An interview with author, editor, reviewer Carrie White.
You wear many hats -- writer, editor, reviewer -- tell us a bit about yourself. How you began your writing career, when you branched out into the other areas, location, etc.
My pen name is Carrie White, my maiden name, though I use my married name for official documents etc. I have always been a writer but not in the professional sense until I moved to London, in the year 2000, from Wiltshire. I now live with my partner, professional photographer, Chris J Ball, in Camden, London.
I didn't have the support of my family up until that move to pursue this area of my life. A year after moving, I spotted an erotic short story competition in Cosmopolitan magazine and thought, 'Why don't I enter this?'
My partner, Chris, has always supported me with my chosen career and thought it was a good idea to start writing short stories. After reading my personal diaries he thought I had talent and said I wrote eloquently. My entry for the competition was 'Floodgates.' It wasn't placed and to begin with I was a bit disappointed but it was shortly after that I had another look at the story and could understand why it didn't win. After that, I continued to write erotic short stories and enjoyed every minute of it! I set up my own writing site named Hentracks (all one word!) to display all the stories, articles and poetry I'd done. After moving around for many years on free hosts it has finally settled at its own domain, Hentracks.co.uk.
Maybe a year into writing, I became interested in reviewing. I loved reading and thought I could gain some well needed exposure for my site and writing. I didn't have any experience, though, in the craft and finding a position could be very hard. I applied for a job at Eva Almeida's site, E-book Reviews.net, despite my lack of experience, and she accepted me with open arms. I've always been grateful to Eva for putting her trust in me. If it wasn't for her, I don't think I would be at this point with my reviewing as I am now.
After I'd been working for Eva for a few years I decided to set up a reviewing service of my own. I had many independent authors requesting reviews and thought it would be a successful project. I added an extra section onto Hentracks and set up my own business. Eventually, I moved it to its own domain and changed the name (Sexography). Since, then, my reviewing service has gone from strength to strength and I'm working alongside publishing companies, erotic ezines and other review sites for more material. I'm still working for Eva although the site has changed hands since then.
Can you tell me more about what you learned from the experience of entering that first contest? What did you 'understand' about why you didn't win? (I'm not picking on you, but 'rejection' and less-than-winning can be great teachers of the craft!)
First I was curious about the actual story which won. When the issue was published containing the entrants that had won, I quickly bought a copy. Immediately, I could see why it was a winner. It's funny, really. I was inexperienced in the craft of writing stories but not so inexperienced that I couldn't see a winner when I read one.
The storyline was different to your usual run of the mill erotic story. From what I can remember it was about the female protagonist outside on her balcony, embarking on a voyeur/masturbatory scene with a man on the other side of the street on his own balcony. The style was fresh and very erotic and the story was well crafted. It well deserved to win.
My story, 'Floodgates' was about a woman on the tube on her way to work getting fucked by a stranger. Mmmmm, not very original and it was the first ever story I'd ever written so it was full of errors. Not so much grammatical errors but it just wasn't interesting. That story has since been revamped but it still shows my inexperience at the craft, especially compared to two of my most recent stories.
Are you 'out' as an adult/erotica writer to your friends? Family? If so, what are the reactions?
I'm 'out' as an erotic writer to close friends. They've been brilliant and have never judged me at all. My family I have never told face to face and will probably never do so. I think they probably know but they're old fashioned, and I don't make a point of hiding my identity on the internet! When it was discovered I was bisexual, my family made me feel ashamed and I sat in front of my mother with my face in my hands. Since then, things have gone from bad to worse and I no longer have contact with them, but this has nothing to do with my job or my sexuality.
I'm also wary about who I tell outside friends as the reactions can vary. I've once been accused of writing pornography of which I deny and this particular person never spoke to me again. To me, there is a strong line between erotica and pornography.
Care to elaborate about this line?
I wrote an article about this very subject a few years back. One of my earliest articles ever! It was never published but I didn't exactly publicize it enough. I didn't think it was worthy of publication. Anyway, the main points behind my reasoning that there are major differences between erotica and pornography are:
1. Erotica refers to literature or photography that depicts sex in a subtle or socially redeeming manner, to be associated with suggestive or symbolic images of desire and sexual arousal and pleasure; Pornography originally referred to writing about prostitutes and later came to include any text that is specifically designed to elicit sexual desire, the explicit description of exhibition of sexual activity in literature, films and photography intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.
2. Erotica involves emotions, love, passion and tender sensations; Pornography involves lust, carnal desires and sexual excitement with no emotional ties.
3. Erotica allows for the possibility of women and men engaging as 'equals'; Pornography usually dishonors women, men, children or even animals. The degrading and demeaning portrayal of the role and status of the human female as a mere sexual object to be exploited and manipulated sexually.
The entire article can be read on Hentracks.
In my opinion, marketing and promotions are the most challenging part of the business. (I'm constantly surprised at how low this topic ranks in the poll!) And I find the limits put on erotica and sex writing to be the most frustrating part of the business. (Non-acceptance of the writing as 'real', the limits on who will publish & review such works etc.) How do you feel about these areas? And in your opinion, what is the most difficult part of being in the business?
As I self published a short story anthology several years back, I had to learn quickly about the importance of promotion and marketing. It wasn't easy and I made several mistakes a long the way, but I learnt a lot. I've not come across any problems with regard to marketing as such. If I
need anything of mine reviewing I make sure that who I submit the work to works themselves in the erotic genre. I had to submit my first anthology, 'Erotogenic' for review and purposely picked out specific people in the know to review it. It's just a question of research. Again, for publishing you have to research the best markets for your work and read submission guidelines carefully. The biggest problem I've faced is whilst trying to promote and market my work many directories etc will lump erotica together with pornography and will not accept your site into their database. That frustrates and annoys me the most, I think. I don't view my work as pornographic. I still get confused as to what category my sites fall under! But, basically, if you're in doubt, don't be afraid to ask.
While the Internet has opened many doors for authors, it is very challenging. For example, you are not the first to mention how erotica or even non-fiction sexuality sites are limited or challenged by being either categorized as 'porn' or rejected for not being porn... This directory sort of a system isn't perfect and it can be misleading for those searching for written works that are not porn. Any thoughts or tips for authors on how to handle this?
Although it's tempting to get as much of your work published as you can when you first start out, I still think it's a good idea to be a little picky about where you submit your work.
Do a lot of research about the sites or ezines where you would like your work to be published. Even if your new to the genre or even new as a writer, don't be bullied into doing something you're not happy about just because it will get you plenty of exposure etc. Don't be pressured into submitting your erotic story to a porn publisher because you know or think they'll publish it. To me, porn is completely different to erotica and it is harder to write a well crafted erotic story than it is to write porn. Okay, as you gain experience then you can choose whether you'll submit to paying markets rather than those who want to publish your work for free for promotion but I still think it's a good idea to try and get into well known and reportedly excellent magazines or ezines.
At worst you'll get a rejection but they still might give you a few tips on how to improve that particular story so you'll have better chance elsewhere. But rejections even if they're difficult to deal with are stepping stones to that higher and better market tomorrow. Don't be thinking that your rubbish and who the hell is going to publish you anyway? Every story I've written up until very recently, has been published both online and in print and that's because the editors liked my style. I consider the stories inferior and I know I can do better but they liked them so much they printed them all!
Are there differences in the US and UK markets? If so, please describe what you see.
I think the biggest difference is choice. The UK has very few erotic literature magazines for sale and, what there is, is struggling. I know of three and one of those I don't class as erotica. One well known erotic magazine folded for a year but has now made a comeback. I'm not convinced that they've made many big changes from before so I don't know how long they'll keep publishing for. The biggest opening in the market is for erotic anthologies and novels.
Since you wear all those hats, you have a rather complete view of the writing process as a whole. What's the biggest mistake you think authors make?
One mistake that seems to be commonly made is not reading instructions or submission guidelines. I've had authors submit their work for review and they've obviously not read the instructions at all. Steps have been missed out. I then have to point this out and I cannot accept the submission unless they go through the correct protocol and then, unfortunately, they don't return back. Very frustrating! I also know of many editors complaining about authors not reading the submission
If you were teaching a class to wanna be writers in the adult markets, what would your Top 5 teaching points be?
1. Read and follow submission guidelines, whatever the magazine or publication. This also applies to review submissions.
2. Respect reviewers. Very often they're writers themselves and they're very busy people. Don't hassle them for your review and always, even if you hated the review, acknowledge receipt and thank them.
3. Make a point of learning what side of the world your editor, reviewer, market is on. It's no good emailing them whilst they're asleep and getting angry and rude because they don't answer as quick as you'd like.
4. Don't be afraid to experiment in sub genres i.e. BDSM, fetish or even dark erotica.
5. It's better to write a story to fit a given guideline rather than writing stories willy nilly and then looking for markets to fit them into.
Recently, you've expanded your reviewing services; tell us more about it.
One site that I work in conjunction with asked if I would be willing to review a website. I hadn't thought about it until then but it seemed like a good idea. This particular editor told me she could put me in touch with many webmasters who would jump at the chance for the extra
promotion. Reviewing sex toys was my own idea and thought it would be good tool to increase my exposure in the erotic world and drive more traffic to Sexography.
What have you learned from the experience of reviewing?
That there are some brilliant people out there working in the sex industry who are willing to help you succeed in your chosen business. I've also learnt that as a rule authors are the best people around. They're extremely appreciative of the work that you do and will help and support you as much as they can. I've gained some really good friends out there through my reviewing.
Who do you think is less respected: erotica authors or reviewers?
Whoa! That's a tough one but I've thought about it long and hard. I believe that reviewers get less respect than erotic writers. No doubt there will be others that will disagree but this is my main reason: Usually, when you are asked what you do for a living, most writers would say just that. I'm a writer. Immediately you gain respect for that because it's such a prestigious occupation. You need a talent for writing and not everyone has got that. How far you go after that initial stage is up to you but generally you have one of two reactions about erotica. Shock and disgust or surprise and interest. Either way you attract attention and are always remembered. But there is still that sense of awe and fascination from people even if they don't always understand why you write about sex.
When I say what I do, aside from writing erotica, I usually get a, "What? What's that then?" Then I have to explain it all to them what it's all about but I still get the impression that they still don't understand what the job is or why you do it. When people read reviews unless they're looking to buy a specific product not much is made of reviews in whatever form. Whether it's a one line critic or something more substantial. They don't see the importance of a review in marketing. Even some authors/webmasters I've reviewed have totally disrespected me by not acknowledging receipt of the completed review or even thanking me for taking the time to review their work/site. That is one downside of the job of a reviewer. It's also commonly thought that reviewers shouldn't get paid for the work they do. That's just total rubbish and it places reviewers even further down the list of respected positions. All writers/authors need reviews. Without them, their book is just another in amongst billions.
Are you, as an author, working on any books or other projects you'd like to mention?
I'm slowly putting together another short story anthology to self publish. This time it will be in the genre of erotic horror. My reading interests are geared toward crime and horror and I really want to put my two main interests together. i.e. erotica and horror. I've no idea if I can pull it off but I'm willing to give it a try. I'm also planning an erotic novel but have yet to start it off! Seems to be my major problem at the moment! Reviewing takes up so much of my time. I'm also hoping to collaborate with a horror friend of mine which may be either a novel or short story collection. We've not decided which. We're still stuck at the stage of deciding how to work together. Do we do one scene each, one chapter each or...what? It's difficult as we've no experience of collaboration with anybody before.
I've also been offered (and I have accepted) a position working for one the sites I've reviewed. SouthCoastPleasure.com has asked me to be a columnists. So, I am busy drafting a few articles to get up on their site. My spot isn't up there yet but just thought I'd mention it.
Also, I shall be working with Stevie Burns as an editor on her print erotic magazine Yen Relish. Things are on hold at the moment because she's pregnant. So, we're waiting for her to give birth before things can go ahead.
Many thanks to Carrie for sharing her experiences! You can also find out more about Carrie at her writing blog.