I mean, obviously...I also run a reading series, but any money I make from that goes into paying my photographer and videographer. And while I rarely talk about it here because it's just not done, as a recent dismal First-Timers royalty check receiver, I can attest that to someone who didn't interview me, it may look like I make "a very good living" but I actually have a full-time job. Also, what's a "very good living?" Clearly that is such a subjective term as to almost be ludicrous to compare. I don't make as much as I would have as a lawyer, but I couldn't hack that. I wish I made more money, certainly, and hopefully with my future books I will. With Alyson, I won't. With Cleis and hopefully Seal, I will start seeing some decent royalties, and I do agree that the market for erotica has totally exploded.
But you have to pay a bit closer attention and really be on top of things to earn a living from this. I work my ass off to promote my events, plug myself, buy postcards to promote my books, etc. I don't think being an author is a part-time job. At the same time, I abhor the notion that "all" I am is a sex writer. I will quit writing about sex if that's what I have to be pigeonholed as (okay, I probably wouldn't go that far).
But I despite the pink ghetto and all it stands for. I shudder when that's what I'm reduced to, because I actually want to write about books and babies and cupcakes. And really, sex doesn't sell all that much. For me, anyway. Every time I was ever booked for a TV thing - be it Jane's New York or The Joe Buck Show, it didn't pan out, but I'm going to be on The Martha Stewart Show tomorrow. I'm so excited, and in part, it's because cupcakes have a social acceptance, as a topic, that sex just doesn't. I'm not going to urge my whole family to rush out and buy the May issue of Cosmopolitan to see my article on sex advice (but I will urge you all to). I'm just not. And maybe I'm weak and needy, but I like that approval. I like doing something that doesn't involve that annoying three-letter word.
At the same time, I love my work. I love editing my books, I love having the creative freedom I have, but one quick glance at this blog or my Huffington Post contributions should hopefully tell you I don't want to just be a sex writer. It kindof makes my skin crawl, because I"m a has-been in that regard. I got fired from my sex column, and if that's my only legacy, then I'd rather focus on something else.
Sorry if I sound grouchy or worn down. I am, and I'm not. I'm just taking everything one day at a time, but I feel like David Blum gave me a blessing in disguise. I may have to prove myself a bit more, but I'm so grateful for the editors like the ones at Zink and Mediabistro who give me a chance to break out of that horrid categorization. Mind you, I"m totally gung-ho to be editing Best Sex Writing 2009 (with MSNBC columnist Brian Alexander as guest judge!). I'm honored by that opportunity and can't wait to see what we come up with. I had a fabulous time last weekend teaching erotica and look forward to doing so again in Atlanta at Sex 2.0. But not only am I not exactly rolling in cash, I want to be a writer first, a "sex writer," uh, never? I saw that when I wrote that column, instead of being someone who "wrote a sex column," I was a sex columnist, and I got confused about my role in all that way too often. I think I was trying to live up to my own notions of what that meant instead of figuring out who I want to be. I have a better handle on that now, and am just trying to become that person, rather than whatever mythical ideas anyone else might have about it.
And I realize maybe that sounds hypocritical, because by nature of publishing so many books, I have to promote them, here and elsewhere. Otherwise, people won't know about them, and I like doing the promotion end of things. I just wonder sometimes if you are too focused on selling, on passing out postcards, on running silly little events, the great aspects of life pass you by. If along the way lose yourself a little too much. I hope not, in my case.
Oh, and recent New York Times Magazine subject Lena Chen has some great stuff to say about this. In part, she wrote:
I don’t want to be a martyr, because frankly, it sucks to be told over and over that “most guys out there would rather end up with a girl like Janie,” that for some reason my writing about sex makes me less deserving of love.
"Dirty, sexy money: The writer Rupert Smith on his lucrative porn-lit sideline," The Independent
The internet is largely to thank for the rise of erotic literature; it's easier, and less potentially embarrassing, to buy dirty books from Amazon than from your local Waterstone's (who don't stock them anyway). Thanks to networking sites like MySpace, writers can market their work to its target audience – and, if you can't find a publisher, who cares? You can publish it yourself, either in print or online. A lively blogging community reviews and discusses the latest releases with a healthy lack of pigeonholing. In the world of literary fiction, an author's sexual preference has a massive impact on the way his or her books are marketed, reviewed and sold; in porn nobody cares much. Women read about men, men read about women, everyone gets off on everyone else and nobody cares about categories. As one (straight, female) James Lear fan wrote, "I like reading about sex, and I like men. One man is good, two men are better." Another woman recounted how she enjoyed my books at bedtime, and then, when the lights went out, pounced on her (presumably grateful) husband to put her reading into practice.
If the readers are diverse, the writers are even more so. It's a field dominated by women, who approach any and every kink with gusto. There are Surrey housewives turning out explicit male homosexual porn. There are specialists in sub-genres like crime porn, horror porn, fetish and historical. In America, there are writers who make a very good living out of nothing but erotic literature. Hyperactive New Yorker Rachel Kramer Bussel, a Penthouse contributing editor, has edited 20 erotic anthologies, contributed to about 100 more, and writes a regular sex column for the Village Voice. Like her, a growing number of writers are creating one-person porno cottage industries.