What’s wrong with erotica? 2

What’s wrong with erotica?

Erotic authors often boast on their blogs about the number of books they publish, pumping them out like tin cans on a production line.

“For eager readers of my sassy, sexy, spicy, scandalous, naughty, steamy, raunchy BLISTERING LIAISONS series, the good news is I’ll have another six books written by tomorrow night, and twenty more cumming out the following month guys!! so you won’t have long too (sic) wait for the next mouth-watering installment!!!!???!!x! (sic)”

So goes the average post, into which as much care has gone as the books, which might as well have been cranked out by a machine. Bash out some semi-literate, crude description of a lascivious act, stick it online and you’re a writer, woo fucking hoo. Much of this bilge is cluttering up the ebook space and damaging genuine writers’ chances, who are tarred with the same ‘it’s a self-published e-book so it must be crap’  brush and thrown out with the garbage.

Since the success of Fifty Shades of Grey everyone has decided they can write erotica. An epidemic of copycat writing – sassy, sexy, spicy, scandalous, naughty, steamy, raunchy (shall I go on?) – has broken out, spreading its sexually-transmitted malaise around the world. Only the characters names change. Most have lost their clothes before the end of page 1. ‘X’ meets ‘Y’ in a bar. ‘A’ has the total hots for work colleague ‘B’. Alpha has always secretly fancied her girlfriend’s boyfriend Beta. Then fate brings them together in a clichéd setting and shit, as luck would have it, they’re both obsessed with sex so the chemistry goes through the roof and by the time you’re on page 2 she’s already had three buffalo orgasms and he’s going off like a roman candle in a convent. No psychological insights there, or philosophical world view. No references to world events, no wars, floods, famines or murders. Not even a stubbed toe. The world has shrunk to the protagonists’ loins, and whatever room they happen to be in at the time. Is it just me, or does anyone else get tired of the same old conveyor belt of unimaginative wank fodder being pumped out over and over?

The digital revolution has transformed our lives in ways we wouldn’t have dreamed twenty years ago.  Mostly it’s all been gravy. But every coin has a flip side. Since the advent of computers anyone with an internet connection and a vocabulary of a hundred words thinks they’re a writer. Demands to be a writer. It used to be called vanity publishing, the last resort of scoundrels. A soapbox for imposters whose conceit was matched only by the paucity of their talent. All you need now is a twitter page, a blog and a dictionary. Okay, skip the dictionary. As a result there’s a lot of badly written, self-published ebooks out there. Truly awful ones. And a lot of them, I’m sorry to say, are erotica. People who don’t seem to have an original idea in their heads are cranking out page after page, story after story of facile, crudely written soft porn that frankly gives the genre of Sappho and Catullus a bad name. They’re following the money, and that’s all they’re doing. They don’t have anything meaningful to say about life – not birth, death, or any of the shit in between. All they’re interested in is the money shot. They cut straight to the facial, the cream pie, as quickly and crudely as a porn-film director. Fuck life. Fuck it right in the face.

Here’s something. Now I’m going to get controversial. Shoot me now ladies, but it seems to me that most modern erotica is being written by women. By women, for women. This is your moment. Your genre. If sex is going to happen (and it always is) then cataclysmic female orgasms are always the order of the day. They come along like London taxis, leaving the pages as moist and shattered as leaves on a wet pavement. The heroine in most erotic stories can usually be relied upon to give herself a multiple orgasm just by bending over to tie her shoes. I’m not sure what that’s telling us, guys. Maybe we’re such a let-down in the sack that masturbation is the only game in town. Perhaps you ladies are writing about the sex you’d LIKE to have, because the fantasy is so much better than the reality. Think about that guys, the next time you’re humping away on top like a dog on a cushion. You might be responsible for the torrent of dubious soft porn you’re unleashing on the world.

Men might be to blame in more ways than one. Think about it. Erotica might just be women’s way of getting their own back on porn. It’s possible. For if most erotica is written by women, most hard porn is most definitely made by men. Porn’s about the gratification of male sexual desire. All about give and take – male stallions mostly give it to the women, who have to take it in every orifice. The women are faces, lips, mouths, cleavages, pussies, anuses. Receptacles for male semen. Blank canvases on which the men paint their messy, Jackson Pollock orgasms. Over and over. The money shot. The cum shot. The facial. The cream pie. Erotica turns those tables. In erotica women take what men give and transform it into earth shattering heavenly climaxes of physical and emotional fulfilment. Even if the sex is rough. Even if the female’s playing a submissive, in erotica she’s often complicit, the one pulling the strings behind the page. The guy is a slave to her fantasy desires. To the holy grail of her climacteric orgasm. The noisier, wetter and more mind blowing the better.

Talking about this whole sado-masochistic, bondage, domination thing that’s come out of the woodwork recently, I have a bit of a bone to pick with modern clit lit. I mean wow, why didn’t you say, ladies? For years we’ve been labouring under the delusion that the keys to your nice bits were flowers and a sensitive nature. Yet if contemporary erotica is to be believed what you really enjoy is being whipped and abused; having your hair pulled, your ass spanked, your face slapped and your throat constricted; being ordered to your knees and force-fed cock until you gag on it. Really? Do you seriously get off on being subjected to ritual humiliation by manipulative, physically abusive men who are frankly on the kinky side of sadistic? Call me a cynic but there seem to be a few mixed messages coming out here. I mean, deep down, if being dominated and controlled by men is what turns you on in your millions, how come the political zeitgeist is so going in the opposite direction? Okay, I have a theory. Here it is. While demanding equality in the boardroom, the White House and the Pentagon might be a right-on sister thing to do, in the bedroom it’s a different matter, right? Deep down at the very core of your being, between your legs, inside your fantasy-fuelled soaking panties, your treacherous body is betraying an altogether different agenda. Your DNA isn’t stupid. It doesn’t play politics. It knows the kind of men whose offspring will thrive. And they ain’t pussy whipped eunuchs. Is that the deal that’s going on here? Make up your mind, ladies. Do you get off on manacling your boyfriend to the cooker, or having him tie you to the bed and filling you up like a gas tank? Now you’ve got us all confused!

Which brings me back to the question I posed at the beginning of this post. What’s wrong with erotica? I guess at bottom it comes down to quality. I know there are some great writers out there whose genre is erotica. But sadly you are in the minority, IMO. The genre is seen by many now as an easy meal ticket. All you need is a dirty mind and a computer. You don’t even need to think. Just let it all come pouring out like a sewer. Slap a titillating image on the front of an oiled-up hunk stripped to the waist with an available woman draped round him, and away you go. The bulk of it seems so formulaic, so predictable that you have to question if it’s being written by writers at all. I mean ‘proper’ writers who have spent their whole lives learning their craft – reading books, sharing books, talking about books, taking books on holiday, taking books to bed, growing up with books, surrounding themselves with books like friends. This used to be the CV of every writer worth the name.  Erotica by comparison often seems like music played by people who never learned an instrument. It’s art by people who can’t paint. And it’s crowding out the ones who can.

There is an obvious paradox here. What right have I, as a self-published author, to pour scorn on my peers? My answer is this. If I tossed off my own work in a few weeks, fair cop. But I don’t. It took me several years to write Sex on the Brain, for instance. In many ways it took me half a lifetime, as I’ve been self-rejecting my own stuff for longer than I care to remember. Nothing particularly clever about that. The length of time taken to write a book is no guarantee of quality. But it is perhaps a pointer to the amount of care that has gone into it.  Writing isn’t a cashpoint. Or it shouldn’t be. I didn’t write Sex on the Brain to make money. I wrote it because it needed to be written. I believe I have something to say about the world. The written word is how I get it done. Writing is as important to me as eating.

Behind every great achievement lies a shedload of hard work. A passion for your calling. Picasso’s cubism looked easy because of the lifetime he spent learning how to draw and paint figuratively. Einstein didn’t come up with the Theory of Relativity because he flunked math. One of the most lamentable aspects of modern life seems to be the expectation that everyone has the right to instant fame and fortune without having to put in the effort. Everyone demands their fifteen seconds of fame. On Twitter, on YouTube, on telly. Even ex-celebrities who were once famous for having achieved something, prostitute themselves shamelessly, raking over the embers of their dying fame in Celebrity This or That. Big Brother. Strictly. Desperate to cling on, they bring out a book, with nothing more interesting to say than they got up and put on their pants that morning. I’m talking books whose only raison d’etre is how much money the name on the cover can make the ‘author’ and their agent. Yet another nail in the coffin of the genuine writer, whose chances of finding a publisher shrink to nothing in a world deluged by a mountain of literary trash – poorly written, nothing books which only exist to bring people money and fame. And that’s a shame.


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I sold an ebook today 2

I sold an ebook today

I sold an ebook today. Just the one. For seventy-nine pee. Woo… ahhm, hoo.

Okay, hear me out. I spent eight years chiselling that mother from a lump of granite called my life. When I released it in November 2012 it was the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition. Ever since I first learned to read I’ve been a devourer of books. In my day job I’ve been writing marketing copy for the best part of twenty years. I have an MA in Creative Writing. I was proud to have finally nailed a proper book, a collection of fine poetry and short stories. A book that if I achieve nothing else in life my son might one day look back and say hey, you know what, my dad did that.

Like most writers who’ve published an ebook, I’m learning fast. The first thing I’ve learned is this. Writing a book is the easy part. Unlike their printed brethren which bask in a publisher’s marketing and have a tangible, browsable life on the shelves, an ebook is a stone thrown into a vast and fathomless ocean. Within seconds it sinks out of sight, submerged beneath the millions of other ebooks gushing out every day. And there it will stay for all of time, at the bottom of the sea. The Titanic of books. If nobody knows it’s there, nobody is going to search for it. If nobody searches for it, nobody will ever know it’s there. Basically, unless you’re already a famous author, actress, sports star, or reformed murderer, you’re screwed. You could say it was a real eureka moment I had. Ohhhhhhhhhhh shit.

It was at this point that the words of all the epublishing experts I’d read started beeping and flashing somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. All that stuff about how crucial social media was going to be, that I’d need to ‘build a platform’ first, ‘gain some traction’, ‘grow my profile’, ‘write a sequel’, ‘leverage the virality of the internet’, and all those other buzz phrases. I’d set up my blog and Twitter page, but so had everyone else. There seemed to be a million author blogs and Twitter accounts, all shouting louder than me, posting and tweeting a billion times an hour, 24/7, 365. Somehow I’d hoped I’d just put my book out there and the whole world would magically know it was there and flock to buy it. Nothing had prepared me for the booming silences, the zero sum of interest, the utter invisibility of half my life’s work, in the days and weeks that followed.

As I sat there over Christmas watching my Amazon and Smashwords stats flat-lining, I realised this was going to be much harder than I thought. As one does in times of crisis, I began doubting everything about the book. The quality of the writing. The choice of subject matter. I especially worried that the title (Sex on the Brain: Poems and Stories for Men), and the cover image (of a woman’s midriff in sexy lingerie) might have shot me in the metatarsal. Had I in fact alienated the very readers I hoped would buy it?

The cover image had been chosen not without a little irony.To a casual browser I have to admit it did shout erotica. And there’s a lot of that about. Dreadful, vacuous erotica, so formulaic it depresses the hell out of me. Let me say straight out that my book is not erotica. I have nothing against erotica. There are some really good erotic authors out there, writing some inventive and thought-provoking stuff, but they are in the minority. The majority are bandwagon-jumpers, pumping out salacious garbage to make a fast buck. When E. L. James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey it may not have been a contender for the Booker Prize but it was competently written, had a semblance of a story and characters who weren’t just a collection of body parts. When you compare Fifty Shades to the oceans, the waterfalls, the torrents of cheap trashy imitations it seems to have spawned, it’s practically a candidate for the Nobel.

One of my main goals as a writer is to try and make people laugh. I’m not saying that’s the only goal of fiction, or even the most important one. But god knows the world is a grim enough place. There are worse things a person can do than put a smile on someone’s face. Good fiction should stimulate the mind and the laughter gene, not just the genitals.

But here I am, three months in, still struggling to raise the book from the depths of the ocean floor. Finally I’ve had to swallow my pencil and start tweeting. Hesitantly, haltingly, and posting blog posts like this one. It all seems so painfully slow. What I’m learning, in baby steps, is that to be a writer in the 21st Century is like at no other time in history. The internet has changed the publishing landscape forever. No longer is it sufficient to be a great writer. Nowadays one must be a great self-publicist too, a great marketer, tweeter, blogger, poster. An egotistical attention seeker.  Many of these attributes don’t sit comfortably with the writer. In previous centuries all we had to care about was our craft. We let our books do the talking. But the rules have changed. And anyone just starting out had better get used to it. Multi-tasking is the new writing.

I know it’s going to be a long haul but look, my book’s out there. That’s a start. I wrote it, I published it. And I think it’s good. Nobody’s found it yet, but that’s okay, they will. In time. Hopefully posts like this will help, if only a tiny bit. Each small step gets you closer to your destination, right?

Wanna know something else? Today when I logged onto my Amazon account, instead of the big blank rows and empty columns I normally see, there was a big fat ONE in the sales column for this month.

I’d sold a book.

For seventy nine pee.

Someone had taken the time to have a peek inside, then bought it, with their own hard-earned. I didn’t know how they’d found me, who they were, or where they’d come from, but it felt as though someone had reached out and given me a big hug.

I tried to picture them with a conspiratorial smile on their face, lying on a sofa with a kindle propped on their knees, occasionally laughing aloud at the stories and poems I’d written. They might have been in Brazil for all I knew, Finland, Australia or the other side of the moon, I didn’t care. Young or old, male or female, it didn’t matter. All I knew was some blessed soul had liked my book enough to want their own copy, and that made me feel a foot taller for a whole day. That single moment epitomised for me the magic of why writers write, baring our innermost soul to millions of strangers, hoping our thought-seeds one day land on fertile soil and bear fruit, from where friends will spring up.

I sold an ebook today. Just the one. For seventy nine pee. In case you hadn’t realised, it was never about the money. My joy would have been the same had it been seventy nine million sales. That one tiny act of companionship probably meant more to me than the thousands of dollars every best-selling author made today. Would I swap places? I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t one day like to be a famous writer. A million adoring readers is better than one, right? But that doesn’t mean I feel any the less richer in the pleasure my one reader has given me, on this leaden-skied February day.

Right now I feel as if I will feast on this feeling all week. For months if necessary, knowing that my readers are out there. They just haven’t found me yet. But they will. And for every one of them that does, I’ll feel blessed, as though I have made a new friend. As Joe Konrath said in a recent inspirational blog post, “Good books will find their audience. Ebooks are forever, and that’s a long time. Keep at it.”

Now, I’d better get back to being a bad-ass writer, all this waxing lyrical is ruining my image.

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