Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Two Weeks, No Computers

Maybe some computer access, but I think it'll be good for me to step away from the internet for a while. Or I'll go into withdrawals and it'll be ugly. I have my tiny netbook, which has a great keyboard, so at least I can write if the mood strikes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hunting the Elusive Call for Submissions

Most of this info is aimed at the erotica short story market, but I know a few other places to look.

The most comprehensive list of calls for submissions for erotica anthologies (and info on publishers) is on ERWA, the Erotica Readers & Writer's Association website. Without going into the whys - which I don't know and don't care to know, so please don't fill me in if you're hooked into the gossip - the notable exception is that Logical Lust's calls for submission aren't posted on ERWA, so you have to go to their site to find out what Logical Lust is looking for.

Please read books produced by any editor or publisher before you submit to them. Know the difference between literary erotica and romantic erotica. Don't waste your time or an editor's time be submitting the wrong style of story. You may think I say this too much, but I talk to editors, and you wouldn't believe how many writers can't seem to understand this basic idea. Those writers, of course, end up in the rejection pile. Since so many writers seem to suffer terribly over rejection letters, save yourself the emotional pain and only submit your work where it belongs. Really. No one will make an exception for you. This is tough love, but I've lost my patience for neurotic writers and their diva moments.

And speaking of tough love - if you're looking for other markets (other publishers in other genres), get out your Google fingers and search for Duotrope's Digest (play nice and make a contribution to them) or for the Gila Queen's guide to markets. Or just search for calls for submission. Really. If you don't have enough spunk, so to speak, to do a damn Google search, then you don't deserve to be published - ever. M'kay?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Calls for Submission

I thought I'd continue my hints for new writers series until I leave for vacation. While I've talked about how to behave after you submit, I haven't discussed calls for submissions. As my writing credits under this pen name are in erotica, most of this information will be pitched at erotica writers. However, we all like to stretch out from time to time (thus my other pen names), and all of this is applicable to other markets.

A call for submissions is a public notification that an editor is seeking stories. Normally, these are for anthologies of short stories based around a theme. In the call, an editor who knows what s/he is doing will include vital information such as the type of stories s/he is looking for, length, the pay, rights, publisher, contact information, and guidelines about format and story content. Don't skim any of this. Take it all as gospel. Repeat this mantra: I am not a precious snowflake, and no one will make exceptions for me.

Type of story: paranormal romance, travel erotica about exotic locations, vampire sex, etc. Even though this seems fairly clear, you'd be amazed at what people will submit. If you're not exactly clear what paranormal romance means, politely (always politely) ask. Since you're on at least one writer's list (you are, aren't you?) ask there before you bug the editor. If your story sort of is, sort of isn't, then ask the editor.

Length: always expressed as a word count. Publishers like books to run a certain number of pages, and they have a good idea how many words will fit on those pages. Print anthologies usually run from 18 to 22 stories, and the total word count has to be allocated between them. If your story if running a bit short, but you can't think of anything to add without obviously padding your word count, ask the editor if a bit shorter is okay before you send it. The same holds true if you run long. But please - if the editor says 3,000 to 5,000 words, don't submit your 12,000 word novella. Don't even ask. Find another anthology that wants novellas (such as an epublisher)

Pay: Not negotiable. Yes, it's a pittance. Yes, your editor wishes s/he could pay you more. But it's not in his/her hands, so leave him/her alone. If it isn't enough money, don't submit.

Rights: Never, never, never give anyone all rights forever unless they pay you over $300 for your short story, and even then, think twice. Rights are an entire blog entry unto themselves.

Publisher: Look up the publisher on Predators and Editors. Try to talk to writers who have been published by them before. Just because you recognize a publisher's name doesn't mean you'd want to work with them.

Format: If the editor says "Mail me a hard copy with one inch margins, in Times New Roman 12 font only," you have a choice - do exactly as s/he asks, or don't submit. Don't argue about it. Just don't.

Content: If an editor says "Please do NOT submit a story about a dumpy guy picking up a hottie in a bar, but SURPRISE! she turns out to be his wife," then don't. Even if the editor doesn't say that, don't do it. This isn't in the guidelines, but damn it, if you write a genre, you should read it. (People who write erotica but sniff disdainfully at reading it mystify me. Okay, not mystify. They strike me as stupid.) And if you read your genre, you already recognize hack crap plot #3b when you see it. For the love of all that's hot and sweaty, don't write more of it. But back to the editor - if s/he states that s/he wants to see a twist on the old vampire myths, don't rewrite Dracula or Interview With the Vampire. If s/he asks for noir, find out what noir means. If s/he wants happy endings only *sigh* then don't submit anything too deep or challenging.

I rarely see calls for submission for novels. If you're looking to submit a novel, follow my previous post about finding a publisher. Once you're found that dream publisher, find out if they are currently open for submissions, and if you need an agent. Go to their website (no website? Yikes! In this day and age? Are they going to publish you on stone tablets?) to find that information (if it isn't on their website, you probably need an agent to submit to them). As with anthologies, take every word as gospel.

Next entry - finding calls for submissions.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Small Press versus Big Houses

This isn't a subject that I can speak from personal experience, as most of my publishers would be classified as small press, but I've heard plenty from authors published by the big NY publishing houses - usually after the 3rd martini - to at least pass on the gist of the differences.

Small presses tend to be started by people with a passion for books. Once upon a time, all big houses were small houses, but the giant media conglomerates that buy them are a bit like slake moths (read Perdido Street Station to get that reference) that leave them alive, but soul dead.

Small presses are usually run by very small staffs, so the decision makers are accessible.

Because the owners have a passion for books, small presses tend to take risks on books that slipstream (fit more than one genre description, one of them usually being science fiction) or that appeal to a smaller audience. Most GLBT focused publishers fall into this category. Many small presses also take risks on newer writers. Many are willing to publish books that have long tails rather than selling most copies in the first six weeks following release.

Most e-publishers will publish a wide spectrum of lengths from individual short stories to long novels. They will keep your book up for sale for as long as your contract states they have it, so e-published works tend to have an extremely long tail. (One of my short stories was on a best-seller's list for almost two years.)

However, small presses have small budgets. They have difficulty getting their books on bookstore shelves. They tend to have little promotion budget (not that the big houses spend anything on promotion these days) And advances tend to be smaller or non-existent (advances are disappearing from the big houses too). I don't know of any e-publishers that pay advances. (let me know if one does)

You can't submit directly to most big houses. You'll have to get an agent who will submit your work. (That subject is worthy of a post of it's own). Big houses want product. They want a book they can slap on the front table at a mega bookstore that has wide appeal and that will sell well in six weeks. If you write best-seller material, they are definitely your best best as they will pay you the most up front and get the wide distribution necessary to drive sales. They will give you exposure in bookstores and on online booksellers (who wouldn't dare accidentally on purpose disappear your NY published book or delete your bio if it included words like gay or queer). The quality of editing in NY has been slipping - they probably laid off the staff - but it's still some of the best work out there (horrifying thought).

The problem - okay, one of the many problems - with going to a big house is that they want writers who will give them the exact same book, only different, each time. They don't want you to experiment. Once you have your audience, your audience has you. It's possible to break out of a genre rut, but not easy. So if big sales are important to you, and you feel you can keep your work fresh and creative within a narrowly defined niche (it can be done), and your work has wide pop culture appeal, then go for it.

With the current dismal state of the publishing industry, it's hard to know where to go with your book. So let me pass on what I've heard from small press publishers: go ahead and try to find an agent and try to get your book published by a big house. Just make the effort. Ultimately, it might not be for you, but traditional NY publishers still have snob appeal, so while the benefits might be an illusion, it's at least worth a shot at the dream, right? After you've decided that route isn't going to work for you for whatever reason, then try to smaller presses.

My advice is this: Every writer has a different definition of success, and none of them are wrong. Figure out what suits your book and your personality, and take that route. You'll be much happier.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Your Dream Publisher

As promised, let's talk dream publishers.

You may have a dream publisher in mind, but that isn't necessarily your best fit. All publishing houses have a personality. Some dominate a genre, some are known for a type of book within a genre, others are known for treating the writers they publish well - or not. How do you find out? Research.

#1 - Find a house that publishes your genre. As an extreme example, don't submit your puppy training book to a house that only publishes romance novels. Road trip! Go to your local independent bookstore and look for books like yours. What's that? No book is like yours? Yours is unique? Okay, how about this. Picture the perfect reader for your novel. What else are they reading? Who publishes it? Aha! There you go. But wait! There are nine publishers who fit that criteria? Or what if you've decided to go with an e-publisher? Time to follow steps 2 and 3. BTW - self-publishing may be your key to a good publishing experience. Many of these tips also apply.

#2 - Find books even more like yours. If you're writing science fiction horror, find who produces the dark, edgy stuff with a similar feel. At least you'll know that the editor likes it.

#3 - Find books you like the look and feel of. Check the cover art, the quality of the paper, and the binding. This seems a bit extreme, but you're not going to be happy if your book falls apart in a reader's hands. And since you'll have almost no say over the cover art (but you'll get blamed for it), if magna style twinks wit blue hair irk you, stay away from publishers who put out those kinds of covers.

#4 - With your narrowed list now in hand, check Predators and Editors online and get the scoop on the publisher. If you don't understand the issues disgruntled writers have raised, do more research and find out what it means.

#5 - If you're going with an e-publisher, check out their website to see how easy it is to buy one of their books. Does the site look professional? How long ago was it updated? Then go to Fictionwise and see if their books are listed for sale there, because most readers use Fictionwise for their e-shopping. Also check to see if the publisher has a social list where their writers post. Lurk for a while and get a feeling for the general tone. Lots of new writers? That may be a good sign, but check to make sure the writers who were working with them two years ago are still working with them. Writers who are e-published tend to be very accessible online, so don't be afraid to ask them (off-list) for their views on publishers. Many epublishers also do print books now also, but those print editions aren't always available in bookstores.

#6 - If you're going with a traditional print publisher, see how easy it is to find their books where you, and your readers, shop. Small, independent publishers have a harder time getting shelf space in bookstores, but their books are available at online bookstores. To submit to a big NY house, you may have to have an agent. Smaller presses tend to be more approachable and take bigger risks with experimental books. You're going to have to decide which is the best option for you. Unfortunately, there are so many factors involved that I can't cover it all in this post.

#7 - Join. Join writer's groups online, join writer's chats. Get out there and connect with people. The internet has been a huge boon to writers not just for the research aspects, but for the way it allows us to connect. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but it doesn't have to be isolating.

It took months to write your novel. Be patient and be be willing to invest a bit more time to make sure your book is submitted to your best fit publisher. Your ultimate goal is to be happily published - satisfied with the experience, content with the product, ready to do business with the same house.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Simultaneous Submissions

This subject has come up a lot recently with several of my publishers, so I thought I'd give new writers a heads up.

Simultaneous submissions means that you submit (send) your story to more than one publisher at the same time.

Publishers hate this. If they invest the time to read your story and prepare to put it into their publication schedule or anthology, they don't like to find out later that you sold it somewhere else. they get grumpy about it, and probably won't bother to read anything else you submit to them. Ever.

Writers feel that they increase their chances of selling a piece, and selling it faster, if they submit to all potential markets at the same time. Some publishers are notoriously slow about responding, and some don't bother responding at all if they're not interested, which leaves the writer wondering for months on end if it's safe to send the story out to someone else. That's pure rudeness on the publisher's part, and the industry is rife with it.

So what is a writer to do?

You might be chomping at the bit to get your story published, but unless you write highly topical books, your words aren't going to go stale. So have some patience, and some class. Unless a call for submissions specifically states that simultaneous submissions are okay, assume they aren't. Send your story to your dream publisher* first. If they say they'll be back to you in four weeks, and it's been five, send a very respectful letter** asking if they received your submission and when you can expect to hear back from them. They will probably admit that they passed. At that point, send it to your second choice. If they don't respond to the polite note, assume rejection and move on. If they do suddenly say yes later, you covered your ass with the note and they don't have the right to get huffy about you sending out to a different publisher. I'd caution you against working with anyone who shows such poor communication skills though - especially someone in the media business.

So to recap - submit to only one publisher at a time, no matter how tempting it is to send to more than one. Simultaneous submissions = bad reputation.

* I'll talk about dream publishers in my next blog.
** respectful letters do not include demands, threats, diva attitude, or anything else that will warn a publisher that you're a nitwit who will be a pain in the ass to work with. Strangely enough, in most cases, diva attitude is in inverse relationship to talent.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

More Thoughts On Black Lace

So - the print erotica market has been abandoned by the last major publisher. On one hand, I'd like to believe that no publisher would be stupid enough to kill a profitable line, but on the other hand, we're talking about NY publishing houses. Look how quickly the Neon line imploded.

Where does an author of erotic literature submit hir/her/hir work now?

Most ebook publishers publish more erotic romance than literary erotica, so it seems as if that avenue isn't the best fit for the literary writer.

The only print erotica coming out now seems to be anthologies.


I just finished reading Gordon Dahlquist's The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and The Dark Volume. Those books are saturated with sensuality I haven't seen in ages, probably since Interview With the Vampire. (Don't go off on an anti-Anne Rice rant. For a book that had no sex scenes in it, it still had you reading with wiggling fingers clamped between your moist thighs. Just admit it and move on.) Could it be that we're the ones who missed something? From Killing Johnny Fry:A Sexistential Novel (Walter Mosley) to SoMa (Kemble Scott) contemporary literature is infused with erotic content (some good and some oh so very bad). Even pop culture books are dabbling. True Blood, the Anita Blake series, several writers for Bantam's paranormal lines... to some degree, they're all sexing it up.

For all those writers from Black Lace who don't want to write romantic erotica or who aren't interested in e-publishing, let me toss out this idea. Try writing a literary or contemporary pop culture novel. Use your honed erotica skills to bring good sex writing to the reading public. Submit your work to publishers outside the erotica genre and see who bites. After all, they've invaded our playground. The least we can do is show them how the naughty kids do it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Black Lace Books

Current scuttlebutt in the erotica community is that Black Lace Books has stopped acquiring titles. As per the usual published MO, this announcement blindsided authors who have titles pending release. For companies that exist with spread communications, publishers truly suck at it. Or maybe they just lack common decency. Or perhaps they hold writers in more contempt than the rest of the world does.

If you aren't familiar with Black Lace, its premise the past 15 years has been erotica written by women for women. I never submitted anything to them, but I suppose they have some sort of panty check to make sure no icky boys slipped them otherwise perfectly acceptable books their readers might have enjoyed.

15 years ago, most erotica novels were what most people would call porn (while slightly wrinkling their nose) and were written for a male audience. (Women were welcome to write those). The Black Lace came along and supposedly changed all that. The covers were less obvious. They cleaned up the language. They changed to POV to a female character and added touches that weren't exactly the stuff of romance novels, but featured similarities.

Therein lies Black Lace's problem. 15 years ago, no one published stuff like that. Now, many e-publishers do. Even Harlequin has a line of racy novels. The competition is rough. Combine that with the notorious terms of their contracts (the major reason why I never bothered to submit anything to them), writers could find a better deal elsewhere.

While I feel for the writers who have no idea what this announcement means to them, I'm sure that they can find new publishers. It's not as if the entire genre suddenly disappeared. But as for Black Lace, I feel about them the same way I feel about most traditional publishing houses. That is - With willful blindness, they chose to become obsolete, and they've achieved that goal. Congratulations, I guess.