Tuesday, December 22, 2015

There Are No Mistakes

My "career" as a writer of dirty stories has been one mistake after another.

It all starts with my first release, Autumn Fire. When I wrote that novel, which is an M/M erotic romance, I was thinking, "How hard could it be?" I'm an experienced writer (though to that point rarely published), having worked on my writing in different genres for more than a decade. I figured if I could write a grand sci-fi epic, I could write a short novel about two dudes who fall in love and fuck often.

Wow, was I ever mistaken.

I had done some research, read a number of M/M titles, and even had a chat with an agent who represents the genre -- so, really, I should have had a great head-start.  I wrote the novel and while I acknowledge it is heavy with passive voice (which is something I have finally managed to excise from my writing), the story holds together. Two guys fall in love and fuck.

But what I missed in my research was the difference between erotica and erotic romance. What I had written was erotica disguised as erotic romance, marketed to erotic romance readers. The main character is far too promiscuous for romance readers and some of the sex acts described appeal more to gay men rather than straight women (who tend to be the majority of readers of M/M erotic romance).

Despite these flaws, my publisher liked the book and it was released a couple years ago. So, after making those mistakes, what did I do? I did it all over again, of course. Silent Hearts came out a year later -- it focussed a bit more on the romance than Autumn Fire, but the main protagonist was still too promiscuous and the sex acts still weren't that appealing to female readers.

Silent Hearts was also published by my publisher.

Autumn Fire and Silent Hearts continue to sell well and have decent ratings, but I never really did grab on to the M/M readership.

After all that, I finally learned my lesson. I'm naturally more of an erotica writer than an erotic romance writer. I launched into a number of short stories to flesh out my erotica voice and have really developed that aspect of my writing. I find romance still enters my stories, though. They are not "romance stories," but rather "erotica stories with a bit of romance."  I've finally found my niche in the marketplace.

Though my dad and I disagree on a number of things, there is one maxim he often repeats that I think is generally good advice. "There are no mistakes. You made the best decision at the time with the information you had."

Writing Autumn Fire and Silent Hearts were not mistakes. In hindsight, some of my approach was a "mistake," but I'd much rather look at it as a learning experience. If I didn't embark on those projects, I would never have learned all I now know about the industry. As well, writing smut has hugely increased my skill level for writing in general.

While continuing on with my smut, I have recently returned to my first love of science fiction and have completed the first draft of what I hope will be an epic series. Even in my first draft, my novel is magnitudes better than anything I wrote before exploring smut. I have learned so much these past few years about publishing, writing, and editing that I would never had learned if I hadn't made these "mistakes."

There are no mistakes, there are only learning opportunities.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Go-Go Boys of Club 21: The Complete Series. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.


  1. I have to take issue with your dad's theory. I have made some mistakes where I certainly *didn't* make the best decision with the info I had. Usually there was booze or drugs involved. Learning opportunities, yes, but still embarrassing mistakes. ;>) Gulp. See my post next week. I'll bare all. God, was I an asshole.

    And can anyone offer an explanation as to why so many women love M/M? I know the pejorative term 'fag hag' and is there a corollary there? I always thought women who hung around gay guys did it for the safety of having a male friend whose pawing they didn't have to fight off. I know that's a bit simplistic, but the question still stands.

  2. Cameron, I'm madly curious for examples. What are sex acts that in your opinion appeal to gay men but aren't so interesting for straight women? I know I experience some parallels with lesbian erotica (stuff that straight men seem to love that, at least in my experience, queer women never actually do with each other). I'm very interested!

    Daddy, I can't answer your question but I've read entire books about it. There's a book called "Why Straight Women Love Gay Romance" that has some interesting insights. It doesn't really come to a conclusion, though. It mostly includes anecdotal information. I have written a very small amount of m/m but it's not where my interests lie as a writer or reader. For me, I realized that because I'm not terribly attracted to men, m/m doesn't work for me because it's all about men. (Even in m/f, I am often mentally more identified with the attraction to the female character). So I have wondered if straight women like m/m because of an inverse/converse (I can never get those straight) of why I"m not crazy about it: it's all about men, which is maybe super hot if you're really attracted to men. Then I heard that there are some lesbians who are really into m/m and my mind exploded. :) I think people are into all kinds of stuff.

    When I do read m/m, though, I find myself enjoying the storytelling and characterization more. Ironically, it's because I'm actually reading the story closely, rather than fighting the urge to skip to the "good parts."

    1. The only M/M stuff I really ever got close to was Mikey Rakes' stuff. What a storyteller that gal is! Her "Fourth and Long" is great, as is "Trainwreck".

    2. I think women like M/M romance for several reasons. First of all, they enjoy seeing guys who are emotionally expressive and attached to one another. I gather a lot of men aren't that way in real life. (I've been fortunate to have avoided most of them!) Second, there's the eye candy component. Almost all the M/M erotic romance I've read features guys who are attractive, sexy, well-built, and very masculine despite their sexual identification. I can't remember ever reading one, for instance, where one of the gay characters has any feminine mannerisms, cross-dresses, etc. Gay guys in MM ER are basically straight guys who have sex with men. (Again, I am talking romance, not erotica.) Finally, there's the thrill of being a fly on the wall during taboo activities.

  3. I agree with Daddy X that decisions are not always made strictly according to the info available. Emotions, subconscious preconceptions, all kinds of below-the-radar factors can drive decisions.

    And then there's that powerful urge to so something because you WANT to, without having to justify it to yourself rationally. Mostly we can resist that when we can see the potential for damage to ourselves of to others, but when we don't see much in the way of negatives, "Because that's what I want to do" wins the day even when we don't see much in the way of concrete positives, either. I suppose that's why I got into writing erotica.

  4. I have a couple of reactions to your post, Cameron. First, why is it a mistake to write what comes naturally and what interests you? After struggling to write erotic romance that follows all the rules for a number of years (and not really succeeding), I've come to feel that following rules that don't feel right, in order to try and sell your books, is in itself a mistake. (Which of course is what you've decided, in steering your work more in the direction of erotica.)

    Second, I know what you mean about the criticisms you can get from female M/M readers. I've written two M/M novels, definitely romance. In both cases, some reviewers thought my sex scenes were too raw. Oh well...

    Finally--I want to read your scifi!!! Seriously, I'd be delighted to be a beta reader, when you are ready.

  5. Cameron, I agree with everyone who says it's not really a mistake to write something that seems to come naturally, but I remember being taken aback by how specifically some editors (supposedly representing a readership) respond to certain sex acts on the page. (Jeez Louise! I'm not inflicting anything on you in real life!) In the early 00s, I discovered that any story with a flavour of BDSM is best sent to publishers who openly ask for it. (Heh.) I also began learning the distinction between multiple-body pileups as hot scenes in "erotica," but offensive evidence of emotional shallowness in "romance."


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