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Friday, March 17, 2017

Why my erotica anthology calls for submission are so long

I'm getting ready to publicly share two new erotica anthology calls for submissions for books to be published by Cleis Press in 2018 and 2019 (one of them is for Best Women's Erotica of the Year, Volume 4), and as I wrote the calls I was thinking to myself, Jeez, these are really long (fun fact: those who subscribe to my newsletter will get to see them today, but they will be all over the internet by the end of March). I even looked for parts I could trim and found that I wanted every word there, because each helped convey something I find important about what I'm looking for. The BWE call is over 1,200 words. I struggle with the length because I know for a fact that many people ask me questions about the calls or submit to them without having read them in full (or without having truly taken the time to absorb all of it). But I stand by my long calls; after all, it's the age of self-publishing when anyone can edit an anthology, so if you don't like my calls, you can make your own!

Something I've had to keep relearning in life and work is: that the way I do things may not be the way other people do them, and that's not just okay, it's a positive thing. In my head, intellectually, I know that, but in my heart, I tend to assume that the way other people do things is is the better, preferred way, and if mine is different, then I'm the one who should change. This is a recurring struggle for me, both in my personal writing, in my editing, in my book promoting, in my personal life, etc. Because isn't it always going to feel easier to want to fit in, go with the flow, feel part of a group, rather than feel like you're alone? Yet every time I've tried to weed out these calls, I argue myself back into keeping whatever I've tentatively deleted. So before I make those calls public, I wanted to share a little bit of the thought process behind them and why they're so long.

It's something I tell my students and I've put in my call: When you're writing, think about what every word and every sentence are doing. Do they serve a purpose? Are they advancing your story? I am doing my best to make my own advice; in the case of my calls, my words are advancing the story of the kind of anthology I want to edit. They are giving essential information and clues, if you will, as to what will make me select one story over another. Writing an anthology call is actually a pretty challenging thing to do, because I am always hesitant to be too specific. If I say, "I want stories about people who like bondage with duct tape," I could wind up with an inbox 100% full of tales about that very subject. And if my anthology were called Duct Tape Erotica, then that would be great. But if it's about bondage more generally, it's actually a bad thing because readers would likely get bored with story upon story featuring the same bondage implement.

I start out the process of editing an anthology with a blank document; I then fill it in based on the submissions I receive in my inbox. I don't have a preconceived idea of exactly what the book will look like when I begin the process of reading through all those stories; the shape of the book starts to take form as I read.

One of the biggest offerings I can provide to readers is variety. To me, that's one of the points of an anthology; that every author tackles a given subject differently, and offers their own individual take. I figure someone reading an anthology over a novel craves that variety, and wants to be surprised and wowed. Do I expect them to absolutely love every story? Not necessarily (though of course I hope so!), but I want to reach the largest possible audience I can and give that widely diverse group, who have vastly diverging tastes, something they can enjoy. Hopefully, many somethings.

That means I want to include stories with different plots, paces, tenses, settings. I want stories in first person and third person (and if I'm lucky, second person), past and present tense, contemporary, historic and futuristic, set in locations that are likely familiar to readers as well as unfamiliar. I want characters of different sexualities, races, ages, experience levels, single and coupled. I could go on and on, but often for me when I'm editing, what it comes down to is finding that variety, especially as I make the final few selections for an anthology. But I can't just say, "Send me varied erotica." So I try to convey that I'm looking for some specific types of characters and stories, while leaving the door wide open, as in, it couldn't possibly be more open, for authors to take my suggestions and run with them and send me stories whose plots I never could've dreamt up even if I sat at my computer 24/7 for the rest of my life.

I also look for variety in my authors; in each book, I include many authors I've never worked with before, and while I don't ask for biographical details, I do make it a point to make sure that my authors aren't all white. Usually there's a mix of previously published authors and newcomers, or relative newcomers, to being published. That matters to me, and you'll see the mention of own voices in the BWE 4 call. I've mainly read about ownvoices in relation to young adult books, but it's important to me too when it comes to the erotica I publish. That being said, my main goal is to create the best book I can create. I can't see into the future and know what readers will or won't enjoy, so I'm doing my best to make educated guesses, then assessing reader feedback. The BWE 4 call is very different from past ones; it will be open to all stories by/about women, but has two highly specific themes that I hope the majority of the book will touch on. This was important to me in light of current events, as well as because this is the last BWE book I'm currently contracted for, so if I don't get to edit any more, I want to go out with a bang, so to speak.

So all these factors go into me writing those calls, and sometimes tweaking them depending on what comes in. For The Big Book of Submission, Volume 2, which is now closed, I had to extend the call twice to get all the stories I needed. That being said, often the best stories are ones I never could have anticipated. Writer Tenille Brown sent me a story titled "Please Come Again" about a very moving relationship in which one person is homeless for my anthology Suite Encounters: Hotel Sex Stories (shameless plug: on sale today and for the next week for $1.99 in ebook form) and that wouldn't have occurred to me to include in my call, but was beautiful and hot and memorable, and I have dozens of other examples of stories that just blew me away that I was in no way expecting to receive.

I consider my calls both guidelines and suggestions. The specifics like word count and formatting aren't suggestions, and while I have certainly published people who didn't follow them, you will infinitely increase your chances if you follow them to the letter. But in terms of the actual writing I seek for my books, which again, may be totally different from what another editor is seeking (which is what makes the literary world go round in my opinion), my calls are simply an attempt to bring forth something I can't truly name, something that even if I wrote 10,000 words about what I'm seeking still couldn't get inside a writer's head and demand, "Write me exactly THIS." Even when I refer to previous stories or books I've published and say, essentially, "More of that, please," every writer is unique so I will never get more of precisely that, but rather, something new and different. "New" is probably the thing I look to offer my readers the most, right after variety. I know they have millions of books to choose from. I know some may be reading erotica for the first time, and some this may be their thousandth erotica book. I consider my job pleasing both of those readers.

Maybe there's a way to convey that more concisely than I've done, but I'm not going to worry about that. I'm going to trust that the authors whose work best fits my book are going to find my call and it's going to spark something in their minds that's going to turn into a gorgeous, sexy story that will ultimately find a home nestled amongst a bunch of other stories in one of my tables of contents. And that is my long-winded way of saying, sorry not sorry. Watch out for those calls, because I am very excited to get back into editing mode. And the deadlines aren't until October 1 and November 1, respectively, so don't panic about being in a rush. Lastly, when I post the calls, I would love it if you passed them on to anyone who might be a good fit. New writers are, in my opinion, the lifeblood of erotica, and I look forward to working with lots more of them on these titles and, if I'm lucky, more titles down the road.

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