Safer Sex in Fiction

Since I started writing erotica and erotic romance nearly a decade ago, I’ve repeatedly seen debates about safer sex practices in that type of fiction. Some say that the stories are fiction, or fantasies, and including condoms or dental dams or any other type of barrier or birth control takes the reader out of the moment. Others say that as authors, it’s part of our responsibility to educate our readers, and that includes making sure readers know safer sex practices are important, sometimes literally a matter of life and death.

My personal opinion is somewhere in the middle. I disagree that including safer sex practices in fiction pulls the reader out of the story. When I read fiction, especially contemporary erotica or erotic romance, I’m pulled out of the story if the author *doesn’t* include safer sex practices, or at least have the characters mention them. At the same time, as an author, I don’t think it’s my responsibility to “educate”; it’s my responsibility to entertain by portraying realistic situations (inasmuch as things like werewolves and vengeance demons can be realistic…)

In all of my fiction that includes sex, whether explicit or off the page (which is more my young adult stuff than my romances), I at least mention safer sex. Sometimes the characters decide not to use it. In my male/male novel Lost Soul, the main character, Joel, is a sorcerer who uses magic to prevent diseases, so he doesn’t have a need for condoms or other barriers. But the first time Joel has sex with Lanny, they talk about *why* condoms aren’t necessary. It’s a brief conversation (I’ll share the excerpt that includes it on Thursday, so stay tuned), but it’s still there.

Likewise in my heterosexual urban fantasy novel Beta Test, where werewolf Justin tells his human mate Tara that werewolves can’t get pregnant so they don’t need birth control, and werewolves (in that universe, at least) don’t carry any type of human illness or disease. However, Justin has failed to take into account the fact that Tara isn’t a werewolf, so while no STIs occur, Tara does get pregnant.

In most of my contemporary fiction, the characters use condoms. Those are brief exchanges as well; most of them are not much longer than, “Do you have a condom?” “Yes” followed by the guy putting on a condom.

Depending on the story and characters, this discussion can even give readers a glimpse into the personality of the characters. Does one of them hesitate about using a condom, or try to refuse? In a heterosexual interaction, is the woman terrified of pregnancy? Has one of them already experienced an STI, or lost someone to AIDS?

Safer sex practices, or the discussion thereof, don’t have to be long interruptions in the flow of a story, any more than they have to be long interruptions in the flow of a sexual interaction in real life. And an author doesn’t necessarily have to include it every time the characters have sex; I generally include the discussion and use of a condom with the characters’ first sexual interaction, and figure readers will assume (correctly) that the characters use condoms for all future interactions. But I do think it’s important to establish that the characters are playing safe.

Bittersweet Reversion

Last week, I received an email with an attachment. A reversion letter, returning rights to me for my books Their Home Port, Reflected Love, You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This, Dancing Away, and With My Heart. The books were returned due to lack of sales, which I fully understand. Unfortunately, the best efforts of me and the publisher weren’t enough to get readers to buy those books.

It’s bittersweet because the publisher in question, Jupiter Gardens Press, is the one I credit with giving me the boost I needed as a published romance author back in 2009. My two titles published before JGP took me on were short erotica stories, with a publisher that operated more as a co-op. JGP was the first publisher to take a chance on longer stories from me, and they were also the ones who gave me my start as a published young adult fiction author under my Jo Ramsey pen name.

I hadn’t sent anything new to JGP since 2013. I’d already gotten rights reverted on a few other titles that weren’t selling, including that first 2009 book of mine that they published. Although I’ve continued promoting the remaining books, it unfortunately isn’t surprising that things have turned out this way. I’ve never been great at promoting, though I do my best, and with no new Karenna Colcroft books from that publisher in the past two years (and no new books from Karenna at all since March of this year), the backlist faded away.

I sincerely thank JGP for giving me that first real break six years ago, and for all the hard work, mentoring, and advising–and faith–they invested in me. I wish the company nothing but the best.

As for the reverted titles, I plan to re-release Their Home Port at some point in the future. The rest…well, they’re now at rest.

Accurate Info About Publishers

Recently, it seems as though a number of e-publishers are struggling. Sometimes the struggles are very public, such as with a certain company that has filed a lawsuit against a certain review site. Other times, the struggles are more subtle and are known only to the authors who are with that publisher, such as problems with advance review copies, or slow payment of royalties.

Because it can be relatively easy to start an e-publishing company, some people are setting off to do exactly that without fully understanding the business aspect and without knowing how to effectively market and promote their books and authors. When they realize they’re in over their heads, it can be a very negative situation for them and their authors. But even companies that are well-established, run by people who fully understand publishing as a business and an industry, with highly visible marketing can start to fail, and companies that are new and started by people who have never worked in publishing before can sometimes become quite successful.

As with the company that filed the lawsuit, oftentimes authors are aware of problems, or notice red flags, before things get really bad. But authors might be afraid to speak up about what they’re seeing. They don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker, or be blacklisted in the industry. Their books bring in money, and they worry about losing that income if they say something negative about their publisher.

Some authors don’t consider it their responsibility to caution others about problems with a publisher. They figure if someone doesn’t do their research about a given company, they get what they get.

But part of researching a publisher is finding out what that publisher’s authors are saying. If authors aren’t saying anything at all even when they know things are getting bad, new authors will sign contracts and get caught in the same mess. Authors who are already with that company and aren’t noticing the problems will stay, and then might be taken off guard when the publisher suddenly folds.

I wouldn’t tell anyone to risk their income and their career, but writing isn’t a competition. In a sense, in my opinion, authors are colleagues, even if they aren’t with the same publishers or even writing in the same genre. If you were working in an office and knew the company was going bankrupt, wouldn’t you want to let your coworkers know? And if someone else knew there was a big problem looming, wouldn’t you want them to tell you? If an author has information about a publisher that might affect other authors, I think they should try to make others aware. Your career and income aren’t the only one at stake.

Just my opinion.

Backlist Books and Self-Publishing

As most people reading this probably know, over the past year or so I’ve regained rights to a number of my published books. So many, in fact, that I think I now only have half the titles available that I did in spring 2014.

Some of those books are definitely better off collecting cyber dust on my hard drive. I’ve learned a lot about writing since I started out, and when I read some of my earliest published stuff, I admit I kind of cringe.

But others are good, or at least good enough that I can revamp and revise them and give them a second shot at life. One of my books, previously published under the Jo Ramsey pen name, is already on my Coming Soon page on here; I’m planning to self-publish that in January. I always believed it should have been a Karenna Colcroft book anyway, and now it will be.

I have several others that I’m considering re-releasing, as well as one or two that I’ve pitched to one of my existing publishers for potential republication. I haven’t totally made up my mind yet, though. I know a number of authors who’ve had great success in self-publishing previously-published titles, but I also know some who haven’t. And I know how much work is involved in self-publishing and am not entirely confident in my abilities.

On the other hand, some of my previously-published books deserve another chance, in my opinion. So I’m carefully considering, making lists, checking twice, etc. (Wait… it’s nowhere near close enough to Christmas for that song to get stuck in my head!)

Are there any books of mine that are out of print that you think should be re-released?

Kicking Off 2015

My new year is already off to…let’s say a mixed start.

One of the things I’d taken a long look at during December was my backlist, especially the books that weren’t selling. Two of those books were coming up for contract renewal this year. I had already notified Siren, one of the publishers, that I would not be renewing the contract on Deep Down, so I’ll have the rights back for that on Wednesday.

The other book coming up for renewal was my paranormal romance Eternal Love. At the end of last week, I notified Jupiter Gardens that I would not be renewing that contract, or the one for one of my YA novels that I had with them. And since that YA novel was the first in a series, I requested rights reversions on the other four books as well.

I’ve always been happy in my dealings with Jupiter Gardens Press. They’re thorough on editing and are very much invested in the best for their authors, including finding new promotional venues and methods. Contract terms are good, and author-favorable. I would not hesitate to recommend them to others.

But… *my* Jupiter Gardens books have sold poorly. I don’t fault them for this, nor do I completely fault myself. It’s just one of those things.

And the publisher responded immediately to my email. As of January 31, the two YA series I’ve had with Jupiter Gardens will be out of print, as will Eternal Love and my contemporary novella Help Around the House.

It’s a bittersweet thing for me. Jupiter Gardens really gave me my start as a published author, and it saddens me that my books haven’t done better for JGP or for me. But sometimes in a business, tough decisions have to be made, and writing for publication is definitely a business. Even when it is sad.

Mistakes I’ve Made

The following is a post I did on the Absolute Write forums. After re-reading it, and because of feedback I got from other posters, I thought it might make a good blog post.

I’ve technically been published since 2002, when a phonics-based reading comprehension program I wrote was released by a small educational press based in Maine, but from then until 2009 the only other thing I had published was an essay in AW’s Stories of Strength anthology in 2005. Both the phonics program and the essay were under my real name.

2009 was when I first started really aiming for publication. But I am not a business-minded person, and I tend to be VERY literal when it comes to advice from others. So, for example, when people said, “Build a bigger backlist and you’ll have more sales”, I wrote everything I could think of, sent it to publishers that didn’t do great with promotion and marketing, had a few dozen titles released from 2011-2013… and while my overall earnings from writing have increased every year, if I average it out per book, I’m earning WAY less than in 2009 when I only had three releases and was an unknown author.
That doesn’t mean “Build a bigger backlist” is bad advice. It means I *followed* it badly.

Books 1

And because of crap from my past, I found it very hard to look at writing as a career. In my first marriage, writing was the hobby that pissed off my husband and made him rant at me for neglecting him and my kids. Even after I started getting published and earning money–with the complete support of my second husband, who thought it was awesome–I was still in the mindset of “This is a hobby and I have to put my kids and husband and everything else first.” Even when my husband told me to start thinking of my writing as a career and to make it a priority.

I got too scattered. I jumped on most, if not all, themed calls that showed up from my publishers. I submitted to too many publishers, and as I said above, some of them did not work out for me. In the past five and a half years, I’ve only had 4 stories rejected. Two of those were rejected solely because they didn’t quite fit the theme of the calls I’d written them for. And one of those and one of the other rejected stories went on to be published elsewhere.

Does that mean I’m an amazingly awesome author? Not really. It means I ignored the prevailing AW wisdom of “Aim for the top and work down”, and instead started at the bottom because I knew they would accept my books. I have no one to blame but myself for most of the things that have gone wrong in my career.

In a writing career, as in life, there are no do-overs. But there are “start again and do it right” chances. In the past year and a half, I’ve vastly reinvented myself as a human being and as a woman specifically, and I’ve now reached the point of being more confident and more in control than before. I can’t undo the writing/publishing mistakes I’ve made, but I can go forward aiming higher, pulling books that are underperforming or are with publishers I no longer trust, and writing what *I* want to write instead of jumping on special calls or taking requests.

I started reinventing my writing career about a year ago, but things happened in my personal life that negatively impacted that, and so I’m not where I was hoping to be by now. But as long as I keep trying, keep tweaking what isn’t working and putting more effort into what is, I’m succeeding by my standards. And by taking advice from those who know what they’re doing–and who know me well enough to give advice I can understand and/or to answer my requests for clarification–as well as examining and analyzing what I’m doing and making plans for what I should do, I will become even more successful.

Tweaks, Changes, and Adjustments

The past week has brought changes and reconsiderations in my writing career.

Wooden Pencils In Line

Two of my books which were previously under contract with Ellora’s Cave have been returned to me. The books hadn’t been edited, and there was no release date in sight, so I asked to cancel the contracts. Ellora’s Cave obliged quickly and professionally, which I appreciate.

One of those books, a contemporary novel called With Every Touch, is currently waiting for me to decide what to do with it. The other, a contemporary “spice up the marriage” roleplay novella called Knot Intended, was just accepted by Loose Id.

I also asked for–and was granted–my rights back on my novel Shiny Objects, an MFM menage romance originally published in August 2011. Sales were not as good as I and the publisher would have liked, so it made no sense for the book to continue as it was. Fortunately, in the world of digital publishing, poorly-selling books can sometimes find new life. I already know where Shiny Objects is going once I’ve done some revisions, though I’m not going to give details just yet.

I’m currently at work on Stepping Stone Not Doormat, which will be the next book in my drag queen series with Loose Id. (And the first book of the three to be officially identified as a series title… I’m guessing if accepted, Loose Id will add the series title to the other two books.) And the next romance project I have on my list is the next book in my Love Like Vampires series. 

Many great things are coming for me over the next year or so; I can feel it. And I can’t wait to see what happens.

Tough Choices

Over the weekend, due to certain factors I would prefer not to bring up publicly, I had to make some difficult career choices that I would also prefer not to bring up publicly because I know how word spreads, and I know some of the people who might read this blog. I’m not hiding anything, but given the nature of the situations, there is private contact that needs to be made before I say anything that might give even a hint of what’s going on.

Which will probably lead some people to wonder why I’m blogging about it. Partly it’s because this is one of the ways I process things and weigh my options. Seeing it all in writing makes it easier for me to wrap my head around. Partly it’s because I’m giving my readers a heads-up about some potential changes down the road.

And partly it’s because this is my blog, and I’ll blog what I want to…and because I was having trouble thinking of a topic for today.

Pondering Woman

In the writing business, it’s sometimes easy to forget that writers don’t work *for* publishers or agents, or even *for* readers. We work for ourselves. We work *with* others, but not for them. But because sometimes we lose sight of that, it can be easy to fall into complacency with career situations we aren’t happy with or that we know are negatively impacting us.

That’s where I’ve been for the past several months as I’ve mulled things over and noticed the factors that have led me to this place. And I’ve finally concluded that if I don’t take control of *my* career and do what’s best for me and my books, I am going to suffer for it. That isn’t where I want to be.

As I’m able–and *if* I’m able–I’ll share more information over time.

Publisher Drama… Again

Not one of my publishers, fortunately, but it is one that at one point talked to me about writing for them. And one that several of my writer friends have been published by.

Graffiti Art - No Entry

Silver Publishing started off pretty well, with good intentions and an apparent interest in doing the best for their authors.

Then royalty payments started showing up late, if they showed up at all.

Someone took over the company and used authors’ royalty money to cover his own expenses.

That same someone apparently set up more than one identity, which would have been fine if one was a pen name and one was a real name and that was all. But it appears that person used those names to cover his tracks in some cases.

I’m not going to go into all the issues that have arisen with Silver. As I said, they aren’t one of my publishers, for which I’m thankful. I spoke with one of their editors at a conference not long before all the negatives started being publicized, so the only reason they didn’t become one of my publishers was timing; I didn’t have time to write something for them when I had that conversation, and when my schedule cleared, I was starting to see the whispers that things at Silver weren’t good.

People who did their research about this publisher back in its early days, and up until a couple years ago, would have seen a company that seemed to have it together. But now things have deteriorated. You can never be too careful when it comes to checking out potential publishers, but even when you do all the research possible to make sure a company is legit, things can sometimes go sour fast, as I discovered in my own experience with Noble Romance.

A lot of authors have blogged recently about the issues with Silver and what is being done about them, so I won’t regurgitate what they’ve said. If you google “Silver Publishing problems”, you’ll find links to the posts that detail the situation.

Be careful when you’re looking for a publisher. Be careful when you sign contracts to make sure they have clauses about how you can get your rights back if things go bad. When new publishers crop up, as they frequently do, check them thoroughly before you submit, and better yet wait a couple of years to see how things go with them. (Though sometimes that doesn’t work, as evidenced by what happened with Noble and Silver.)

It’s sad that authors have to worry about things like this happening, but that’s the reality. So just be careful, and remember, it’s better to not be published at all than to be published badly. Or by a bad publisher.

Backlist and Branding

One of the most widespread pieces of advice I’ve encountered as a published author is “build a bigger backlist.” Meaning that if you have a lot of books out for sale, each new release will fuel additional sales of the previous releases, giving the author more money.

In theory.

I’m a very literal person. If I don’t know something, I only learn what I’m told. Or what I read. When I was starting out, I saw the “build a bigger backlist” advice and did exactly that.

But no one had talked to me about branding. No one had told me that the backlist should be all the same genre, or all the same gender pairing, so readers would want all of my books.

Flying Books 1

As a result, I ended up with contemporary romances. And paranormal romances. I ended up with male/female romances and male/male ones. And a few menage romances for good measure, and even those aren’t the same; one is MFM, one is MMF, and one is MMM.

On the YA side it wasn’t quite so bad. With the help of a marketing consultation I won, I was able to define my YA brand to indicate that every one of my books under that pen name is about finding the hero in yourself, whether that hero saves the world or just their own life.

But Karenna Colcroft… Karenna didn’t have a strong brand. Karenna just wanted to write stories where people fell in love.

My tagline, “Open your heart” is the closest I had to a brand, and as far as I was concerned, that applied to all of my books. Every one of my books, regardless of genre or gender pairing, explores being reluctant or even afraid to accept love, but finding the one person you dare to open up to. But readers–and other authors I’ve spoken to–agree that isn’t a strong enough brand, because it covers too much.

So I built a bigger backlist over the past several years. A farking huge one: Since March 2009 I have had 49 romances published. Some were freebies through my publishers; some were stories in anthologies; and three are now out of print. But still. 49 total in five years. (The 49th was released on Valentine’s Day. Romance #50 comes out March 4.)

Going forward I’ve refined my brand to be a bit easier to explain. All my books will be contemporaries. All have at least one main character who has post-traumatic stress disorder from past trauma or abuse. All explore the idea that while love is NEVER a magic cure-all for PTSD or other mental illness, having someone to love, who supports you through the rough times, can *help* with recovery and can give someone motivation to seek help if they haven’t already. If we open our hearts and let just one person in, we’re no longer alone with the tough stuff.

Meanwhile, I still have that ginormous backlist to deal with. As I said, three of the books are now out of print, though one of those three has been rewritten and is given as a thank-you gift to those who subscribe to my newsletter. I’ll be requesting rights reversions on a couple of others that have gotten so little attention I can’t even remember much about them myself, and the contracts on a couple of others run out in 2015 at which time those will be taken out of print.

And I have one book that’s been out for three years now that’s close to my heart and hits the brand, and that has garnered little attention because it just kind of got lost. That book, Their Home Port, is available from Jupiter Gardens Press and third-party sales sites, and will be part of JGP’s backlist push, with a discounted sales price. I’ll be sharing an excerpt from it on Thursday. It’s a story I’m very invested in because some parts of Reesa and Micah’s courtship mirrors the early stages of my relationship with my husband–who inspired the character of Micah.

And there are boats. I love boats…

Home Port 200

 

(By the way… although that’s a stock image at the bottom of the cover, that is EXACTLY the view seen from my hubby’s workplace, which was the model for the “Marine Tow” shop in the book. The cranes aren’t there anymore though…)