How to Write a Sex Scene

I was uncertain what to write about today, so as is my wont, I went to Twitter. One of the Megans I follow (Twitter is a breeding ground for Megans) suggested “How to Write a Sex Scene Using Goats as a Metaphor.”

Blame her. This whole post is her fault.
Blame her. This whole post is her fault.

She failed to clarify whether she meant “How to Write a Sex Scene That Uses Goats as a Metaphor (for sex)” or “Use Goats as a Metaphor for ‘How To Write a Sex Scene.'” I’m choosing to interpret it as the latter; that is to say, goats will be my metaphor for how to write, not for sex. Though I expect there will be some gray areas.

So how do you write a sex scene? It’s an area many writers find uncomfortable. I’m going to speak frankly, however, so if the previous paragraph about you goats and sex didn’t scare you off, be warned that adult content is coming (pun intended).

First, allow me to precursor this by saying I’m not an erotica writer. I have written my fair share of smut, however, which can be found on certain corners of the internet if you know where to look. I’ll be sharing a sample of it below, so if you’re not shy, you can read it and judge for yourself whether I write it well enough to be giving advice on the subject.

The first thing I’ll suggest is the same thing every experienced writer will tell you about writing anything: you need to read a lot. You have to write what you know, and in the case of sex scenes, “what you know” doesn’t necessarily have to be based on your own real life experiences. It can be based on what you’ve read. By reading more erotica, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and that’s the best way to learn how to write it yourself. I also suggest reading a wide variety, both the good and the bad. Read sex scenes like a goat in a junkyard: don’t discriminate, and chew on everything you can find. Sure, you might chip a tooth on a dull piece of tin or some tough rubber, but you’ll learn something in the process. After all, what better way to learn what NOT to do in your writing, than to read some bad erotica and learn from its mistakes (I’m looking at you, 50 shades of Grey)?

I’ve read more than my fair share, and based on what I’ve read, I’m going to lay out a few general categories:

1. The Ram – These smut stories rush right into the dirty parts without any style or grace. The result is usually poor writing, and is likely to be more pornography than erotica. The difference between porn and erotica is that one is art, and the other you just jack off to. Compare, for example, (NSFW) this versus this. One is artistic, meant to provoke emotion. The other is for milking your goat cheese. One of the key differences is good taste, but there’s more to it than that. I’ll explain in more detail about the “good taste” side, but what you should realize about the Ram is that its focus is just on the physical and the instant gratification.

I’d like to analyze these two photos from a purely artistic perspective. The first one, despite not being particularly crude as nudes go, is still a provocative pose. It’s designed to draw the viewer’s attention to the obvious female body parts. The model’s pose is simultaneously submissive and seductive, and from the spread legs, the arching of the back, and the expression on the face, it’s easy to imagine this model in a sexual context. I could probably find plenty of even more sexual examples on Google. Is this photo artistic? Yes. It’s clearly professionally done, and not just some snapshot someone took of their girlfriend. But it’s also clearly a shot designed to entice men in the way all porn does (and if you have any doubt, you can check the other NSFW shots from the same website, which get even more sexual).

Now, let’s consider the second photo. I found it among several others in a set that all strike me as being much more artistic. In these, the model isn’t the sole central focus of the shot. The backgrounds and lighting are as important in these shots as the model, whereas in the previous shot, the background was plain, non-distracting white. The model on the first image is even on a white table; this is clearly a deliberate choice to make sure nothing distracts you from the nude girl.

Take another look, and think about where your eye first enters the photos. Look at this one compared to this one. Where is your eye drawn? In the first one, the eye is most likely immediately drawn right to the breasts, and then down to the crotch. This isn’t accidental; the model’s pose creates a line of motion that draws the eye in that direction. Even the angles of the first model’s legs are all designed to be lines leading to a central point, the point the viewer is presumed to be interested in. (For a wonderful explanation of how object placement in a photograph can lead the viewer’s eye, I recommend this article). But with the girl in the barn, the eye is drawn first to her face, then along her back towards her feet. Nothing about that shot makes the woman’s breasts a central focus or signifier. Yes, she’s still a beautiful naked girl. But her pose isn’t seductive or sexual.

This is the difference between the Ram, which shoves the sex in your face, and a more artistic approach, where the sensuality is more part of the background. You can use a similar approach in your writing. Focus on the entire image, not just on the naughty bits.

2. The Sheep – The sheep is soft, docile, and easily guided by a firm hand. This is your relationship with a tantalized reader, who waits with wide eyes for you to take them on an erotic journey. Don’t scare them off. An average reader isn’t coming to your book to get rammed, and they (hopefully) keep their pants on the entire time they’re reading your book. Your goal isn’t to get your reader to seek their orgasm. Your goal is to capture their attention and keep them emotionally invested in your story.

In his book, “Stein On Writing,” Sol Stein says that the key to suspense is to give your character a goal, something they desire, then keep them from achieving that goal as long as possible. In erotica, the goal is the culmination of the character’s sexual desires, and the character should be forced to wait as long as possible to get what they want. If the reader is in tune with the character, they will be just as eager as the character to see it finally happen. In the romance novel my friend Carey wrote, the protagonist doesn’t get to taste her “forbidden fruit” until one of the final chapters. The result is a reader who is on edge the entire book, waiting to see if it will happen.

Even within the single sex scene itself, a skillful writer won’t ram right into business. There should be flirtation. There should be foreplay. There should be a LOT of “show, don’t tell” emotions. How long you wait to get to the “good stuff” depends on your writing style. It could be paragraphs, it could be pages. But if you grab the goat by the horns in the second sentence, you’re doing it wrong. Let the emotions and tension build for awhile before the climax (both in the story structure and in the bed).

3. The Pompeii – If you google “erotic goat,” this pops up. Click the link, and read the accompanying article. I assure you, it’s intellectual, not revolting (though it certainly might weird you out).

The reason I shared that article is because it raises an interesting, and I would say important aspect of eroticism in art. Our mythology is filled with examples of eroticism that aren’t limited to humans, and if you’re a sci fi or fantasy writer, this is an area you might find yourself delving into. The important thing to remember in cases like this is that this isn’t bestiality and it isn’t perversion. It’s history and myth. It’s also something you might want to use in your writing, if you do it right.

Piers Anthony is a fantasy writer who delves into this sort of thing, and does it in good taste. In his world, “Xanth,” there exist magic love springs that enchant any creatures that drink from them. After taking a drink, creatures are compelled to mate with the next creature they meet, and the magic ensures that the coupling can and will result in a child. Different species accidentally stumbling across love springs is how the world came to have species like centaurs (half human, half horse), harpies (half human, half vulture), and satyrs (half human, half goat). Though Piers Anthony never shows us a human and a goat mating in erotic detail, the results of the mating are there.

If you’re a fantasy writer, you may want to write human/dragon mating, or something similar. You can play it for laughs, the way Piers Anthony does, or you can address it with seriousness. Consider more than the physical questions of “will it fit?” Think about the cross-cultural differences between the two species. Think about how difficult the mating ritual might be between a mammal and an egg-laying reptile. Think about whether a dragon would have the human emotions associated with “making love,” or if they would view the act differently. Fantasy writer Elizabeth Haydon depicted a dragon in her novel, “Rhapsody,” as viewing his mate as a shiny piece of treasure to be guarded as part of his hoard.

All of these elements and more can become important parts of your story. They can be used to build up to the eventual sex scene, which instead of just being two people bumping uglies, will instead be a triumph over cross-species cultural barriers and all of the conflict that comes with them.

4. The Domestic Goat, Capra aegagrus hircus – Goats can be domesticated, like cattle, and kept as pets or livestock. This is like functional, bland sex; you might milk the goat every day, but that doesn’t mean the goat enjoys it. If a reader feels like reading your sex scenes is a chore, you might be better off skipping the milking and going straight to the breakfast table. There’s nothing wrong with the “fade to black, cut” method of writing sex scenes. It’s probably the kind I use the most often. Does your story need the sex, or are you just putting it there because sex sells? I only write a full erotic scene if there are strong emotions involved, and I’m trying to show the characters reaching a new level of their relationship or achieving an emotional bond. If it’s not important to the story, then you’re just going through the motions of the daily chore.

All of the above examples talk about the purpose of sex in a story, and how to sculpt a scene. “But Jason,” you ask, “when do we get to the naughty fun parts?” Well, as I said earlier, you need to tease your audience and make them wait to build suspense. But I suppose I can’t write a “How To Write a Sex Scene” post without discussing the language itself.

First, I’m going to share some examples of different ways to write descriptions in a sex scene. One will be an example of my own work. I don’t by any means think my own work serves as the highest artistic examples of erotic writing, but I do believe it’s appropriate that if I’m going to write about sex, I should have the courage to share my own writing.

Once again, everything that follows is NSFW.

First, let’s look at an example of bad writing; The Ram, in full force. Here is a short excerpt of a story on Literotica.com:

“I have driven to meet you at your house. After chatting online for awhile we were anxious to meet each other. It’s a hot summer’s day, so I told you to be in shorts, no boxers. It is a long drive but finally I arrive and knock on the door. You open it only to be pushed back inside by me. Seeing as you want an aggressive girl, there is no time for small talk.

The door slams shut and I drop to my knees right there at the door. You are not expecting to get moving so quickly. I look up to see a mixture of amazement and curiosity on your face as I start to unzip your shorts.

You open your mouth but I don’t give you time to say anything. I shove your soft cock into my mouth. I suck and lick it, making it grow and come to life in my mouth. Finally it is fully erect, gagging me as it touches the back of my throat.”

Now, I’d like to analyze this story, not as a work of porn, but the way I’d critique any piece of writing. Let’s review it from a professional angle. We open with no introduction to who these characters are, just that they have been “chatting online.” There is no description of their appearance, their occupations, or anything. The action starts in the first paragraph with the “aggressive girl” pushing her way in; this story tells us from the start what we should expect from it. Then, second paragraph, the girl is already on her knees. By the third paragraph, we have some extremely graphic language and a scene straight out of a cheap porno.

If this sort of scene appeared in a novel, would you keep reading? I wouldn’t. There’s no emotion. There’s no reason to care who these characters are. This story is about fucking, plain and simple. The entire story is 768 words, and there isn’t a single paragraph in it that isn’t about the raw, physical act of sex.

Now, if you want to write porn, you could use this style. But I think most of the people reading my blog want to write books and stories. That’s certainly what I want. So, how do you write a sensual, erotic scene in a novel, without it turning into trash like this?

Let’s take a look at something more emotional. The following excerpt is from my WIP novel, “Manifestation.” It contains minor spoilers from the novel, so be warned:

            “Hours later, Tock awoke in Frankie’s bed. She glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand, and realized it was four in the morning. She hadn’t intended to fall asleep there, but after a rather energetic night of fun and experimentation, she had passed out in Frankie’s arms. Part of her wanted to get up and go back to her room, but his arms felt quite nice around her. Something else also felt quite nice pressed up against her from behind, filling her with an urge that she couldn’t deny. She lay there for awhile and contemplated the most sensible thing to do. She knew that leaving, and letting the boy wake up alone, would be a better way to get the message through to him what it was really all about. She wasn’t prepared to do the relationship thing; her life was simply too much of a mess.

            She stared at the clock as the digital display ticked away another minute. What would Frankie Palladino think if he knew he was in bed with a murderer? Would that change his tune? She couldn’t ever admit such things to him, of course, but she still needed to make him understand that she wasn’t the ‘girlfriend’ type.

            But then, his body felt so warm and nice pressed up behind her . . .

            I’ll spell it out fer ‘im in the mornin’, she thought. She rolled over to face him and slipped her arms around him, then kissed him urgently. He moaned in his sleep as she pulled him on top of her and his body responded on instinct before he was even fully awake. Her gentle but none-too-subtle hands sought the source of her urges and soon woke him fully. The response she felt under her hand made it clear he was more than ready for another round.

            She spread her legs for him and pulled him in close, wrapping her arms around him and tracing her fingernails down his back. She gasped as he entered her, and forgot all thoughts of whether they were in a relationship or just fucking. She just became focused on the sensations pulsing through her body. Frankie was strong, and his athletic body was warm and firm against hers. He made her moan, and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, clinging to him as she let him have his way with her. Part of her just wished he wouldn’t be so tender and gentle about it . . . that just made the situation all the more complicated . . .”

See the difference? First, it’s a little more than twice the length of the clip of the porno story, but you can follow the link to Literotica to read that whole story (all 768 words of it) and you won’t see what you see in my excerpt of “Manifestation.” Let’s analyze it bit by bit.

First, the opening paragraph of the “Manifestation” excerpt sets the scene. This particular scene comes after a short mid-chapter scene break, so what you see above, with Tock waking up, is the “beginning” of this scene, for all intents and purposes. That first paragraph names both characters, and it sets an image of the setting around them: a dark bedroom in the middle of the night, a digital clock counting away the minutes, and the fact that this is Frankie’s room (in the college dorms). These visual details aren’t much, but they’re certainly setting the scene better than “I knock on the door, you open it.”

Now, my first paragraph still sets an erotic tone, as Tock observes the feeling of Frankie pressed up behind her. I never name a body part, but you know which part is pressing against her. It’s subtle (more so, at least, than the other story). But it sets the stage for what comes next. More importantly, though, there’s emotion here. You can see a sense of conflict. She has doubts, and isn’t sure how to express them. That makes the lovemaking that follows all the more meaningful.

Let’s take a closer look at the actual vocabulary, shall we? Both stories reach a point where the penis enters an orifice, to use the boring technical terms. Let’s compare those specific moments in each story.

The Ram:

“I move down from your face, to your stomach, turning around to face you, so you can see my tits bounce as I press your cock into my ass. I take some of your pre cum and rub it on my tits, sucking the cum off in front of you.”

“Manifestation”:

“She spread her legs for him and pulled him in close, wrapping her arms around him and tracing her fingernails down his back. She gasped as he entered her, and forgot all thoughts of whether they were in a relationship or just fucking. She just became focused on the sensations pulsing through her body.”

I’d like to set aside the crudity of the Ram’s language and focus on the actual imagery and emotions (or lack thereof). In the Ram’s story, we see “bouncing tits,” a “cock,” “pre cum,” and lots of rubbing and sucking. The images are all sexual. The only emotion we see is lust. As for the words themselves, these are all classic “porn words.” People who write stories just for the sake of getting off tend to focus on these kinds of words, thinking that the crudity is what a sex scene is all about.

The “Manifestation” clip, on the other hand, focuses on entirely different body parts and images. “She spread her legs,” “wrapping her arms around him.” We see “her fingernails down his back.” Even when the sex itself starts, it’s not “he shoved his cock into her pussy.” Instead it’s “She gasped as he entered her.” It’s still sensual and erotic, but it’s not crude. The focus isn’t on the physical anatomy. It’s on the emotions.

Compare these two scenes to the earlier photographs. As before, one is focused on breasts and sexual things. The other is focused on emotion and artistry.

That, in my humble opinion, is the key difference between porn and art. Art moves your heart, while porn just moves your genitals.

Focus on the characters. Focus on their emotions. The sex is just the background. The story is more important. As yourself what purpose a sexual scene serves in your story. The “Manifestation” scene above is meant to show Tock’s inner turmoil, the conflict she feels between her desire for Frankie (desire that is both physical and emotional) and her doubts and fears. The closing lines, “Part of her just wished he wouldn’t be so tender and gentle about it . . . that just made the situation all the more complicated . . .” are the real reason that scene exists. If I weren’t trying to show those emotions, I’d have cut straight to the following morning. This scene exists to show the reader that conflict. The fact that Tock’s emotions and confusion are being shown during a sex scene has little to do with the sex, and everything to do with the story.

In closing, I hope you’ve read and appreciated this post in the mature, professional way I’ve tried to approach it. I love me some naughty bits, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place to approach things from a serious angle.

Kickstarter Update #16: Rewards Sent!

You can also view this update on Kickstarter.

I just finished sending out each of the ebooks to all backers who selected a reward. You should have received an email from Amazon that says:

“A Gift For You

Hello (your name), you’ve received a Kindle Book gift from Jason Cantrell.”

You should be able to download the ebook once you click on the “Get your gift now” button. If you have any trouble accessing the ebook, you can email me (cantrelljason@gmail.com) and I’ll figure out what is wrong and work to fix the problem. I’ve tested the download, however, and everything should work out fine.

A small number of people provided a different email address when I sent the rewards survey than the email address you registered with Kickstarter. In those cases, I sent the ebook to the email address you specified in the survey. So while this update will be sent to the email you’ve registered with Kickstarter, you’ll need to check your other email address to get the ebook. Of course, if you used the same email address you can ignore this part.

If you did NOT receive the Amazon “A Gift For You” email, it may be that there was a typo in your email address. Or the email may be in your Spam folder. Check the Spam folder first, and if you don’t see the email from Amazon, contact me, and I’ll have it re-sent.

For most of the backers, this should cover all of the rewards, since the poetry collection was mailed out last week. If you are also supposed to receive a critique or custom story, you’ll just need to contact me regarding the specifics.

I think that about covers it. Thank you!

Author Branding, and Why No Fucks Were Given

I’d like to talk about Author Branding.

You’re no doubt already wondering why no fucks were given. I’ll get to that. But to clarify: Author Branding ITSELF is not the thing about which no fucks were given (or if that is confusing wording, I DO give a fuck about Author Branding).

So what is Author Branding? Well, to me, it’s your public image. It’s who you present yourself to the public as. Your professional persona. The idea, as I understand it, is that you need to present yourself in a way that will connect with your potential readers. Your image is going to help sell your book.

Well, here is my image:

Super Author Man
Super Author Man

Yes, that is me. This is the image I currently use as my Twitter avatar. I wear that “Author” shirt in public. I also have a “NaNoWriMo” shirt and hoodie I wear. I am proud to present this image: the geek author who owns swords and isn’t ashamed to wear a cloak (Fyi: That is a cloak, not a “cape,” because it wraps fully around the body and reaches all the way to the ground. Capes are lighter, purely fashionable garments. Cloaks are for keeping warm. This has been your regularly scheduled Geek Chat).

And now you can see why No Fucks Were Given. If any fucks HAD been given, would I be willing to portray myself in this way? No doubt, people look at me funny when I go out in public wearing an “Author” shirt (I don’t wear the cloak in public just because it’s too bulky and snags on things). If fucks were given, I would hide my geek-author side out of shame or embarrassment. I know how I’m viewed by most people. I know the looks I get. And I don’t give a fuck.

This is my author brand. The Geek Author Who Doesn’t Give A Fuck. Because the not giving a fuck is PART of the brand. If you follow me on Twitter (@cantrelljason), you’ll see I curse casually, I talk about boobs, I rant about politics, and I blatantly tell people what I think about them. When other people say “I don’t want to start an argument” or “I’d rather not say anything,” I say “I don’t give a fuck.” I’ll call someone an asshole straight to their face, because I believe in calling it like I see it. I’d rather say it to someone’s face than behind their back.

Am I rude? Sometimes. Mostly, I think my attitude comes off as friendly/sarcastic/bold, though I’m sure there are some people who will say “No, you’re just an asshole.” Well, that’s fine, as long as you say it to my face. I have no illusions about who I am. I know my strengths, and I know my flaws. Poor social skills are definitely one of my flaws.

But this is who I am. Now, I COULD change my Author Brand. I could portray myself as a professional, clean up my language, and put on the public persona that would make me seem more well-to-do. Many people do this, and that’s fine for them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a professional public persona and a more casual at-home persona. After all, I’m pretty sure EVERY executive who puts on a suit to go to the office can’t wait to take off his tie at the end of the day and go spend time with his family, or drink, or play video games, or whatever.

So why don’t I portray myself that way? Because no fucks were given. I don’t care. If I cared about that kind of thing, I’d be in a very different place in my life right now. But I like where I am. I don’t want to work a boring office job, punch a clock, and live the 9-5 grind. I want to write, even if that means I have to struggle. Even if it means I’m 33 and the only things I’ve published are in online free magazines. Even if it means I’ll never be “successful” in the traditional sense.

All through grade school and high school, I hid who I was. I didn’t tell my classmates that I played video games, because they would make fun of me. I didn’t tell my family, or anyone else, that I was always writing stories about dragons and wizards. I hid who I was. For years, I wouldn’t wear any clothes that weren’t plain colors without words or logos, because I was teased so much in junior high for wearing things that weren’t “cool.”

That author shirt I’m wearing there? I’m wearing it now as I write this. Buying and deciding to wear it was a big step for me. I spent my youth (and even most of my 20’s) being too afraid to express myself with my own style of clothing. Today, no fucks are given, and as soon as I have the money, I’m going to be wearing stuff like this out in public:

Of course, I won't look quite that dashing.
Of course, I won’t look quite that dashing.

And if people stare at me for my style of clothing? Well, you know what I’ll say.

Time Management: Getting Caught Up

I’ve written in the past about time, and how to manage it. Some of that has been about understanding how long a project takes. For example, in one post I wrote about measuring how long freelance writing assignments take, and how to account for that time in price negotiations. Lately, I’ve been dealing with another type of time management: balancing school, work, and personal writing.

I have a huge pile of notes around my desk right now. The main surface area of the desk is covered with notes about “Manifestation,” and the revisions I need to work on. Next to the desk, I have a portable podium desk, which is covered with notes about the sequel novel, “Contamination,” and about several of the short stories that I need to revise. On the floor next to that are notes about critique partners, publication plans, and freelance work. Behind me, the floor is covered with notes about various school projects, including a transcription I’m working on for my Graduate Assistant job. Then there are notes about the final finishing touches I need to make for the “Radiance” short story (which is mostly just waiting on one final person to contact me about the Special Thanks section). Beyond that are piles of books to be read for my grad classes.

If that sounds confusing, it is. Sometimes I feel like John Nash. I stand there, rotating in a circle, pointing at each pile and mentally going over what is in the notes (I don’t actually stop to read them; I know the contents of each note pile just by looking at it). I review deadlines, goals, and how much time each item will take. I sort things in my mind and decide which task I have time to complete. Today, it was working on the transcription. Tomorrow, it’ll likely be working on the “Radiance” publication. Little by little, I eliminate notes from the piles. Each note I eliminate is a certain quantity of time I’m done with and don’t need to manage anymore.

I only budgeted 15 minutes for this blog post, and I’m closing in on that mark now. But that’s one more item off my to do list: write a scheduled blog post. Now it’s time to go to school, and in the fifteen to twenty spare minutes I’ll have between arriving on campus and the start of class, I’ll be devoting my time to reading the next chapter of a book for my Creative Nonfiction Workshop. I’m looking forward to finishing that book, not because it’s good (even though it is), but because I need to cross it off my list. Maybe I’ll manage some free time later this week and I can relax for a change.

Kickstarter Update #15: Finishing Touches

You can also view this update on Kickstarter.

Earlier this week, I sent out several emails to different groups of backers, depending on the reward level you selected. I’ll review everything here so that if anyone has any questions, you can email me and I can address them individually.

1.     Poetry Collection – If you chose a reward level that included the poetry collection, it has been emailed to you. If you haven’t received it, or for any reason you have trouble opening the file, email me and I’ll send it again.
2.     Critiques or Custom Ghostwritten Stories – If you chose one of these rewards, you should have received a separate email asking for the specifics (such as asking what piece of writing you’d like critiqued). Once I hear back from you with the details, I’ll get to work on your critique or story in as timely a fashion as possible.
3.     Special Thanks List: You should have received a Kickstarter survey asking what name and website you’d like listed. Even though I have your name through Kickstarter, a few people didn’t want their last names listed or preferred a nickname, so I’m waiting to hear a response before I list each person. As of this writing, I only need to get info from three more people. If you’re one of those three, please get back to me soon (preferably before the end of the week, so I can send the ebook out this week).

That should cover everything related to rewards, until the ebook itself is sent out (which will be just as soon as I get the last three Special Thanks responses). If you have any questions or concerns, or just want to chat, you can email me at cantrellwriter@gmail.com or tweet me @CantrellJason. Thank you!

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 6: Self-Publishing

It’s been awhile since the last time I wrote a post about my writing career. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. The last month of blog posts have mostly been about my Kickstarter campaign, which is very much a part of my writing career. But those posts were focused on the specifics of the campaign itself; this one is about me, what I’ve learned, and where I’m going from here.

Working a Kickstarter campaign had ups and downs. The ups were amazing moments where people I know–or in some cases strangers–pledged their support and made the drive a success (and if you haven’t seen it yet, check out the cover that was made as a result of the drive). There were moments I was fighting tears at seeing how wonderful and generous some people can be.

The downs, however, were there throughout the drive. One issue, which is something most writers I know deal with, is the doubt. There would be days where I wondered whether any more support would come in, and whether I would meet my goals. There would also be days when I would wonder about the scale of establishing a self-publishing career. Once the ebook is out, will it sell? How will I spread the word and market it? Will people be interested in buying an ebook of a short story as a stand-alone tale? These kinds of doubts are similar to any writer’s doubts about whether they will find an agent, whether their book will be picked up by a publisher, and whether they will ever make decent sales on the book they worked so long and hard on.

But here’s what I think about those doubts: everyone has to start somewhere, and I think this short story is a pretty strong start. The readers who’ve critiqued and commented on it so far all had high praise. I think the plot is intriguing, and offers a good glimpse into the world I’m creating for the novel “Manifestation.” And, since the ebook will be selling for just 99 cents, it’s a low-risk venture for customers. I’ve done a lot of research into ebook price trends, and I’ve come to believe this is a good move. When “Manifestation” comes out, the ebook will probably be priced low, since that’s one of the ways self-publishers work to compete with the higher-priced publications from traditional publishers. In addition to a competitively low ebook price for the novel, readers who want to see what my writing is like will be able to read a short story at an even lower price. If they like my writing (and I certainly hope they will), then maybe they’ll buy the novel as well. If they don’t like it, well, it was only 99 cents, right?

I’m also planning on publishing many more short stories in the future. “Radiance” is just the first one. The short stories are part of the reason I decided to go with self-publishing to begin with. Traditional publishers aren’t likely to publish individual short stories by an unknown author. The only way most writers I know of publish short stories is by selling them to magazines, but the vast majority of those magazines focus on “literary” stories, not urban fantasy. Because of this, the number of places I could publish “Radiance” would be very slim, and if I DID manage to get it published in a magazine, it would be a single, flat payment for publication in one issue. After that one printing, it’d likely never be heard from again.

Instead of publishing a story in a single magazine where it appears in one issue then gets buried in the back of a doctor’s office waiting room, I’m publishing it online. It will be available forever (I hope), with more stories to follow in the series. I have more than half a dozen stories already written, so one day there will be a huge collection published in this series. “Arcana Revived” will be comprised of a minimum of three novels and a dozen short stories, and probably a lot more than that, as I add to it over the years.

This is one of the ways I feel I can overcome the writer’s doubt. This project may only be my first, small start, but I have a business plan. One I’ve researched extensively, with plans for marketing, advertising, and branding. I think that’s going to be the difference between good versus bad self-publishing. Self-pub gets a bad rep a lot of the time, because frankly, the self-publishing world is filled with as many crappy ebooks as there are crappy videos on YouTube. Every once in awhile, however, you see a YouTube video with millions of hits, and a self-published author who winds up on the New York Times bestseller list. The difference between the unknown author and the successful one, in my opinion, is based on how hard you work and how much you learn about the industry. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m working to learn it. I’m not just throwing an ebook out there and waiting for a magic fairy to sprinkle pixie dust on it to make it sell. This is my job. I clock in every day and work hard to make sure it will succeed.

Kickstarter Update #14: Success!

You can also view this update on Kickstarter.

So as of about one minute ago, the pledge drive ended. It ended as a success because 31 wonderful and amazing people pledged their support, and because many others helped spread the word by emails and tweets to help gather more support. Thank you all, you’ve been wonderful!

But you didn’t pledge just to get my thanks, did you? No! This was about getting some beautiful art! Well, as promised, the cover for the short story “Radiance” is here. Check it out, and keep an eye on your email inbox for the backer survey so I can get more information about sending you your rewards!

radiance_promo

Kickstarter Update #13: Counting Down the Hours

You can also read this update on Kickstarter.

It’s been a crazy month. 30 days watching a Kickstarter campaign work its magic ends up seeming like a lot longer than it really is. The ending sneaks up on you. When I checked the status today, the counter had switched from days, to mere hours.
As of this writing, there just over 60 hours to go. That’s less than three days. Wednesday morning, it’ll be over. I’ll also have an absolutely beautiful piece of cover art to share with you all then.
I’ll also be sending out the backer surveys that day. This will be to collect names and email addresses for sending out rewards. Those who are getting a critique or a ghostwritten story, when the surveys go out we’ll discuss the specifics of each one. The poetry collection will be sent out right away since as a pdf, it needs no extra work. The ebook for “Radiance” will need to be assembled with the cover and the “Special Thanks” section, but it shouldn’t take long to do all that. The reward details say November, but that was a worst case scenario date. The story should actually be distributed not long after the pledge drive ends. All backers will get the chance to download their copies of the ebook first, before I post it for sale on my website.
One final note for anyone reading this who is not currently a backer: while the “Radiance” short story ebook will be available for sale (at the same $1 price as the reward here), the poetry collection will NOT. It will only be offered here, or as a future Kickstarter reward if I run a second pledge drive in the future. It’s possible they poems will be published for sale eventually, but at this time I have no plans to publish the collection outside of this drive. The poetry collection contains more than a dozen poems, totaling about 4000 words in length. If you want to see a sample, you can find one of the poems published here: http://quantumfairytales.com/2013/01/jcantrell/shadow/ If you like what you see, just a $3 pledge can get you both the “Radiance” short story and the “Poetry of Gabriella Palladino” collection, not to mention by extreme appreciation and thanks for your support.
Put another way, $3 for both rewards is like a dollar for the story and less than 20 cents per poem. Read the sample I linked, and ask if that poem is worth twenty cents (I hope it is!).
I think that about covers the important details. Thank you again for your support, and keep your fingers crossed (and maybe send a tweet or two) that a few more backers sign up in the last remaining hours!

Kickstarter Update #12: Second Goal Reached!

You can also view this update on Kickstarter.

Hello all, and once again I’d like to offer a very deep thank you for all of your support! Tonight in particular was an amazing night… more than $100 in contributions came in just in one night!

This is not only amazingly generous and supportive, but it also helped me to reach my second goal! The funds raised so far are enough for the cover art for both the short story “Radiance” and the novel “Manifestation.” The “Radiance” cover is ready to be revealed as soon as the Kickstarter drive is over, so in just a few more days you’ll be able to see the cover that you, yes all of YOU made possible!

There’s just 4 1/2 days left of the Kickstarter drive. If possible (and yes I do think it is possible), I’d like to try and raise enough in these final days for just one more cover. There are actually several different short stories the third cover could be for, depending on which order the stories get released in. So I decided it would be nice to share some excerpts from those stories with you, so you can get a preview of the work your contributions are supporting.

These excerpts are from three different stories. Each is set in the same world as “Radiance” and “Manifestation,” and each is from the point of view of a different character. These characters all play a supporting role in the novel, and the short stories are a chance for each of them to shine in their own starring role.

The following excerpt is from “Man of Faith,” which is centered on the character of Father Alexander Donovan:

——

“And God bless and protect the souls of our children,” he prayed, one hand raised to the heavens while the other clutched a bible to his chest. Near the front of the crowd, a woman dropped to her knees and her sobs echoed loud into the night. Father Donovan knelt beside her and wrapped his arm around her. “And let our memories remain pure and strong, and our hearts unite as we stand together in the face of tragedy. Let us find comfort in each other, and in the shelter of the Lord, may His light ever guide and shelter us…”

A commotion started in the distance, where the HAZMAT crew stood. Over the roar of the fire and the cries of those in mourning, it was impossible to hear what was going on. Muted screams sounded from that direction. Father Donovan looked up and saw signs of a struggle, lit by the flickering light of the flames. In the distance, a young girl screamed. The priest’s heart ached with the weight of the sorrow behind that scream. The sound that pierced the air was more than a scream of loss, a scream of pain. The scream carried the dreadful awakening of horror and guilt, and the realization of some truth too horrible for the priest to contemplate.

Then came the light. It was sudden and blinding, rising into the sky from some unseen source in the parking lot. Father Donovan covered his eyes and gasped, clean air filling his lungs as the light banished the smoke and soot. He strained to look, to see the source of the light, but all he could make out was shadowy figures moving near the base of the luminous pillar.

The clouds parted when the radiant pillar struck them, and streams of light flew through the sky bringing day to night. All around the priest, people fell to their knees in awe. Tears stained many faces, including Father Donovan’s.

Then chaos erupted.

——

The second excerpt is from the story “Soldier of Light,” which is centered on the character Jeremiah Pritchard:

——

The shadows fled from Jeremiah’s mind, leaving an awakening in their place. Pure light streamed from his raised arms, crystallizing in the air. The lamp smashed into the light and shattered, golden shrapnel flying into the walls. The girl across from him gasped and threw her hand at him. Green and gold flew through the air and slammed into the light before him, piercing the crystal barrier in a dozen places. Jeremiah grunted as he was pushed back, his feet sliding across the floor until he shifted his stance and found traction. The girl stared at him and he stared back, wide-eyed and sweating. The green and gold tentacles piercing his light strummed with power, stretching and writhing as they tried to pull the barrier apart. He winced and closed his eyes, some strange instinct driving him to pull back against the light. Instead of repelling it, he drew it in, strengthening the crystal with each passing moment.

The girl grunted and squealed, thrusting her hand forward and pouring more of her light against his. He dropped to one knee, but kept his arms up, refusing to let the barrier drop or allow anyone else to be hurt. The girl whimpered with strain, then lowered her hand and released the light. Jeremiah’s arms dropped to his sides and he slumped against the wall.

—–

And the third excerpt is from the newest story, “Belladonna,” centered on the character Maelyssa Southeby:

——

Mae ducked back inside when the cop started repeating his message again. She turned to face the door and sat on the window ledge, tapping her fingers against it. She wasn’t surprised they were being evacuated; between the power outage, the attacks throughout the city, and the oddities that had arisen all over, the inner city wasn’t safe.

The only problem was, she was one of the oddities.

“Mae, dear.” She looked up and saw her mother standing in the doorway, holding a suitcase. “Come on. We need to go. I packed some of your clean clothes. We can talk about what happened once we’re someplace safe.”

Mae just stared at her mother, her mind spinning. The thought of going downstairs, where the cops were waiting, made her mouth go dry. She hadn’t had the chance yet to even process what was going on. She suddenly realized that she couldn’t go. She had killed someone. It had been an accident, but that didn’t matter. She was a killer.

——

These excerpts are just small teases of the overall stories to be told, but hopefully they spark a little interest in the reader. Each of these stories is in the process of revisions, and each one will be following “Radiance” into publication. Of course, in order for that to happen, I’ll need cover art for them as well.

As of this writing, the pledge drive is at $410. If we can raise another $190 and hit $600, then one of these stories will get the chance to be born and be shared with the world. If, somehow, we surpass that, the others could get their covers at $800 or $1000. I don’t realistically expect to reach those higher marks with just under five days left, but I know the $600 mark is reachable.

All it will take is spreading the word a little bit further. So, if you find these stories interesting, I’d just ask for you to tweet, text, or email a link to this Kickstarter to a few more people. A lot of the people that have already pledged found out about the project because someone else shared it with them. That extra communication makes all the difference in the world.

And once again, THANK YOU all for your support!