Friday, January 22, 2010

Describing "Free Fall"

The 'erotica' tag

I've publicized books, events, art exhibitions, plays and even a movie. So when the time came to help with the publicity of my own work, I wanted to be an asset to my publisher. My own expertise was only a part of why I thought I could be helpful. I quit my job to become a full-time writer. I need to prove to myself that the last two years were worth this investment. And I, like most of us, need to earn money. I've earned very little in the last two years and cannot afford to put my home or my life in financial jeopardy. Finally, "Free Fall" is my baby. I want to work hard for her.

Writers can certainly help, if not drive, their book's publicity campaigns. But before that can happen, they need to step back from their work a bit and look at it from varied perspectives. I wrote "Free Fall" as a story about a love affair that ignited as my 18-year relationship with my mate flamed out. One of the themes has to do with the vulnerabilities we all experience when mental illness touches us in some way. After I wrote "Free Fall," I ran a focus group in NYC, only to discover that the participants disagreed with my take on the book as the story of a passionate love affair. They said the book was about a heroine's struggle to make moral choices under chaotic circumstances, when nothing seemed black or white. They were more drawn to the themes of mental illness than to the love affair, it seemed.

Then, more recently, I noticed that on the back cover of the bound galleys, my book had been categorized as erotica. In future postings I want to talk about what has been like to write erotica and how erotica is seen in this society. "Free Fall" will become available on April 6. Then I will begin to see how it's received and how I will deal with it.

For now, though, I need to stick with this one thing: "Free Fall" is erotica and that changes things for me. A month ago, I sent several authors I know, some fairly well, requests for endorsements for the back cover. Many have not responded, which I find uncharacteristic. Now I realize they may have seen what I did not, that the book is erotica and they are not in a position to endorse erotica.

To properly market anything, whether it's an artificial sweetener or a baby diaper, you need to understand the product's intrinsic value and create the brand from that core understanding. I needed help understanding what "Free Fall" was about.

A friend, also a marketer and a writer, talked to me about this the other day. "That 'Free Fall' is classed as erotica is to be expected." I agree with her. Intense erotic bits wind through "Free Fall." "Free Fall" is a year in which I lived an erotic life, after all. I was highly sensitized, sexually. The substance of my sexual experience — a certain relinquishing of personal power — was the metaphor for the new way I had chosen to conduct my life. "Psycho-sexual" is an apt descriptor of my mindset, the world I inhabited, the view from me, so to speak.

Yes, I wrote "Free Fall." And, yes, I write a book review every week that runs in newspapers around the country. Writing book reviews means that in 500 to 1,000 words I try to glean a book's essence and pass it on to people interested in reading about books. But artists can never really know how their own work is going to be perceived. In the twelve years I wrote a weekly personal essay called "Opening Remarks" that ran in some of the Ottaway newspapers, I was often surprised when readers would come up to me or write me about something I wrote. What they took from my essay and what I intended were sometimes quite different.

So now, no doubt, my mission will be to find a way for "Free Fall" to take its place, at least in the way I present it, side by side with other contemporary literature. I think its value is in the way sexuality is integrated with day-to-day life. It's said that women think of sex once a day while men do so every 54 seconds. In "Free Fall," I hope to remind Baby Boomers how much pleasure our bodies can bring us. To do that, I have to come to terms with what my book is about. I'll be a better marketer and messenger once I can comfortably discuss the book's intrinsic value.


  1. See my comment on Facebook, Rae -- the essence of which is that back in the day I knew a copywriter (at Little, Brown) who was fired for upsetting an author with misleading flap copy. Peg

  2. I like yours lots better - more involving, succinct - gives a real view of the book. That said, I don't think the other blurb is worth ditching everything over. It's not as horrible as you think. Lynn

  3. I attended a book conference several years ago where a panel of children's book writers were talking about how their books were received by readers in ways that none of them had anticipated. Gregory Maguire in particular was talking about how his book "Wicked" which was intended as a novel for adults, had unexpectedly become the favorite book of junior-high school girls all over the country, who identified with the outcast character of Elphaba, who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. He was particularly puzzled by this as the book had been restricted in many schools and libraries because of its fairly explicit sexual content.
    Katherine Paterson was at the same conference, and talked about how her book "Bridge to Terabithia", was the frequent target of censors (it appears at number eight on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for the decade 1990–2000) Ironically, the main objection to the book had nothing to do with profanity or sex. The main problem was parents who were upset that the book dealt so frankly with the death of a child. You just never know how someone is going to react to your work...