available on the Kindle. She has since sold over 1.5m books and, in the process, changed publishing forever.

While I’m pleased for her success,I sometimes wonder at how skewed people’s buying patterns are by what they see as worth reading. J K Rowling could sell millions of copies of a book containing her shopping lists,simply because of her previous success. People buy what they know,especially when money is tight.

I sometimes wonder how many authors a typical reader could name,and also how many of them they regularly read. I’m guessing that it’s not many. I once knew a man who was proud to read books,but the only author that he ever bothered with was Stephen King. That’s all he read,and had hundreds of copies of his titles – some of which were collectible. He wouldn’t even try other horror writers,such was his obsession. He couldn’t be unfaithful to his idol.

Two ex-girlfriends had strange reading tastes. One loved misery memoirs,to the point where I realised she was both a masochist and a ghoul who relished the suffering of others. The other woman forced herself to read all of the short-listed books for the various literary prizes,even if she didn’t enjoy them. This was all part of her desire to improve herself,which was laudable,but didn’t offer a lot of enjoyment. Have you tried reading Keri Hulme’s ‘The Bone People’ ? It won the Booker Prize in 1986,even though it cries out for editing and guidance on some truly awful writing.

We all have different tastes,and people’s likes and dislikes are as diverse as their preference in food,music and the clothing that they wear. I’d never read an Amanda Hocking novel,have only read the first four of the Harry Potter series and a few of Stephen King’s novels – I prefer his straight dramatic stories such as ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘The Green Mile’ to his horror output. I gave up on ‘The Bone People’. Life is too short to force myself to read work that fails to engage me.