Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Commenting on a review?

Commenting on reviews of our work is seen as bad form, not to mention wading into a potential quagmire and risking being labelled as an author behaving badly. :) Fair enough. I post reviews here as bits of news and when I want to discuss a particular aspect of my writing that the review has mentioned. I generally don’t comment on opinion. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions of our work, we put it out there so we have to be prepared for it to be taken apart in a way we’d never envisaged. Sometimes that’s very hard, but we have to take the good with the bad.

I am however now going to comment on a review, (trumpets sound, or is that the death knell I hear? :) Wait up, I’m not commenting on the reviewer’s personal opinion of my work, but some speculation she’s done about why I wrote it the way I did, and my New York publisher. Let’s call it setting the record straight

KINK has been reviewed on ERWA, click HERE to read the review. In the review, Lisabet Sarai, the reviewer, speculates that KINK was written the way it was because our New York publisher told Sasha and I how and what to write.

For the record, this was not the case.

I usually don’t say much about what the new erotic lines in New York are doing in general, because I have only my experience to go by and I don’t believe that’s enough to make broad, definitive statements. That said, my experience leads me to believe they are putting stuff out there to see what floats and what doesn’t, because the majority of their sales are to different markets than labels such as Blue Moon and Cleis Press.

The truth of the matter is that I’ve had to do fewer changes, revisions and editing for New York than I have anywhere. My first sale to Penguin, DOUBLE DARE, was a complete book when it was bought. My editor asked for one small revision and it was to do with the title, that I have my protagonist discussing the fact that she dares herself to do things, when she explains to her lover why she lied at the outset of their relationship. That was it.

With the KINK anthology Sasha White came to me with this idea that we write a kinky themed anthology together. A fun idea, I was up for it! In the beginning we envisaged a third author being involved. As it turned out, our agent presented our joint proposal, Penguin made us an immediate offer and said can you deliver this in two months please. We planned, wrote and delivered our novellas exactly as we would have done, except that it was a two-person antho and we were given more space for our stories. Up front, my editor asked me about the interaction between the conflict and the kink in my story, because I hadn’t gone into enough detail in my synopsis. Once I had clarified what I intended to do, she was happy.

I have never been told how or what to write by my New York publisher. In fact they don’t have style sheets or guidelines. Often I wish I was given more guidance, but as I said I think they are testing the waters to find out what floats for their particular market.

My story in KINK involves several elements of kink and sexual role-playing in a cat-and-mouse game between the characters. That’s what I set out to do, not to write a hardcore BDSM story. On the other hand I’ve had reviewers for the same novella saying that this is BDSM and not for the faint hearted. This doesn’t surprise me, because reader’s boundaries are not all in the same place. Kink means unconventional sex. I include some elements of BDSM, but it is not a BDSM story, nor is it labelled as such. That’s the whole fuzzy thing about erotica. I recently saw a well know romance reviewer stating that spanking is not BDSM. Dodgy ground, because to some people it might be. There is no right and wrong, (or there shouldn't be) because everyone has different levels and expectations of sex and (therefore) writing about sex. The danger is in ascribing certain formula to erotica, the resulting stories all become very samey. IMO that’s why my publisher is NOT ascribing any formula, the most specific thing they say in the only guidelines out there (which are on ERWA) is to use Emma Holly's work as a guide.

As writers, we cannot please all of the people all the time. It takes all kinds of people to make a world and all levels of spice to flavour it. Personally I’m happy when I’m pleasing some of the people in the world, thankfully it seems I am :) Anyone who has read a lot of my work can see that I do not write hardcore BDSM. I am more about writing fun romps, naughty stories about people pushing a little bit beyond their boundaries, sometimes with elements of kink, sometimes not. I’ve always written what I wanted to write, and prayed to god it would sell. Luckily a good bit of it has. The review on ERWA seems to suggest that I sold out from the short story writer I was. Not the case at all. Maybe what it really means is that I’m only any good writing short stories..? That’s entirely possible.

So why did Penguin sign me for this new line? I think they signed me because I had a readership in erotica through my short story publications, but I also had a proven readership with erotic romance readers through my Red Sage novellas. Every time a publisher signs a new author it’s a gamble. The majority of the contracts for the new erotic lines have gone to writers from the proven romantica e-book business. Mine was a slightly different background, but I believe that the crossover between my erotic romance publications and my erotica short stories gave me a solid CV.

I’ve never been a hardcore erotica writer, I dabble with it sometimes, but I’m always surprised to myself described as a BDSM writer. I’m not. There are many great writers out there who do that already, the reviewer included. ;) I know there is a difference between what I do and a true BDSM novel, and I’m not trying to do that. I believe there is space for books with different levels of kink. There is no right and wrong about sex out there (well apart from the obvious ones! ;) there is as a huge variety of sexual taste in the world, and thank goodness for that.

I just hope aspiring authors in the ERWA community don't think the speculation was based on fact. The editors of the line have a call on ERWA. Is it the reviewer’s job to speculate on whether the publisher told the writer to write this way or not? Maybe, I don’t know. Then again, she could have just asked.


Katie said...

I would agree with you, you definitely aren't a hardcore BDSM writer. IMO opinion your contribution to KINK plays with some elements of D/s but doesn't really have any lifestyle elemts such as Sasha's for example (which isn't extreme either, btw.)

Saskia Walker said...

Hi Katie! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Writing a D/s lifestyle novella/novel is not something I’d ever attempt, I don’t think I could sustain the intensity. Mine is a more playful approach. I guess my main point is what was published was what I set out to do, and not what the publisher instructed. Any faults in readers eyes are therefore my own ;)

ZaZa said...

When I started reading this, my first thought was that the reviewer must not have read much of your other writing. Still think that, but maybe he/she has read some of the more BDSM-y things and thought that was all you wrote? Or would it be the other way around?

As your CP, I can definitely vouch for the fact that you come up with your own ideas and style and always have. /;+) Since that first Black Lace story. Heh.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Saskia,

As a long time aspiring romance author and someone who is venturing into erotic romance, I have my own take on what you wrote, and what the reviewer saw and said.

When she says that you were following guidelines laid down by your publisher, to me this means following some of the genres conventions as well as whatever general conventions the publisher looks for in a book.

I don't believe that the stories and/or the book would've been quite the same if you'd written it for Black Lace. That's simply because the guidelines for each publisher is slightly different. And as an experience author, you would've instinctively tailored the stories, the writing to fit their guidelines.

So you wrote the book that you wanted to write within whatever those guidelines were. Which is what you should've done. And you succeeded.

Now, I could be totally wrong about all of this. But that's my take.

Keep up the good work.


Saskia Walker said...

Zaz, thanks, love!

Hi Julie, thanks for commenting, I appreciate your thoughts. I consider myself lucky that what I do fits with the editors at Penguin, but really -- I had no clue. When I was signed by them, the line they are publishing me on (Heat, erotic romance) wasn’t even in existence, so I didn’t know what they were looking at my story for, and there were no guidelines, there still aren't (other than a fairly loose call for subs that you can see on ERWA.) I’ve been writing the way I do for years and have a stack of rejections, many from purely erotica lines ;) I think maybe what I do fitted where the editors of this proposed erotic romance label saw themselves trying the market. I may not last; they may go one way or the other. It was a huge amount of luck that my work had reached their desks at the right time, but that was down to the fact I am a Red Sage author... I seem to be spilling a lot of beans here LOL

Good luck with your writing!