I met CJ Douglass, erotica writer extraordinaire, on Twitter, and I was lucky enough for her to agree to an interview. We chat about writing erotica, the bad rep indie erotica has in the publishing community, and her real thoughts on Faleena Hopkins!
Make a cup of coffee, grab a seat, and lean in!
1. For the most part, you write short fiction (novelettes, novellas). Do you think short work is easier or harder to sell?
In my line of work (Erotica) the shorter the better! Which is what makes my recent fondness for only novellas somewhat unfortunate…
For pure smut, people seem to want to read something hot and short. Get a quick hit of the sexy and get out. I myself, though, like a little more story in there most of the time, and so my word counts have slowly been increasing. As my sales resultantly decrease. For less NSFW tales, however, longer works definitely sell better.
2. Your genre of choice is erotica. Do you find it hard to market? For example, Amazon loves to bury my erotica novellas in search results. How do you combat that?
Amazon doesn’t let you advertise Erotica on their platform, so there the best you can hope for is to optimize your search results and pray.
There are tools for aiding in this (which I have not yet availed myself of, but plan to) but otherwise my main outreach is on Twitter. Not for advertising, exactly. I post promos, sure, but not that often. I like to put myself out there, let people get to know me – and one day perhaps those folks will check out one of my stories because of this relationship. Then another. Maybe even tell a friend!
Blogging is a tool many use – and I’m sure it’s helpful, but I just don’t have any writing energy left over for it! I do have a few free stories on my website that people can read to get a taste of what I have to offer in my paid-for work. Mostly though, yeah. Get my keywords right, and have as good a cover as I can create.
3. Indies have to push against the idea our work in inferior. Writers who publish poorly written erotica enforces this idea (and OMG, you know there’s some out there). How do you push back against this misconception? (For example, do you read craft books, have an English degree, hire an editor.)
I don’t have money for an editor (my stories sometimes don’t make back the handful of dollars I spend on a cover image) but for anything novella-length or above I use beta readers, for sure.
I’ve spent my whole life reading and writing (I literally started reading novels at the age of four) so I have a sense of what the language should sound like. I took creative writing in high school (though my college classes were more science-based) and yes, I’ve read my share of craft books (and internet articles).
Odd as it may sound, screenplay craft really has helped me hone my skills. It doesn’t help with the prose, (that is down to my own dedication and extensive rereading and revision) but it does aid in the creation of the story itself. Indie books (not just Erotica, but all genres) tend to suffer from a lack of editing of the concepts and basic storycraft – even if it has been line-edited by a professional.
Making sure your plot and story (two different concepts, incidentally) build and flow well is of vital importance – and getting it right immediately lifts your work above the crowd (in my opinion).
Screenplays, being condensed stories, are good training in this particular art.
4. Will you ever write longer work? Perhaps a full-length novel?
Funny you should bring that up! I’m getting a draft of my novel ready for beta readers as we speak. It’s an epic, post-apocalyptic tale – but a very heightened one, that should be fun and empowering as well as dark and depressing. I’m really excited about this book, as it’s a concept I actually came up with when I was thirteen or fourteen, and have only recently dug back out and developed properly.
5. How did you become a part of Writer Twitter? Do you find it beneficial in sales? How do you like the writing community in terms of support?
I resisted Twitter for a long time, actually. It seemed pointless to me. How wrong could I have been? I have met some of my best friends there, and the support from my peers has been priceless.
You also get a chance to connect with readers (both your own and others’) to share in the joy and to see what people like.
As for sales? It has a certain impact, for sure. I’d venture to say that a good chunk of my meager sales came from letting people know about the stories on that platform. I doubt Twitter is useful as a large-scale marketing tool for books, however. It’s more for generally making people aware of your presence than specifically selling your work.
6. You told me in a couple of Tweets you design your own covers. Can you take us through the process? Where do you find your inspiration, photos, etc.
The process, generally, is me hopelessly moving images around in my template until something looks half-way decent! Usually, I’ll have an idea in my head – and then can’t find any images to fit that general concept. I then settle for something which is not at all like that first notion, but which suits the story anyway.
When I am planning ahead, I browse for photos (either free ones on places like Pixabay, or cheap ones at 123rf.com) first and allow them to inspire me for a good cover idea. This way, I’m not fighting a preconception, but can evolve a cover idea based on the available
If I had any design training, I could tell you why something looks right in a certain place, and more easily find that balance. As it is, I haphazardly arrange elements until they “feel” right to me. I also involve my Twitter followers in the process sometimes, too!
7. You have a book titled The Cocky Author. Is this a hat tip (or perhaps a sneer) to Faleena Hopkins? Can you share your thoughts on how all that went down?
Cocky Romance Author was the quickest I’ve ever written a story.
When Faleena Hopkins’ now-notorious copyright scandal came to light, I immediately wanted to thumb my nose at her for it – despite not generally being a Romance author. (I have since written some stories that might be classifiable under that banner, however.)
I knew if I was going to do it, I’d have to do it quickly. This wasn’t about creating a work of art; I was making a statement.
So the next day, I typed up the 9,000 word story (it was supposed to be shorter, but I found myself unable to write something without a good underlying character arc) and cleaned it up a little to post that evening. I wasn’t the first to get out a protest “cocky” story, I don’t think, but I was right up there. I made the story as cheap as Amazon would allow me to (99c) because it was not about profit, but about activism and generally making noise about this divisive issue.
It should be obvious to anyone that a common descriptive word cannot be copyrighted in this way – but it did not stop Miss Hopkins or those following in her footsteps from doing precisely that.
Thank goodness these spurious claims keep getting shut down – eventually.
8. You run your website through Wix. How has your experience been?
Wix is a generally decent site builder, I think. Better than some I have used. I only have a free one for the moment, though I think paying for it would allow the site to be found in search engines. Hard to justify the expense for now, though. What it needs right now is an overhaul! I’m still using the very first template I threw together, and really have to get it redone. Whenever I can find the time…
I love being able to host a place that gathers together not only links to my books (Amazon does that already!) but lets me include free stories that give potential readers a place to sample my work in tales that are complete – not mere snippets of a longer story.
Whether it helps my sales or not I can’t say, but theoretically it ought to be useful for curious readers!
Thank you CJ! It sounds like you have a lot going on right now! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and explain a little bit about your writer’s life. 🙂
You can find CJ on Twitter, Amazon, and Goodreads! Check out her author website for the free goodies, and as always, don’t forget to sign up for the giveaway! It will run for a little bit, so don’t forget to tell your friends.
Thanks for joining us, and check back when I talk about shopping in your local indie bookstore, and how my Freebooksy promo did for All of Nothing!
Until next time!
Awesome interview with very valid points and interesting insights.
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thank you for reading! i appreciate the feedback. 🙂