The War of the Stars

So I’m making a concerted effort to be a good reader/reviewer. I think my reviews are succinct and helpful (at least, that’s what I’m going for!), but my struggle always comes when choosing how many stars to give. I mean, they don’t allow for decimals, so that means either rounding up or down… Being an optimist, I generally round up, or give a solid number if that’s what I really thought. As far as I’m concerned, anything 3 stars and up is a good review.

Now in case those stars have got you confused, here is a handy little guide for how I base my ratings. Feel free to copy (or modify) as you like! And, since sex is always on my mind, I took the liberty of adding analogies to each of the star ratings. In literature, as in love, don’t settle for less than 3-to-5!

***** 5 stars – This is a book I will heartily recommend to my readerly friends. I want to hold it in my arms and cuddle it. These are the characters that live with me long after I devour the last page. This is the setting that swept me up and transported me. This is the writing that made me weep with its beauty; and the story made me feel I was a part of it. Five-star books keep me up at night – in a good way. Most importantly, a 5-star book lingers with me. I think about it frequently after it’s done; it lives on in happy memory. If I give five stars than I can honestly say I loved it. (And fortunately, I am liberal with my love!)

  • You should consider a serious relationship with this book. It belongs on your bookshelf, where you can stroke it as you pass by. Take it to bed with you on a regular basis, to enjoy again and again and again!

**** 4 stars – Wow! I totally enjoyed reading this! A four-star book is the kind I will remember and mention to friends. It has all the elements I look for in terms of plot, character, writing style, story flow, and all that good stuff. There are surprises; there’s tension; I read on eagerly waiting to find out what happens next. The only thing preventing it from getting five stars (besides my mood, which can be fickle on occasion) is that, despite my enjoyment of it, it is not necessarily a book I feel I’ll read again. In other words, it doesn’t quite earn a permanent place on my already-crowded bookshelf.

  • This is the hot one-night-stand of books! Had a great time, good luck and all, thanks for the memories… Have a nice life…

*** 3 stars – A solid prime number! If this was a student, they would be easily passing. Just not, you know, top of the class. For me, a three-star review means several things have been achieved: 1) a good story, engaging and enjoyable all the way through; 2) interesting characters; 3) a writing style that is correct, fluent, and clean; 4) something that, at the end, I think to myself “that was a nice read.” What sets it apart from higher scores may range from me just not digging the author’s style; to ho-hum characters; to I’m not the right audience for it; to just an overall lack of excitement for me as a reader. The book was fine for me, but may be great to someone else.

  • Hey, we probably fooled around, enjoyed one another, and said goodnight with no hard feelings. A successful date with someone with whom you had only moderate chemistry.

** 2 stars – Usually this means I gave the book an honest chance but, for whatever reason, just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I understand what the author was going for; it had some redeeming qualities; but all in all, not good enough to keep me reading all the way through. And if you can’t keep a reader’s interest, usually it’s because the story is, essentially, boring.

  • You just gotta do better than that, writers. (And lovers.)

* 1 star – I don’t give one-star reviews, because I didn’t finish the damn book. We all wish it wouldn’t happen, but sometimes you come across a real stinker. The writing is bad; there’s no editing; you hate the characters from page two. Basically, the thing sucks. DON’T READ IT! Don’t bother reviewing it. Just put that shit away and get something better.

  • Life is too short for bad books. (Or bad sex!)
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Going Straight to the Heart of It: Fated (a comic for gamers and those who love them)

Okay, now I have to out myself as the complete and utter nerd I am: many years ago my friends and I played tabletop D&D. Yes, it was awesome. And wonderful. And hilarious. We ate a lot of Skittles; we laughed a ton. My friend was the DM (that means Dungeon Master, for you poor uninitiated ones), and she always came up with great campaigns for us. Our characters also did a surprising amount of shopping and seducing the local lads, in addition to killing monsters and such…. you know, like you do.

Anyway, life goes on, things change, I don’t D&D anymore. But it’s still a source of many fond memories, so when great blog gaming-themed posts come up, I’m all in. A friend of mine shared this comic, and since then I have read it many times. Friends, would you please drop whatever you are doing and check out: Fated, written by Jasmine Walls, illustrated by Amy Phillips.

So here’s what I love about Fated. First, it’s just so funny. We’ve all been there – you’re all ready to do an amazing move, win the battle or whatever, and then you role a 1. Epic fail. So the opposite of what you intended happens; it’s a real frustration. Also the source of unending hilarity. Basically this is what happens in Fated – you will laugh your pants off.

That’s not why I’m sharing this comic, though. It came to me earlier, when I was writing my post about diverse characters in erotica, that what I’m really looking for is effortless diversity. In the world, yes, but since that’s a tall order, at least in art. And Fated delivers that. Without making a big deal about it – without even saying it – the artists have managed to portray a group of people who clearly know and care about each other, with evidently different backgrounds and beliefs. They’re friends; they laugh, they joke, they tease – especially when unexpected gay romance takes the stage. For me, that’s effortless diversity.

That’s my goal. That’s the way I want the world to be – that’s what I’m working for.

And in the meantime I’m gonna go ahead and check out Fated again. It makes me smile every time!

Testing the Waters: FreedReads, a new self publishing platform

So way back – like, two weeks ago – when I published my little guide to self-publishing erotica online, a very interesting person reached out to me. She is one of the co-founders of FreedReads, a new Australia-based company dedicated to getting more free books into more readers’ hands. Looks like a good idea, so I decided to hop on for the ride!

Here’s what I know so far: FreedReads’s goal is to provide books via streaming technology, the idea being that they can then be read on any device regardless of if you have a special app for it. No downloads, no file conversions, just the book. Which, given how labyrinthine the various eBook-reader-apps can be, sounds like a breath of fresh air. Readers can create lists of books they’d like to read, leave star-ratings, and share pages with friends.

FreedReads also has plans in place for compensating authors for their work via clicks on advertisements – although I went ahead and “donated” my two free reads, One Night to Tango & Taking The Reins, since I wanna get those  babies out there anyway. Basically, it proposes to be another option for all us self-published writers out there, looking for new ways to get our work out into the world, while still getting recognition for our work. And I am always down with that!

Now here’s the bone in it (hehehee!). In order to read for free, there are advertisements attached to the books you’re streaming. I know, I know, annoying, but that’s the Internet for you. Of course, since my work is erotica, it comes complete with full-on “ADULT” advertisement. So, basically, click-to-view porn. Not my cup of tea, but hey, if you’re into that here’s another way to get in there! (And my stories can provide the cerebral gratification to e-porn’s purely visual kick. 🙂 ) Erotica authors should be aware, though, that their work will be associated with porn (of varying degrees of classiness). You have been forewarned!

Interested in taking a look? Click here to visit my FreedReads author page, where you can test out Taking The Reins or One Night to Tango with their eBook streaming system. When a new opportunity comes your way, it never hurts to dive on in and test those waters!

Writing Characters of Color (for white writers)

So by now it’s pretty obvious – especially for those of you who checked out my boudoir photos earlier – that I am white. Like, very white; the kind that’s see-through for most of the year. (Living in the Northwest doesn’t help, but hey, my Nordic skin can soak up even the measliest bit of vitamin D from our cloud-covered sun!) I grew up in a majority-white neighborhood, went to school with mostly other white kids, and even now most of my friends are, still, white. That’s the way White privilege has manifested for me, thus far in my life.

Which brings me to the subject of my blog post today. How can I, as a white writer, create authentic, powerful, believable characters of color?

As a fiction writer, I get to create worlds. Whatever I imagine becomes real on the page; people spring to life; stories unfold. With so much possibility at my fingertips, I am always tempted to push the edges of the mold. The old advice says: “write what you know.” Been there, done that. To challenge ourselves, we must sometimes write about what we don’t know. But carefully, respectfully, and with humility vis a vis our own limitations. It’s no coincidence that the majority of my protagonists are white – (with the exception of the Ancients, which features women who lived so long ago our modern conceptions of race and culture have no meaning) – because that’s my default “safe zone.” As a white woman, I can confidently write a white, female character and say, yes, I have been fair to her; she is not a stereotype, not some fetish; no one will say “oh, she’s acting that way because she’s a typical white American girl.” (And there’s White privilege again, right? The idea that a person’s actions belong to them alone, instead of as a representative of whatever cultural or racial group they happen to be part of… but that’s a whole different conversation.)

But as a creator of fictional worlds, I don’t want to be stuck writing only characters like me. (Of course, all a writer’s characters are somewhat like them. They are pieces of ourselves, refolded and adapted, but still us at the root.) I want to explore other perspectives, other ways of life. (Other love interests, too, since erotica is my thing!) Plus, I don’t want to live in a monochrome world, so why should my characters to do so? Fiction should reflect life on some level, and our world – thank God – is becoming more beautifully diverse, more multicultural and blended, every day. Can I, as a white writer, do that authentically?

This blog post is more about questions than answers, really. The only thing I can say is that each character must be an individual. Wherever they come from, however they look, they must be more than what’s on the surface. (Plus, skin-deep characters are boring as hell. We need soul, if readers are to care about them.) Interracial erotica has its own category on most sites, and there are plenty of readers looking for that. But real issues arise if “interracial erotica” becomes “racial-stereotype erotica.” It’s okay to have a preference – we all do – but once again, that character had better be a real person behind his/her fascinating physical qualities. (Plus, seriously? The “Big Black Cock” thing is totally passe. Also, silly. I can personally attest to the fact that you don’t know what you’re gonna get until you unwrap the package. And I’ve been around the world enough to have a fair-sized sample set from five different continents… ahem, moving on. Sorry, Australia. I never made it down there in my single days, but I’m sure you gentlemen have plenty to offer!)

Now I know I will never truly understand what it’s like to be a person of color. Just like I’ll never really understand the inner workings of a man’s brain… which is probably okay with me, on second thought. But I hope I can make an honest, sensitive, and respectful attempt to create characters who represent diverse cultures and backgrounds. I’m not brave enough – yet – to go all in and try to incorporate some real issues into my stories. Maybe someday… For now, at least I can assure my readers that in my stories, each character is a real person. Unique and wonderful, because of and in addition to their outward appearance.

I’ll keep writing what I know, and how the world really is. But I’ll also do my best to write what I want to know; and how I hope – and believe – the world can be.

*

(Fellow writers, I am hungry for your thoughts! (Especially writers who consider themselves a person of color…) Do you think we’re getting anywhere close to the mark? Or does erotica just perpetuate the normalization of White culture overall? What a conundrum! Erotica authors are only a small piece of it, but everyone can do their part to contribute – or fight – the status quo.)

Self-publishing options for erotica authors

As an author, I am all-indie: I do my own cover art, editing, formatting, and self-publishing (in addition to the writing, of course!) Admittedly, I have not been brave enough to dip my toes into the dark, whirling seas of traditional publishing. Reaching out to agents and big publishing houses makes me feel, mostly, depressed. (As an aside, I did go the traditional route for an earlier, non-erotica book of mine… Got encouraging feedback from several agents after they read through it, but none of them wanted to take it on in that huge and heartless world of brand-name publishing. It was a story I believed needed to be told, so I self-published anyway!)

Being an erotica author has many perks, but visibility and mainstream publishing are not among them. That said, it has been fun to sleep around – in a manner of speaking – with the different attractive self-publishing services out there. Now I am far from promiscuous with my publishing; surely there are many other fine venues to distribute your work. However, I’m currently working with three. So here I thought I would offer you my insight into how my experience has been with each of them.

Amazon

Ah, the little hometown book business that has somehow morphed into a global megamarket of STUFF-SELLING! Now I like Amazon for a variety of totally silly reasons; not least of which is that they employ about half the population of my city. However, they also offer some serious benefits to authors.

  • Pros:
    • Super easy eBook publishing option with KDP. The cover creator tool can make your bland little photo look all arted up, like a professionally designed book cover. They help with formatting and proofreading to transform your manuscript into an honest-to-goodness Kindle eBook.
      • And all of that is free, of course.
    • Everybody uses Amazon. Like, everybody, all around the world. If you publish with Amazon you have instant access to their huge global market.
      • It’s easy to leave reviews, which encourages readers to respond to your work. Whether or not they bought it at Amazon, anybody can rate & review it.
        • Handy for when you give out advanced reading copies, people buy paperbacks, or shop through another online retailer, etc.
    • They keep it professional by tracking sales and keeping a record of all transactions.
      • You also get paid on a regular basis. Sure, it may be only a couple of cents (particularly with international sales, unless you happen to be a huge hit in, like, Japan or somewhere. You never know.) Still feels good to see those little deposits every month.
        • Oh, and you can get paid straight into your bank account. Very secure – it’s Amazon; they’re on it – and no middlemen to deal with. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Paypal).
    • Your author page is a built-in feature, that you can easily customize as you wish. Great way to get your work displayed in one attractive place; you can also add a link to your blog posts so readers can stay connected.
    • This is a big one: Amazon makes it easy to produce a beautiful print version of your book. Createspace offers structured guidance throughout the process, from formatting to cover creation, to proof review and sales. For those who love the feeling of a paper book in their hands, you can’t go wrong here. (And, besides ordering prints and shipping, Createspace is also free).
  • Cons:
    • Amazon is huge. Your book is one of millions. Unless you are super good at the keywords game – or you have a secret fan base – your book baby will pretty much be swimming in a crowded sea. Like those little infant jellyfish, where so many are produced it doesn’t matter how many get eaten by plankton so long as a couple hundred grow up to complete the cycle. Basically, chances of your book standing out among ALL the others are, frankly, small.
      • Keep in mind that your indie book will be in direct competition with all the traditionally published stuff out there. You know, New York Times bestsellers and the like. Competition is stiff and brutal. As usual, money does most of the talking…
    • Authors don’t have much control over pricing. $0.99 is the minimum; I do not believe you can set your book to perma-free on Amazon. (If any fellow authors out there know how, please enlighten me!) And that’ll only get you 35% royalty. To get 70% royalty your book must be $2.99 or more.
      • Huge preference is given to books that are published exclusively with KDP. Called KDP Select, this system offers subscribers the chance to read as much as they like during the month, for one block payment. The author gets a couple cents (CORRECTION: half a cent) for each page read. So, not a bad system overall. The catch is your book must be published exclusively with Amazon in order to benefit. Super-strict monogamy; the jealous-lover vibe doesn’t jive with my wild side.
      • You can only do free promotions for your book if you are a KDP member. And even then it is limited to a maximum of 5 days her KDP enrollment period (about 3 months).
    • And here’s the really bad news: Amazon censors smut. Yet, anything considered too exciting – say, a female nipple, ass cheeks, or even underboob; or catchwords like “breeding,” “cum,” and god-knows-what-else – will get your book placed solidly in the Adult Dungeon. This is basically a no-search zone. Your book will exist, but no one can really find it unless they have a direct link there (or happen upon your Amazon author page and browse your full body of work). Yeah, the adult dungeon is a bad place to be. Lots of perfectly good erotica ends up there. It’s sad.
      • I hate censorship. It’s against my American principles. Free ALL THE NIPPLES!

Smashwords

I have a fond place in my heart for Smashwords. They were the second place I began distributing my work, and I appreciate their independent, creative spirit. Also they are erotica-friendly. Lotsa good smut on Smashwords! (Still need to cover up the nipples, alas. But at least you can wear a thong…)

  • Pros:
    • Smashwords distributes to several well-known online retailers. At last check, that includes Barnes&Noble, iBooks, and a couple others. This gets your book distribution on a wider scale than simply through Smashwords alone. (Still most of my sales come from Smashwords, straight up.)
    • You, as the author, have pretty much all the control. By this I mean you can set your price – or not – however you like. Smashwords has pricing flexibility, and all get you more or less the same royalty percentage. And you – the author – get the lion’s share. This means:
      • You can offer promotions whenever you want (either by creating a coupon to share with folks, who then can buy your book for free or a discounted price).
      • You can set your book to free, or let the reader set the price – attractive options to get your work out there into readers’ hands.
      • Smashwords is helpful and clear when it comes to recording sales and keeping track of earnings.
    • Smashwords has its own program for converting your MS Word document into several marketable formats. Yes, you have to follow their formatting guidelines, but these are not too difficult. Mostly, the conversion quality is correct, though you have to keep an eye on it. It’s a real help to those who aren’t comfortable doing their own file formatting & conversion.
    • Much less censorship with Smashwords. You still need to keep some things under wraps – I was told that third party retailers, such as Barnes&Noble, won’t accept “nipples, bare buns, or floppy bits,” but almost everything else goes. Also much more flexibility in your wording options, grossly offensive profanity aside.
    • Smashwords is exclusively a publisher of indie books. So, your indie creation is safely among its peers, where it can stand out as the superb piece of writing (or piece of crap, depending) that it is. It’s comparing apples to apples, instead of apples to kumquats, if you will. At least you aren’t competing with the big boys.
  • Cons:
    • You have to provide your own completed cover, ready to upload. Sorry, no help from Smashwords there. BYOA – Bring Your Own Art.
    • Smashwords pays only once a quarter (about every 3 months). You only get payments transferred if they are over $10. Also, it is paid into a Paypal account, which is less convenient than direct transfer to your bank. This is fine, but can be annoying if you don’t use Paypal usually and keep forgetting your password.
    • Most of the people who shop at Smashwords also publish on Smashwords. Keeps your work circulating around fellow indie authors, but I don’t know how many everyday folks really go eBook shopping there. This kind of limits your market. Though, it can be a great way to connect with fellow indie authors.
      • This makes getting/leaving reviews difficult. People can only rate & review if they bought your book through Smashwords directly. Lame.
    • Although you can download several different versions, it does not communicate directly with a Kindle. So if you have one of those it will require the middleman intervention of another program (like Calibre – an excellent free resource) if you want to transfer files around.

All Romance eBooks (sad note: as of January 2017, ARe is no longer in business. I leave my review anyway, for the sake of reflection.)

Man, am I glad I stumbled across this one! A large online market exclusively for romance and erotica eBooks. In other words, exactly the place to go for any number of steamy reads. If you’re in the market for eBook love, this is the place to go!

  • Pros:
    • They sell only romance and erotica. So, your readership is pre-selected; people know what they’re shopping for at ARe! (And they expect to get it.)
    • Also a collection of all-indie authors, so your book is in good company.
    • You have tons of control over your book’s features. This includes:
      • What format it is offered in (up to 10 different formats available, but you choose the ones you want to provide)
      • Cover art (Nudity is allowed! AT LAST!)
      • Pricing (anything from $0.00 on up; also it is easy to change pricing at any time.)
        • I give away a LOT of my free work on ARe. It’s a great place to get visibility in that respect.
      • Fixed-duration discounts are also super-easy to set up. People love to snag freebies when they’re offered!
      • Excerpt from your book, to entice readers in.
        • It can be explicit. Yay!
        • You also can include multiple product tags. Readers can contribute tags, too, making a rich collection of links to your work.
    • Readers who purchase can have their romance eBook sent directly to their Kindle email. Convenient for Kindle readers – like me – who do not shop exclusively at Amazon. One less middleman to deal with!
  • Cons:
    • No formatting help here, folks. You must provide your own, ready-to-go eBook documents in whichever formats you want to distribute. (Once again, Calibre is a tool to use in order to make this happen; there are others, too, but I am very satisfied with Calibre!)
      • Same goes for cover art. You have to get it ready, and it must be submitted in a very specific size (200 x 300 pixels). Bit of a pain.
      • In fact, their whole file submission process is a bit of a pain. Lots of weird rules like no spaces or symbols in the file name; weird system of uploading; annoyance when stuff is inexplicably lost and you have to start over. It takes patience, cursing, and lots of wine to make it happen.
    • You only get paid once a quarter (every 3-ish months, as I said), and only through PayPal. Also they take $1 for every deposit. Minimal handling fee, whatever, but it’s still there!
      • Actually, I’m not sure what royalty I get from them… definitely have been paid, but what percentage? Dunno. It does, however, give a breakdown of sales for any given period, and describes how much goes to you, the author, for that amount of time. Kind of hard to get a big-picture overview of sales, though.
    • It is a relatively small market.
      • That said, I tend to make a lot more sales on ARe than either Smashwords or Amazon. This, I think, is because it’s already targeted to romance & erotica readers. So, it is definitely a good venue to distribute my work!

Well, folks, that’s my insight! I hope it may be helpful for some of you other hardworking indie authors out there. Don’t give up! Keep on writing, and remember why you’re doing it: for love, not money. 🙂

A bit of sexy science for all my francophone friends!

So I don’t know how many of you feel fluent in French, but if you do here’s a delightful (and hilarious!) tidbit my husband found: The Sexual Evolution of Man(kind).

It’s a video so here’s the link: Evolution sexuelle de l’homme (from Tu mourras moins bete!)

In a nutshell, it explores the mystery of the male organ. In particular, size.

Of all our nearest cousins – the great apes – humans have the largest penis. (Longest, for sure, and I imagine that goes for width as well! We all know it’s about thick, not long…) In addition, women, unlike our female ape counterparts, show no outward signs of sexual receptivity. So, why the huge schlongs? And why the coyness about ovulation?

Basically, scientists don’t know. But it makes one hell of a funny – and educational – cartoon! (And hey guys, if you’re ever feeling sad about your pickle, just think of a gorilla. Yours must be at least a dill, and all he’s got is a little cornichon!)