Diana Laurence finds new ways to tap into the innocent, pure, spiritual source of joy that sex can be. The best part, she’s indie! So, IndieReader’s Loren Kleinman sat down with indie erotica writer Diana Laurence, author of the popular book How to Catch and Keep a Vampire: A Step-by-Step Guide to Loving the Bad and the Beautiful, to find out how she’s turned erotica into indie erotica. Some of her other books include the Soulful Sex collections, The Resurrection of Captain Eternity, Looking on Darkness, Do-It-YourSelf Publishing, and more. Her latest novel is Aggie’s Nine Heroes.
LK: Why did you start writing erotic fiction?
DL: I wrote it for my own enjoyment more or less since puberty; I guess if you have writing ability and aren’t uncomfortable with sex, it only makes sense that you would do that! Finally in my mid-40’s I started sharing some of it with friends I met on the Internet, then on websites, and people really enjoyed what I wrote. I hadn’t done any freelance writing in a long time, but suddenly discovered that with all the developments in technology, the marketplace for new writers was very different. I sold two novellas to the first publisher I contacted, and that got the ball rolling for me.
LK: Talk about the first erotic story you ever wrote.
DL: The first one I had published was a piece of Star Wars fan fiction I wrote for myself. I was pretty attracted to Ewan McGregor as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, and penned a story in which the Jedi knight is invited to a sort of alien nunnery where the women have never seen a man. I posted it in an online fan fiction forum and people went kind of nuts for it (thanks, Ewan!). So back in 2004, when it occurred to me to try to sell erotic fiction, I started by rewriting this story, “As Commonplace as Rain,” without the Star Wars references. It sold very well, and later I got the rights back and published it in one of my own books, Soulful Sex Volume II.
LK: Do you think anyone can write erotic fiction?
DL: Definitely not. It’s actually fairly challenging to describe erotic experiences in a way that is fresh and engaging. There are is a lot of erotic fiction in the small press and self-publishing world that I find so badly written it’s intolerable…but I made the mistake of saying that publicly once with the idea that other readers would agree. In fact, some readers adore many works that I consider too coarse and trite to be bothered with. So you see, it’s very hard to accurately criticize erotic fiction and that makes it even more of a challenge to write. The problem is that sex is very individualized—that old adage “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” is more true in erotica than any genre. For example, one person will love a bondage story and another will find it horrifyingly repulsive. So for me, the best answer has been variety. I’ve written erotic romance tales in every genre from chick lit to science fiction, in every style from coming-of-age to Jane Austen. I’ve explored just about every angle of sex that I can think of. I know not all my stories will appeal to any one reader, but I hope just about anyone could find one that really trips his/her trigger.
LK: Why do you think people read erotica? What do you think erotic fiction does for them?
DL: Some people might feel these are silly questions because the answer is so obvious, but really it’s more complex that you might think. Of course the primary reason is “to get turned on,” and there’s no denying that. But at a deeper level, people are trying to meet their unmet needs. Fact is there’s no way real life can meet all our sexual needs. That’s why we all fantasize about sex. This is a good thing, because trying to meet those needs in reality can create all kinds of problems: infidelity, heartbreak, shame, even disease or trouble with the law.
I believe that fantasizing, and reading good erotica, is very healthy exercises. These activities can add spark to real relationships, enhance creative energy for real life activities, and add to overall mental health and well being.
LK: What’s the difference between erotic fiction and porn? Do you think readers get it mixed up? What about romance and erotica?
DL: In the publishing industry, these questions are constantly in play, creating challenges for authors and readers alike. I think “porn” is the word one uses for any erotic medium when you want to imply immorality…whether that implication is considered a positive or a negative. “Erotic fiction” is used when you’re going for a more legitimate, socially acceptable connotation. That part is fairly simple, but where any specific story falls on the scale from mild to extremely graphic is so very subjective, it drives us all crazy.
“As Commonplace as Rain” was turned down as too tame by the first publisher to which I submitted it. Having not read any popular erotic romance, I was surprised. It’s very graphic, with no details left out. However, I don’t use the language in my writing that some people consider de rigueur for erotica; I employ other terms in place of fuck, cunt, dick, and so on. So you see, sometimes the criteria for “graphic content” is not content at all, but rather, language.
The other factor of importance is how “romantic” a story is. Readers want to know in advance if an author prefers to include a love relationship as an element of the story, or simply describe sex acts in the context of some sort of loveless plot. A particular reader will require one or the other to enjoy the work in an erotic way. I write very romantic erotica, in which character development and interaction is key. Some readers love that and gobble up my stuff. On the other hand, I’ve had more than one reviewer call my writing tame or even “not true erotica.”
Again, we all need to recognize just how subjective and individualized human sexuality is.
LK: How much does your own sexuality come into play when you are writing a book?
DL: I think you can’t write believable erotica unless it works for you. You have to be turned on yourself to empathize with the emotions and arousal of your characters and write them convincingly. I am able to write a little mild S&M because I’m excited by dominance and submission. But I can’t get hard-core with it because I’m not excited by violent sex. I am able to write girl-with-girl scenes because I find beautiful women sexually attractive. But I can’t write a serious lesbian work because I only have romantic feelings for men. I may be wrong about this, but I think unless the story I write arouses me, I can’t expect it to do so for someone else…at least not really well.
LK: Tell me about your writing process. How do you come up with the characters? What about plot?
DL: More often than not, I come up with the hero first. Many times it’s a current crush I have on a fictional character from TV or the movies (see Ewan above!). I know myself well enough to figure out what traits the character possesses that are sexually alluring, and I create a new hero based upon them. From there I develop situations that will show off this guy’s allure to the utmost, and figure out the heroine who would be most strongly attracted to him.
Illustration: I was very attracted to the character of Admiral Adama on SyFy’s “Battlestar Galactica.” He was a strong, principled older man, an authoritative commander upon which an entire society depended. From this inspiration I created Captain Adesteis (“The Chieftain’s Man” from Soulful Sex: The Fantasy Collection). The ideal heroine was Colya, a girl nearly young enough to be his daughter, who is inspired by every aspect of Adesteis’s character. The story begins when he rescues her from rape. He becomes Colya’s personal hero, and first she responds simply by emulating him, desiring to become a soldier in spite of her gender. As she passes into womanhood, her yearning for him evolves. It’s the classic father figure fantasy, and was a natural evolution from my feelings for the Adama character on TV.
LK: Why go indie? Why did you choose to self-publish? What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
DL: Both of my ventures into self-publishing occurred when publishers went out of business. Back in 1998 I sold a book to a Canadian publisher that went under while considering a second title of mine. I ended up doing a short print run of both books and trying to sell them online. In 2006, a couple of years into my successful venture of selling erotic romance, that publisher folded when about to release my fourth book with them. At this point all the tools to self-publish were at ready hand: software to create eBooks and print ready files, a company (Lightning Source) that did printing and distribution, distributors like Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and many others, and ways to market online. It was a no-brainer to reopen my little publishing house from 1998 and release all my backlist myself.
I had the benefit of already established legitimacy as an author. Not having that—and self-published authors typically do not—can be a challenge to finding readers. But apart from that challenge, I find self-publishing preferable in nearly every way. Here’s a short list of the advantages:
1. I control the quality (I’ve had bad experiences with publishers in that regard).
2. I make my own deadlines—no pressure—and also don’t have to wait on the interminable timelines of traditional publishing.
3. I control my work and my brand: no one else can come in and totally change the theme or alter the characters or stick me with a cover or title I don’t want.
4. I don’t have to waste so much time and energy on submissions.
5. My books are not taken off the shelves in nine months, never to be heard from again; every book I’ve written is still for sale today.
6. I don’t have to deal with personality clashes. (I get along very well with my editor and my illustrators!)
7. I can work when I want to and rest when I need to.
8. All the profits go to me, and no waiting months to see the money.
Many authors stay away from self-publishing because they want someone else to do the marketing. Let me tell you, I never worked harder on marketing than with the book I did with a mid-size publisher in 2009. Publishers do little or no marketing; it’s going to fall to you either way.
Don’t get me wrong; it was nice to have a book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Target stores all over the world. However, the experience that accompanied it was far less pleasant than any of my self-published books…and no one was more surprised at that than I.
LK: How did you go about marketing your erotica?
DL: Every way I could think of: my websites, free samples, blogging, interviews, soliciting reviews, speaking at conventions, posting to forums, an e-newsletter, free essays to other sites and blogs, press releases, banner ads, contests, Café Press merchandise, contacting retail outlets, etc. I never did find a foolproof marketing technique except to get my name out in any and every way all the time. I’ve always spent more time on marketing than on writing, and although not everyone likes to hear that, I think any successful author will tell you the same thing.
LK: What does indie allow you to do that traditional mainstream publishing does not?
DL: To sort of repeat and summarize my list above, self-publishing gives you control and freedom. Those were the most important factors to me, personally. Some people need the validation of traditional publishing, and I understand that because I did too at one time. Others hold to the dream of “making it big,” or writing the Great American Novel, which are harder to achieve when you’re self-published. Some people are determined to make a living as a writer rather than having it as an avocation. But I just wanted to have readers, maybe make a little extra money, and produce the books I wanted to produce at a minimum level of hassle. So it’s definitely my preferred way to go.
LK: How do you go about writing a good sex scene?
DL: You have to have your imagination cranked all the way to eleven, because sex never writes itself. The plot to sex is pretty much a variation on a half dozen possibilities. The description tends to be clichéd. And usually there isn’t much dialogue. So if you want to get words on paper, words that will actually move the reader, you have to have a sexual experience in your head that is worth telling about.
I’m a terrible actor but I can relate a bit to those who use method acting because that’s what an author must do for the Big Love Scene. I have to become the heroine. And by the time I let the hero have his way with me, I have to know him well enough and feel strongly enough for him that I can’t resist him. (Now you know why it usually takes awhile to get to my sex scenes!) This guy has to be vivid in my mind: his appearance, his unique charms, the feel and scent and sound of him. And he can’t make love to me in some commonplace way; there has to be something notable about it.
Once all this is achieved, the nudity and touching can finally get underway, and hopefully something lustful ensues. Okay, it always does, but only because the preparations were carefully made. And then it’s time to make an attempt to actually record this imaginary encounter, in language potent enough to convey it successfully to the reader.
LK: Give novice indie erotica writers some advice on getting started in the erotic genre.
DL: Well, you don’t have to start with the writing; anyone who will have success writing erotic fiction already has a bunch of it written down in one form or another!
If you’ve determined you’re truly going to self-publish, do your homework first and make a plan. What formats will you sell, and via what distribution outlets? Do you have all the tools you need to accomplish the plan? How will you market your work?
Once you have a game plan, select your best work or write a new piece that you want to share with the world. Then edit, edit, edit. When you think it’s perfect, hand it over to an experienced editor to critique, and edit it some more. Will poorly polished erotica sell? Possibly. But if you’re in this for self-respect and professional pride as well as money, you’ll want to publish your best possible product.
I’ve actually written a book called Do-It-YourSelf-Publishing that costs a mere $2.99 for a PDF or ePub (only $2.54 from my publishing house, Living Beyond Reality Press). All the information on getting a copy is HERE.
One thing I’ll say for indie erotica writing: there is definitely a thriving market for material, and the audience has no bias against new voices. If you enjoy writing erotic fiction and do it well, by all means consider actually publishing and selling it!