If you’ve hit my website before, you might be wondering why I have most of my short stories and even long series online, instead of in published anthologies. If you take a look at my short works in print page, you will probably notice that in the last year, I’ve submitted almost nothing to editors. I’m going to discuss the whys of this. But first a little history.
When I first started writing, I started online. I would work on a story, and post episodes as I finished them. I loved the dynamic of this because, for me, if a piece isn’t read, I’m not a writer. For me, the act of being read is the last and vital component in the act of writing. It is the completion of the circuit.
I never imagined that I could earn a living writing erotica. By the time I started to write, the days of getting paid $500 for a story were already well in the past. You may not believe it now, but magazines paid that or more for a 5K story in the 80s. From an economic perspective, our genre has been financially decimated since then. So, money was never the issue.
But still there was a pride to getting a story accepted for publication. Acceptance of a story meant you had reached a certain quality of writing – one that an editor recognized and felt that readers would too. My very first ever submission, to M. Christian & S. Vivant for the anthology “Garden of the Perverse”, which were erotic stories told in fairytale form, was accepted. So was my second – to a lesbian anthology – “Lessons in Love”. Beyond the pride of having my work recognized was the sense of accomplishment for having my work appear alongside other pieces of truly good writing. The pay was $100 or more.
The outlier here has always been The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica published by Constable & Robinson, or Running Press in the US, and edited by Maxim Jakubowski. No theme, no content restrictions and $150 per accepted story plus two copies of the paperback. And good GOD, that man did his work as an editor! I don’t know what his rejection rate was like, but I do know he used to receive hundreds of submissions every year. The first year I got a story accepted in his anthology was the moment I felt I had really arrived as a writer. And sadly I just learned that 2015 was the final volume of the series.
$100 dollars could never represent the time a careful writer invests in a good short story. It takes me at least 30 hours to write, edit and polish a story bound for publication. That’s an hourly rate of approx. $2.50 per hour and I’m not counting the hours it takes me to mull the story over in my mind before I start writing. Nonetheless, it was not nothing. It wasn’t negligible and it wasn’t insulting. Over the past 6 years, the standard rate has gone down to $25. And that’s the BEST you can hope for. I’ve seen a TON of calls where the rate was zero. Yes, you read that right: ZERO. You get the thrill of a free e-book. You don’t believe me? Read this call. The editor is offering two ‘editor’s choice awards’ of $25. Apparently just getting your story accepted doesn’t constitutes an ‘editor’s choice’ anymore. That suggests that they’ll publish pretty much anything that a) has something to do with the theme, b) has reasonable grammar and c) doesn’t contravene their rather patronizing guidelines.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have a problem with themes or guidelines, but damn, if you want me to write to your specs, pay me decently! I’m a good writer!
Why would I even consider censoring myself for free? Or for $25? And increasingly, the calls for submission in the erotica genre have been for HEA/HFN endings. So really, they are calls for explicit romance, not erotic fiction.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to simply blame the publishers. Content has become an incredibly cheap commodity. I’ve watched readers whine over paying $2.00 for an ebook novel. I know of readers who buy an ebook, read it, and then return it for a refund. Think about it: a novel for less than the price of a coffee you consume in 5 minutes and piss out 5 minutes later. A novel that takes, if you’re any more than an abject hack, at least 3 months to write. So, it’s readers too, who feel entitled to something close to free entertainment. And judging by the success of FSOG, the vast majority of readers don’t give a shit about the quality of the writing. They just want more books that are basically carbon copies of FSOG – and they get it.
Nonetheless, publishers used to serve a purpose: they edited (or at least proofed) your work, paid for cover art, printed it, got it into stores, promoted it by reaching out to reviewers, bought advertising. Now, most publishers do very little of that. Most erotica never gets printed. I’ve seen the most egregious lack of proofing even in what has been considered until now ‘reputable’ publishers books. I’ve seen three erotica publishers end up with the same generic picture of a scantily clad model as a cover – the SAME cover art. They don’t publicize the work, send copies to reviewers, or do ANY promotion other than paste the cover and a blurb on their site, and post a tweet or a FB notice. And god knows, very few of them are discerning about writing quality anymore; I have found my work stuck in tomes with some of the most cringeworthy, unoriginal, banal shit you can imagine.
I acknowledge that there are probably publishers out there who love the genre. Who work hard, with zero overhead, for love of engaging with the material. But – people – it’s not enough. You simply DON’T exist without the content from writers. And they don’t need you anymore.
This is the very sad truth: if you will eschew the $25 or the flattery of being accepted into a collection of often very mediocre writing that sells a couple of hundred copies, you can write what you really have a passion for, without censorship, control your own visuals, control the content associated with your work and get far more exposure, just by learning how to offer well-coded online content, optimize the Meta Tags and search engine ranking on your site. Don’t believe me? Search ‘Online Erotic Fiction’.
And please notice my keywords. Not erotica. This way I get to ensure that when people turn up here, they aren’t going to be disappointed if they were looking for textual porn. If I were motivated to make money, I could easily – with a few well placed pull quotes – drive significant sales to the novels that I don’t offer for free on the site. The truth is, I just can’t be bothered. Even without it, I do pretty well, sales-wise, just on Smashwords.
It’s not that I, like many writers, could not benefit from the services of a good publisher. God knows I could use a critical editor, and proofing, and deft promotion, and some kicks in the butt every now and then, but since publishers DON’T DO ANY OF THAT ANY MORE, there is literally NOTHING a publisher has to offer me: not a discerning editor, not a good, thorough proofing, not engaging cover art, not publicity or advertising or promotion. Nothing. Even a story in the anthology of a well-respected erotica editor can’t get me the exposure or readers I can get myself here. Now.
Do you disagree? What are erotica publishers good for in your eyes?