Updated November 29, 2015: All these reasons still apply, and I've now added a list of agents who represent erotica and erotic romance and details about what their looking for to my LitReactor curriculum. My next 4-week LitReactor online erotica writing class, Between the Sheets, runs February 11-March 10, 2016, and costs $350 if you register by December 31st, or $375 if you register January 1-February 10. Registration will remain open until the class sells out (maximum of 16 students) or until February 10th, whichever comes first. If you have questions about the class, please email rachelkramerbussel at gmail.com with "LitReactor" in the subject line. If you're interested in private consulting about your erotic writing or nonfiction sex writing, see my website (scroll down) for rates.
I'm gearing up for 3 classes I'm teaching sooner, online at LitReactor August 13-September 10th, and in person September 11th at CatalystCon in Burbank, California and the weekend of September 19-20 at SHE (Sexual Health Expo) in New York City (more about each at the end of the post). I've been thinking a lot about why I choose to conduct my classes the way I do, with a large emphasis, especially in the online classes, on submitting your work. I know this is not everyone's primary motivation for taking my classes, but to me it has multiple purposes, which I wanted to share here so you have a better sense of my philosophy about teaching and erotica. This is, of course, my highly subjective take on it, and my classes can't guarantee any students will be published, but I do heavily slant them in that direction for the reasons listed below, though you will also learn plenty whether you intend to submit your work or not.
1. Fulfillment and validation
I will never forget standing in a bookstore seeing my first erotica story, "Monica and Me," in print in an anthology for the first time. I had the double honor of having that one published in both Starf*cker edited by Shar Rednour and Best Lesbian Erotica 2001 by Tristan Taormino. I had tears in my eyes when I saw it, because it was such an honor. I'm not suggesting that publication is that only means to fulfillment, but that for me, and, I believe, for others, it's a sign of having achieved a goal you've worked toward, especially if you came into erotica reading sexy anthologies, as I did in college. That moment meant the world to me and inspired me to keep writing stories.
It was something I'd dreamt about and worked toward, and that made it all the more rewarding, to find my words tucked into pages next to authors I'd admired, as well as those new to me. I loved the idea that anyone sauntering into the store could pick it up and find my words. I believe the act of preparing a story for submission, of studying the guidelines, writing something to suit them, crafting something to suit a specific topic, and seeing those actions rewarded with a byline is a powerful, important experience. As you'll see in the LitReactor student testimonials, getting published based on the class's writing assignments was one of the things they appreciated about the class.
Having your work validated as worthy of publication can be an ego boost and a sign that you are heading in the direction you want to go. At the very least, it's a sign that somebody found value in your work, appreciated the effort that went into it and the outcome. Got you. Now, let me be clear: I am not at all saying this is the only way to achieve that or that you need anybody else to be a gatekeeper. I ardently support self-publishing, which is why in my LitReactor class I offer interviews with those who've self-published and share their resources so others can follow that path. But if publication is a goal for you, then meeting that goal can give you a wonderful sense of accomplishment, which can in turn push you to keep writing, creating and experimenting, especially in areas you may not have thought you could achieve success.
I'm well aware that students pay money to take my classes, and I would love to see them make some of that money back and be compensated for their time. Most erotica short story markets do pay, and while you aren't going to get rich on the approximately $50 or $100 you will make per story, these can add up if you sell (and resell) multiple stories, plus you never know when one story may spark a novella or novel, or lead to something greater down the road. While these small sums may not seem like a lot now, imagine this: you sell 3 stories this year, 6 the next, 10 the next...then you go on to put together your own collection of short stories!
3. Building your writing career
Which brings me to...an erotica career. I certainly got into editing erotica via writing short stories, and I know numerous other anthologies editors and authors of longer works who have as well. If you take my LitReactor class, where I offer exclusive interviews with authors and publishers, you'll find out why one of them says that short stories are key to breaking into one market.
As I see it, they help in multiple ways. One: you get readers. Yes, you can also do this in other ways, such as blogging and posting your stories online and social media, but if you publish a short story in an anthology of multiple authors, you are going to be reaching both your natural built in audience of followers, and everyone else's, including the publisher. You're introducing yourself as an author, and who knows who might be reading? You then get to add that credit to your site and bio, and amplify your reach. The book may be reviewed in prominent publications that your posting on your own site may not reach. I've had agents contact me to ask for author's contact information after reading their short stories in my books (FYI, I never give out people's contact info, but I do pass on requests such as this).
I fully believe that if you have an eye toward building a career as an erotica writer, you have to find some way to reach as wide an audience as possible. You can't be in every location or publication at once, so getting your name out there, especially to readers you might not have connected with previously, is key. I've had people email me based on reading my stories in Zane's New York Times bestselling anthologies Succulent: Chocolate Flava II and Purple Panties, who found me via my bio in the books listing my website, who said they were reading my work for the first time and were impressed. These publication credits are part of your calling card, your introduction to both publishers and readers.
What I think is especially interesting about this one is that most people don't approach taking an introduction to erotic writing class thinking, I want to build a career of this (though some do, of course). But I didn't know this would be my career either. It was an escape from the tedium of law school for me, and look what happened. You really never know. I'm not claiming you will be the next bestselling author whose books are turned into movies or TV shows; I also can't guarantee you will get published. I don't necessarily mean "career" in terms of "making a living off erotic writing." What I'm talking about is building a byline, a brand, a platform to then go on and write as much or as little erotica as you'd like; along with practical writing craft information, I do my best to set students up with knowledge of how to go about making a name for themselves in the erotica marketplace to help cultivate readers, to help people find your work, to help yourself stand out. I see submitting your work as one step, often the first step, in doing this.
4. Confidence See #1. Selling my first short story gave me a mental rush, a boost, and crucial motivation to keep penning my stories. Yes, I still faced (and face) rejection, but I also got over that idea of don't even bother; nobody will want to read your work anyway, because I knew it wasn't true. I knew that my ideas were worthy, whether they were about a woman with a dishwashing fetish or a sexy bachelorette party or french fries. Especially because that story was based on a personal fantasy, I started to believe in my take on eroticism, rather than trying to follow what I thought I was "supposed" to do. I've even heard from students that their first rejection didn't deter them, because they knew what the process was like and were able to turn around that story and try to find a new home for it. After all, if you want to get published by someone else, eventually you will have to submit your work, and my philosophy is, why not start out strong and get your work circulating? It gets easier the more you do it.
Even if you don't intend to submit your work, the act of following the marketplace and seeing what publishers are looking for can give you important information that you can then use however you like. It doesn't mean that you have to follow what editors or publishers are looking for, or that you can't go rogue and use a call for submissions or writer's guidelines as a springboard for your own equally valid but very different idea that you publish elsewhere, but it gives you a sense of what is currently being requested and, presumably, what types of stories there's an audience for. This is valuable data for your own marketing purposes, and may have the bonus outcome of sparking your creativity; I know I've written plenty of pieces inspired by a given call for submissions that I wouldn't have had the ideas for otherwise.
Even if you ultimately keep your writing on your computer, I still believe in the power of preparing your work to submit it, because it forces you to go over ever last word, to make sure you are putting your best foot forward in the completed work. You can't cut corners when you know someone else is going to be evaluating it. You get something out of that process whether your work is accepted for publication or not, or whether you actually submit or not. It gets you to format and edit and revise and pay attention in a way that writing purely for yourself may not, and that will in turn serve you well if you later decide to submit your work or if you self-publish.
Since I published that first story, then organized a reading for Best Lesbian Erotica 2001 at New York's Bluestockings Bookstore, and later went on to host In The Flesh Reading Series for five years in New York and organize numerous readings at events across the country (and once in London at Sh!), to including international authors in my Gotta Have It book trailer, community has always been an important part of my erotic writing, all the more so now that I teach it. One of the greatest aspects of both online and in person classes is the sense of camaraderie that's fostered, one that I also see reflected across numerous erotica group blogs and across social media, and in person at live erotic readings such as Esoterica in New Orleans and The Erotic Literary Salon in Philadelphia and Bedpost Confessions in Austin.
You do not have to leave your house to be part of the erotic writing community, though. You do not have to be published, either, but where this ties in is that if you have your work published on a website, in a magazine, in an anthology, etc., you are, I believe, joining forces with the others in the publication. You are linked to them, even if you never interact with them. I've discovered the work of numerous writers, ones I've read for pleasure and ones whose work I've pursued as an editor looking to publish new authors, by reading bios in anthologies. I've scoured mastheads and clicked through to read more of a given author's work. It's this sense of community that made me realize I want that sense of community fostered in my classes to continue, so I've set up a secret Facebook group where attendees can keep the discussion going and help boost each other's work and learn from one another.
Those are my reasons for encouraging students (and anyone, really) to submit their work. I also value those who are writing for private or personal purposes, but I've seen that those who start out with those intentions often wind up submitting their work just to see what will happen, and that often, it's fear or nervousness or assorted worries that keep them from doing so, rather than just opposition to it. For those people, I especially like to encourage them to see the value of their work and where it might fit in the market.
If you've made it this far and are interested in my approach to teaching erotica writing, here's a little more about each of my upcoming classes (any future ones will be announced on Twitter, Facebook and in my monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for on the left-hand side of rachelkramerbussel.com, and posted on my site's calendar page).
LitReactor.com, August 13-September 10
Click above for the week by week breakdown of what's covered in my lectures and assignments. Great for those who want to dig deep into erotica writing, cultivate a community of fellow students and devote a full month to their work (I suggest having at least 5 hours a week available to devote to coursework, though that is optional, and you will retain access to the classroom materials forever once class is over, though you will get much more out of it by actively participating during the class). Take this class from anywhere in the world, participate on your schedule at any time, with the username of your choosing (meaning you can be completely anonymous). Maximum participants: 16. You get weekly lectures from me, weekly assignments, critiques by me and fellow students, extensive market information, based on my asking publishers what they are currently looking for, a dozen Q&As with authors (both self-published and traditionally published) such as Tiffany Reisz, Sommer Marsden, Elizabeth SaFleur and Feminista Jones, among others, as well as anthology editors and longtime erotica professionals such as author and Circlet Press founder Cecilia Tan. I do this so that students can get various perspectives on what editors and publishers want, and paths that authors have approached their work. I've taught 3 previous sold out classes of 16 people for LitReactor and have loved the collaborative environment the site fosters. People from around the world who are eager to learn help each other with constructive criticism, useful suggestions and creating the best work possible. And although the class officially ends September 10th, I will be around through the end of September to answer any final questions. You also get access to my secret Facebook group for class alumni. No prior writing experience necessary. Register here; registration ends August 12th or when class sells out. 3 spots are left as of this posting. $375.
CatalystCon, September 11, Burbank, California
Here I teach an extended 3-hour workshop (along with one that same day on nonfiction sex writing, covering journalism and personal essays), where we do extended exercises, go over the marketplace for erotica, which includes a handout (which will also be emailed to participants) and discuss any questions and concerns authors may have. This has been a wonderful environment for my workshops because most attendees are coming in with a base of knowledge about sexuality that greatly fuels their writing, and often simply need encouragement and guidance about how to cultivate, complete and submit their work. No prior writing experience necessary. Register here. $45.
SHE (Sexual Health Expo), weekend of September 19-20, New York City (exact date/time TBA)
This will be my first time teaching at SHE, a consumer expo that's previously held events in Los Angeles and Scottsdale. I'm especially looking forward to attending for the first time, and am pretty sure being surrounded by sex toys and assorted sexuality topics will help foster creativity. I will be teaching a 50-minute erotic writing workshop which will including writing exercises, an overview of the erotica writing marketplace, including a handout and a Q&A. You also get access to my secret Facebook group for class alumni. No prior writing experience necessary. Register for SHE here. $25 (for admission to SHE).