Friday, September 27, 2013

Into the Ether

by Jean Roberta

Like several of my fellow-Grippers, I don’t expect to earn a living from my published work, but I can’t honestly say the money doesn’t count. Getting paid is the sign of a professional rather than an amateur, and I treasure every little payment.

The frustrations I’ve experienced can be classified thus: 1) editors from Jupiter, or some other planet than the one I live on, and 2) mysterious selection process (more than one editor, submission being considered for many months, possibly stolen by aliens), and 3) publishers that go bust.

Examples of Issue #1 include an editor who highlighted every use of “she” and “and” in my story, and told me the story could not be accepted with these words included, and an editor who insisted that my story was not “up to” the literary standards she expected because the characters did not make a clear-enough distinction between polyamory and bisexuality. (They were arguing, and emotions were running high. In my experience, emotional heat is inversely proportionate to intellectual clarity.) Then there was the editor who told me never to write fantasy erotica ever again because she didn’t like it. (She also didn’t like BDSM. Go figure.)

Then there was the exciting anthology of erotic horror edited by a male-and-female team who accepted my story as well as several by writers who specialized in horror or spec-fic. This introduced me to a whole new community of writers, and I enjoyed our conversations in the Yahoogroup set up by the editors. But we waited for publication. . and waited. . and waited. Eventually, so many of the other writers withdrew their stories that I knew the anthology was doomed. It never saw the light of day.

I’m glad to say that most of my submissions are answered nowadays, one way or another. This was not always the case. When I first began sending out erotic stories (and I was not an unpublished writer, just new to this genre), I got no responses whatsoever for the first year. None. I had no idea whether my story submissions, or my bulky novel manuscript (snail-mailed at my expense, of course) ever arrived.

I still have a copy of a letter I fired off to an editor in 1999, after a year of silence. I wrote it in heat, let it mellow overnight, revised it the next day, then sent it off. I pointed out that I wasn’t expecting acceptance or a critique, just timely communication. I explained that most of my friends and acquaintances had a fairly mainstream opinion of erotica (that it was mostly written and published by porn-addicts in dirty raincoats) and that unprofessional behaviour by an editor did nothing to dislodge their prejudice. I pointed out that I was neither ungrammatical nor unwashed nor completely unpublished, and that I deserved at least a postcard with a formula rejection message on it. I explained that the town where I live is accessible to the Canadian postal system.

Finally, I got a written response: a scrawled note from the editor, saying that all her papers had been lost in a house fire. My sweetie asked if I believed that. I told her it didn’t matter. I had demanded a response, and I got it. However, I never sent anything to that editor again, lest her whole city go up in smoke.

Regarding Issue #3, I now have a Dead Publishers shelf in my office in the local university where I teach, and I’ve discussed some of the dearly departed in my post for the blog of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, here:

I could easily expand on this topic. I have more anecdotes in store, for anyone who wants to hear them.

The publishing biz in general has seemed unstable for quite a few years now, yet small niche publishers continue to be launched like brave little rowboats on a choppy sea. In general, publishers have my gratitude, since I lack the sheer courage or recklessness to self-publish.

So far, the frustrations of being a freelance writer are outweighed by my hope and satisfaction. These emotional conditions are visually represented: in my new office (as of summer 2013) my Dead Publishers shelf holds a modest pile of paper, but my brag shelf--which holds all the books to which I’ve contributed--stretches from wall to wall.


  1. i had a good chuckle over the peculiar demands of the editors, Jean. how bizarre. glad it didn't put you off writing or submitting your work.

  2. Wow, category #1! Those are some doozies of weird experiences. Good that you've remembered them so you can share.

  3. Hi Jean-
    I guess the lesson here is that no matter how sophisticated our tools become, ultimately we are dealing with human beings, with all our individual turn-ons, squicks and foibles. And, I'll pop over to ERWA to check out the link.

  4. Jean, I think you and I began writing erotica about the same time, and I've had some of the same experiences, especially with publishers folding (often without letting you know.) It's especially frustrating when you've signed a contract, they've essentially disappeared, and you don't know whether you have the rights to the work again or not. Or when you have a contract (in this case a book newly out and a contract for another one) but the publisher merges with another company who doesn't want to handle any fiction, so they unilaterally void all their contracts. I don't know whether we writers had any legal right to sue, but none of us could afford to, and for a while a bunch of us were calling ourselves the Orphans of Harrington Park Press.

  5. Amanda, Jeremy and Daddy - oh, there are more anecdotes where those came from! If we ever meet in real space over drinks, we could prob. exchange stories that are not safe to post in public. :)
    OMG, Sacchi. Luckily, I was less of an orphan than some (I only had a few stories in anthos), though a writer I know in Toronto had signed her very first contract for a novel with Haworth just before the sudden crash. That must have been esp. discouraging.


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