Friday, September 19, 2014

Who do you write for?

Spencer Dryden


When I hit this topic I was immediately conflicted by what I wanted to say vs what I think an author should say. Then I got brain lock. What should an author say? That I have never compromised my art? Any writer who says that is a liar, deluded, and most likely, unknown.

I wish I could dial into readers the same way Steven Spielberg is dialed into me. He can make me laugh, cry, or scream whenever he wants. He hasn't had many mulligans—rare in the movie business.

I do my best writing when I am simply writing to entertain myself. Admittedly, I am a bit of an odd duck writing vanilla M/F erotic romance from a male point of view. I'm sure there is more of it around than I realize. I haven't spent too much time looking for other male writers. Maybe I should.  We could form a tribe of guys trying to make it in a world dominated by women and a female POV. (Incoming!)

First drafts are all about me, my clumsy language, split infinitives, so many 'that's, that I have all but worn out that word. And of course my favorite faux pas, the IDB (Independent Body Parts)—His eyes swept the room (because the vacuum cleaner was broken). I'm sorry, I like my IDB's when used with discretion. It's one of the few issues I've argued with my editor. I do have at least one body part that acts on its own and it is the source of lots of trouble.

As long as I'm down in the bunker, I'll say as a male writer, writing to a male audience (is there one?), I know my work is going to pass through a female gate keeper who has an eye toward a female audience. Bottom line, I shape second drafts and beyond in light of the fact that more women are likely to read my work than men.

This plays out most vividly in sex scenes. Men are visual and mechanical, at least ordinary guys like me—the guys I write about.  If I am going to do a sex scene and be true to the male experience, I shouldn't wander too far away from what I know. However, the trope in erotic romance surrounds the multi-layered physical sensations and emotional satisfaction of the woman. Men like me don't have that kind of experience in sex. We (I) become less attuned to the environment as our (my) excitement grows. (I know, not enough blood...) My work as read by women was often labeled as 'telling not showing.'  I had to take a step back to realize what they were saying...I wasn't connecting with readers expectations. I needed a new plan.

One of my goals for the year has been to raise the heat level of my stories. A famous publisher of erotic romance has a line dedicated to male oriented fiction. I want to be on that line-up. I decided I would read all of it, if possible, to see how it's done to the satisfaction of editors and at least one publisher.

Oddly, the entire roster of writers— writing male oriented fiction— are women. Huh? Imagine a publisher launching a line of lesbian erotica and only publishing stories by male writers. True, the story lines are following the editorial guidelines of 'less emphasis on relationships and more focus on men's needs and desires.' In the hundred or so stories I have read to date, many of the plots feature women acting like men in terms of promiscuity, which strains credibility, or they write the story switching the POV back and forth from the male and female characters, jumping to the woman's POV when it's time for sex. Those techniques don't work for me as a reader or a writer, but the reading exercise has helped me identify places to improve my storytelling and raise my heat level.

The work I'm submitting to them is better than what I'm reading, at least from a male perspective.(And a highly biased one.)  Unfortunately there are stories circulating about the hard times this publisher is experiencing. The articles surround the Amazon blame game. I wonder if its bigger. Everyone seems to be having trouble connecting with the reader. (Great topic for the future.)

I'm very fortunate to have found a couple of female beta readers who understand a male point of view with a sensitivity to female readers. In subtle ways my stories and sometimes my characters are feminized in that they are shaped closer to the expectations of a female readership.  I accept it, the same way I accept the necessity of something approaching the Chicago Manual of Style for construction, or meeting the formatting requirements for making a submission. Publishers want to sell books. So do I.

Am I selling out? I think of it as buying in. I don't know if that's what a author should say, but it is something an author with ambitions of marketplace success must be willing to do.


  1. Hi, Spencer,

    First of all - I believe you're talking about Ellora's Cave, right? Have you heard the recent news? Apparently they are going down the tubes. Best to set your sights elsewhere.

    Second, I believe you're making much too big a deal of the supposed differences between female and male points of view. In each gender there's a wide range of variation. Don't perpetuate the stereotypes. (Okay, I know that some of the editors are doing that. But you don't have to believe them.)

    Third - Having read a few of your stories, I have to say that they don't strike me as the sort of typical male stereotyped POV that you're discussing. Sure, your heroes are turned on by the women and enjoying the sensations, but it really matters to them WHO their partner is. This isn't just a body thing, it's a whole-person attraction. That's one of the aspects of your work that I really enjoy.

    Finally - follow your own instincts. You've got a distinctive voice, simultaneously humorous and intense. Don't try to write like somebody else. Instead, write more like you.

    1. I believe you're making much too big a deal of the supposed differences between female and male points of view. In each gender there's a wide range of variation. Don't perpetuate the stereotypes. (Okay, I know that some of the editors are doing that. But you don't have to believe them.)

      Hear, hear!

    2. To which I may as well add that I found the EC For Men guidelines, when they first appeared, incredibly insulting (to everybody).

    3. Jeremy:
      I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this. I did not find their guidelines offensive. However after reading nearly every work on the EC for Men roster published in the last two years I am more offended by the stories themselves. They are not about the male character's needs or desires but rather about the needs and desires of the women pursuing them. And I still object to the fact that only women are (were) published there. (I went beyond names and checked bios of each author I read) But I think it's all moot anyway.

    4. May contain relationships, but should focus more on the sex than the romance

      There is a wealth of discourse out there, much of it from women authors and readers (and some of it right here at OGAG!), attesting to how unenlightened and inaccurate the triuism is that women categorically want romance (and men don't). I think Lisabet hit the nail on the head by pointing to stereotyping and blindness to the fact that people are individuals, not cookie-cut gendered dolls.

      More of what men want or need from women: sex, love, acceptance, admiration, dirty talk; less of what they don't need (judgment, drama, expectation of anticipating woman's needs)

      Replace both "men" and "women" here with "people," and this would sound awesome.

      Realistic wording and dialogue for male characters (not the language women WISH men spoke)

      I'd respond to this as well, but my monosyllabic grunts aren't up to the challenge.

    5. Fair enough. We are, it seems, shouting into an empty cave.

  2. Hi Lisabet:
    Thank you for the compliment. I wrote this piece before the news broke about Ellora's Cave. A couple of my stories that were rejected by EC have been picked up by Breathless Press.

    I don't think I'm perpetuating a stereotype as much as I am describing a reality-publishers are looking to segregate markets. Nothing wrong with that. My complaint about EC for Men is it doesn't feature any male writers. We have lines and publishers dedicated to lesbians, gays and plenty dedicated to BDSM. I love the idea behind EC for Men-creating a brand targeted toward male readership. I just wanted to get into the club. I'm sorry to see them go. Based on comments I've seen in a variety of forums, individual authors are doing well but as a whole the publishing industry is in the doldrums.

  3. The more I try to customize my work, the more difficult it gets to write. I don't want to piss off my muse, so I just write what comes, and let the chips fall where they may. But this speaks to the recent thread on ERWA 'writers' about men using female pen names

  4. Daddy:
    Many of us erotic writers use pen names and for good reason. I'm opposed to gender switching with pen names, I think it is being deceptive rather than trying to preserve identity.

    1. Relax, Spencer. Don't take it all so seriously. :>)

      Judging by todays advances in understanding gender fluidity, all that may be moot in a few years.

  5. I think women need to read about sex from a male point of view...and about romance as well. It was quite a surprise to me that my husband is much more of a romantic than I'll ever be. When we were talking to our kids about sex, I was the one telling them to always remember condoms and practice safe sex. He was the one telling especially our sons that the emotional part of having sex with someone will surprise them, and that they need to think seriously about that part of the relationship, and not just allow themselves to be propelled into doing something they don't want to do, because they like the sex. He also warned them not to confuse good sex with something that will last forever, since it's possible to have excellent sex with someone you really don't want having an important place in your life.

    As readers, women should challenge themselves to read from the male point of view. And don't use a female pen name or initials, or those of us who want the difference won't know to read your stuff.

  6. I don't have too much to add to what's been said already. I agree very much about not buying in to stereotypes and the issues with the EC for Men guidelines. The one thing I can say, which I think I've commented on before when EC for Men has come up in discussion around posts is that I know EC wanted subs from male authors for it (though they probably didn't do the best job soliciting them... and... maybe good male authors didn't feel like writing to those stereotypes???)

    I am very frequently frustrated by ideas of what women want or how women would behave because they don't match my experience at all. I wish everyone would drop the pseudoscience and focus on writing good characters and recognizing that people are people.

    It would also help if there was a more sophisticated understanding of gender as opposed to this pop-psych Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus stuff. I know Daddy is intending to make a joke about gender fluidity, but I think taking the concept seriously would helpfully inform the way people thing about these viewpoint issues in erotica.