Why Publishing Doesn’t Matter To Me Anymore

81482_editorletter_mdIf 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’.

Google

Bing

Duck Duck Go

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?

 

 

 

  26 comments for “Why Publishing Doesn’t Matter To Me Anymore

  1. July 10, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    They have nothing to offer me but rejection as I don’t do HEA, romance or censorship. I pay for my own editor,and cover art (not the standard half naked torso), and sell at a low but steady rate. I could use a good kick in the deadline pants . . .but what is the rush, really?

  2. July 10, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    the only reason i can see to keep publishing transgressive work, not specifically erotica is to kick against the pricks, the puritanical , to fight against censorship. but again, to find publishers willing to do so, able to do so is rare. & there won’t be financial rewards. as you know, RG, i run a micropress, AngelHousePress with our fiction imprint, DevilHouse. we do limited run chapbooks of only 50 copies & pay the author in copies only. these books are distributed underground mostly at small press fairs via barter or small amounts of money, but it’s a small way of trying to support transgressive work & the talented authors that create it. but yeah, it ain’t for dough, that’s for sure. i, for one, am really not interested in HFN or HEA endings & i can barely tolerate romance. i’m sad to see the quality of erotica anthos going downhill & i’m even sadder to see the end of the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, which really was the best in terms of writing ability & literary quality of the work. you make sense, RG, but it’s still frustrating & sad to hear. however, your online self-publishing keeps up the battle against the puritans, which is fabulous!

  3. Salome Jones
    July 10, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    You make sense. Anything that says good writing is declining distresses me. I’m worried about the ability of younger people to appreciate good writing. Everything is so dumbed down. I’m going to pester you later about helping me make contact with some truly good erotica writers for a literary erotica imprint. Maybe novellas, to start with. I even got the name as I was reading this.

    • July 10, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      I bet you can persuade Madame Mazandaran to write some. 😛

  4. July 10, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    I, too, complete the circle by offering nearly all my books in serial form, a chapter at a time, on my website. When they are complete, I pay for my cover art, do my own editing or engage in a barter system for similar services, then self-publish. After two disastrous encounters with publishers, I am happiest on my own, picking and choosing my battles.

    They have nothing I need.

  5. July 10, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    Science Fiction and Fantasy authors report the same problems with publishers, although their pay rate hasn’t dropped as badly as erotica. The general consensus of the communities I hang out in there is that publishers have switched to a Blockbuster model like Hollywood. If they don’t think you can earn $$$$ for them this financial quarter, they’re not going to give you meaningful support. So everyone but the ‘proven’ best selling authors and the occasional phenomena they got lucky on (like E.L. James) suffers.

    Additionally, standard contracts with big publishing companies have gotten egregious. Non-compete clauses for authors (you can’t write anything for any other publisher)? No rights reversion, ever? All subsidiary rights signed over as well? There’s a sucker born every minute, and a lot of them are writers.

    As a result, I see publishers as being valuable only for two things: providing cover in working with the retailers, and helping extend the author platform.

    Cover with retailers: Amazon happily distributes Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, a graphic novel with explicit incestual sex. Yet when I try to self-publish an erotic noir graphic novel through them with explicit (non-incestual) sex, they block my account and threaten to permanently ban me unless I grovel and promise to never never never submit such filth to them again. I don’t have any corporate weight behind me.

    Extending author platform: These days, be it for sales, or just readers, we all need to develop a fanbase. We need people who say, “oh, so-and-so’s got a new story out. I want to read it.” That requires good writing, and it also requires them having heard of you in the first place. Both are challenging, but at least the former has a well-established path. But for getting your name out…?

    I suck at keywording and SEO (and am duly impressed by your strengths at it–can I bribe you for hints? ;-)) So I have to get my name out by participation in social groups and such. Getting into anthologies with other good writers can also help, albeit not as much as anthology editors often claim. After that, I think many of us struggle.

    So am I going to submit to anthologies? Yep, if their call is close to a story I’d write anyway, and would self-publish if I was rejected. Would I submit a novel length book to a publisher? I poked around when I finished Addictive Desires and couldn’t find any publishers that were a fit for it. I decided better to self-publish than to waste more time trying to square peg a round hole.

    Anyway-that’s my $0.02.

    Big Ed

    • July 11, 2015 at 7:57 am

      You don’t need to bribe me for it, my dear. I’ll write a post about it if you like!

      • July 29, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        “I’ll write a post about it if you like!” Please do! I suck at keywording and SEO also!!!

        ~ Vista

  6. Viv
    July 10, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    I think you pretty much said it all.

  7. July 10, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    On the whole, I agree with you, at least insofar as erotica is concerned. While I do pursue publication in mainstream literary genres, I’ve submitted to one erotica call this year and I did that pretty half-heartedly. In principle, I’d love publishers to pay more than $25-$50 for a story, but the reality is that erotica is not a genre that pays and hasn’t been for some time, so I never thought I’d make much money in it. The reason I’ve moved to writing for my own site more than for submission is that I’m no longer interested in writing the kind of erotica that anthology editors seem to want. It’s not that I’m doing anything terribly transgressive or edgy in my work. I’m just more interested in what’s happening emotionally and psychologically between the characters than in supplying minute details about what kind of sex their having. If a reader gets off on something I write, that’s great. It just isn’t my primary goal anymore and that doesn’t conform to the genre’s commercial conventions so, for the most part, I’m happy just to write the way I write and not worry about. That said, there are one or two publishers left in the field that I would potentially want to work with (mostly because of their editorial approach), but outside of them, I’m happy to put my work up on my site for free.

  8. July 11, 2015 at 9:52 am

    In a way, I waited too long at the side of the erotica and explicit romance publishing pool before I dared wade in. The field of providers is so saturated now. Publishers and readers pay much less because it’s easy to access hot writing of any sort. (I didn’t say exquisite writing — just hot writing.)

    Some of the competition, shall we say, *is* exquisite; but the field is mucked up and confusing with stuff that is not — and the paying audience doesn’t often care.

    I waited — too long? — because I’m a prickly tender thing who cares about my stories and how I word them. I wanted to get a feel for which editors and publishers were experienced, had fair contracts, and would treat my work well. I wanted to feel safe submitting to them. I’d gotten familiar with the taste levels of a few groups in particular, and I knew I’d feel proud if I were published by them. I’d be proud having a story wedged in among the other authors they’d chosen.

    A strong editor is important to me as I start to splash around in the pool: an invested editor’s eye polishing my words, choosing my companions in an anthology, making something beautiful to the sight and mind, and spearheading the marketing. All that, a few pro compliments on my story, *and* $25? Great!

    It’s worked so far, although I know it won’t always. I was impressed by New Smut Project’s two anthologies this spring. Each story was thoughtfully edited and proofread by a team. Fine tooth comb. I learned a lot from those women once I got over my chagrin at text foibles I’d never noticed in myself. The cover art is gorgeous. The other stories have been downright fun and steamy to read, and I’ve nary a wince at the writing quality.

    It’s also a privilege to have an audio story out under Rose Caraway–her cover art, personality, and marketing are outstanding. I’d never manage that kind of package myself. I’m sure I’ll submit again.

    I’m still submitting to Cleis and Circlet, my other two experienced, involved houses-of-interest.

    I feel that waiting did shelter me from certain craziness in the market recently. I’d been watching Ellora’s Cave for a few years–was even drafting a novella for their men’s line–and then…well, I’m sure you’re familiar with their 2014 drama. Burning Books Press shut down when I was mid-draft. Now I’m worried about Cleis, which had been my top “I’m really doing this and I’m good at it!” goal publisher.

    RG and other self-publishers: are you concerned about content theft when you publish on websites or in ebooks? Have you found effective ways to handle it? That’s a problem that makes my heart boil and I don’t feel intellectually, legally, or energetically equipped to handle it myself.

    • July 11, 2015 at 11:16 am

      Theft occurs from literotica and storiesonline, not individual author sites.

      Set up a google alert for one of the first lines of your story. It may be a sufficient tripwire.

      • July 11, 2015 at 11:21 am

        I agree with Ed. It happens occasionally, but frankly, it happens to unlocked Kindle books too. I can’t be bothered to get obsessed about someone ‘stealing’ my stuff when I earn fuck all from it anyway. When I catch it, I write to the owner of the site, and to their host. It usually comes down pretty fast.

  9. July 18, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    It’s been happening in travel writing as well. It was my bread and butter 20 years ago. Now I’m lucky for the bread. But I soldier grimly on, exploring other genres. And I remind myself that John Donne never earned a penny from his pen. He wrote because he needed to write.

  10. Six
    July 21, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    Disintermediation is a wonderful thing for writers willing to take the time to acquire a few extra skill sets, as you did with SEO. Writers can do to publishers what airlines did to travel agents and keep more of the revenue for themselves. But that’s not the only thing going on here. The technology of Internet publishing has opened the flood gates to crowd sourcing, which is driving down prices by giving the untalented and inexperienced a place at the table. Meanwhile, the readers are left to wade through dross to find the gems. It’s all a bit tawdry and unsettling, but as the old saying goes, “information wants to be free.”

    The story has a happy ending only for writers with the talent, stamina, and skill sets to establish themselves as strong brands. It’s all about creating a perception of value against which you can sell.

  11. July 27, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed your thoughts on this topic. Thank you for sharing

  12. August 6, 2015 at 7:39 am

    This is some very helpful information. Thank you.

  13. entheos
    September 8, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    I am not a writer, except for lyrics and poetry. I don’t call myself a poet though, because as a damn good musician I recognize the difference between someone who can do something and someone who does it really well.

    I am, however, a discriminating reader. This post answered the questions that have been in the back of my mind since I first read your work. A friend recommended ‘Ghost Marks’, and the next time I saw him he asked if I’d inhaled the rest of your stories yet. I told him I hadn’t and he looked surprised. “You didn’t like it?”
    “I liked it so much I went back and read it again. I want to assimilate it before I read the next one.”

    From me, that’s a nearly nonexistent gesture of respect. The craftmanship that goes into your work would stand out in any genre, but I think erotica, particularly transgressive erotica (even before FSOG) suffers from a disproportionately high ratio of bad writers. So a website with high quality writing that’s also offered for free is striking.

    I recommend Remittance Girl to people whose minds and writing I admire. (And I tell them to take you seriously about leaving comments, because not all of your stories can be found in anthologies.)

    • September 9, 2015 at 3:52 pm

      Hello there Entheos,

      What a lovely compliment. Yes, I really DO feel that the reader comments are a core part of the writing process for me. Writing is, for me, always a dialogue – even when it only takes place in the mind of the reader. It wasn’t always been possible to make that dialogue explicit before the advent of the internet. But now it is, and I am inspired, stimulated, and sometimes surprised by readers comments. I love to see how many ways there are to understand any given story. The text is there, but the meaning we making of it is always highly personal.

  14. November 25, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Re-reading this piece and others yesterday reminded me of how important “R words”can be. Your command of psychological truth, of literary exploration, are matched by your continual and well demonstrated linguistic skills. What strikes me in your experience are R words……..resonance and recognition. Meaning your replies makes clear that you resonate with readers who recognize the rarity of your voice and ear for the human condition. “The Waiting Room” is a sophisticated example. And I, for one, learned a great deal about silver, polish, and shine in writing set in the Burlington Arcade. More than that, you have joined the ranks of the rare writer willing to learn code, to shop new www use on the net, to Reach out. As an octogenarian myself, your insights and literary skills make me reach too. You opened Lacanonline thought to me. Gratitudes from a Reader.

    • November 25, 2015 at 8:19 pm

      Thank you so much for the tremendous compliments. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the strange jungle of Lacan.

  15. November 29, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    I came across your writings via a facebook recommendation about two years ago. I have been following you ever since. I love the way you write, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. I agree that the writer and reader is a symbiotic relationship, we need each other for completion. I am a reader and a writer, not sure which comes first, it doesn’t matter. I started reading first though but wanted to be a writer since my early teens. What I love about your work is that when I read it, the story continues on within me long after I have finished the text. That is a great skill, one that is hidden amongst the shite about there (I live in Ireland, we say shite instead of shit). When I read the above blog it really resonated with me as a self published writer. I make fuck all money, my novel is a mix of fantasy, with a dash of the historical and flits between two worlds, it is difficult to slot into a genre or market. It is a mish mash but it is authentic and came from me so that is enough. I make bugger all money despite some investment but it has been worth it. The value of writing is dropping dramatically as is the standards, but I am grateful that writers like you are taking control and sharing your work via this platform. I would never have come across your work otherwise. If you don’t mind me sharing a link to a Guardian article, it is impacting on most authors these days http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/08/authors-incomes-collapse-alcs-survey

  16. Ronni S.
    December 13, 2015 at 7:19 am

    As a publishing lawyer for several decades, I understand & despair. Not being a writer, I’m unprepared to adequately express my thoughts. All I can say is: you write it, I’ll read it

  17. February 28, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    Interesting post RG, and my experience has been just like yours.

    I also have little to any use for publishers, editors or the like. I’ve gotten thousands of readers through my blog and though not as much reader conversation as I’d like, enough that I have no regrets.

    The problem is this: I need income. My day to day work life is physical and taxing. I’m a tradesman by day. And though I’ve never been fitter or stronger, I’m getting older and feeling it. If every reader had paid just 50 cents or a quarter for a story, I could write full time. I can’t wait until something breaks.

    So, I’m trying Patreon. I’ve also pulling together four books of collected stories, about 800 pages worth, to self-publish. I’m also not going to eliminate the publisher or editor. If a path to writerly income is through a publisher or agent, then I’m open to that.

    The internet is a great place to gain recognition, a readership, or to lay the foundation for a business. I can’t help thinking that while the benefits are significant (a larger readership and exposure), they’re relatively short term. The costs are long term and in the end outweigh the benefits. How many news outlets are switching to a fee-based service? As you say: Readers whine when they have to pay *anything*, even a pittance, for the work of others. And that’s the problem: Blogs like yours and mine strike me as dead ends unless can afford to write for free. The Internet is a monster that’s stared by the thing that feeds it.

    So it’s an interesting dilemma. I agree with all you’ve written, but am also unwilling to give away my writing. I can’t. Not any more. It was easier when I was twenty or thirty.

    Interesting how we started in opposites and are going in opposites. My own post will be:

    Why Publishing Matters to Me

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