Friday, December 12, 2014

Goal!

Spencer Dryden

A thirty-fifth anniversary looms ahead. Let me be the first one here to mention it. On February 22, 1980 one shot  from the stick of Mike Eruzione changed the course of USA Hockey. It was the deciding score in the defeat of the powerful Russian team —"The Miracle on Ice". It lifted the nation's spirits, which were sorely flagging due to prolonged recession and the helplessness we felt from the endless stalemate over the hostage situation in Iran. Other analysts have said that it rekindled a spirit of American Exceptionalism that ultimately elected Ronald Reagan. I don't know about that one. All I know was that it was played on a Friday afternoon. It was so unlikely that the USA would win that it wasn't broadcast live.
For all the accolades that flowed in the aftermath, fundamentally, it was a terrible shot, and therein lies the lesson. Eruzione was skating backward, his weight was on the wrong foot and he wasn't at a good shooter's angle. The shot itself was a tickler rather than a laser. Analyst Ken Dryden, called it "a good low shot", but the most one could hope for was a rebound from a kick save.  The miracle on ice was that the shot found the back of the net. It should have been a routine save. Eruzione got just enough of a screen from the Russian defenseman that the puck handcuffed the goalie Myshkin. It was behind him before he knew where it was.  And the rest is history.
The immediate lesson of the Eruzione goal is: shoot the puck. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, the NHL's all time scoring leader, has said, "The scoring percentage on shots not taken is zero." That simple nostrum is as hard to follow on the ice as off. There's no rejection for a shot not taken.
One of my goals in 2014 has been to shoot the puck - in author's terms, make regular submissions. Throughout 2013 I had built a decent inventory of my male-centric brand of erotic fiction. But they were just sitting there as if awaiting some sort of anointing. I tweaked and tweaked, trying to imagine what I might be missing. I write to entertain myself, but that doesn't mean anyone else will be entertained.  I think I read close to one hundred stories of varying lengths, mostly shorter works, trying to get a feel for what worked. I thought my stuff was better than a lot of what I was reading. Still, I balked.  
My hesitancy was due in part to what I was seeing on the market. Actually it was what I wasn't seeing. Except for that cave place that claimed it was for men, there was no publishing house I could find that published male-centric erotic romance. Other male authors in the genre that I found are self-published. I didn't feel ready to go that route. There is a trope in erotic romance of employing a split POV. Part of the book is the man and his thoughts, part is the woman's. Often the only tension is their misunderstanding. I don't like those stories as a reader. My POV is strictly male. Female character's inner workings are revealed only through action and dialogue.
Then  fate intervened. In October of 2013. I had a emergency surgery for a kidney stone too large to pass. I learned what a ten was/is on the pain scale. Let me say in all humility that if men had babies we'd be extinct by now. In the aftermath, I mused that men my age can wake up feeling fine and by five PM they are on a slab at the funeral home or in the nursing home sitting in a wheel chair with a drool cup.
In January of 2014, I turned 64. It was time to jump over the boards and get in the game. I put my fear aside and starting shooting the puck. Three of them have found their way to the net. While Eruzione's little wobbler was a game winner, mine have been anything but. Still, I've learned more about the craft of writing since getting on the score board then I was learning on the bench. Critique groups are good, crit partners are essential, but the true measure of your work comes after it's out there with a cover and can't be hauled back to the bench.
I'm getting better. I'm not really a better writer, but I am becoming a better editor. My stories are often criticized for being too short. I told one commenter that if I knew what to add I would have done it. The stories were the perfect length for me, but not the perfect length for the reading audience who seem to be looking for an elongated emotional experience. I'm working on staying longer in the moment the way Lisabet and Giselle do so well. A few extra lines of dialogue, some additional back story carefully woven in, more descriptive material, drawing out pivotal scenes, adds depth rather than length.
It was only after being published the first time that this whole "author platform" came into my awareness. It's like I have to be the cheerleader, sell tickets, refreshments, clean the toilets, act as sports information director, and play-by-play announcer. I haven't been able to balance the creative and the promotional so I have taken time away from writing new material to build my platform. It's wobbly at this point, like a first time on skates.  I have one more work due out in February then I think I'm going to crawl back into my refrigerator box dwelling and start writing again.

I write stories about male fantasies for a straight male readership. My big challenge for 2015 is to find ways to reach directly to a male readership instead of trying to reach around female readers. I know it's not a big market now, at least for erotic romance, but it is a potential growth market.  Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Oh almost forgot. Mike Eruzione recently auctioned the jersey he wore at that game. The winning bid was $657,000. I wonder what the Russian goalie, Myshkin got for his jersey? ( Wait for it...) Not one red cent.

9 comments:

  1. I like your hockey analogy, Spencer. Ya gotta take the shot. Like Clarence "Pine Top" Smith said, "Use what you got, 'cause that's all you get."

    Funny- I started writing erotica at 64 as well. At the time, I thought erotica was the realm of male readers. How wrong that was. As a younger guy, I often fantasized about women who liked erotica. Besides watching sex films with a few girls, I never knew how popular erotica was with women. Of course, the progression from romance to erotica isn't really a huge leap.

    And I don't think the do-it yourself aspect of publishing is that different from business as usual in the U.S. We're constantly told that we can do stuff ourselves. That goes from pumping gas to packing your own groceries. It eliminates jobs. That's why we see so many jobless, homeless here. Some people are destined to pump gas. Where are the jobs for them. Publishing used to encompass designers, compositors, printers, binders, sales and advertising staff. They're gone too. We used to have these things done by professionals in the trade who did it all week all year. Now we have beginners doing the same jobs. Sure, some become better than others at it, but damn! Seems like a race to the bottom.

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  2. Just wanted to add that the do-it-yourself thing isn't all negative. After all, I probably wouldn't be published today if not for that aspect.

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  3. Amen. And a guy my (our) age would never have been offered a book contract in the agented/print era- too old to ever build a portfolio or a following.

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  4. Hi, Spencer,

    Congratulations on "getting into the game". Honestly, I think you're doing pretty well.

    I do want to give you a little lecture, though. ;^)

    1) Stop harping on this "I'm writing for guys and I don't know how to reach them" thing. I guarantee that there are tons of women who would enjoy "Then, One Frozen Christmas Eve". Even though it's told from the male's perspective, it's focused on the desirability of the female. Woman readers will identify with Becky - especially because Don is such a true gentleman (horny as he is). Despite what you might think from some romance, women do appreciate being treated well. The near reverence you have for them shines through in every story of yours that I have read.

    2) Don't get all hung up on the marketing/platform issue. Writing is MUCH more important. You can be on every social network, blog and tweet until you're blue in the face, do contests and signings, whatever. It does NOT guarantee that your books will sell. The best way to sell books is to write them. If a reader likes something of yours, he or she is going to want more.

    I'll get down off my soapbox now... ;^)

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  5. Thanks Lisabet:
    As painful as it is to hear you are quite right.

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  6. Lisabet's right. I get as much positive (as well as negative :>) feedback from women as I do from men, and I too write from a male perspective, even when I do a first person female character. Don't try and target your readers too narrowly. You may be surprised who actually buys them. Vary your perspective too. Even if we don't make it big (it's a long shot), I still think appealing to as many readers as possible would be key. Down the road, if you find one type of story sells better, then you can try to focus more. For now, have fun with what you do so well. It'll evolve soon enough with some satisfaction and confidence to move on to other stuff you want to do.. Ultimately, it'll be the most rewarding that way, especially if you don't need the income.
    Then:
    Let your freak flag fly! Let the creativity flow.

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  7. I'm with Lisbeth. Is there really that much difference between what men and women like to read, except that women do a whole lot more reading?

    When I was an adolescent spending much of my time in a small-town library, so long ago that "bodice-rippers" didn't yet exist, I got my kicks reading historical novels like the Hornblower series, and some by Edison Marshall and John Jakes and Mika Waltari. all written, I suspect, for men. A few times I wrote down the page numbers of the sexier scenes so my friends (who wouldn't or couldn't read the entire books) could look them up. Even Zane Grey had a pretty spicy scene or two in a couple of his later books. I don't think the fact that I now write lesbian erotica has much to do with the fact that I read books written for men; I also write hetero sex, and have raised a family in the old-fashioned way with no recourse to such aids a s turkey basters. In reading erotica, straight erotica, at least, it really doesn't make much difference whether the viewpoint character is the male or the female; we humans can easily enough cope with seeing through the eyes of the opposite sex. Well, women can, at any rate. Okay, I see the problem with letting men know that stories have a male viewpoint. Hmm. Maybe entire anthologies with titles clearly indicating that would be a good idea.

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  8. I've been irritated lately by all the "erotica for women" labels on things that could well be enjoyed by people of any gender. In some cases, I think what's going on is an effort to differentiate from porn, a conversation I find... fraught.

    I agree with much of what Lisabet said. Talking a lot about the struggles of being a male erotica writer strikes me like going on about how hard it is to be a white rapper.

    I'm personally freaked out by near reverence, though. That vibe makes me feel objectified and angry. But you probably don't have to worry about that because I'm clearly not a typical reader.

    The main thing that struck me, though, was here: "but the true measure of your work comes after it's out there with a cover and can't be hauled back to the bench"

    God, I hope not. Or, I guess what I mean is, I'm not willing to let other people define what my work means. Given all the pain around promo and marketing and whatnot, I've had to take refuge in my own sense of self, my own interest and sense of worth. That's not to say I don't pay attention to criticism, but I've got to filter it or I'll go mad.

    On the other hand, shoot the puck—that's the only advice that really works, I think.

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  9. Thank you Annabeth:

    I'm not sure what in my post made you feel objectified and angry. There was certainly no intent on my part. But as I was trying to say, we don't know how something will be perceived until we put it out there.

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