by Jamaica Layne, guest blogger
I’ve been a working (meaning: published and earning royalties) erotic romance author for a while, but I recently added erotic romance editor to my resume when my publisher Ravenous Romance hired me to edit two erotic short story anthologies for them: Power Plays: An Anthology of Sex and Politics (releases January 20 at RavenousRomance.com) and Experimental: An Anthology of Sex and Science (releases February 15 at RavenousRomance.com). As I did the work of both acquiring editor and developmental editor for those two books, I learned quite a lot about how successful erotic romance authors should (and should not) act. In addition to having the privilege of interacting with many already well-known and successful authors as I selected stories for the anthology, I was fortunate to discover some new talent—-some of whom are now enjoying their first taste of publication thanks to my selecting their work.
As wonderful as the thrill of discovering new talent (or enjoying the work of seasoned pros) can be, we editors also have the trying task of not only wading through the godawful dreck that makes up 95% of what is received via open submission policies, we also have to deal with our share of unprofessional (and sometimes even shocking) behavior from authors, both published and unpublished.
As a result of my first experiences as an erotica editor (as well as my many years’ experience as both a general copyeditor and journalist), I’ve compiled the following two lists: “What To Do To Succeed As An Erotic Romance Author,” as well as “Ten Easy Ways To Destroy Your Career Writing Erotica (Or In Any Other Genre, For That Matter.” Here we go.
“What To Do To Succeed As An Erotic Romance Author,” by Jamaica Layne
5. DO read lots and lots of erotica and erotic romance. Everything you can get your hands on, in fact. Not only should you study the masters, like Anais Nin, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and Catherine Millet, you should read today’s hot erotica authors, like Lora Leigh, Zane, Kate Pearce, Alison Tyler, and Julie Hilden. (Read me, Jamaica Layne, too, if the mood should strike you). Learn what the rules of the genre are, and also learn how and when to break them.
4. DO write each and every day. Shoot for at least 1000 words of erotic writing, each and every day (weekends too). No excuses. Practice makes perfect. Even if you don’t plan to show anyone what you’re writing, the act of writing itself is the best training to become a writer.
3. In addition to reading all the erotica and erotic romance you can get your hands on, DO read everything else under the sun. Fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, soup-can labels, whatever. Good writing is good writing. And good writers are good readers first.
2. DO learn the professional standards for formatting and submitting your work to agents and publishers. Learn what standard manuscript format is, and use it. Learn how to write a good, concise cover letter. Learn how to sum up your work in one sentence or less in queries. Learn about and study the markets for erotica and erotic romance, including their likes/dislikes and taboo lists. And prepare yourself for a lot of rejection.
1. DO have patience. Successful writers usually don’t become successful until after years of trying (and failing). Don’t take rejections personally. Learn from your mistakes, and keep on trying, trying, trying again, until you succeed.
And now, for the far more entertaining section:
1. Do Not Use Creative Formatting. You should only format your work according to professional standards: i.e., Microsoft Word-compatible, double-spaced, Times New Roman or Courier font (I’ll accept Arial, too). Putting your story in single-spaced purple Comic Sans or Gothic font will get you automatically rejected. Sending your work as plain-text cut and pasted into an email with no hard returns or spaces will get you automatically rejected. Sending your work in an obscure word-processing format that I can’t open will get you automatically rejected. And including cute clip art of bunnies and fairies will not somehow make me like you.
2. Do Not Make Up Phony Credentials. If you have legitimate (and verifiable) publishing credits, by all means list them in your cover letter. But saying that you’ve published 40 books (none of which seem to be available on Amazon), or making up names of fake erotica magazines that have supposedly published your work, or bragging that you’re an aspiring actress and the obscure independent short film you just starred in is going to guarantee that your work will become a bestseller (yes, real people actually did all three of these things) will not impress the acquiring editor. If anything, it will get your work automatically rejected.
3. Do Not Ignore Submission Guidelines. If a market is specifically asking for, say, short erotic fiction, and you instead send a 15,000 word novella that is not in any way erotic, you are going to be rejected. If a market is asking for heterosexual, non-kinky erotic romance, and you submit a lesbian bondage fantasy, you are going to be rejected. Ignore submission guidelines at your peril.
4. Do Not Ignore Erotica Publishers’ Stated Taboo Lists. In erotica, most publishers have stated taboo lists in their submission guidelines (i.e., subject matter they will not publish). THESE ARE VERY IMPORTANT. If you submit work to a publisher that is in violation of its stated taboos, you will probably ruin your chances of EVER being published at there. For example, I don’t know of any erotica publisher that will publish stories involving adults having sex with underage partners (i.e., pedophilia), or rape fantasies, or anything else that would be a crime punishable by law in the real world (and yet, I have received multiple submissions of this kind of thing for books I have edited—eww). Stuff involving “golden showers” and feces is pretty much always out, too. Some publishers also won’t publish S&M or bestiality; and since most erotica readers are women, stuff that is degrading to women is usually out, too. If you ignore stated taboo lists, you will really piss the editor off, so FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES, please!
5. Do Not Insult The Editor Who Rejects You. If you get mad because an editor rejects your work, don’t turn around and send that editor an insulting email, engage in name-calling, or hurl profanity at him/her. (Yes, an author I rejected did this to me recently). The editor that rejects you today might be the editor that offers you a contract tomorrow, so don’t burn bridges.
6. Don’t Look Desperate. I had an author send me eight different stories (all plain-text cut and pasted into an email, with no formatting or spaces) at once for the anthology I recently edited; none of which adhered to the submission guidelines. This was well ahead of the submission deadline, so I wrote back to the author, told her that she could submit only ONE story at a time, as a Word attachment with proper formatting, that also adhered to the guidelines. She then followed my instructions, but the story she sent was so poorly done as to be unreadable. After the submission deadline was past, I sent her a polite form rejection. She immediately sent another story (in plain text, with no formatting, and not even remotely within the guidelines) along with a note that said “OK, so you didn’t like that. But what about THIS?” Sigh.
7. Don’t Ignore Deadlines. If a submission deadline is given, respect it. Don’t send in something a week (or a month, or a year) past the deadline and expect it to be accepted. Editors have deadlines, too.
8. Don’t Brag. If you are an established author with great (and as I said above, verifiable credentials), please do talk about it in your cover letter. If you’ve gotten great reviews for your prior work, feel free to include review quotes. That isn’t bragging—-it’s stating a fact about your professional accomplishments. But peppering your cover letter with showy, unsupportable statements like “I’ve written 50 books” (that are either unpublished, or you’re lying), “I’m The Next Stephen King/J.K. Rowling/Stephenie Meyer/Nora Roberts”, or “My Book Is The Next Da Vinci Code” is bragging, and it’s only going to piss editors off.
9. Don’t Tell Me Your Mom (Or Your Aunt Edna, Or Your Dog) Loved Your Story. Unless your mom is Zane or Joyce Carol Oates (or Oprah), I really don’t give a damn what she thinks about your story.
10. Don’t Knock The Market You’re Submitting To. If your cover letter says something to the effect of “I really don’t like or read erotica/romance/whatever, but I think my amazing story will somehow redeem the entire genre”, prepare to be rejected. Rule No. 1 of professional writing is Know And Respect Thy Market. If you don’t read or write (and enjoy) erotica yourself, you have no business trying to write it.