The first time I remember trying to write for a particular market, I was living in England with my parents and younger sisters for a year. (Many topics ago, I wrote a post here about how I missed a chance to apply for a writing job for the London Daily Telegraph during that time. Sigh.)
I was 22, and hoping to start a writing career. After all, I had won a major student writing award in my last year of high school, so it seemed I wasn’t completely lacking in talent.
I read magazines, hoping to break into that market. Several of them were aimed at women, and they were full of articles on cooking, fashion, home decorating, plus some fiction about “love” (courtship, marriage and childraising). I thought I knew what was expected. I wrote a story to send to a particular journal. (I can’t remember the title of my story or of the magazine, and that’s probably just as well.)
My story was written in first-person, and it featured a
I sent this piece off. Several weeks later, I got a personal reply. The editor thought that since I came from Canada, I might try sending my stories to magazines there. She also said that her readers might find the narrator’s attitude disturbing and offensive. Editor said she would consider taking another look at the story if I revised it.
I tried, but since the crisis in the marriage (the husband’s cheating) seemed essential to the plot, I left it in. I also thought the editor would not accept a heroine who slams the door and starts a new life as a divorcee, so I had her stay, after struggling with her feelings and her options. The story was rejected again. It has never been published.
Like the hapless wife in my story, I struggled with my feelings and my options. Should I keep trying to gain some acceptance from a publishing industry that seemed completely oblivious to me? Was I a fool or a masochist? On the other hand, if I decided never to send another story to another editor, would I be acting like a bratty child?
Back in Canada, I got a few poems published in feminist poetry magazines, and eventually got a few stories published in locally-published anthologies. These stories were based on my own experience, and they undoubtedly had more of an authentic vibe than my story about the wife who wants to stay married forever, no matter what. My own marriage lasted less than three years.
Eventually, I read some sexually-explicit stories. I had already discovered that, strangely enough, editors generally seemed to prefer my writing when it was at least loosely based on something I knew than on my understanding of what would “sell.” However, I thought that “erotica” had to have a high ratio of sex scenes to plot.
A certain editor (who was/is known for being blunt) wrote on one of my printed stories: “Enough sex, already.” I thought about this, and realized that after I had thrown the characters together once, and given them umpteen orgasms apiece, the intelligent reader could assume that a pattern had been set. There was no need to beat it to death.
Like others here, I find calls-for-submissions inspiring. Could I write a story about X or Y that includes explicit sex? I’ve been surprised at how often the call acts as fertilizer, and the seed of a story sends out some tentative shoots, usually when the deadline is staring me in the face. I’ve learned that even when the story is based on a theme proposed by an editor, it won’t work unless it comes from somewhere deeper inside me than a perception that submissive wives or alpha males or vampires or billionaires are selling well this year.
None of us can really ignore the zeitgeist, so I’m sure I am influenced by what I read. I rarely have time to read just for pleasure, but I am often asked to review erotica, and I like doing that, so I usually have a TBR pile to tackle in my spare time between stacks of student assignments to grade.
The presence of standard tropes and clichés in erotica and erotic romance makes the exceptions stand out, and those are the books that continue to haunt me after I’ve read the last page.
So I continue to try to find a place among exceptional writers of erotica, the ones who can transform the clichés and pour unexpected amounts of raw feeling – and even social commentary and philosophical depth -- into plots that can be filed in recognizable categories (“paranormal erotic romance,” “urban fantasy”).
As a student of literature, I’ve noticed that the most successful (or most studied) authors of the past were usually stranger in their time than they seem to later generations, because they started trends instead of following them. Quite a few of them had their submissions rejected over and over before they found visionary publishers who were willing to take the risk. Even those authors were not completely original. They must have been influenced by the culture they lived in because it was part of the air they breathed.
So I continue to try to develop stories that originate in memories or dreams into something that an editor might accept. I’ve often been lucky on the second try. I sometimes ask myself whether I have sold out, but then the question is: sold what? My first erotic stories were written in response to calls-for-submissions. It seems that the market and I have worked out a compromise.