Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Athazagoraphobia *

As I get older I find myself more and more envying babies I see sleeping in a car seat, or a stroller or their mother’s arms. I can remember times I’ve envied stray dogs sleeping in the sun. Envy has always been a problem for me. Lust, excessive wealth, gluttony, large breasted women flinging themselves on me begging for love, and other deadly sins have regrettably never been problems for me and in fact seem to take care of themselves without any input of discipline on my part. But envy – no. As my guy Father Delmar pointed out, of the Seven Deadly Sins it is the only one that has no pleasure in it. Nobody ever says “Come on baby, let’s get high and do some heavy envy.”

I regard myself as an apprentice writer because it gives me a certain margin of freedom, just as if I were to regard myself as a child I might feel a certain amount of freedom. I’m a published writer as far as the technical term goes, but I think of myself more as an advanced amateur because it gives me the freedom to remain undefined and unbranded and seek out knowledge from others. I take some comfort in telling myself I’m still learning to walk and eat solid food and some day I’ll stop sucking my thumb too.

In one of the craft books I’ve studied, the author grumbled that her writing students seemed more obsessed with having a web presence than with the donkey work of actually writing something. They had a blog, they had an author’s site, promotions trailers, twitter - and big plans lemme tell ya - but didn’t exactly spend that much ass-in-chair-time crafting new work. It reminds me a little bit of an interview I read by Keith Richards. The reporter asked what went wrong with Brian Jones, one of the founding band mates who was kicked out of the Stones and came to a bad end. Richards said “He cared more about being a rock star than he did about being a musician.” These days there’s so many indespensible doo-dads out there I think this is becoming a problem for a new writer, even if you don’t want to be a literary rock star.

Self promotion or money in general is something the craft books never talk about, as though there were something unseemly about it. Writing for a living has always been the dream and even the greatest writers dealt with it. Shakespeare was a theater owner and he wrote plays for his own troop, "The King's Men", which he hoped would be popular and sell tickets. Not for nothing are his best stories filled with witches, ghosts, dirty jokes, cross dressing lovers and lots and lots of sword fights. Chekhov wrote short stories in the beginning to support his family and he certainly cared about the money. As soon as Dickens books began to move he dropped his day job and hit the American stage to give readings to packed houses. But according to Stephen King today in the age of the internet and the eBook only about 4% of working authors make a living solely from writing fiction.

Part of my motive for joining the Oh Get a Grip blog was to have a chance to expose more people to my name and my writing style and of course the ever changing little side bar there that shows what books we have out. But it really hasn’t translated into sales. It’s been mostly a wonderful creative experience, I like it here fine, but publicity wise not so much. In fact I don’t know anybody who has cracked this particular nut.

I think this weeks theme of self promotion is kind of a sore spot for a lot of wannabes like me, because really what we want is to write and learn our chops and let the promotion business take care of itself because we’re so effing brilliant or something we think people will discover us, or that our publishers will have an investment in our success and get our name out there for us without our effort. But what you find out is that to a large extent you’re on your own. Old school Minnesota boys like me tend to be a shy lot who don’t like beating our own drum.

My self promotion so far has consisted mainly of sending out stories, as anyone does, and soliciting reviews, and I find that these things are much like the experience of prayer. That is, your plaintive and carefully chosen words go out and there is no answer. I find people rarely say no these days. They just don’t say.

I think there is an added problem in the genre that we work in. Erotica is such a controversial media, it’s not something you always want to attract attention to. I envy writers who go on book tours, compared to some of us who scuttle about hoping not to be noticed under our real names. Most erotica writers work under a pen name because they don’t want people picketing their house much less a book signing. It’s always taken a certain kind of kamikaze guts to write this stuff even though things have changed a great deal in the last few years. I’m old enough to remember when you could get busted and even do felony prison time for coming through US Customs with a copy of Tropic of Cancer in the bottom of your suitcase or for even sending it in the mail to somebody. Hell, now you can read it free on Google Books. In fact you can peruse modern translations of the Kama Sutra complete with nude photographs not of swanky models, but of real couples having actual intercourse also right there on Google Books.

As an apprentice I can still find some shelter from these things by telling myself I’m still learning the ropes. But after a while you start to feel like a bit of a poser. When will you grow up? Do you know you're grown up when the act you found such pleasure in starts to become dull? I don’t think I could do this for a living anymore than I could make love for a living.

* "the obsessive fear of being ignored or forgotten."

C. Sanchez-Garcia


  1. Hey Garce,

    You make a lot of good points here - not the least of which is that maybe you should stop thinking of yourself as an amateur - but the one I want to comment on is the controversial nature of erotica. I sometimes wish I could do readings, or signings, or hand out business cards or pens with my web address like some authors do. But I can't. Most of us can't, because we need to keep a low profile or suffer unacceptable losses.

    I rather envy the erotic authors who _can_ go public: Rachel, Donna George Storey, M. Christian, Violet Blue, D.L. King. But all of the above individuals live either in New York City or on the west coast. Not in a authoritarian, bureaucratic Asian country like me, or a red neck, Bible belt state like you.

    On the other hand, Father Delmar is right. There's no pleasure in envy, so why bother with it?

  2. Hi Garce,

    the pleasure in envy is being able to hold on to the notion that not only is it not your fault that you don't have things that you desire and other people do, but that it's also so damned unfair.

    We can bask in the glow of ain't it awful and not have to do anything about gettting what we want.

    Like most sin, it is a distorted used of what could have been creative energy

    My little piece of envy came when Rachel Kramer Bussel set up a YouTube trailer for "Gotta Have It: 69 tales of sudden sex" that I have a story in. I didn't feel able to take part and I envied those who felt free enough to be on the video

    So I understand the reticence to promote yourself. On the other hand, what is the point of a story no one reads?

    There's so much noise out there now that if you want to be read, you have to find a way to make yourself heard.

    BTW I liked the graphic in your post

  3. As an introvert by core nature, I despise self-promotion. The chats, the email groups, the forums... they smother me. In recent months, I've jettisoned promotion methods that were not translating to sales. What's left? Twitter, Facebook, occasional guest blogs, and *gasp* public appearances, especially at book festivals.

    Then again, I'm more of an artist & editor these days than a writer. I'll get back to that... eventually. :)

  4. Hi, Garce,

    How interesting that self-promotion is the topic this week. I just started drafting an essay that basically relates to the rest of the world what a lousy self-promoter I am. I'm lousy at it, partly because I hate doing it, but there's more to it than that.

    You said, "...because really what we want is to write and learn our chops and let the promotion business take care of itself because we’re so effing brilliant or something we think people will discover us, or that our publishers will have an investment in our success and get our name out there for us without our effort."

    I really don't think it has anything to do with thinking we're so effing brilliant, etc. What a whole lot of people just don't realize or appreciate is that self-promotion is selling and if you are trying to sell something then you are trying to be a sales person. Have you ever worked in sales? I have. I've worked as a sales support person, usually a secretary, but also in other support positions. However, I have never been involved in directly selling product to the public (unless you count my one-year stint as a Mary Kay consultant, which was a dismal failure because, in the end, I really didn't give a damn about other people's skin and makeup). I've written copy for product, but that's as far as it goes. I admire and have a lot of respect for good sales people. A good sales person is worth his/her weight in gold. Sales is an art form in itself and it's a talent I don't have. You wouldn't expect a sales person to suddenly become the design engineer for the product he/she is selling. No one expects that. No one expects the person who is selling you a car to leave work at the car dealership at 4:30 and go work at the car manufacturing facility designing and or assembling the cars he/she is trying to sell. He/she *might* be able to do some of that, but no one expect's it, because *sales* is that person's forte. So why do we expect the builders of stories to then go out and be expert sales people? Our talent lies in manufacturing, not selling. Promotion is selling, and self-promotion is selling, and, yes, you may get good at it eventually, but all the time you spend trying to get good at it (and that's assuming that you *do* get good at it) is time you could be spending actually crafting your stories instead.

    And then there's the time factor. If you're writing full-time, then you have a full-time job. Should you then be required to get *another* full-time job being a sales person? Considering that you are probably *already* being your own secretary and doing all your own secretarial donkey-work, that's a third full-time job. I know what's involved in *being* a secretary, having been one for 40 years.

    This also assumes that you're already making a living wage *being* a writer, because otherwise, in addition to being a writer, and your own secretary, and your own sales person, you need to go out 8 - 10 hours a day earning a living in some other arena, unless, of course, you have a sugar daddy or sugar mommy bringing home the bacon while you're focusing on being a writer and not having to worry about paying the rent or utilities or taxes or fuel costs, or anything else.

    Unless you have someone else supporting you, so you can be the writer and the writer's secretary and the writer's PR and sales department, you're going to be working 20 hours a day, doing whatever you do for gainful employment, plus being a writer and the writer's staff.

    That gives you maybe four hours a day to sleep, eat, and look after your hygiene. How long do you think you can keep that up before your heart or brain blows up?


  5. Hi. I don't write erotica. In fact, I don't write much these days - even though I used to write for a living. However, I didn't need to promote myself as I worked for a daily newspaper - which kind of burned out my writing juices.
    This is a thought-provoking topic, and I appreciate your writing, and tile, Garcia
    (a word I'd never come across before)

    "the obsessive fear of being ignored or forgotten."

    I don't give a damn whether I receive sudden fame after my body, which I've taken such good care of,
    is turned to ashes. Yet, I do like a bit of attention, and respect. Don't we all? Yet, I've come to the simple conclusion that I'm unlikely (and don't care a damn) to receive that from strangers.
    I focus on developing a close connection with the people I interact with on a regular basis, and, maybe get a bit of it.
    I don't want adoration. I don't want lots of cash.
    My writing is for me, as is my photography. I will share it on a limited basis.
    I have enjoyed reading some of your writings, and comments from the other contributors.
    And I really liked your graphics.

  6. Hey Rose, try adding 2 p/t jobs to that mix, and suddenly my idea to try to give up sleep entirely doesn't sound so far-fetched anymore, does it? Hard to fit in writing around all of the promoting...and husband still likes me to interact with him once in while, and there's 3 kids still living at home.

  7. I'm in the fortunate position of being able to sit down and write for large chunks of the day, and I guess I should be thankful for that.

    I''m also aware that in almost any genre you care to name, self-promotion does matter - especially if your work generates a royalty. To a large extent, though, the way the internet works means that self-promotion involves doing stuff that can be given away for free, which is why I have flash fiction and stuff on my blogs. What I have to keep track of, and I guess we all do, is how much self-promotion is feasible if you're also trying to write stuff that will ultimately be paid for...

  8. Hi Lisabet!

    Its funny though in M. Christians book on craft - which I have - he cautions erotica writers not to go public. He's quite serious about it. But I guess it does matter where you live. This is the life we've chosen. And yet thanks to the early pioneers like Suzy Bright things have gotten better and will get better still. we are what we are.


  9. Hi Mike!

    That is such a great trailer! Anybody reading this should follow that link instantly. That looked like my friend and sometime muse Emerald doing one of the readings. Now I feel like I want to buy the book.

    But as you say, you really have to be willing to step out over the line to put your face on the trailer. I must confess there is something about the bespectacled Bussel and these other kind of nerdy book worm erotica ladies that really lights up my octopockles. They look . . . experimentally daring . . .

    The graphic is what pops up when you google this word, weird as that is. It makes a great computer password too.


  10. hi Alessia

    I sympathize. I think it must be very hard to be an editor and artist and still get stories done. Its a big commitment. yet I think being an editor must be an effective way of getting your name out and getting a shine on it. There's something very prestigious about it, like "there goes a serious person." If I saw your name in an anthology I'd figure it must be good.


  11. Hi Rose Marie

    Hey, speak for yourself, when i'm sitting on the toilet i just whisper to myself "I'm effing brilliant I'm effing brilliant . . " which must sound weird to people waiting to use the toilet.

    Oh yeah, I've worked in sales. I sucked at it, because i'm such a nerdy guy, but I was persistent. I stuck to people like bubble gum to a cat.

    What you say about heart and brain blowing up, actually there's a grim truth in that. We'd all like to be full time writers, but think what it means. its all you say, plus you have to keep being good. You have to keep your brand alive, not everybody's cut out for that. And how many of us can be brilliant that many years before we run out of things to say? If you get tired, and you stop being brilliant, what do you do? Get a job at Walmart? I've noticed old rockers like Alice Cooper getting radio shows and these kind of odd things just so they won;t have to live on the road until they die.

    Doing creative work for a living has a very dark side to when the phone stops ringing for you.


  12. Hi Imagine more

    Thank YOU for coming by and reading my stuff. I hope you get to writing again, even if its just for fun. We all love a bit of attention and respect as you say. I think the luckiest people are writers like Stephen King. His first reader, toughest critic and biggest fan is his wife Tabitha. Such a person has the best of both worlds.


  13. Hi Fiona

    You and rose and me would all give sleep if we could.


  14. hi Fulani

    I was thinking of Remittance Girl when I was reading your comment. She's a real erotica icon and she distains getting paid for her stuff, she's very clear about it. She gives it all away at her web site, and she's quite famous in our little erotica world. When I think about it, as you say, maybe I just need to reach that point where i'm ready to get paid for it and start writing stuff that would be more popular and making more of an effort to get my name out. I'm kind of a slacker in that sense, i'm just enjoying writing, the buzz of my own voice, but not quite getting the hustle out yet. I wish I'd started this when i was in my twenties but in those days i'd have probably gotten arrested for it.


  15. Much as I'd like to write for pleasure, the range of stuff I write - erotic and not, fiction or fact, published or for corporate clients - is how I pay my bills. And erotica has become an increasing large percentage of my income.

    The interesting and frustrating thing for me is something that affects, I think, pretty much everyone in the 'creative' field. You have to give things away for free to generate enough interest for some people to want to come back and pay money. It seems to be the model, now, for how almost any art form works, from painters to musicians to actors to writers - give away enough stuff and hopefully you'll begin to build a group of people who are prepared to pay for some versions of your material. But that means, if you are trying to make a living from your creative work, you get all your income from a relatively small proportion of your work and time.

  16. Hi, Garce.

    Thank you so much for inviting me to contribute to this topic. I'm so sorry that I thought I could do more than I really could while away from the home computer on an out-of-town trip.

    You've made good points about the envy & the discouraging silence in response to a writer's prayers.

    However, here is one issue that I find increasingly disturbing: the frequent advice given to a writer by other writers that one should participate in as many writers' loops & events as possible to promote one's work.

    The main problem with this is that writers persistently trying to sell their work to other writers soon become annoying -- and it's very tempting to just delete everyone else's blurbs & excerpts, no matter how good they look, because no one has unlimited time.

    So the second piece of advice on
    that subject is that one should come across as a personality, not just a producer of novels/novellas/stories, and show an interest (note this: show an interest whether one feels it or not) in the other folks on the loop.

    This is a moral slippery slope, IMO. I am genuinely interested in getting to know other writers because we all have something in common. ERWA (Erotic Readers & Writers Ass'n) is especially good for that, IMO, & a lot of interesting conversations & mutual concerns get expressed there. But ERWA is NOT set up for self-promo, and those who try to use it for that either get removed or choose to promote elsewhere.

    I have the same concern about promoting my writing in the guise of getting to know others as I do about trying to recruit friends in buying/selling various products at home "parties."

    True friendship is not based on a vested interest, IMO. Getting to know other writers on-line is a fabulous side-effect of being a writer, but selling a product is a different game.

    Informing people about one's latest writing news is fine, IMO (Lisabet's "list" comes to mind), but I'm squeamish about treating every interacton with another person (on-line or in RL) as an excuse for promotion. I sometimes think I might have felt more at home some time before the Industrial Revolution & the rise of advertising. :)

    - Jean Roberta


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