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.