Sunday, January 11, 2009

I know it when you see it...--veinglory

Liquid Silver Books regularly appears in the top five erotic romance epublishers in terms of sales, and I like to keep up with what they are up to as a 'major player'. So when they updated their submission guidelines I dropped by to look them over.

There are two things that struck me about the new guidelines. The first being this:

"Sex in the stories must be descriptive, titillating for the reader, further the plot ... The stories must hold on their own if the sex scenes are omitted .. Taboo subjects include pedophilia, rape or incest [etc] ... and our definition of pornography."

Is it just me that has a little difficulty, even as someone very familiar with erotic romance, with the idea of titillating non-pornography that advances the plot but could be omitted without undermining said plot? Justice Stewart famously said that hardcore pornography is hard to define but "I know it when I see it." But if there is an editorial definition of it at LSB it would be helpful, IMHO, to provide it to authors considering submission.And the requirement that the submitting writer provide their "thoughts on ePublishing" is also, IMHO, odd and rather non-specific. My thoughts on the subject lean cynical and I doubt that is what they are after.

I also note extensive specification of non-standard formatting. For example the use of Ariel (sp. Arial?) font and no page numbers. I know that many authors submit frankly inappropriate material in mangled formatting and without any proofreading, but for the most part I would expect presses to be open to the use of MS standard formatting rather than micro-managing (down the level of providing the author with a checklist) an idiosyncratic format and list of writers sins to avoid. It does bring to mind my disquiet when Chippewa specified submission in 16 point font and no use what-so-ever of contractions.

p.s. I see they also use the mid-word capitalising in ePublisher and eBook. I really don't understand how this usage has arisen. Epublisher or epublisher, sure--but why ePublisher, especially when it is a mid-sentence word use?

p.p.s. The LSB banner doesn't display nicely at 1280 wide.


Anonymous said...

What strikes me as most problematic about that sub guideline excerpt is that "sex scenes must further the plot" and "stories must hold on their own if the sex scenes are omitted" seem to be... at odds with each other. If the sex scenes must further the plot (and presumably be integral to the plot), how could the story hold on its own without them?

In my own personal, subjective definition of pornography, the plot (if there is one) serves the sex scenes - it's the not-really-essential glue that holds the titillating bricks together, but what you're buying (and being sold) is the bricks.

In erotica/erotic romance, you're buying a story where a significant number of the plot/character points happen in a sex scene context (and for erotic romance, that story includes a love story with a HEA or HFN ending).

If the story in question can *really* hold together after you take all the sex scenes off screen, it seems to me that what you've got is just a sexxed up story of X genre, and your sex is likely to read as gratuitous. Which is often fine, plenty of people like gratuitous sex. If you can omit the sex scenes and still have a comprehensible story, then chances are most of your plot/character development is just put on hold every time your characters take a time out to Do It.

Which, IMHO, grows tiresome pretty quickly, and is likely to read as a story of X genre with pornographic interludes wedged in to increase sales. Because if those bits aren't essential to the story, if they can be omitted without substantially damaging the story, then their primary/only goal is titillation.

AKA: Porn.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I thought the same thing when I read this guideline: if the sex scene is supposed to further the plot, how can it be omitted?

A. J. Mirag

Mary Winter said...

I have to agree. I always tell people that part of writing an erotic romance is that if you took the sex scenes out, you wouldn't really have a story, because those sex scenes explore the relationship, especially aspects (when you get into fetishes) that may not be easily explored elsewhere. (For example a very powerful woman finding a man she can trust to submit to, or your alpha male who trusts enough to submit to that same woman.) One of the biggest reasons why I pass on manuscripts aimed at erotic romance themes is because the story reads like a perfectly okay and likeable, but not erotic romance with a tacked on sex scene at the very end. (Speaking with both my author and editor hat on)

Stacia said...

And "publisher" is not a proper noun. There's no reason at all to capitalize it.

Personally I'm leery of being asked my thoughts on anything when submitting to a publisher (as opposed to a Publisher) or agent or anyone else. Why? I obviously think enough of it to submit.

I guess they don't want people who are going to do nothing but complain about not being in print, or who won't run around saying "Ebooks suck" or anything. I see how they would want to avoid that. But it still bugs me a little; not enough to stop thinking highly of LSB, but a little.

And yeah, totally dittoing that. If the story makes sense and is just as good without the sex, the sex shouldn't be there at all.

I imagine they'll rethink those guidelines.

Kris Eton said...

There are a couple of different epublishers who put that 'take the sex out and there should be a story' in their submission guidelines. I really think this has to do with dissuading those types of stories that really have no plot whatsoever. You know the type...all about sex, and nothing else.

Picking apart submission requirements can be a minefield. I don't know why certain publishers want one font over another or double-spaced or single-spaced, but I'll give it to them the way they want. Agents do the same thing...First chapter, first 3 chapters, 1 page synopsis, 5 pages synopsis. You run into this stuff all the time.

I wouldn't lower my view of an epublisher just based on their submissions page. Unless it was truly bizarre....

veinglory said...

That is why I started by specifying that they are a top house. It sometimes seems to me that there needs to be more wiggle room for discussions of "stuff", even very minor stuff, without the assumption that anything more far reaching might be implied.

Fiona Glass said...

I've been writing erotic romance for years but those guidelines would leave me pretty confused about what, exactly, they did want in terms of sexual content.

Odd that they're so very specific about formatting (down to the last comma *g*) but so much more vague and conflict-y about content.

Good guidelines are there to *clarify* to the author what the publisher wants. If enough of us can't get a handle on what they want, it suggests the guildelines haven't quite worked.

Anonymous said...

I think quantifying content in stories is challenging no matter what. And probably doesn't much reflect what editors are looking for at any given house. I've gotten rejections from houses that cite content that is exactly and explicitly what they asked for in the guidelines (not necessarily sexual content or heat, but story themes, character archetypes, etc.).

It's a lot of words that essentially boil down to, "send us something good, and we'll know 'good' when we see it." Which is what all editors at all houses want, but isn't one of those things that can be quantified.

I actually do get the gist of what they're asking for--I interpreted it as more of a balance between sexual relationship plotline and "other" plotline. So if you're writing something suspenseful, it should be "erotic suspense" rather than "suspense with erotic elements." (Which is no less confusing, I'm sure, because it's all subjective anyway).

As for the extensive formatting, I notice that in RWA, many of us have a tendency to micro-analyze submission guidelines from publishers and agents, or in chapter contests. I've been known to ask about specific formatting questions when they're not posted under the banner of "better safe and anal retentive than circular-filed because of some lame gaffe I could have avoided." If the eds at LSB get enough emails from submitters I could see why they put out guidelines.

Anonymous said...

Frankly I've always wondered why some pubs makes these rules about one font over another, certain formatting things, etc. I mean, come on...if you don't like the font, "select all" and globally change it. What's so hard about that? This is e-publishing, for Pete's sake. Are e-pubs too darned lazy to take a second to reformat a font in a manuscript if they prefer another???

ObsidianBlade31 said...

Thanks Emily for posting about the changes! After reading the dissection of the "make the sex work for the story but the story must work w/o the sex" part of our guidelines, I can see how that could be confusing. But I think Kris and Jen both got where we are headed.

We're not looking for stories with sex scenes thrown in for added word count, or because we require a certain amount per book. Sex should mesh with the plot of the story.

In reworking the guidelines I tried to simplify them. I posted really only the stuff that matters to us and I'd encourage authors to email me if you have questions about them.

As far as the formatting, we went with an easily readable font for us. Our reading staff consists of a variety of ages so we picked one all could read. Do we reject if a story isn't in the asked for font? No. Never. That is just a suggestion. As long as we can read it, it's acceptable. If we didn't put a suggestion there, then I'd get a ton of emails asking what format to submit in, so catch 22 I guess. :)

Why do we ask you your opinion on epublishing, or is it ePublishing, or maybe Epublishing? How you spell it I don't think matters, but we ask so that we know the expectations of authors wanting to join our house. We are an ebook publisher, we've done some print but that is only at the request of our authors. So if we get an intro letter with an author letting us know they want their book in print and in three other languages, then we know right off the bat we need to verify with them that they're submitting to the right publisher. I've actually run into this many times, and send a simple email to the author asking for clarification on that point. If that's the expectation of authors and they're submitting to us, that tells me they didn't really read through the guidelines.

Anonymous said...

:) See, this is the kind of thing I love to see. A response from a publisher that is coherent, non-defensive and clarifying. I am suitably impressed and LSB just ratcheted up a notch on my list of epubs. Quite the feat when these days pubs left and right are plummeting like the stock market in terms of public images and my personal desire to submit to them.

veinglory said...


Teddy Pig said...

A response from a publisher that is coherent, non-defensive and clarifying.

That's why I recommend Liquid Silver Books highly. Good people.

ObsidianBlade31 said...

Well Emily et all. This has been on my mind most of the day. :) My January is booked with workshops and some day job travel, but I will look at these guidelines again in February and see if I can't simplify them some more. I'd love to leave it as simple as "send us something good, and we'll know 'good' when we see it." but I'm sure that would be another can of worms.

Thanks everyone for your feedback!

Mima said...

I have a thought on the capitalization. In terms of what you want people to pay attention to, this nonstandard variation draws people's eyes to the base word. It's a nice little trick saying, yes, we're epub, but we're more about the PUB than the e. The capitalization doesn't bother me. Strangely, when I see it hyphenated, it does. If you wanted to get really technical, since the term is "electronic publisher" it should propbably be e. publisher. How awful.