Writers are often told not to read our reviews, but for me, I do read my reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. I may use those collectively to guide me as sI edit future anthologies, or simply to know, because knowledge is indeed power (so if you loved or hated an aspect of Best Women's Erotica or there's something you want to see in future editions, I'm all ears!). I actively want to know what turns readers off as much as what turns readers on, because I appreciate every single person who's so much as picked up and read the back cover of one of my books, and certainly am honored when anyone takes the time to truly engage with the stories and give feedback.
I appreciate the opportunity to get a feel for what readers are thinking, what they liked, what they didn't. But sometimes, a review really tells us nothing of the sort. Such as this recent one, which reads, "I will write my own book. This was poorly written and extremely boring."
It's actually not the latter part that I take issue with, although of course I fully believe the 22 stories in Best Women's Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, which I consider my best work as an editor and the high point of my 16-year erotica career, has excellent writing and fully realized plots and characters. But I can't argue with someone's opinion; they didn't like it, that's cool. But the part where they wrote "I will write my own book" seems to imply that that's antithetical to this book and my job, and the truth is, it's not.
One of the reasons I love erotica so much is that there's room for everyone. Obviously not in one given anthology, or necessarily with any one publisher, but as a genre, it's an incredibly welcoming one. You don't need any degrees or experience or writing credits. You need a good imagination, creativity and stamina. You need to go deep into the heart of what makes a person tick (not just what turns them on), and spin a story that will make readers keep flipping pages, even if the subject is something they wouldn't normally care about. Some of my favorite pieces of erotica I fell for precisely because they covered sexual acts that squicked me in real life, but the writing was so good, I didn't care.
Ultimately, who I answer to are my readers, and I know that I cannot please everyone with every selection. That's never what I'm trying to do when I edit an anthology. I'm trying to capture something special about sex and storytelling and weave it together with many other special somethings to craft a book that delivers a punch, to have stories that collectively give a glimpse into, in this case, women's sexuality. Not the glimpse or the grand summary or every possibility; that would be way beyond anything one book like this is capable of.
On a broader level, the work I've been doing the last few years is precisely about encouraging writers, many of whom have never written erotica or considered it, to push themselves beyond the boundaries they think they're capable of and write, write, write. As I prepare for my final LitReactor online erotica writing class of 2016, I'm thinking about all the students I've taught before, many of whom keep me posted on what they're up to. Some them are self-publishing their debut novels. Others have successfully submitted stories begun in class and are published with independent publishers in anthologies like Order Up: A Menu of Lesbian Romance and Erotica and Sex & Sorcery 2.
Most of all, what I see from those who have kept at it, is that they're writing. They aren't sitting back and taking rejections to heart, or giving up, but they are writing stories and books and pursuing their interests, wherever that may lead. I am a fan of this genre first, before any particular anthology I may be editing at any given moment. If I stop editing anthologies tomorrow, I will still be a huge fan and reader of the genre, and supporter of those making their way as published authors for the first time.
To give you a little perspective: with most of my anthologies, I only have room to publish about 10% of the stories that are submitted. So that figure alone should tell you that even brilliant, exquisite, amazing stories by the very numbers game that is publishing and word counts will get rejected at some point. It's part of life, and part of writing. I have no illusion that my version of "best" is truly "better" than someone else's, but one thing I've learned, by trial and error and plenty of self-doubt and failure along the way, is that all I can ever do is my best. When I try to be someone else's version of "best," I always get myself in trouble. When I assume whoever has hired me for any job wants someone else's talents, or I tell myself I'm a worthless hack and shouldn't have gotten the gig, which has happened both in the past and far more recently, I always falter because it's an impossible expectation to be someone else and do what they would have done. I can't promise that. I can only deliver what I know how to deliver, and when I focus on that job, I do pretty well. When I strive to please some mythical version of perfectionism where I lull myself into thinking everyone will love everything I do, I may as will give up before I've even started.
So in a way, it's actually fabulous for me that someone thinks my new book is "poorly written" and boring because it shows that we all have different tastes and opinions, as we should. If that opinion spurs that reader on to further her own career, I consider that a win for the creative world too. It may not be personally pleasant for me, but it's perhaps a backhanded compliment that I am happy to accept, because I want my books to inspire people to write, whatever their opinion about the content. I was a failing law student when I wrote my first erotica story; I had no clue what I was doing, but I did it anyway. If my little books can be that catalyst for someone, that's awesome.
All that to say, I love erotica for its endless possibilities, for all the new writers flocking to it every day and all the ones who've been doing it for longer than I've been alive. I hope everyone who's ever read anything, be it a book, magazine, newspaper, blog post (ahem) and thought, I could write something better than this stops reading immediately and busts out their pen and paper or computer and gets to writing their story.
It's every bit a work in progress, but I launched eroticawriting101.com because I want to help those who face hurdles, internal or external, to doing exactly that, get over those hurdles, get writing and, if they so desire, get their writing in front of readers. If that's your goal, don't let anyone else's book or words or your own fears stop you. That's what I'm all about, that's what we'll be exploring in my LitReactor class starting next week, and that's what I've been thinking about ever since I read that review, the one I'm supposed to be stoic and pretend I didn't see. But I did; I'm human, and that's another thing I refuse to apologize for. Whatever you like to do with words: writing, reading, speaking, I hope you do it with gusto!