Monday, October 10, 2011

Quick Six PRO with Angela Benedetti

Thanksgiving Monday (here in the Great White North) means another Quick Six Professional Edition, and today we've got a doozy! Strap on your marketing cap, get ready to giggle, and have a read:

Quick Six PRO
Interview with Angela Benedetti

Q: What's hot on the market these days?

BDSM has been hot for a few years, which is good and bad. Good because those of us who like it have more to read, bad because so much of it is awful. When a genre or subgenre gets popular, everyone and their sister-in-law pops up to write it and cash in, which means you have a lot of people who aren't knowlegeable at all, and might not even like the genre, writing books in it.

I've actually read multiple books labelled BDSM romances where not only did the main characters express disdain for the practice -- like dissing some rival club for having "all that tacky leather and chains stuff" -- but also wrapped up the story with the two main characters deciding that they didn't "need" that BDSM stuff anymore, that they had sweet-sweet *LUV* and so sweet vanilla sex was "enough" for them now, cue walk into sunset. Wow, talk about insulting your audience! In fact, I have no idea whom the target audience is for this kind of book. People who don't like BDSM aren't going to buy it because it's marketed as BDSM, and people who do like BDSM are going to be insulted and angry with the treatment.

And in general, there are a lot of ridiculous and often dangerous rules and practices touted as "standard" in books whose authors apparently did all their research by watching a couple of porn movies. They'd be wall-bangers if I didn't value my laptop. [wry smile]

If you're going to do it, do it right, do your homework, do more homework, and pass the finished product by someone who knows the subject. Which is a good idea for any specialized genre, of course, but when I see something presented in a book with a real-world setting as common and fun that I know could result in a nasty injury or death, I get extra peeved. :/

Q: On the topic of ebook piracy, hunter or head in the sand?

Neither. I certainly know it happens, and quite a lot -- I'm not "head in the sand" as in pretending it doesn't exist -- but I don't spend time hunting for pirates because I know it's ultimately futile. Sure, you can spend hours per day doing Google searches and trolling the torrent sites and sending out DMCA notices, but as fast as they come down from one site they go up on another. Or back up on the original site. Large scale theft sucks rocks, but you can't defeat it and trying is a very poor use of a writer's time.

If I get a Google notification showing that something of mine is up on a torrent site, I'll send my publisher a note and let them handle the take-down. My own time is much better spent writing, or even hanging out on social network sites doing promo. (Which also shouldn't be anywhere near the majority of your writer-time.) The thieves are gonna thieve because they're jerkwads like that. Stressing out over them would raise my blood pressure and have little other effect.

Note that I personally have no problem if a reader buys a copy of one of my books and thinks, "Hey, I'll bet Mary would love this!" and sends Mary a copy with a "Read this, you'll love it!" note. I'm sure my publisher has a different opinion, but mine is that single copies made friend-to-friend, with thoughtful recommendations, are more likely to increase my audience than anything else. It's the wholesale distribution on the torrent sites that I hate, and would stop if I could. I can't, though, so I don't waste time stressing over it.

What I'd love, honestly, would be if there were a Quick-N-EZ built-in way for readers to give away their copy of an e-book. So if someone buys an e-book and reads it, and either doesn't care for it or is the sort of person who never rereads fiction, they could choose the name of one friend from a list of names they've entered into their reader device/program, hit the "GIVE BOOK" button, and the book would be sent to their friends device/program and (after safe receipt of the file is confirmed) deleted off the original device/program. I think that most readers are honest, and would be happy with that, and would legitimately pass around a single copy of a book rather than hacking the system to be able to make a bazillion copies. This is treating an e-book like a paper book, which IMO should be legitimate. Heck, I wouldn't even care if money changed hands between the two readers, because you can sell your paper books so why not your e-books, so long as you aren't making more copies? The people who would hack around the system are already giving away hundreds or thousands of copies via the torrent sites, so there'd be no real increase in piracy there. And the people who are honest and would follow reasonable rules if it were fast and easy and, well, reasonable, would be happy to be able to give away or sell an e-book they don't want anymore. It'd be just like used book stores, library sales, garage sales and flea markets to the paper books; I'd be fine with that so long as the passing around didn't create any new copies.

DRM sucks, by the way. No DRM scheme has ever prevented any piece of electronic media from being pirated, at all, never. Only one cracker has to defeat the DRM system and get the file up onto one torrent site; from there it'll be downloaded and re-posted all over, and you're back to hundreds or thousands of copies being stolen. What DRM does do is inconvenience and upset the reader, and in some cases compromise or completely trash their computer. Call-home systems, where you have to have an internet connection and get a handshake with the distributor's server in order to use your product, turns that product (book, game, program, whatever) that you thought you purchased into a rental; you can only use it so long as the distributor thinks it's cost effective to keep that server up. Once they figure they'll lose more money paying for the server than they will cheesing off the reduced number of customers who still want to use that product, down it comes and too bad for you if you were one of the ones who wanted to replay that game or still uses that piece of software. Rootkit DRM lets hackers into your computer, and some people have had their systems destroyed by it and have had to erase their hard drives and start over. And any DRM that prevents you from making a back-up copy of your media is violating your rights as a consumer; the law says you can make a back-up copy for personal use, but the publishers tend to ignore that particularly pesky law. DRM that prevents you from converting from one e-book file format to another is inconveniencing and annoying the customers to no purpose. DRM costs the publisher money and therefore costs the customer money, it doesn't prevent piracy, and it hurts the honest customer who's handed the publisher money, making it that much more likely they'll figure "Screw it!" and decide to go figure out that torrent thing. DRM has never inconvenienced a single pirate, because none of their copies have DRM on them. It helps no one and hurts the wrong people, and the sooner publishers figure that out, the better.

I don't buy DRMed e-books, at all, ever, period. I wish more readers took a hard line on it; it might make the publishers come to their senses sooner.

Q: What should a writer's priority be?

Writing. Nothing else is more important than writing. Unless you're ridiculously lucky -- which you can never count on,and doing so is bad business -- you'll make more money with five books and no promo than you will with one book and promo-promo-promo. Pick a couple of social networking activities that you enjoy doing and that don't suck up too much of your time, then get back to your writing. Do as little rewriting as possible, get the book or story in the mail, and start on the next one. You'll improve as a writer much faster writing five stories than you will rewriting the same story over five times. Schedule your writing time first; everything else is a distant second.

Q: How do you handle a bad review?

It depends on the review. If it's a casual "This really didn't do it for me," then I just move on. Everyone has an opinion, and no book has ever been universally loved. If it's a more extensive, "This really didn't do it for me because..." with detailed explanations and specific examples from the book, those I read carefully. I don't always agree with the reviewer, but this is the kind of review that's most likely to produce useful information. I can't fix the story that's been published, but I can keep things in mind for my next story. If it's a "This sucks! It's &*%#ing @!Q&$! The so-called 'writer' should go back to flipping burgers, haha!" sort of thing, then the person who wrote it is an idiot and I don't care what idiots think.

Q: What advice do you give aspiring authors?

Write a lot. Write a story, finish it, start another one. Finish that one, and start a third, etc. Send them out if you want, or wait if you want -- maybe get an opinion from someone who's published and who'll be honest with you -- but sending a clunky book to an editor really can't hurt you any. You'll get a rejection -- so what? When you start getting personal rejections rather than form rejections, you know you're improving. Keep writing.

Read a lot. Read extensively in the genre you're writing so you know what the genre IS, what's been done, what works and what doesn't and why, and what's a cliche. Read outside your genre -- including nonfiction -- to get a broader selection of raw material, including character types, plot types, plot devices and gimmicks, styles, tones, etc. Reading extensively gives you more to write about and more ways to write it.

Q: Do you find yourself writing for the market and not for YOU, or self-censoring in any way?
Yes and no. Sometimes I don't when maybe I should've. [wry smile]

My problem is I like to write between genres. M/M Romance is amazingly free in what it lets you do -- frex., you can write a book about an established couple who are happily together at the beginning of the story and never have a relationship crisis (which means it's not technically a genre romance) but if they go out and have adventures, solve a mystery, something like that, you can probably find an M/M publisher that'll buy it, and if it's well written it'll have an audience. You absolutely can not do that on the mainstream het romance side of the business, so M/M lets us be more flexible and gives us a lot more room in which to play. On the other hand, there is an assumption that every M/M book is a romance, or at least is romantIC. You need that couple-in-love in there somewhere. There's also an assumption that a sex scene is meant to be explicitly erotic -- that is, that if there's sex in the story, it's meant to get the reader feeling at least mid-level hot and bothered. 99.9% of the M/M books out there obey these rules, no problem. But I've written a story that's not a romance -- the two guys meet and like each other and have had fun in bed, but by the end we're nowhere near an HEA or even a
HFN; that wasn't the point of the story, which was meant to be more a humor story with sex as a plot device. I've written another story where the plot is essentially a guy in a relationship making a dumb mistake and getting in trouble, and his partner having to figure out what's up so he can pull him out. It's not a romance, although it's romantic. And while there's a sex scene, it's a plot device and necessary to the story but it's not really "hot" for the reader and wasn't meant to be.

Both stories have gotten criticism for not being romantic, or not being hot. And those criticisms are absolutely correct; the first one isn't romantic and the second one isn't hot. One can argue that they shouldn't have been published as M/M, but there's really no place else for them. If it's not a romance then it's not a Romance. If it's not hot then it's not erotica. But because there is explicit sex -- and gay sex at that -- the vast majority of non-erotic mainstream markets (even gay markets) wouldn't want them either. They're just sort of perched there in the middle. One could argue that I shouldn't have written those stories because they don't fit the market. Or that I should've written them differently to fit the market -- to fit some market. But I wrote them the way they wanted to be written and my publisher took them. And some readers do enjoy them -- the non-romantic one was an Editor's Pick of the Month on ARe. It
still frustrates me, though, that the legitimate criticisms are caused by the assumptions we have about what a story by Publisher X should be, or what should or shouldn't be in it, rather than because of problems with the story in isolation. And genre definitions are valuable, letting people find the kinds of books they want. Maybe it's the very freedom of M/M as a genre that's messing me up, making me want that one more chunk of freedom beyond even the generously wide fences of M/M? Not sure what to do about that, short of self-censoring anything that doesn't fit cleanly into an obvious genre market.

Maybe that's a benefit of self-publishing? (Sneaking over to one of the other questions.) If a story isn't published by a publisher with a particular genre-related reputation, readers are more likely to focus on the story individually. And being able to control all the marketing material about a story would let the author make sure the reader knows exactly what she is and isn't getting. One of the most annoying things I find as a reader is buying what I think is an orange, and finding when I bite into it that it's actually a carrot. False expectations can make even the best book feel problematic, just as I'd be mad about that carrot because I wanted and expected an orange right then, even though I do like carrots.

I've read books by other M/M authors that were marketed as romances, but weren't actually romances. They were good books, but were criticized for not being very romantic, or because the reader didn't get the connection between the characters, which... yeah. So it's obviously not just me. Some clarification of what to expect in borderline cases would benefit everyone, writers and readers alike.

Angela Benedetti is author of:
A Hidden Magic

Fey incursions into the mortal world have been on the rise, and Paul MacAllister's trying to figure out what the king of the local Elven enclave Under the Hill is up to and how to stop it. Rory Ellison was caught up in one of those attacks and nearly killed by a gang of goblins. He doesn't believe they were real, though, and is resisting anything Paul might say to the contrary.

Normally Paul would be willing to let Rory go his own way, at least until he's taken care of more immediate business. But Rory has a particularly rare gift, one the Elven king needs to have under his control in order to carry out his plan. Keeping Rory away from the fey who will use him, to death if necessary, means protecting him night and day, whether Rory agrees or not.


  1. Great advice. I've only read a couple of what I'd call BDSM books. I recently picked up one on Kindle called Silk on Sweat, which I liked pretty well. I couldn't really tell you what is knowledgeable writing in the area but I can tell, I think, whether the author was giving us his or her best.

  2. A very interesting interview - a lot of food for thought.

    One little problem: I had to highlight the questions to see the print, might be an IE/Win7 problem unique to me as it was reluctant to load the page.

  3. Yeah, you're right marasmine. I set this interview to post while I was away for Thanksgiving so I didn't get a look at it until now. Hopefully I managed to fix it, but thanks for letting me know!