Sex … In or Out?

You’ve written a great story. Do you need sex amidst the guns, fighting and mayhem, the psychological trauma and mystery, or the tenderness and promises?

When I say ‘do you need sex’ I’m obviously referring to the requirements of the story—not your personal urges. I digress … .

This blog post was born from the need to offer my opinion on a regular comment I see on social media, and if we’re all honest, it’s getting a bit tedious. The comment usually follows similar lines to: ‘… and when I reach a sex scene I move on …’

There is usually a bit more to it, but in essence, we have two main areas to address.

Question 1 – Is the reader a prude, or simply someone who knows when a sex scene could have been done more tastefully—if it were needed at all?

Question 2 – Did the author make a mistake by getting carried away, drifting from the primary genre, thus adversely affecting the plot of the story?

The answer to Question 1 is not as simple as it sounds. For some readers, if an author goes beyond: ‘… she stood with her back to the door and raised an eyebrow …’ it’s too much. For others, it’s frustratingly brief, and they want to at least know if one person is wearing matching underwear and if the other person is wearing underwear at all.

Now, Question 2 throws up a whole new dilemma. As authors, it is not simply a personal choice, but in my (humble) opinion, it is our duty to remain true to our craft. No, I’m not getting high and mighty because I’ve written more than two books—I’m simply telling it like it is. The reputation of indie authors is being destroyed from within by some people with low standards. Those of us who work long hard hours and go beyond the first draft must persevere to produce the best we can.

You cannot refer to yourself in your branding or promotional material (of whatever level) as a thriller writer if you have the main character kill someone and then for the rest of the book he/she beds every other person in the ‘adventure’. You can dress it up, or undress it if you wish, but one of the aims of any author should be to focus on the job—in this case, a good story based on the primary genre.

I write a wide variety of genre and among them is erotica. I may allow a kiss or a caress—even partial undressing in some stories but graphic, no-holds-barred sexual activity is kept for my erotica.

If an author writes thrillers, westerns, sci-fi or other genres there ought to be sufficient time invested in character development, dialogue, imagery, pace and the accurate choreography of action. Any mention of sex will usually be incidental, except, of course, for romance, some paranormal and fantasy where it may go further.

An author who writes erotica is not out to shock—they are aiming to indulge their readers in the type of material they sought. This is not to say that character development and those other ingredients I mentioned earlier are not required in erotica—they are just as important. The erotica author must avoid sex becoming the ‘story’; an opportunity to be self-indulgent with repetitive and meaningless scenes of gratuitous carnal jiggery-pokery (mainly pokery).

In my ‘mainstream’ genres, there may be terms of endearment, a kiss or an embrace but they are strategically placed. Occasionally, in my erotica, there is less need for such romantic overtures, activity or subtlety. The characters might be more interested in mutual physical gratification than an emotional rollercoaster ride but there will still be character development and the activities are created with a purpose. It depends on the story.

I believe the author should strive to be faithful to the principle genre and whatever extended subjects it entails whether it be an action-packed or psychological plot, and plot or character-driven.

If you’d like to see ‘erotica’ as it once was, read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Like most other genres, erotica has moved on and readers are no longer satisfied with what was once considered shocking—people want to envisage themselves in scenes which will (in most cases) forever be a fantasy. With the greatest respect D.H.Lawrence, move over my friend.

I’m a great believer in the use of metaphor if it spells something out clearly. I’ll summarise with two questions to authors who are trying to work out if sex ought to be highlighted in a story?

Would you wear flip-flops and boxing gloves to run a marathon, or perhaps mask, snorkel and flippers to ride a bicycle?

Let’s be honest—if it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t belong.

Thank you for reading, and any comments.

A Cover Story

Astute authors will recognise that irrespective of how good their story might be, it’s the cover which is the first point of contact with the reader (or ‘the customer’ if we’re honest).

I accepted early on in my writing career that if I wanted my books to be treated seriously then I’d have to part with cash, and not for vanity publishing—some people still do. In essence, I’d have to fork out before my hard work had produced any reward in royalties.

There are many more aspects which affect the success or failure of a book but for now, I’d like to stay on topic—covers.

It didn’t take much research for me to discover that poetry and short story anthologies attracted less interest than any other aspect of creative writing. Yes, as luck would have it, my first titles came into those categories, however, I’m a positive kind of guy and saw an opportunity. Here were two areas in which I could practice the dark art of cover design. Later, I would find another. 😀

My first novel took a year to write due to me also holding down a full-time management job. I produced my idea of a cover for Beyond The Law. Even with my artistic leanings, it was not an impressive sight, so let’s not go there.

For my next two novels, I bit the bullet, which is an option not many of my characters are offered. I paid a professional cover designer to cater for Ten Days in Panama and Amsterdam Calling. Both books sold steadily and a significant lesson was learned. I asked the designer to create a cover for Beyond The Law (later to be suffixed ‘Formation’. Like the other two covers, it was expensive, but the blow was softened when I saw the effect of a decent story married up to a good cover.

In less than six months, I received sufficient royalties from Beyond the Law to cover the cost of all of my first three covers. Needless to say, I went on to use the same designer for A Taste of Honey. When Beyond the Law – the trilogy was created with the addition of ‘Retribution’ and ‘Consequences I saw regular sales. 

I continued producing the covers for my short story anthologies as the books were published. Yes, they would sell, I thought, but not in sufficient numbers to warrant a hefty outlay on covers.

One interesting twist came when I wrote my magnum opus, A Life of Choice. This was a five-part, fact-based fiction series; a depiction of my military career, but I had doubts. I hoped it was written in an entertaining and engaging style, but it was simply a story I wanted to tell. I didn’t see it as a prize winner or a major money-spinner.

I designed the covers using the ‘Regimental Colours’ of the Royal Signals (my Corps), and I used a small representative graphic for each of the five stages. My theory was that the ‘colours’ would attract the eye of some of the thousands of Royal Signals soldiers past and present. Following a slow pick-up and a few good reviews, this series rapidly established itself as my top-selling story.

The only issue I had was the regular requests for it to be available in paperback. I experimented and it took several weeks but I managed to amend the end/beginning of the five parts to convert them into a paperback trilogy—the same story, in the same words but broken at different logical points in time.

I recognised a potential saboteur—overconfidence. I contacted my professional designer and gave her a simple brief, sending her photos of the three pieces of equipment to be featured, samples of the background colours and all the printed matter for front and back exterior. For example, apart from the blurb, each book in the trilogy has excerpts from three different reviews. It took a few weeks to get there and I was delighted with the designer’s solution.

An area that some indie authors fail to register is that paperbacks are formatted differently regarding the front and back matter. I took great care in presentation, as I’ve done with all of my paperback versions so that they mirror traditional books.

One aspect of this series I didn’t expect was how much it would be enjoyed by those who had never served. The primary target of any creative writer should be to provide entertainment and it gladdens my heart to know I’ve achieved my aim with this special story.

As if by magic, the paperbacks continue to sell. I’m delighted to report that they are a popular prize at the many military fund-raising events to which I donate signed copies of the trilogy. 

I recently felt that I’d gained sufficient knowledge and experience to try my hand again at the creative, challenging skill of cover design. It took a few days but I’ve refreshed the covers for the Beyond The Law trilogy. My versions are on trial for a couple of months.

Apart from poetry and short story anthologies, I said that later I was to find another area for which I could create the covers. Erotica is that area and not surprisingly there aren’t that many reviews although they are good. There are, however, plenty of sales. 😀

If you’re an author at whatever stage of your journey, please remember that a well-crafted book with a good cover is more likely to see a healthy return on the investment of your time and money.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you.

The Welcome

The Welcome: and other Sci-Fi stories is the full working title of my next anthology.

Unless you hail from another planet, you’ll be aware that apart from reading widely, I also try writing various genre. I believe all creative writers should attempt both the reading and writing of different genre. I feel it gives a greater appreciation of the craft if we step out of our comfort zone.

Just as the collection will be, I decided to produce an experimental cover. I wanted something that would at least fit as a working model prior to publication. Please note, there are no space ships, men in big white suits, or alien beings on the cover.

As I’ve done with my other anthologies, I’m aiming to produce at least 12 stories.

There is a major difference with this collection, because I am inviting stories from guest authors. As things stand, I have eight stories written by me. Three of those appear in other collections, but the other five are new and at various stages of completion.

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My aim is to have at least four stories from guest authors whose names will appear on the front cover.

Guidelines for anyone interested:

1.  Guest authors should be members of the Indie Author Support and Discussion group on Facebook.**

2.  Stories must be a maximum of 3,500 words.

3.  Stories should be completed to final edit and submitted to me by 31st December 2015. (If there is interest and the timing is too tight, I’ll be happy to extend the deadline).

4.  Copyright will remain with individual authors for their stories.

5.  Any author who contributes will have the opportunity to include a short bio (50 words), and tw0 hyperlinks of their choice added after their story.

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Who has already expressed interest?

At the present time I have offers of stories from:  CI Lopez**,   WK Tucker, and Senan Gil Senan. One more guest will fill my minimum 12 story quota, but if there were other interested authors I would be happy to increase the number of tales.

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When is the target publication date?

I had originally intended to complete formatting and publish before end December 2015, but I am now of the opinion that it would be a good boost for all concerned to publish early in January 2016.

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Where did the title come from?

I’m a great believer in a title performing more than one task, and the role of a title for an anthology is vitally important.

As I normally do, I checked my titles against Amazon’s lists and found that all eight were heavily represented. I changed one of my stories to The Welcome. It is both original in terms of Amazon listings, and a perfect fit for the particular story. I like to think that it also makes a neat invitation to prospective readers.

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If you would like to be involved in this collection and can meet the guidelines, please get in touch.

As always, I thank you for reading, and would appreciate any feedback.

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**I reserve the right to make one exception to the rule regarding IASD membership. CI Lopez is working on a debut anthology, and I believe a guest appearance alongside previously published authors will be helpful.

Tom