Monday, March 30, 2015

Writing For Exposure And Other Frustrations

Several years ago, I made the huge mistake of applying for a writing job from an online site that required a few "sample articles" as examples of my work. I was to post them on the web site's forum, and get as many views as I could. I wasn't about to write anything new, so I posted my old stand-by article about the time I tested the Altoids mints blow job on my husband. That post alone got more views than anything else that was posted, and lots of people posted. I posted at least one other previously published article, which also got an amazing number of views – more than anyone else. I was confident that I had jumped through all the hoops and was on my way to paid employment.

I didn't get the job. 

I didn't realize until later that the web site was farming for free content. I did all the legwork proving the time and product as well as promoting my posts, and the site didn't have to do a damned thing. I learned my lesson. I have never again sent sample articles to any writing job application that required them. That said, I understand reputable companies need to see examples of my writing to determine if I'm a good fit. I realize that. Instead of creating new content, I send links to existing articles so the company may see what I have already published. Sometimes I get a response, but I usually don't hear back from those companies. Now, I don't bother to send anything to companies asking for sample articles unless I can provide links. Burned once, shame on you. Burned twice, shame on me.

Why are writers so often asked to work for free? Or for "exposure"? Promising a vague form of exposure is another way of getting free content. There are some things I do as a means of promotion for which I am not paid. Writing on this blog is one of them. I gain an audience writing here, and it keeps my name out there in between books. I've written stories for charity anthologies because I like contributing to a good cause. However, I will not simply give someone a free story or article just because. No more content farming scams. No more free writing for web sites that make scads of money from advertising and subscriptions. 

Designer Dan Cassaro ran into a similar "opportunity" when he was invited by Showtime – a company clearly needing to rub dimes together to pay for paper clips - to join a design "contest" he felt was really only a way of fishing for free content. The contest involved promoting the Floyd Mayweather-Marcos Maidana boxing match. Those who submitted designs for Showtime's use could – to quote the message Cassaro had received from Showtime – "be eligible for a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas and have your artwork displayed in the MGM Grand during fight week!" He let Showtime and everyone else within earshot know exactly what he thought about it, dripping with sarcasm:

"It is with great sadness that I must decline your enticing offer to work for you for free. I know that boxing matches in Las Vegas as extremely low-budget affairs, especially ones with nobodies like Floyd "Money" Mayweather. I heard he only pulled in 80 Million for this last fight! I also understand that a "mom and pop" cable channel like Showtime must rely on handouts just to keep the lights on these days. Thanks a lot, Obama! My only hope is that you can scrape up a few dollars from this grassroots event at the MGM Grand to put yourself back in the black. If that happens, you might consider using some of that money to compensate people to do the thing they are professionally trained to do."

Why are writers (and artists in general) so often expected to work for free – or for "exposure", as the request is often sugar-coated? Would you expect your dentist to give you a root canal for free? Do you pay the housecleaner? The car mechanic? Do your plumber and electrician walk away without monetary compensation once they do the job you've begged them to do because they are professionals and you are not trained to do the work they do? So why expect a writer to write for free?

Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison had plenty to say about those who expect writers to provide free content. A DVD company asked him if he'd let them use a very long and very interesting on-camera interview about the making of "Babylon Five". He said, sure, pay me. The woman who called was flabbergasted, as if she expected him to just fork over his hard work for free – even though she received a paycheck. Here's a portion of what he had to say about it.

“Does your boss get a paycheck? Do you pay the Telecity guy? Do you pay the cameraman? Do you pay the cutters? Do you pay the Teamsters when they schlep your stuff on the trucks? Then how—don’t you pay—would you go to a gas station and ask me to give you free gas? Would you go to the doctor and have him take out your spleen for nothing? How dare you call me and want me to work for nothing!”

If you want to read his entire rant – and it's worth reading – check out "Harlan Ellison On Getting Paid" at Print Magazine. There is also a link at that page to a video of his rant. It's from the film "Dreams With Sharp Teeth".

Ellison is not alone. This "we won't pay you" schtick is something lots of writers and other artists hear. Last year, hula hoop performer Revolva was contacted by Harpo, Oprah Winfrey's company, to perform at Oprah's "Live The Life You Want" event stop in San Jose, California. Revolva was thrilled -  until she realized Harpo had no intention of compensating her for hours, effort, or travel. In fact, Harpo intended to not pay any of the creative workers it contacted, despite the fact that tickets to this event cost anywhere from $99 to $999 just to get in the door. The events producers claimed they didn't have the budget to pay performers. Yes, that's right. A billionaire's tour didn't have the budget to pay performers. If Revolva and the other artists wanted To Live The Life They Want, they could have it - without being paid for it. She chose to not perform. She, like Ellison, had plenty to say about being not only asked but expected to work for free:

"Back to that spiritual lesson you had in store for me, Oprah. Maybe it’s because my car broke down, and I’m struggling. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and after all the requests for free or discount work, the one by a billionaire’s tour was the straw that broke my back. But I thought it through, and achieving “the life you want” is not always easy. The risks we have to take, to transform this culture into something more nurturing, involve looking at the way things are and saying, 'Hey, wait. That’s not cool!'"

It's ironic that this tour of Oprah's was about realizing your self-worth. Apparently, you're worth a great deal – as long as you don't expect to be compensated in cold hard cash.

Stories like these strike a nerve with artists, including writers. They grate my teeth. All of us get these messages, and they really harsh our cool. It's almost as if those doing the asking think artists create the works they create only out of "love" or an internal drive and have no interest or understanding of how money works. Granted, some writers do write for the love of it, but not all of them.

As Tom Cruise said in "Jerry Maguire", Show Me The Money!

The corollary to being expected to work for free is being expected to work for peanuts. We've all seen the calls for submissions on places like Craigslist where a potential employer requires an assload of work – but will only pay $20.00 for said job. I just counted three such jobs, including one that called for you to be available on weekends. Nope, nope, nope. The other way of parting writers from their money are Get Rich Quick schemes – something like "7 Easy Steps To Getting Paid As A Writer". Write a book telling people how to make money writing a book and watch the cash pour in. I've seen these ads on Facebook, and the comments are always some form of "f--- off!"

There is an old adage in creative work like writing – aim high and work your way down. Aim first for the pro rates. Aim for the big publishers. Aim for the best agents. Don't start at the bottom and work your way up because you don't think you have enough experience or talent. Don't downgrade yourself. Don't settle and demean yourself by doing a shitload of work for a paycheck that barely covers a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke. 

The sad thing is there are plenty of writers and other artists who will eagerly take up these offers. They tend to be newbies who are so green they don't know any better. They may not feel they have a right to ask for money. Or they fall for the "exposure" line. They see stars when Oprah or Showtime contacts them, and they happily give over free content only to inevitably get little to nothing out of it, or at the very least not be compensated in a way that the very wealthy company can easily afford. As long as these people exist, the free content farms will continue to thrive. Don't ask to be paid what you're worth. Demand it. You have that right.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Vangelis - The Year Of Living Dangerously (Anastasi Version)

Dan Gibson - Heart Of The Forest

Peter Kater - Sea

Trapped In Amazon's ADULT Dungeon

My name is Elizabeth Black, and Amazon confined me to the Adult dungeon. Again. Yes, I write erotica and erotic romance, and I, like many adult fiction writers, have seen my sales drop about 90% since getting spanked by the 'Zon.

This is nothing new to me. Before I self-published my top best-selling erotic fairy tales "Trouble In Thigh High Boots" and "Climbing Her Tower" (Puss In Boots and Rapunzel, respectively), my best-selling story was "Purr", a short erotic version of Puss In Boots.  It sold very well, for a time, anyway. Several years ago, it was censored by AllRomanceEBooks and Bookstrand for awhile when my publisher, New Dawning Bookfair, saw its entire catalogue eliminated during a porn purge. "Purr", along with scads of other books, went bye-bye. The catalogue was later reinstated, but I lost a lot of sales during that time. I still gained in the end because I directed readers to other places where it was published and announced that it was CENSORED BY ALLROMANCE AND BOOKSTRAND! BUY IT AT AMAZON! That alone guaranteed it would sell.

Well, Amazon has since labeled the story ADULT, which has destroyed my sales. 

K. Matthews Books described Amazon's ADULT dungeon as follows: "Your book is taken out of public sight. It will not show up in regular searches. In fact, the only way anyone will ever find your book on Amazon again is if they search for it by its exact name or have a link pointing to it. Basically, Amazon does not want people to find your book. Your sales will sink faster than the Titanic, and the book will eventually fade into oblivion, never to see the light of day again (unless you appeal to Amazon, of course)."

That's what happened to "Purr". The only way to find it now is with a direct link. I can't even find it when I search for it by name with my author name. Nor can I find it by name, with my author name, and adding "erotica" to the search. The book has disappeared.

You can't find me, either, on Amazon, since there is another writer named Elizabeth Black who wrote a mainstream novel with a big publisher. She came along after me. Now, when you run a search for my name, her Amazon author page shows up. My Amazon author page is nowhere to be seen. So, I have been effectively eliminated and silenced by Amazon.

Recently, I rewrote the blurbs and changed the tags for "Trouble In Thigh High Boots" and "Climbing Her Tower" in the hope that the changes would bring the books out in the open more so they would begin to sell again. I had toned down the erotic connotations and aimed more for romance. "Trouble" had been smacked with the ADULT tag before, but I petitioned to Amazon to remove it. It did. Since making my changes, it's now labeled "not ADULT". "Climbing", which had no label at all before my changes, is now labeled ADULT.  I have to petition Amazon to remove those tags.

What will get your book labeled ADULT? Erin Dameron-Hill compiled a list on her Facebook page of the kinds of things that you land you in the dungeon:

   No model can be handcuffed (this will instantly flag you), blindfolds are okay for now (but I don't expect them to be in the future).
   Handcuffs are allowed if they are separate--not on the models . The model can hold the cuffs.
   No side boob or big cleavage.
   No upper butt. (No nudity, obviously).
   No lower hair patch for men (or women).
   No sexual positions--no doggie style, missionary (or any position that implies penetration).
   No hands on boobs or private areas.
   No women on their knees in front of men (even fully clothed).
   No men between women's thighs.
   No men's faces on breasts (resting, etc--even fully clothed).

Selena Kitt recommends keeping Amazon's list of "dirty words" off your book descriptions as well as cleaning up your covers. These include:

   Nudity on covers (this rule changes a lot – thongs are ok so far. “Hand bras” are not ok, i.e. a nude woman with her or someone else’s hands covering her breasts).
   Incest is banned altogether. But pseudo-incest will get you filtered. Anything with obvious titles, especially “Daddy” and “Mommy,” but also sister, brother, siblings, uncle, family, etc.
   Gangbang, rape, reluctant, reluctance, nonconsent, dubious consent (dubcon), forced, or “rough” sex, strap-on – careful BDSM folks, keep an eye out, because they may come after that next.
   Breeding, bred or impregnation stories
   Any profanity or obscene language: pussy, cock, cum, tits, fuck, sex, clit, etc. (Now I really feel like George Carlin…)
   Lactation, breastfeeding, lactating, milky
   Tentacles and other mythological creatures (minotaurs, centaurs, bigfoot, etc.) 

My big mistake with "Trouble In Thigh High Boots" was admitting it is, in part, a lactation story. That alone probably doomed it. I've since removed the word from the description, but the book is still hidden. "Climbing Her Tower" has light BDSM and a touch of shaving fetish, and it was slapped with the ADULT tag.

My Naughty Nights Press Night Owl Top Pick new adult novel "Don't Call Me 'Baby'" was also hidden until the second edition came out. NNP re-uploaded the book, which probably acted like a reboot, giving the book a fresh start. When you search for my name on Amazon, this book does show up on the first page. My other books don't show up until page 14 through 16, which isn't good since there are only 17 pages in the Kindle section when you search for "Elizabeth Black".

I'm in the process of fixing this mess. It's a headache. I'd much rather spend my time writing or looking for an agent.

By now you're asking, "how do I find out if my book has been sent to the ADULT dungeon?" Aside of the sudden serious drop in sales, there's another way to get the bad news. Plug in your name and/or the book's name to You'll get your ranks. If your book has been slapped with the ADULT tag, it'll appear next to your ranking in big, bold, red letters. Here's my entry for "Climbing Her Tower".

Elizabeth Black | WW-Publishing | 2012-10-01
Kindle Edition | ASIN: B009KSFCF6
Languages: English (published) | Rating: "ADULT" (?)
No offer data available for Kindle books.

What can you do to get your books out of the ADULT dungeon? First, clean up your tags and blurbs. Eliminate the words "erotic" and "erotic romance" from your titles, subtitles, blurbs, and tags. Aim for "romance". Eliminate any sex or nudity in your covers, using the above descriptions as a guide. At least I knew my covers complied. They're actually quite classy. Then, once you've made the changes, write to Amazon at this email address:

Amazon will work with you to remove ADULT tags. Explain calmly and respectfully what you've done and request that the ADULT tag be removed. Here's what I plan to send (slightly changed from a recommended letter by Selena Kitt.):

Dear Amazon,

I'm writing to request you reevaluate the title __________________, by ______________. I've changed the descriptions and resubmitted to comply with Amazon's terms of service. This book should no longer be labeled with the ADULT tag, so please remove it so that it will no longer have an adult filter, nor shall it be excluded from the all-department search. My ASIN is ____________. Thank you.

Despite writing to Amazon to request the tag be removed, Selena Kitt told me on Facebook: "If your books have been filtered in the past - even if they're now unfiltered - they will come up at the bottom of all search results. The filter kills sales."

I'm beginning to think I should stick with writing horror and thrillers. Bloodletting and violence are okay, but show a sideboob and you get banned. Amazon is also rather hypocritical about this, since E. L. James' "50 Shades Of Grey" is not filtered. Nuh-uh. That book and the entire series are runaway bestsellers, so there's no way they're going to get spanked. Amazon makes too much money from them. I'm going to take a bit of a break for awhile, and then I will work on fixing this mess. It's very aggravating. I'd rather spend my time writing and looking for an agent. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Guest Post - Angelica Dawson

Welcome my guest, erotic romance writer Angelica Dawson. She's here to promote her novel "Blue Moon House: Slave", part of her Blue Moon House series. This series is published by Naughty Nights Press.

Will has no interest in women. He thinks them all animals to be trained, beaten. It doesn't take him long to discover his preference for men, but time and error reveal how wrong view toward women is. Before long, he is able to separate the way he treats women, which is still horrific, from the way he regards women, as fellow human beings. 

How does a slave become an equal? What does it take for a young man to see women in a new light? 
In the fourth installment of her Blue Moon House series, Angelica introduces Will, a slave boy from the early nineteenth century. You can purchase Slave on Amazon, Smashwords, and Naughty Nights Press.

Angelica Dawson is the author of Blue Moon House, which has been in the top ten best-selling titles at Naughty Nights Press for over six months. She has also written two short stories, “The Highest Bidder” and “Leave Taking” which were each included in anthologies.

She contributes flash fiction to several blogging collectives and excerpts from work in progress can also be found on her blog. She is active on Facebook  and Twitter.

She has been writing for several years and having sex a lot longer than that. Angelica is a wife, mother and environmental consultant. Her love of plants and the outdoors is not diminished by the bloodsucking hoards – mosquitoes and black flies, not vampires.

Here is an excerpt from Slave:
He wrapped a dark scarf over Will’s eyes and tied it over his ears as well. Will could still hear, but soft noises, like the creak of the wardrobe, would be much harder to make out. “Now, be ready, for anything.”
Will wasn’t sure how he could manage that, but he tried. He told himself something was coming. Something was going to touch him. He sucked breath through his teeth when it was hot. Something very warm was being pushed into his belly, just above his still erect penis. It wasn’t scalding, but very nearly. Whatever it had been was gone, and now cool moisture dripped down his back. Oil, he was sure, but odorless. He couldn’t be sure it wasn’t water.
He gasped and pulled against his bound arms, nearly losing his balance again. Water rushed down on him. The entire ewer had been dumped upon him, drenching.
He felt softness on the backs of his legs and then a single point moving up his side, a fingertip.
He had just started to relax into the soft tingling when something cracked against his backside, flaring pain in his ass cheeks. He tried to sit back, cover the exposed skin, but Nicholas took hold of the ropes linking Will’s elbows and lifted him upright.
“Red. Tell me when you see red,” he tried to tell Will.
A second stroke landed near the first, offset just enough to not sting. He’d had punishers as careful. They made each stroke hit a slightly new area so that none hurt too much, but his entire backside burned in the same heated glow. Nicholas landed two more strikes before his lips closed on Will’s shoulder.
He groaned and leaned his head into Nicholas’, loving the feel of his soft lips, his wet tongue. Nicholas bit, and Will cried out as blood tried again to rush in and out of his penis, constricted by the leather binding him.
“Master, please.”
“More?” Nicholas asked, his hand brushing over the skin he had beaten.
The tingling made Will shudder and shake. “Yes! Yes, more!” He arched back, eager for more pain and the pleasure that rushed in behind it.
Nicholas placed his blows and then teased the skin, making Will long for release, and yet, as he was denied, he seemed to find higher planes of pleasure. He was floating somewhere that the pain couldn’t reach him. Pain was there, and he gritted his teeth against it, but it was lost in the fog of the pleasure.
“You are mine,” Nicholas said, his hand stroking Will’s penis. “Right now, I hold you completely.”
“Yes, Master,” Will answered, free in his captivity. His mind and heart were not bound to this body, they had escaped when escape seemed impossible.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Shane Collins - Progressive Journey #37

I heard this on DI: Trance. Has some great music including "Big Sky".

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Guest Blogger: Kenneth Weene

What Is Genre? A Reflection

I am often asked what genre I write. In response I either give a simple and not very useful answer or I turn to the emotional direction of my writing. I honestly believe that genre, if it exists at all, lies in the characters’ central emotions. 
For me, a story begins not with a plot but with a quandary. There is a character in a situation, perhaps one he is sharing with another or perhaps a moment of isolation. In that moment the character experiences an emotion and that inevitable question, “What must I do about this feeling?” Perhaps it is a moment of hope, of attraction, or of terror. The list goes on.
Unlike you or I, that is when a character is created, not in passion and sexuality, not in physical arousal, not in parental coitus, but in the predicament. 
The author’s job is to share the intense emotion of that moment with the reader, to make it come alive. As the writing process goes forward, that quandary may not be the starting place of the written story, but is always the starting place of its creation. 
If the emotion of that moment is terror, the author is writing horror. If it is love, the author is writing romance. If it is a feeling of greed, we have crime, a desire to break the rules. And on…
Once that initial moment is set, there have to be others. After all, one instance will not sustain an entire book. Still it is the defining moment, and as such, it — not some rules of writing — defines the book’s genre. 
Most of the protagonists in my books start with intense feelings of aloneness. They struggle to find themselves in the world. The genre that produces is what I call literary fiction. If you have ever felt different, lonely, un-connected — and who has not? — this is a genre that will speak to you. 
Struggling to find themselves, these isolated characters are then opened to a gamut of emotions and reactions. Love is certainly one such feeling. Anger may be another. Sometimes a character can delight in that separation and cling to their isolation. Whatever the reaction, it provides the momentum to the plot. But always, the story starts with that character and that emotional quandary. 
In my latest book Broody New Englander I set three stories in Maine, the area of the world where I was raised. In it, I move the reader through three genres. 
The first of the these pieces is a novella, The Stylite. Putnam Williams is a would-be writer who thinks of himself as independent and un-needful of others. It is his self-obsessed loneliness that provides the force of what has been described by one critic as “virtuoso writing.” The novella asks quite simply, “Can there be real love, or is it all just deceit? Can there be real romance or is love illusion?” The genre, literary fiction.
The second piece is a long short story, Mothers’ Teat, which takes us inside the smoldering rage of a dysfunctional family. The starting emotion is not loneliness but fury, the kind of anger that leads to crime, perhaps to murder. The story ends not with resolution but rather with that rage hanging over the characters and the reader, leaving us all to wonder what darkness will come. 
Finally, Hansom Dove is a short story which expresses that ultimate darkness. It is a story that moves us towards the protagonists defining sense of terror and thus into horror. His editor sends a lonely writer to an inn situated off the Maine coast — ostensibly to work on his novel. There he discovers the woman of his dreams. We must leave the summary there since you certainly won’t want any spoilers before entering that strange place.

Sometimes Ken Weene writes to exorcise demons. Sometimes he writes because the characters in his head demand to be heard. Sometimes he writes because he thinks what he have to say might amuse or even on occasion inform. Mostly, however, he writes because it is a cheaper addiction than drugs, an easier exercise than going to the gym, and a more sociable outlet than sitting at McDonald's drinking coffee with other old farts: in brief because it keeps him just a bit younger and more alive.
Ken’s stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including Sol, SpiritsPalo Verde Pages, Vox Poetica, Clutching at StrawsThe Word Place, Legendary, Sex and Murder MagazineThe New Flesh Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary ReviewDaily Flashes of Erotica QuarterlyBewildering Stories, A Word With You Press, Mirror Dance, The Aurorean, Stymie, Empirical, Pirene’s Fountain, and ConNotations.
Three of Ken’s novels, Widow’s Walk, Memoirs From the Asylum, and Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, are published by All Things That Matter Press. His new book, Broody New Englander is through Red Chameleon. In 2015 ATTMPress will be bringing out Times to Try the Soul of Man.