Whoops — I wrote these…

Whoops -- I wrote these a week or so ago, but forgot to post them. I find that my memory is a bit fuzzy on some of the CS stuff -- if you were around for any of this and find something that needs correcting, please let me know! My sister says the stuff about my parents looks okay to her, so the entire FAQ thus far is now live, and linked from my home page

11. What advice would you give an author wishing to produce a collection of their work, specifically erotica?

I would advise them to think long and hard about whether it actually makes sense to do so, and if so, in what context it makes sense. Most single-author collections are not going to be financially viable unless the author already has a large and semi-rabid fan following. There are good reasons why publishers are so reluctant to publish them -- readers are reluctant to buy them. That said, it's a question of knowing your market and keeping your expectations reasonable.

If you think you can sell 50-100 copies to friends and relatives, then you can reasonably go through a friendly and reputable micro-press, which will make back its costs quickly, but will likely not sell many copies beyond the ones you've already planned for. Be sure you ask around and go through a reputable press that gives you a fair contract. This kind of press will probably do minimal editing, if any, so be sure you edit your book carefully, including copyediting and proofreading. You may want to pay someone a fair rate to edit it, and/or pay someone for doing layout on the book, or cover design. Look at the press's other books carefully and decide to what extent you trust them to make your book beautiful and a joy to behold. Whether you or they bear the sole expenses, or whether you split them in some way, just be sure that you get a fair share of the profits as well, should any occur, and that your initial costs aren't too high. This is essentially self-publishing, and is a nice way to do holiday gifts for your more open-minded friends too. And erotica makes a terrific wedding present!

If you have a large enough readership that you think you can sell 500-5000 copies, then you might be able to interest a small press which actually promotes its books and risks semi-serious money on each new title, especially if you can show them evidence that those copies will sell (having a large readers' newsletter is a help, as is having many short story sales to well-known markets).

And if you honestly think you can sell more than 5000 copies of your collection, and have evidence to back it up -- well, then you should get an agent and go to the big presses. They have the money to really back your project if they take an interest, with a high potential payoff.

12. How did you end up editing Aqua Erotica? Was it your idea to do a waterproof book?

I'm afraid I can't take credit for that idea. The good people at Melcher Media (a book packaging company -- packagers take book concepts and match them up with writers, editors, artists and publishers, as needed) were trying to market waterproof books, and they were the ones who came up with the idea of doing a waterproof erotica book, one you could take with you into the bathtub.

They found me through Clean Sheets -- though to explain that, I need to step back a few years. When I first started writing erotica, I was frustrated by dealing with people in online writing workshops who didn't want to critique anything sexually explicit. In 1995 or so, Jordan Shelbourne and I founded the EROS workshop, an online workshop focused on sexual material. In that workshop, anything could be discussed -- we just asked that writers flag nonconsensual material up front, so people could skip those pieces if they wanted to. The EROS workshop is still going, though it sometimes goes through long fallow periods before becoming active again.

So by 1998, the workshop had been going for a few years, and some of us involved were discussing our frustration with the available markets for short erotic fiction. Nerve was too angst-ridden for our tastes; Scarlet Letters was fun, but only open to women writers. We decided we wanted an erotica magazine that was eclectic, fun, polymorphously perverse, and free to the public. A bunch of us put our heads together, did a lot of brainstorming and planning, and eventually, Clean Sheets was born.

I served as editor-in-chief for two years, which mostly meant trying to run herd on about thirty hard-working volunteers who did all the real work of publishing weekly fiction, poetry, articles, reviews, and art. It was chaotic, confusing and often stressful -- especially trying to manage the finances, which had a brief advertising-funded solidity which popped like a soap bubble with the disappearance of ad money from the net. It was mostly guesswork, and fast-talking, and leaning on old friends for editing favors. It was also a tremendous amount of fun. By 2000, Clean Sheets had a solid reputation among those in the know as one of the better online erotica magazines. While I passed it on to Susannah Indigo's extremely able leadership in 2000, I still take great pride in CS's continued existence and still-growing readership and reputation. It's still free to the public, so if the thought of a little dose of erotica every week appeals to you, do stop by.

When Melcher was looking for someone to edit their waterproof erotica book, they looked around the net, saw and liked Clean Sheets, investigated my web pages further, and asked me if I wanted the job. (Which, incidentally, paid quite well.) The moral of this story is that if you want to edit, edit. Go volunteer somewhere at a magazine you like -- a prozine, semi-pro, amateur -- whatever level appeals. Be a slush reader, or a part-time editor, if they'll take you. If no one will take you, start your own magazine. (Though watch out for the finances -- they can drive you right around the bend.) In the process, if you work hard and do a good job, you'll learn enough that when someone notices and offers you a paying gig, you'll be ready to take it.

13. How did you go about selecting the stories for your first erotic collection? Did you consult with or receive advice from anyone? Did you aim for a particular theme in the collection or was variety more important?

It sort of astonishes me, in retrospect, that I edited that book without any real training in editing. I did have a lot of advice and supervision -- every story I selected was discussed at length with Duncan Bock and Andrea Hirsch at Melcher Media, and in fact, they had to approve every piece in the book. I didn't always agree with their opinions on stories (there are still a few stories I wish I could have bought for that book), but they are smart, capable people with plenty of publishing know-how, and I definitely learned a lot working with them. They were very patient with me.

The hardest part wasn't actually the editing, but rather the process of searching for "name" authors who might either write new material or give us usable reprints. This was much more time-consuming that I had anticipated, since it required a lot of contacting agents, writing letters, etc.

Overall, I was looking for stories that I found interesting, that went beyond the predictable erotica plotline of they meet, they're attracted, and eventually, they hook up. I wanted some pieces to be funny, some to be serious, some to be heart-wrenching. I definitely wanted variety, a range of styles and tones. I tried not to buy too many mermaid stories (sadly, I got more good ones than I could use). I was thrilled when we got permission to reprint Louise Erdrich's story, which is still one of loveliest stories I've ever read.

14. Do you like writing or editing better, and why?

Writing, by far. Nothing compares with the pleasure of creating your own characters, your own worlds. It's the best feeling in the world, at least when it's going well.

But that said, there is a particular joy in putting together a book of wonderful work by other people, and getting to share that with the world. It's a privilege and a delight, sort of like finding the perfect birthday gift for your difficult-to-please sweetheart. If I had the opportunity to edit a book every three or four years, that would make me very happy.

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