Hilary Murray, author of Choices, describes her first forays as a writer into the publishing industry – and the genre of erotic fiction.
MY first attempt at a publishable novel was a disappointing experience.
The storyline was simple: take two pairs of lovers. Place one in the past and one in the present. Add a betrayed and merciless husband to each. Mix well, and stand back.
Unbelievably, the agents I submitted it to weren’t as impressed as I was. I received rejection after rejection, and yes, it hurt.
Something had to be wrong. What I needed was an independent opinion of the work.
Ginny Swart from The Writer’s College became my critic. She read the manuscript, and pointed out my errors. And there were quite a few. Such as killing off my hero three chapters before the end of the novel. Thankfully she also praised the work, and sent masses of encouragement. But she made one comment that stood out from the rest:
‘Phew! You certainly can write the steamy stuff.’
Really? I’d never thought about it. Ok, maybe I did have my main characters going at it like rabbits. But if the relationships were strong enough to cross the boundaries of time, then surely they would have been pretty intense as well? I wondered if I should tone it down.
‘No,’ came Ginny’s reply, ‘but have you thought of writing erotica?’
I have read – and enjoyed – books of that genre in the past. I even have the Penguin Book of Vice hiding somewhere – an interesting read to say the least. But write the stuff? What would my mother say! I don’t think so.
Over the following days I thought more about it. Perhaps being published in one genre would further my chances of being taken seriously in another.
I rushed off 35,000 words of the smutty variety. According to the Internet there are plenty of erotica publishers out there, and all willing to receive submissions. I picked the four or five who seemed most likely and sent the work off. Then I sat back to wait for my writing contract. It couldn’t have been easier.
Except it wasn’t easy. Far from getting contracts, all I received were more rejections. I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t this the world of suggestive covers and excruciating titles? No one had any expectation of literary brilliance. Or did they?
Two editors were kind enough to fill in the blanks for me. They told me that while the work was ‘interesting’, my characters lacked depth, the settings were not described in enough detail for visualisation, there was too much narration, etc, etc.
At first stunned, I was then embarrassed. The truth was I had totally underestimated the market, and written little more than porn. And bad porn at that.
Chastened, I went back to the manuscript and began to flesh out my characters. I developed the plot and shifted focus, using dialogue to arouse rather than page after page of anatomical sex. I gave my characters a voice, and to my delight they responded. Their strengths and flaws were developed, and were soon just as important as their sexual exploits.
The manuscript had grown up. It was now an exposé of modern society, with, at its heart, the story of a young woman’s fight for financial survival.
But that gave me another problem. I had discovered that one of the expectations of romantic erotica is a happy ending. Unfortunately that’s something my work tends to lack. I prefer real life: often messy, and generally unpredictable.
What I needed was to find a publisher who agreed with me.
This time when I sent off the manuscript I had a reply within days. It seemed my concept was interesting, a little different.
More to the point, they wanted to publish. Oh, and also the second book I’d mentioned in my submission.
I went straight out and bought the champagne! By coincidence, that was the week 50 Shades of Grey hit New Zealand. It was everywhere. In the Herald, on the radio – they even interviewed the author on a current affairs programme.
Suddenly ‘mummy porn’ was the phrase on everyone’s lips. Maybe the genre wasn’t so unacceptable after all!
About the Author
Writing as Galia Ryan, Hilary Murray’s first novel Choices is due to be released on 15 October 2012, and is available from www.amazon.com. Secrets, book two in the Luxuria Trilogy, will be released in early 2013.