Saturday, May 10, 2014
Guest Blog Post by Editor Sacchi Green
Our hostess and I have been friends for almost as long as we’ve been writing erotica, although we first met doing a signing for a non-erotic fantasy anthology called Such a Pretty Face: Tales of Power and Abundance (edited by Lee Martindale.) We’ve both kept on writing erotica, but for this blog post I thought it might be useful to discuss the editorial side of the writing/publishing equation.
I edit mostly lesbian erotica, usually for Cleis Press (six anthologies published, one in the pipeline, and one more still taking submissions—you can find the guidelines at http://sacchi-green.blogspot.com,) and sometimes LGBTQ speculative fiction for Lethe Press. I’ll describe the technical parts of editing down the page a bit, but you might be more interested what I look for in erotic short stories, so here are a few pieces of advice, most of them applicable to pretty much any genre of short fiction.
1) Tell a story as only you can tell it. Be familiar with other writing in your genre, but don’t imitate anyone else. I look for an original approach and a distinctive voice; something to set a story apart from all the thousands I’ve seen before. Surprise me!
2) Make your characters so real that the reader can tell them apart just by the way they act and speak, even when you don’t specify who’s speaking. This is especially important with same-sex couples; you can only use pronouns like “she” or “her” a few times in a row before nobody can tell who’s saying or doing what to whom. And don’t be reluctant to use their names when necessary to distinguish them.
3) Pay attention to the rhythm of your prose. Vary the length and structure of your sentences (unless, of course, you use short, choppy sentences or long, rambling ones to make a certain point or define a character.) Try reading your work out loud.
4) Don’t assume that grammatical constructions you see over and over must be correct, or should be used over and over. There’s no need for sentence after sentence, or even paragraph after paragraph, to begin with a participial phrase such as “Opening the door, she crossed the room.” Think about that. Is the room so small one could cross it while still in the process of opening the door? There are other more varied ways of avoiding too many sentences that start with “she” or the character’s name.
5) PLEASE be sure you know whether your character’s movements and actions are physically possible. I’m not talking about superhuman endurance; I’m just considering logistics. Remember whose various parts are where, and don’t tie the reader’s mind in knots trying to figure out how what was up is suddenly down, and why what faced one direction (and was, in fact, tied down that way) is suddenly available for full frontal play. Interrupting the flow of a sex scene is especially, well, frustrating.
6) Use just as much explicit detail as is necessary to elicit the response you’re after. No more, no less. Even in erotica the sex scenes are only one element, however major, in a story that should include characterization and some sort of story arc that makes the ending proceed naturally from the beginning.
7. Pay attention to what you think the editor wants, but not so much that you don’t write the way you really want to. I’ve rejected pieces by some good writers who finally sold to me when they stopped trying to be too “nice” and dug down into what they really needed to say, however dark.
8. Don’t pay too much attention to anything I’ve said above. Other editors will have other tastes and opinions, and yes, it really is a crap shoot of sorts.
Back to the job of an anthology editor, for those who might be thinking of trying that. My major advice along those lines is to get your own work into so many publications that good writers are familiar with your work and trust you to handle theirs well.
An anthology editor isn’t the same as a line or copy editor, although I do a fair bit of that before turning in a manuscript. What I do as an editor is: a. Pitch a theme to a publisher. b. Get it (sometimes) approved. c. Circulate my call for submissions and answer questions about the guidelines. d. Read and select submissions, conferring with writers on editorial changes if necessary. e. Send out conditional acceptances and (the worst part) rejections. f. Assemble and polish the final manuscript, including my introduction. g. Submit the manuscript. h. Wait, possibly for several months, for the publisher’s formal acceptance; mine have the final say on each part. i. Wait many more months for publication, meanwhile fielding and suggesting more minor changes on preliminary galley proofs, and standing up for your writers whenever you can. j. Publicize the book when it comes out, which includes begging for reviews by any means possible. Well, I haven’t yet offered home made cookies, but I’m seriously considering it.
Why did decide to become an editor? Well, when I was a kid the other kids assumed that I’d be a teacher when I grew up, just because I was obnoxiously smart and wore glasses and was somewhat socially inept. I was determined NEVER to be a teacher. Maybe editing satisfies a repressed need to correct term papers after all--as long as they’re sexy term papers.
Sacchi Green’s stories have appeared in a hip-high stack of publications. She’s also edited nine erotica anthologies, most recently Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories, available on Amazon and at http://www.cleispress.com/book_page.php?book_id=542. Seven of her books, including Wild Girls, have been Lambda Literary Award Finalists, and one, Lesbian Cowboys, was a Lambda Winner. She hangs out on Facebook and at http://sacchi-green.blogspot.com. You can also contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.