Erotica’s Lost Literary Roots – I Know It When I See It.

Back in 1964 regarding possible obscenity in the film The Lovers, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in his opinion:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. [Emphasis added.]

—Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers.

I’ve spent better part of a week trying to come up with a way to define where the line between literary erotic and Porn is. Is it the quantity and the quality of the sex? Is it the use of sex within the context of the story? Is it as simple as the fact literary erotic is plot driven and not just descriptions of sex held together in a sort of jello mold of context? I kept going back to what Justice Stewart wrote – I know it when I see it (or read it in this case).

Does it matter that there is a clearly defined difference between the two? I think it does. At least to people like me who are trying to get back to the origins of erotica in their work. The wall I am consistently thrown against is the same: I publish my books under Literature and I’m slammed for having too much sex in my books – I publish my books under Erotica and I’m slammed for the sex not being raunchy enough in my books. There is no single good category for me to classify my books.

My latest release Memoirs of a Gigolo Volume Two has ended up in Books › Gay & Lesbian › Literature & Fiction › Erotica (to be exact). I have a few nits to pick with this. There is a scene of gay sex in the story that is pivotal to understanding the relationship between two of my main characters. But the story as a whole is not a gay erotica. It certainly doesn’t belong in the same category as some of the books it’s lumped in with. The only category that Volume Two really seems to belong in is straight Erotica. But again, I’m getting hit for filing Volume Two in there.

As one reviewer who left a still respectable rating wrote (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t be arsed to look up the review again) “I just don’t get it – there is only one het and a lesbian scene. What’s the point?” The reviewer did make note of the fact my writing was better than most of what was available. I do appreciate that.

From my perspective, there needs to be another category that books like mine can be sorted into. Two subheadings under Erotica. One for Literature one for Porn. Take the confusion out of it. So I’m going to start a petition. Ask Amazon to add two subcategories. One for Literature. One for Porn. Make it clear and easy for everyone to understand what it is I write and what a lot of other people write on both sides of the fence.

What is the solution? I know porn when I see it and I know literary erotica when I see it. I think most people doing the writing know what they’re producing. When I want porn, I go for porn. When I want erotica, I got for erotica. Just to be clear, I’m not bashing porn. It has it’s place in the universe and I respect its right to exist. I am also not implying there is such a thing as good and bad sex (that is wholly in the mind of the person involved). There are subcategories for romance. There should be subcategories for erotica.

Unfortunately I have this tendency to get on my high horse and ride it until my ass cheeks chafe.  But I’d rather try to do something rather than just bitching and moaning for the sake of nothing. So I started a petition. I’m going to get enough people who agree with me and ask them to sign it. Then I’m going to send it to the machine that is Amazon. They’ll probably ignore it, but at least I will have done something. Here is my petition: There is a difference between erotica and porn. Please sign it if you agree with me.

Fifty Shades of Telling it Like it Is – Meet the Reviewers Part One

Your mother loves your book. Your sister, your aunt, your best friend, and that guy that is desperately trying to get you into bed all think you are the next Hemingway. So you publish your book. Then it gets reviewed.  Someone who doesn’t know you and has no vested interest in your happiness, loves your book. Five whole stars from a stranger! Or, to your utter amazement, someone that neither knows nor loves you,  thinks your seven hundred page tome on the joys of accounting, thinks it stinks.Who are these people and where the heck to they get off not loving your book? Meet the reviewers in the first of a two part interview.

Livia Ellis

  • Question 1 – Who are you people? Why do you like making writers cry? Don’t you know we’re entitled to the sort of fame and glory that comes along naturally when we figure out how to self-publish on the internet?

Cat Alley

  • Cat alley avid reader and big mouth…lol. I am a single mother of a 3-year-old boy; I work full time and read every time I get the chance in between. I don’t think I have made a writer cry, ever… or anyone for that matter… at least not in years. The majorities of the writers I have read for deserve all sorts of fame and glory for their work.

Samantha Truesdale

  • Samantha Truesdale. A mom of 2 boys and a total book nerd. I work part time, and I wish there were more hours in the day so I would have more time to read!

DelSheree Gladden

  • DelSheree Gladden…writer, reviewer, reader of just about everything, mom of two very smart and very silly kiddos, married to the most supportive husband ever, and dental hygiene student. That last one is currently eating up the majority of my life!

PW

  • I’m a mom, former active duty Marine and Executive Assistant.

Livia Ellis

  • Question 2 – How and why did you start doing book reviews? I know from my personal experience, the first few times I wrote book reviews was because I was very angry I spent good money on a really terrible book.

Cat Alley

  • I have been a heavy reader for many, many years. Within the last year, I have made close friends with those who are writers. That is when I learned the importance of writing a review on Amazon. I than joined a couple of groups on Facebook where I could beta read and published read/review. For me, it was a way to get free books and help someone at the same time. After doing that for a while and needing a hobby, I decided to start my own blog with my reviews. I have only been doing it for a few months in a blog, but I have been enjoying getting my thoughts out there for people to read…good or tastefully bad.

Livia Ellis

  • I’ve thought about doing reviews, but I’m worried that as a writer there might be a lot of backlash. As writers do, I’ve spent a lot of time reading what’s out there in my genre. I just have two things to say – It’s a Japanese kimono, not a Japanese Komono and a wench is a woman and a winch is used for lifting heavy items. I fear I would just be too mean. How do you keep it nice?

Cat Alley

  • It is hard; I have a very sarcastic voice even when I am trying to be nice. It takes me time. If I don’t like a book and I know the stars are going to be low, I always try to state why they got the stars they did without giving away anything about the story line, I don’t like spoilers. I have given zero stars before. I have also given three stars, because I didn’t like its contents … even though the story was OK. And if I see a grammar issue, I will point it out, because they have to be big for me to even notice them… so I point them out…
  • Lol… and that is funny…about the wench…

DelSheree Gladden

  • I actually started doing book reviews after reading Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus.” It was such a fantastic book, I had to tell people about it. My review blog started out as just a place for me to talk about books I was reading, then it became a serious effort a few months later when review request started coming in.

Samantha Truesdale

  • I have always loved to read. In elementary school, while other kids were playing on the playground, I was in the corner with a book. In January of this year, I had a baby and am now home all the time. I used reading as a way to fill my time and decided that if I was going to spend so much time reading, I should look into doing reviews. I found that there was not much to it so I created a blog.
    I am really enjoying this new chapter in my life. The way I look at it, authors have given me so much in life just by writing books. This is one way for me to give back to them. I know it can help tremendously!

PW

  • I started because I love to read and the amount of money I was spending on books, I decided to start reviewing when I noticed a request for reviewers from one of the online sites. The big draw for me was the free books. I still spend over $100 a month for books, but it is not close to what it used to be. Another advantage is that I get to read authors I may not have looked at before.

Livia Ellis

  • Question #3 – where do you get your books from? What is your preferred method to acquire a book?

Cat Alley

  • There is a site, eReadrIQ.com. They send me an email daily with free books from Amazon. Other then that, I get them for beta reading or reviewing. I read all my books on my Kindle. I do however have a few authors that I will buy their kindle vs. but also buy a paperback for my personal library.

Samantha Truesdale

  • I get a fair amount of books from Amazon. I would say at least half of the books I receive are in exchange for an honest review. I also receive quite a few from Goodreads first reads giveaways.

DelSheree Gladden

  • I have several small press publishers that regularly send me their new books and put my into touch with the author. I really like this setup because I know the quality of the publishers.

PW

  • I too subscribe for the email re free books from Amazon. Of course there are free books I review, but I have purchased a few. There are a few authors I buy instead of review since I email back and forth with them sometimes. I also buy books at thrift stores, online, and at B&N. The book club I belong to also has a book exchange.

Livia Ellis

  • Question #4 – do you have a preference? Is there anything on your “I will not read this, not even if the paid me” list?

Cat Alley

  • Anything scary or historical I won’t read. Other than that, I like a synopsis of the book. I have learned in this process to ask for those as I have gotten books before that I have not liked and had I had the synopsis, I would have known that from the beginning.

Samantha Truesdale

  • I will read almost anything. I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi or history, but I have still read them.

DelSheree Gladden

  • My first love is YA. I’ll read just about any subgenre of YA, but I am a pretty eclectic reader. The only things I will NOT read are erotics, self-help, and political books.

PW

  • I don’t read a lot of historical unless I really like the blurb, I prefer not to review YA though I do read a few books. I am a fairly eclectic reader with a bent toward erotica, sci-fi, and fantasy.

Livia Ellis

  • Question #5 – I’m guessing you are asked to read/review more books than you could ever get through. What is the best approach a writer can use when asking you to read/review their book?

PW

  • I have reviewed a few books for a couple of authors I am friendly with, but I don’t do it often. Two of the three sites I review for has lists that the reviewers can choose from and the other will send a book depending on the number they get, though a couple of times I had to request a different book, as I had reviewed for another site. One of the sites though, we can follow the entire series if we want, which sometimes gets a small backlog if a lot come in at once. One site allows authors to request a specific reviewer if they want to. I have also been asked to review a couple of print books through these sites as well. One thing an author needs to understand when asking me to review a book is that I will give an honest assessment of what I think regardless of my relationship with them.

Cat Alley

  • I am still fairly new at this so I don’t have a long list of people I read for nor am I in that many groups to obtain a large amount of books. So I tend to have free time for my own interests in reading. When someone approaches me for the first time I usually want to know how they found me, how much they write and what they write. Then I decide if I want to read for them. Usually once, I read for someone, I get repeat performances…

DelSheree Gladden

  • Be thorough. I’m much more likely to be interested in a book if they send me a summary of the book and a little info about themselves. If all I get is a title, and I have to go look it up on Amazon to see what the book is about, I’m much less likely to review. I’m incredibly busy with school and family that I don’t always have time to do that. Plus, my blog is booked six months out, so I’m being very selective lately.

Livia Ellis

  • Question #6 – What isn’t going to work? What advice would you give to an author that wants a review?

Cat Alley

  • Don’t make the reader pay for the book, if you are working with a new reader and you have a series and on book 2, offer the first book so the reviewer can get caught up. (I personally will turn away an offer if it is in the middle of a series without reading the others), and be nice.. no one is perfect. Ask a lot of questions from the reviewer about your book. That way if they did not like it, you can find out why, if it is truly something about your book, or if that person just doesn’t like “those kind” of books. Some people may not explain why they do not like a book. If you are looking for a beta reader, once they are done reading, schedule some face-to-face time with them… so you can get a true feeling of what they thought about your book. It is always good to have 3-5 beta readers you trust. (I personally like to beta read more then read/reviewing)

Samantha Truesdale

  • Don’t pay for reviews! Know that you don’t have to give away swag or anything to get reviews, although a copy of the book in exchange for a review is nice. There are plenty of readers out there that want to review your book just to do it. Be prepared because there is inevitably going to be someone that doesn’t give you that great of a review. It doesn’t mean that your book is a flop, it just means someone didn’t understand it like you meant them to.

DelSheree Gladden

  • Offering a free book in exchange for a review is expected, at least for me. The only books I buy are when it’s an author I know personally and want to support. As far as advice to authors, offer a giveaway along with a review. This is a great way to increase exposure and get more comments.

PW

  • I agree with Cat about series books. Reviewers like me expect the free book but that is all. Samantha is right about payment, I feel that puts the reviewer in a conflict especially if they don’t like the book. One rule of thumb, is always give constructive comments in that case. Don’t take it personally. Sometimes authors will do giveaways on blogs, then it is always nice if the person winning does a review as well.

Cat Alley

  • Thank you PW. I agree with all you said. Me personally I know a lot of authors that do contests and give a ways. It is a great way to get people involved. I personally do not participate as I don’t want to take the chance of getting the book away from someone who has not read it and who can become a potential fan. But that is a personal preference.

Leap of Faith: I’ve Self-Published

I never thought I’d self-publish. But I did. This week I stretched beyond my perceived technical limit, and figured it all out. My pet project has been rejected for the last time. I don’t know how many publishers I’ve submitted it to. They all love it. But they want it as a complete work and not in the twelve volumes I’ve divided it into. I don’t want it divided.I want it distributed in twelve different parts. Possibly more. Who knows? I love this story. I love the characters, how they develop, and the world they inhabit. By serializing it I have the ability to add as many volumes as I want. Especially now.

Each of my friends that has self-published promised me I wouldn’t regret it. Despite their encouragement, I did have a moments panic and a bit of hesitation as I worked at it this week. What am I most afraid of? That I’m too much of a perfectionist and there would be mistakes that I could only blame on myself. That no one would buy my book. That I’m really a rotten writer and there are a dozen people out there ready to give me one-star reviews. That I’ll have to put myself out there to market my book. It’s paralyzing the fear.

I own my lovely story. The only one that has any say is me. Talk about liberating.

So what do I do now? Please buy my book. It’s called Memoirs of a Gigolo. The story is about a young man that has come to the end of the party, he is on the edge of growing up, figuring out who he really is, and what truly matters to him.

Writing Really is a Hard Business, Isn’t It?

The problem with wanting to be a professional writer, is that the writer has to act like a professional. That the process becomes more than about the writing. Writing for pay, doesn’t take the pleasure out of the process, but it makes it a business. The writer becomes the self-employed business person. I’m not much of a business person. Not even a little. In fact, there are many many many people who know me well whom would gladly attest to the fact I am the most incapable business person they’ve ever met. Which is why I find the business of writing so incredibly hard.

If I wanted to write, purely for my love of writing, then I would have all of the joy and none of the grief. But I want to make a career out of this love of mine. I’m not going to say that I’m unemployable, I just spend a little bit too much time in my own head to be of much use to anyone outside of the food service or retail industries. On the plus side, I’m academically gifted and have fallen into that great bastion of unrealized potential; academia.

To make a career out of something means treating it like a business. I suspect there are some writers out there that have tripped into success and the accompanying buckets of money, but I have yet to slip on that particular banana peel. I sort of hoped I would, but it hasn’t happened. At this point, if I do find success, it will be because I’ve worked like a stevedore and clung to my dream like a dragon guarding it’s hoard of gold.

I’ve worked hard to bring the quality of my writing up to a professional level. What I haven’t done is devote even a fraction of the time I’ve spent on my writing career to the business end of the equation. I’m coming to that late. In a sort of vague and disjointed way, I knew there was more to the business of writing than just the writing. But it all just seemed so complicated and boring. Why would I want to get out and tap-dance while singing my praises (two things I lack both the talent and proper clothing to do) when I could be at home with my friend the laptop living vicariously through my characters? I might not have ever come to it if I hadn’t been asked to give an opinion on my life as a writer still trying to make it.

During the course of doing a favor for a friend, an established writer that wanted to know what it was like out there in the trenches, I really had look at my writing career and what I’d done to get published. What was the most eyeopening thing of all, was that I’d done very little to get published. Beyond sending out submission packages and trying to get the attention of agents, I hadn’t done much. I suspect there are a lot of writers out there that could relate to this. I’d done as much as I thought I needed to, but had never really thought about what else I could be doing.

Writing is really only a part of what I need to do. In addition to writing well, I need to write what people want to read, create a brand, and market myself. The writing is the trickiest part. I could write the best story ever written about a dystopian future in which the female main character becomes the leader of a revolution fighting against the tyranny of a male dominated totalitarian regime, but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to want to read it, or, more importantly, that anyone is going to want to take the time to publish it (please do contact me if you’re interested in a story about a woman that takes up arms against the establishment – Everyone that’s read it thinks its brilliant). I should have gotten an MBA. Or, at the minimum, a degree in marketing.

To this end, I’m giving myself a crash course in marketing. I’m going to figure this business of writing out. I’m not certain if there is a secret knock, a whispered password, or I really do need to sleep with the right person (god help us both), but I will figure this out. I am neither a stupid nor an incompetent woman. Then maybe I’ll write a book about how to break into the publishing world.

Do I Want to Self-Publish?

Do I want to self-publish? When I first decided I wanted writing to be my career, I never thought I would consider self-publishing. But here I am a couple of years down the road and not nearly as established as I thought I would be. I one manuscript signed with a small e-publisher, but nothing else. I have about a dozen finished manuscripts. I have about a hundred rejection letters. I don’t think I’m getting rejected because of the quality of my work. I think I’m pretty good. Either my friends are trying to make me feel better, or I’m not what the publishers are looking for.

The publishers demand is significantly less than the pool of available work. There are a lot of writers out there trying to get noticed. Most of them are probably really good. I don’t know if I believe in luck, except for the lottery, but I do believe in hard work and working smart. This is how to generate results. I do understand the position of the publishers. Why take on someone that is unknown without an established following, when there are a lot of authors out there that already have a built in readership?

So I think I’m going to try to self-publish. I’m learning how to market myself. I have extracted promises from a couple of friends that know a thing or two about marketing. I truly do believe I have the ability to make a living out of my writing. I don’t expect to become the next Jude Deveraux or Danielle Steele, but it would be nice to pay the bills and afford my travel habit.

So, I’m going to self-publish. Please wish me luck.