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Welcome back, and thank you for the overwhelmingly supportive response to this column! Please keep the questions coming, at email@example.com.
Q: I submitted a story to an erotica anthology, and I got it back with a note from the editor saying it wasn’t “racy enough.” How am I supposed to know what “racy” means to one person when it means something different to someone else?
A: You’re absolutely right, “racy” is an objective concept, especially in writing. In daily life, we have a pretty good idea of where the boundaries are; in films, even, the tame-to-explicit continuum breaks out into fairly clear levels. But when you’re writing the steamy stuff, a scene can seem wild to one person and tame to another. How do you tailor your submission to your market?
The frustrating part is that if you want to write erotica, you have to write to someone else’s sense of “racy,” which may not necessarily be your own. But here’s the good news: you’ve got avenues for doing that research. If you’re looking at submitting a novel, read some other books from that publisher; if you’re writing a short story for a CFS (call for submissions), read some other anthologies from that editor. That will give you an objective sense of how far is far enough.
In Cthulhurotica, it was stated right in the submissions guidelines that the stories had to be non-explicit. I was careful with my vocabulary (I think I didn’t use any anatomy words naughtier than “breast”), and I used hints and metaphors for all the steamy action. When I write for Cleis Press anthologies under my pen name, I know that I have an obligation to the one-handed reader. I give those stories a scene that’s hot enough and long enough to get a reader where they want to go. Switching between the two is like speaking two different languages—a skill, but not an impossible one. Researching the market takes time, but it’s worth it because it improves your chance of getting published.
Q: It seems like every editor and agent has a “worst pitch” story. What’s the worst pitch you’ve ever received personally?
A: No contest. I don’t even have to think about this one.
It was at my mother’s funeral.
I know, right?
“Hi, I worked with your mom. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hear you work in publishing, is that right? Do you do memoirs? Do you know anyone who does?”
I don’t even think I answered. I think I just stared blankly.
I was just at a convention where I was on a very good panel about how and when to approach people appropriately. Some great cautionary tales were shared, and some great advice was given. I suspect that it will inspire a post on my blog in the near future.