Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Great Balls-o-Fire and Fifty Shades of Grey

Major publishers have finally discovered what erotic romance and erotica authors have known for years, which is that some female (and male) readers enjoy stories that explore the realms beyond the typical suburban bedroom, if, indeed, that's what Fifty Shades of Grey does. There's still some lingering doubt about where it fits and if the relationship portrayed in it borders on abusive or not. We leave that to readers to decide, but for the purposes of this post, we'll pretend that the trilogy actually contains something close to what readers can buy as a believable premise, even if they have to suspend belief and give the author the benefit of the doubt throughout the book to do it. We'll be discussing more how this book typifies the reticence or inability of major publishers to recognize what readers want or need in satisfying entertainment (whether their authors are capable of giving it to them or not).
 This is not news to anyone who served as a literary agent representing romance in the last decade, because the romance genre encompasses a wide variety of categories ranging from mainstream with romantic elements to erotic romance to highly literary erotica. However, it just shows how little major publishers know about their readers.

Five or six years ago, one of our literary agents approached all these same publishers with a non-fiction piece written by an actual dominatrix.  Although intrigued, most who were approached blushed and rejected it because of the subject matter not being mainstream enough.  They clearly had no idea of the growing interest in this area and many had no idea about what it even was.

So it's laughable that the majors actually think they've stumbled on to something hot. The fact is that erotic romance readers, a huge target demographic, have been enjoying kink for years. There are publishers and publishing imprints dedicated to books with this angle. However, most majors dragged their feet in this area or simply didn't take the time to properly build a line of books that would appeal to readers with this interest.

A few years ago, one editor at a major who had been delegated the unenviable task of ramping up an erotic romance/erotica line at her publishing house mentioned that she was really tired of having to read "those kinds of books." You see, it wasn't her area of expertise. She couldn't tell good from bad, nor did she have the stomach for the exotic tastes of the characters she encountered. In typical major publisher fashion, her house had assigned someone to build a line of books as more of a token effort than a serious response to the reading needs of their potential audience.

I'm often amazed that publishers don't remember what saved the movie industry. I've wanted to scream in their ears the word VIDEOTAPE, or more exactly, SEX ON VIDEOTAPE. The fact is, whether we like it or not, VHS stories with graphic sex, poor quality and all, paved the way for this medium and later made other genres of movies on tape and, still later,  on DVD, acceptable. Without sex in all its many assorted variations, the movie industry would have disappeared and the VCR along with it. But we don't talk about this because such things are deemed to be inappropriate or smut.  Sex, no matter how it's wrapped, to some folks is bad.
 Well, except to millions of readers, it appears.

So it now seems that maybe the nearly dead dinosaur has awoken; major publishing  has finally discovered BDSM sells. Hoorah!! But is it soon enough to save them? Doubtful.  I'm glad to see this change, though, because I'm tired of every writer in the world querying me with The Hunger Games rip-offs. My Inbox is a much more interesting place now. ;)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bits and Pieces on a Steamy Sunday

Okay, that title could be misconstrued by many across the pond, but since it's appropriate to the topic of this post, I'm keeping it. Little thoughts about the writing craft are rolling around in my head this morning because I've been reading manuscripts. Here are some to ponder…

Prologues and epilogues: These are old fashioned and should not be used in any genre except those which need additional explanation about time and place. Fantasy and science fiction novels sometimes need prologues because the reader must be orientated as to place and/or time. In fantasy, for instance, an author must sometimes build a complete world and the same is true many times with science fiction.

I think amateur authors believe, because many of them read fantasy when growing up, that all novels should begin with a prologue. Writing instructors, usually those at the high school and university levels, many times encourage this along with the idea that if you have a prologue you must also have an epilogue. Modern authors shouldn’t include either in their genre novels. Prologues need to be labeled Chapter 1, or just 1, and the epilogue should also be chapter headed or numbered.

The End: Amateurish—not used anymore. Readers can figure out the novel has ended if it’s very obvious the story is over. If it's not obvious, then more (or even less) words than THE END are necessary.

Story arc:  According to some writer gurus, all stories should slope slowly upward to the climax then drop rapidly to the conclusion. How quaint. English teachers again? Probably. Yes, a story should build and move forward, but there can be many upward slopes and downward slopes and not all stories drop swiftly to their conclusions. It would be wonderful if all this writer stuff could be put into neat little boxes; however, art doesn’t function this way. 

Genre novels should open with something happening. For instance, a suspense novel should open with, well, suspense.

The conclusion I’ve reached over the years is that most writing books are written by those who have never written anything except how to write books on how to write. The same is true with just about any how-to book. Those who write them know a little about nothing and make their money by convincing those who know less that they know more. 

One space! Two space! Three space more! And so on…: There used to be an urban legend that a sentence had to have one space after a comma, semi-colon, colon, or whatever, and two spaces after a period. How IBM Selectric. Yes, when Courier was king, a distinction between commas and the period and such needed to be made because of letter spacing. Who in the world uses Courier anymore? Not even king Microsoft uses it as their default. Out with the old and in with the new; typewriters out, word processors in, making one space sufficient. Yea!!