I was recently a guest blogger at the Writer Beware blog (I blogged about exploitive practices in the American theater targeted at playwrights), and in the comments section somebody asked me why I continue to write plays when the chances of success are so exceedingly slim (and even successful playwrights have to deal with exploitive practices and miserable contract terms).
Here was my reply to that commenter, verbatim: "I think my motivation to write plays in spite of the odds is the same as my motivation to write fiction----because I have to. If I didn't write, I would go insane. I honestly think that the only people who should pursue writing as a career are the people who have no alternative but to write in order to maintain their sanity. If you have any other possible means of making your living, don't become a writer. There are far easier ways to make a living, believe me. I wouldn't advise anyone to pursue a career in writing, simply because it's a career with a 99% failure rate."
I've been thinking about that response for several days now. Why do I write creatively full-time? I could make a lot more money doing what I used to do in the corporate world (which was still writing---it just wasn't writing what I'd otherwise choose to write). Even with top agent representation and multiple book contracts, it's not exactly what I'd call a comfortable living. I work long hours, meet tight deadlines, and wait forever for my royalty checks. I get beat up in the press. My neighbors look down their noses at me when I tell them what kind of novels I write. Other (less successful) writers ask me point-blank when I'm going to give up this whole erotic/romance fiction thing and write something "serious." I get insulted by my fellow Chicago playwrights---I was even kicked to the curb by Chicago's foremost playwriting organization, who told me my work was no good. (And yet, I get lots of play productions in New York City, theater capital of the world---which I don't get to see since I can't afford the days of child care or expensive hotel stays required to leave my suburban home behind for three or four days to see my work up on its feet in NYC). All of this for a paycheck that's a tiny fraction of what I used to earn. Why do I put myself through this?
Quite simply, because if I didn't write, I would go insane. Or perhaps more accurately, I'm already insane. Because only an insane person would choose to write novels and plays full-time. Sure, lots of people like to talk about how they'd like to chuck their cushy jobs so they can write the Great American Novel. But people who do that have no idea what the writing life is really like. If they did, they'd never dream about doing it full time. Being a full-time writer is a real bitch sometimes. It's the hardest work you'll ever do, for the least amount of money. Sure, the Stephen Kings and John Grishams of the world are sitting pretty with their millions of dollars and fleets of private jets. But most of us are just getting by, hoping our current release will sell enough copies for our editors to pick up our next option book, hoping to get a tiny increase in the next advance, hoping that this time around, I'll actually get paid something for that play production in NYC. And all the while, we just smile and nod when one of our relatives walks up to us at a barbecue and says "Oh, so you're a writer, huh? How's that working out for you? (chuckle) When are you gonna give that up and get a real job?"
I already have a real job. It's just a job that sucks sometimes. The old chestnut that all writers are crazy is true. Because only a crazy person would take a job that pays less per hour than most people in the Third World make in a month, has a 99% failure rate, and means public scrutiny and journalistic insult for the 1% of us that do succeed.
Just check me in to the loony bin, folks. Because I love every minute of it.
For those of you who haven't heard about it by now, over Easter weekend nearly 58,000 books (including several of mine) where rendered unsearchable on Amazon.com due to their supposed "adult content." In an apparent effort to become more "family friendly", Amazon.com started removing the sales rankings of books that supposedly contained "adult" content. By removing the sales rankings from the books, Amazon essentially made the titles nearly impossible to locate on its site, since only books with sales ranks will come up on bestseller lists, or even come up on topic, title, or authors searches. In many cases, without a sales ranking attached, the only way you can find a deranked title is by searching by ISBN---and who the hell memorizes ISBNs? (I certainly don't, and I used to be a book-acquisitions librarian.)
Once a book is "deranked" from Amazon, it basically becomes impossible to find---and buy. With many small-press and out-of-print titles available only on Amazon.com (what with Amazon putting small independent booksellers out of business, but I digress), Amazon.com essentially made thousands upon thousands of books impossible for Americans to read. Can you say CENSORSHIP?
Big Brother, anyone?
What kinds of books got "deranked" on Amazon? Gay and lesbian books were deranked, for one. At one point, there wasn't a single GLBT-positive book searchable on Amazon (if you typed "homosexuality" into the search field, the only books that came up were homophobic titles like How Not To Be Gay). Erotica titles (heterosexual and gay) as well as many romance novels were deranked (mine included----grrr!), and even nonfiction and medical books on the topic of human sexuality were deranked. Feminist books got deranked. Books on the occult, left-wing politics, and even great works of literature were deranked. Amazon.com apparently decided that the American public does not need to read the works of E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Helen Gurley Brown, Annie Proulx, or Augusten Burroughs due to their "adult" content. National Book Award-winning books were deranked; even New York Times bestselling authors were deranked. (Even the children's book Heather Has Two Mommies, which explains lesbianism to gradeschoolers, was deemed "adult.") Yet books like the annual Playboy Centerfolds anthologies, books on how to run a successful (and illegal) dogfighting business, and even The Anarchists' Cookbook (contains recipes for making bombs and napalm in your own kitchen) were deemed perfectly acceptable for general public consumption.
In other words, if you wrote a book that a) has something to do with sex-positive and/or gay-positive content and/or anything too "lefty", Amazon didn't want anyone to buy your book. Amazon later said this targeted deranking was due to a "cataloging error," but authors who contacted Amazon.com to inquire why their books were no longer searchable were told in writing by Amazon's own staff that it was due to Amazon's new family-friendly "policy."
The public backlash against this stunning act of censorship was swift and far-reaching, thanks to social-media sites like Twitter getting the word out quickly. (Big-name celebrities like Demi Moore got involved in the online #amazonfail protest on Twitter; so did former child star and Internet celebrity Wil Wheaton.) The Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor (two papers not at all known for their liberal ideologies, natch) published scathing editorials attacking Jeff Bezos and Amazon for daring to attempt something so inherently un-American as outright censorship of an entire class of books and writers.
Amazon immediately went into damage-control mode, saying that the whole thing was just a "glitch." Even a few hackers tried to take credit for doing it from the outside without Amazon's knowledge, but those claims have been discredited. But with evidence of Amazon's deranking of gay-themed books going back several months at least, along with plenty of evidence that Amazon's own staff said in writing multiple times that the deranking was "policy," (not to mention how specifically targeted the censored books were) I don't believe for a minute that this was a "glitch." This was a sinister attempt by a major corporation that now controls a huge chunk of the world book trade to control and censor what Americans read.
The public backlash and massive PR gaffe Amazon now finds itself mired in rivals what Coca-Cola dealt with back in 1985 when they tried to impose New Coke on the masses. I think that for decades to come, business schools across the world will use the "amazonfail" debacle as a textbook example (along with New Coke) of a major corporation completely misjudging its customer base. In fact,"amazonfail" is worse than New Coke----New Coke was just stupid. But censorship of any kind, let alone on such a massive scale, is evil. And the public knows it. Amazon tried to pull a fast one on us, but obviously Amazon underestimated just how smart its customers (avid readers and book buyers) really are.
Americans of all political stripes, from the far left to the far right, detest censorship. The First Amendment is sacred in this country. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have died over the past 230 years to protect our right to free speech, which includes the right to read whatever we want without fear of reprisal. It goes without saying that censorship is un-American. And if anyone should have understood that, it should have been the world's biggest bookseller.
My books remain deranked and unsearchable on Amazon, and I have been unable to get a straight answer on when the sales ranks will be restored (Amazon says "soon" but it hasn't happened yet).
Now would be a very good time to buy your books from one of Amazon's online competitors: Powells.com BooksAMillion.com BN.com (Barnes & Noble) Fictionwise.com AllRomanceEbooks.com
Never forget that this has happened. Never. And vote with your feet, folks. Take your dollars elsewhere.
Hey folks! Today at Ravenous Romance, check out my short story "Hot Sticks, LLC", which is included in Ravenous Romance's SEX AND TAXES anthology. SEX AND TAXES is chock full of hot stories that will forever change the way you look at the IRS. Happy April 15!
Also today at Ravenous, they're running a special on short stories. Only fifty cents apiece! (regular price is $1.99). At this price, you can order ten stories for five bucks, and create your own anthology. You can even write back to Ravenous, tell them which ten stories you chose and why, and they might publish them together as an anthology based on your suggestions. Here's your chance to be an erotica anthology editor! Check it out.
I'm a guest blogger today at the popular Writer Beware blog, writing on the topic of exploitive practices in the theatre world targeted at playwrights. Check it out.
Stay tuned tomorrow for my rant about the recent Amazon.com anti-gay, anti-sex, anti-feminist (pretty much anti-everything remotely controversial) censorship debacle. (Yep, my smutty books were among the 58,000 deranked/censored titles).
Today we welcome astrologer and erotic romance author Sephera Giron to the blog. This is a very long post, but I'm happy to post it in its entirety. Enjoy!
Love, Erotica, and Astrology Sèphera Girón peers into her crystal ball and sees many erotic romance books....
Is spring here yet? We’re waiting oh, so patiently here for it just outside of Toronto! While we’re waiting for the weather to break in the northern climates, lots of writing gets done! The best thing about living in Ontario and being a person that finds no joy in snow related activities means that I do a lot of writing in the winter.
This past winter, I was especially prolific, even for me. I delivered six books to Ravenous Romance.
Admittedly, I edited one of the books, The Sexstrology Anthology, but it’s related to the other books. Twelve authors wrote erotic romance astrology stories set in my fictional town of Hermana.
The Sexstrology series was created for Ravenous Romance’s Lovestrology line. These are books that can be read alone or as a series. You don’t have to read the other books to enjoy any of these erotic romance books. For the series, I combined several of my interests and talents. These include: astrology, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witchcraft, tarot cards, and sex I’ve been reading tarot professionally and casting horoscopes for years. At Ravenous, I’m the one who casts the daily horoscopes.
To draw together my many interests to create a base to weave my tales, I created the mythical town of Hermana which was founded by witch sisters escaping the Salem prosecutions. A couple of centuries later, the town is thriving and draws a lot of tourists. Many of the residents of Hermana are psychics and witches of some sort and my Sexstrology series concentrates on twelve main women, each single and a different sign of the zodiac. They form a coven under the guidance of eighty year old Lucy and every month, they meet to celebrate one of the ladies’ birthdays and to cast a love spell.
The first book is about a Sagittarius tarot reader, Maggie. It’s great fun to write about a different woman each month and to follow her adventures in love. Maggie is a hedonist, and sleeps with pretty much every sign of the zodiac in her book while trying to figure out how she feels about a Virgo that has captured her attention.
The Capricorn woman is a vampire and medium. She sees ghosts (is haunted by some of her victims in fact), plays the violin and is discriminating in her sleeping partners and her prey. She meets a gorgeous Gemini on New Year’s Eve and the book follows her rather dark adventures in trying to find him again.
For Aquarius, I created a journalist who has a bit of psychic ability and can see ghosts. She’s a natural skeptic but many weird experiences in Hermana have convinced her that ghosts do exist. She explores a haunted asylum in California with a hunky Scorpio man she met through the internet on her paranormal group.
My Pisces lady is an aura reader and teaches art class. Her new, much younger student, a Taurus, has many talents that make her drool. Their lust sends them through a painting where they must discover what evil is leaking into Hermana.
Exploring the signs of the zodiac and their different attitudes towards sex has been interesting. I use the most basic popular views of the sun sign to create my characters. Sagittarians as a rule are very enthusiastic and adventurous people (Walt Disney, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Woody Allen). Capricorns are dark and mysterious (Edgar Allan Poe, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson). Aquarians are analytical (Lewis Caroll, Oprah, Abraham Lincoln) and Pisces are passionate (Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Harlow, Tammie Faye Baker). At least, those of the traits I chose to focus on for the purpose of my stories. The different degrees of lust have been interesting to play with. Some characters, like my Sagittarian, view sex as a necessary pastime while other signs are pickier about it.
People who follow astrology may complain that sometimes I match lovers in signs that are noted to be incompatible. Since none of us know the characters’ full charts, we can’t judge them on their sun signs. And as we know, humans tend to do what their loins tell them to do no matter what their sign!
As an example, in my own life, in my twenties, I married a Sagittarian whom I should have been totally compatible with and intellectually, we are. It was fun and adventurous and a whirlwind romance. We met at our summer jobs and discovered we attended the same university and actually had good friends in common. We were married by Valentine’s Day while still in school. After graduation, we decided to start a family and had two boys. Then around the ten year mark, we parted ways because in the big picture, we married before we actually knew each other very well and it was the day to day lifestyle stuff that was dragging us down. Impulse is typical for Sag and Aquarius. In fact, we are still friends, but just not good marriage partners. My second husband is a passionate, clingy, emotional Pisces who is supposed to not be compatible with an impatient, analytical, detached Aquarius like me. We met when he came to me for a tarot reading at a flea market. Sparks flew (literally, when our hands accidently touched, a jolt surged through me, not a carpet shock!) though I didn’t know what I would do with him, he was so not the type I was “used to” but I told myself “open heart, open mind” (since what I was “used to” obviously wasn’t working for me!) and after a few dates, I was hooked on my fish man. He proposed a few months after we met but I had cold feet from the first time around. We lived together for six years before getting married in 2008 since we both had impulsive city hall first marriages with people we didn’t know. His first marriage didn’t even last five years but it was with a Gemini (who became pregnant in the first month or so of their dating, so there’s that air sign impulse thing again on her end and of course he’s the clingy water sign with romantic notions) and I can’t imagine how they even survived that long with all the mind changing and flip flopping from both of them! My second husband and I share Virgo moons and that is where our own compatibility lies. It also means that we both enjoy experimental sex and are open to adventures...He was a willing participant in helping me research which 64 positions of the Kama Sutra to use in “Kama Sutra Seductions Deck,” which I call “flashcards for lovers.”
So I approach my lovers in my astrology books with an Open Heart, Open Mind, which incidentally is the name of the first Sexstrology book (Sagittarius) and the concept is used in the monthly love spell, because, hey, it works for me!
The love spell that the women perform every month consists of three parts. There’s the actual ritual or spell that they all gather together to perform. There’s the required feng shui of their home by Cancer Ellie and astrology charts prepared by Gemini Gwen. If the lucky lady follows all the advice, she may wind up with Mr. Compatible.
The idea of each woman having a specialty such as tarot reading or aura painting is exciting to me, for I’m curious about so many things. This gives me a chance to explore subjects that I enjoy while writing about love and sex.
People who have read my other work (such as Hungarian Rhapsody, Mistress of the Dark, Borrowed Flesh, The Birds and the Bees) know that I deliver when it comes to the racy bits. This is because I enjoy writing about sex and like to explore different ways to experience pleasure. (My Virgo moon is showing again!) My characters sometimes have more balls than I do when it comes to the bedroom. It’s a fun way to express myself and I hope you enjoy reading the “naughty bits” as much as I enjoy writing them.
So that’s a bit of what I’ve been trying to do with my new series. I hope readers enjoy the erotica, the occult aspects and the stories.
Thank you, Jamaica, for letting me crash your blog.
Now, everyone, go read your free daily horoscopes at Ravenousromance.com and let me know what you think!
Here are links to trailers I made for Open Heart, Open Mind and Cursed. Bear in mind, these are the first trailers I’ve ever made but they give the idea.
Today we welcome Courtney Sheets, author of the paranormal erotic romance novel KONA WARRIOR to the blog. Take it away, Courtney!
First off, I’m really excited to be here today! Thanks to the talented Jamaica Layne for having me. Second how great is it that I get to blog about Hawaiian Mythology, sex, and that elusive first novel.
I’m a newbie to the world of romance writing. Not in the sense that I just started writing but in the sense that my first book, Kona Warrior, was published recently by Ravenous Romance. I have a stack of rejection letters a couple inches thick. I could probably wallpaper my den with them if I was so inclined.
For every fifty no’s you get a yes. Or so a wise college professor once told me. It doesn’t matter I was taking a musical theatre class at the time, I think the adage holds true for the writing world as well as the theatrical one.
The written word has held me captive from an early age. You all know what I mean. I’m talking the "bad poetry in the kitchen" phrase. We’ve all been there. I didn’t seriously start to write in the “I want to make this my career” sense until about my mid-twenties. While tolling away as a salesgirl in a department store, I bought a book called Write and Sell Your First Novel and a copy of The Writer’s Market. I was ready. I was prepared. I was going to write the next bestseller. I would be the next Stephen King or Tom Clancy. Boy was I in for a wake-up call. I wrote and submitted, submitted and wrote, off and on for the next year and a half. The rejection letters kept piling up until I realized a very important thing---my writing was dull. I don’t mean dull in the style, simply the genre I had thrust myself into was not conducive to who I am. I was not being true to myself or my craft. This is when I discovered paranormal romance. I devoured paranormal from the minute I picked up my first Christine Feehan book. Until one scorching hot summer’s day---I live in Las Vegas, it’s like living on the sun---I was standing in Borders and looked up to see vampire romances as far as the eye can see. Row and upon row of Tortured Gothic Vamps and the slayers who love them, and not a single Greek God or Aztec princess among them. I was annoyed. Ms. Feehan, while in my opinion a good storyteller, had started to get a little redundant. I wanted something new. With some many amazing cultures in this world you'd think publishing would branch out. So I decided I would write my own paranormal. And I did write one, a tremendously bad Banshee story that is now locked in a vault safe from human eyes lest readers be turned into stone. That book cratered around the time I took a trip with my family to the Big Island of Hawaii. There I found what I need to kick start my true writing path. Two helpful items in particular come to mind, the beauty of our fiftieth state and Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Warren Beckwith.
Beckwith’s book is the definitive collection of Hawaiian myth. For a long time it was the only written record of many of the tales of Pele, Lono, and the other gods. With good old Martha by my side and a view of Kilauea, came the idea for Kona Warrior.
As I wrote about the ancient Hawaiian tradition, I came to respect Hawaii and it culture heritage more and more each day. Hawaii myth is an oral tradition passed down by generation to generation. However much of that was done in secret as the Christian Missionaries who first came to the islands forbade the telling of pagan stories. Also the hula was outlawed. Hula was one way the native Hawaiians told stories.
I submitted the completed novel to several big publishing houses and luckily some nice intern had slipped a note onto the usual form letter rejections. My problem you see was not my manuscript, but my synopsis and query letter. You see I was dull again. From this I learned that not only does your novel need to sing, but your query letter and synopsis need to suck the reader in as well. Without that powerful first glimpse into your world, you will never get out of the gate. I sat down and revamped everything. Made it punchy, gave it more zip, put in more sparkle, okay I’m done with the clichés now. What I’m trying to say is look at your submission package as a whole product, not as three individual pieces. That package represents you. Double and triple check everything before you submit to publishers or agents. Like an actor, the product you are selling is you.
The best advice I can give to someone trying to break into writing comes from a paperweight my mother gave me after another rejection letter hit me. It says “You haven’t failed until you give up.” Find your niche, be true to your art, and keep trying. For more information on Kona Warrior, go to http://www.ravenousromance.com/fantastica/kona-warrior.php?flypage=0
While you there take a look around at all the great stories Ravenous has to offer.
Hey everyone! Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I was out of town for a few days, and I'm also catching up on some deadline work. This week will be a busy week here on the blog, with two guest bloggers and some exciting market news.
First of all, I'm pleased to report that my erotica epublisher, Ravenous Romance, is featured in today's issue of the New York Times. Today the NYT's Books section published a fascinating article on the state of romance publishing today, and gave special attention to erotic romance in particular. Even more exciting, the article makes special mention of my very own startup erotica epublisher, Ravenous Romance, and my fabulous agent (and sometime editor) Lori Perkins is quoted in the article. (To read it, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/books/08roma.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2&ref=arts)
Since we Ravenous authors have officially hit the big time, I'm celebrating this week by welcoming two of my fellow Ravenous authors to the blog as guests. First we'll meet with Courtney Sheets, author of the paranormal erotica Kona Warrior, and then we'll sit down with Sephera Giron, author of the Sexstrology series, among other titles. More to come tomorrow!