Though I’ve been editing erotica for seven years, I still greatly enjoy the process, because I get to peek into the minds of other writers and see how they approach a given topic. I think erotica is one of the most democratic of genres because everyone has a sexual fantasy (or twenty) lurking somewhere in their mind, and writing about it can help flesh it out and teach you about your own desires.
Right now, I’m in the process of considering stories for my 2011 Cleis Press anthologies Obsessed: Erotic Romance for Women and Women in Lust. Every day, my inbox brings new stories to consider.
The job of an anthology editor is largely a balancing act. It’s not just about picking the best-written stories, but the best-written stories that work well with all the others. For instance, I might include a sex at the office story, or a hot wax story, but I probably wouldn’t include two on stories on either topic because it would make the anthology too repetitive.
First let me say that writing erotica isn’t easy. When I started in 1999, I was full of ideas and enthusiasm. For “Monica and Me” (a fantasy about Monica Lewinsky), the first professional story I ever wrote (as in got paid for and published), I used real-life details, like the fact that she wore “Glaze” lipstick by Club Monaco during her Barbara Walters interview, to spice it up:
“What are you doing?” she asks, not really expecting an answer. Her nipples harden.
“You’re my canvas and I’m painting you, painting all of this gorgeous pale skin of yours, and your pretty nipples,” I tell her. I make them nice and dark, juicy-looking, then snap a Polaroid to show her later. Then I lean down and rub my lips against her nipples, giving new meaning to the words lipstick lesbian. I squeeze her round, bulging nipples between my fingers, pulling them tightly until I hear her gasp.
“Do you want me to stop?” I say in my most teasing voice.
She shakes her head no.
But about a hundred stories later, I can attest that it gets more and more challenging to come up with creative, original scenarios. The good thing, though, is that you can take your erotic inspiration from just about anywhere. It doesn’t have to be from your life. It can be ripped from the headlines, like my Monica Lewinsky story, you can do research (as I did for a fire-eating story), or from places you’ve visited, like my Best Women’s Erotica 2010 story “Secret Service,” inspired by former coke bar Kokie’s Place (which also gets a mention in the story):
It was like the sexual equivalent of fast food; women didn’t have to wait around for what they really wanted. Sure, most of them could’ve found a man to take them home and fuck them, but to take them home and simply focus their tongues on these women’s most private parts, focused solely on their pleasure? That was rarer to find, and I knew there were plenty of women who would rather pay for their orgasm, while enjoying a fine meal. And I was right. From our opening night, we were a big hit.
I thought of it kind of like the In-N-Out secret menu; we didn’t post a sign or have something on the menu saying, “Sides: French Fries: $5; Cunnilingus: $20.” That would simply be tacky. As distinctly modern as my concept was, there was something old-fashioned about how the gossip spread, and watching women emerge from the back room with that flushed sex high lighting up their faces made me glow with a satisfaction money can’t buy.
There are a few things you can do to make your story stand out, and the first is simple but one lots of people get wrong: follow the instructions. Some editors have word count limits or want submissions formatted a certain way; it sounds like a minor thing, but conform to their conditions and you’ll pass the first hurtle.
Secondly, open your story with a sentence that demands to be read. Grab the reader’s attention, then keep it. If that powerful sentence doesn’t immediately come to mind, start writing; you can always go back later.
Lately, I’ve been noticing some recurring themes when I get submissions. First and foremost being that the number of stories I get about submissive women far outweigh the ones I get about dominant women. I’ve puzzled over why that is and I think there are two likely explanations: One is that it’s easier, in some ways, to write from the submissive side. You can get into a mental subspace and place all those fears, fantasies and excitement in context. This is certainly true for me. If you’re telling a story from a dominant’s point of view, you may be guessing at exactly what the sub is thinking, and it can be more challenging to examine what it is about making someone bend over or cower in fear at the crack of a whip so sexy.
When authors can describe what about being dominant and/or sadistic gets a character off, I have nothing but admiration. I think it’s also why you’ll see so many women blogging and writing about their true-life submission: because it can be a startling process of revelation, and we want to share the often contradictory (or so it seems) position of being a strong, powerful, possibly feminist woman who likes to be told what to do.
A few things I’d like to see more of are older women characters and women of color characters. I get a fair amount of stories about white women having sex with men of color. Again, it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that scenario, but I feel uncomfortable if there’s nothing to balance it out.
Anything you can do to set your story apart, to make it stand out, whether in form (such as an epistolary story) or topic. Truly, anything goes; I’ve published stories about stinky cheese, OCD, and nursing home blowjobs (“Tony Tempo” by Tsaurah Litzky). Some of my favorite tales don’t even have any actual sex, but are all about the tension between two people—whether getting a lap dance at a strip club or would-be lovers who share a bed, but have decided not to fuck.
If you have a particular passion or knowledge, think about how you can bring that to play in erotica. For instance, I played in chess tournaments as a teenager, and logged many hours at the chessboard, so I’ve incorporated that dueling dynamic into stories, as well as everything from a bukkake party fantasy to my love of fishnet stockings to my lust for doing dishes. Because it’s fiction, you can play things up in ways you wouldn’t in reality, and experiment with other genders and sexual orientations. It’s clear when someone knows the world they’re describing well, whether because they’ve lived it or researched it. Try to find a way to make your story stand out; this could be by including detail about location, clothing, or a particular turn-on.
I advise people that you have to truly capture all the senses that go along with sex. It’s not just about what the two (or three or four or more) people are doing, but why they’re doing it, what they’re getting out of their rendezvous. Why do we lust after those we can’t have? What about kneeling on the bathroom floor with your hands tied behind your back is so hot? What is something you’d love to do but have never told anyone?
Though most publishers avoid bestiality, scat and want characters to be at least 18 years of age, there’s nothing you have to do per se in erotica. Your erotica should be about what’s sexy to you, whatever that is, and however you want to share it.