In September, the book I’ve been editing for the past few years, Our Lives, Our History: Consensual Master/Slave Relationships from Ancient Times to the 21st Century finally launched. It was a longer and more difficult project than I anticipated, when a friend referred MTTA to me to edit their commissioned work. I worked with great people, learned new skills, and got to travel to the US three times, including visiting the Smithsonian Museums of American History and Air and Space in Washington DC. But it’s out now in print, with an ebook edition anticipated next year.
After about 163 queries to literary agents over four months, 40 of which resulted in rejections, one finally said he wanted to represent my book on the history of sadomasochism. We had a couple of phone conversations in which we talked about background and changing my proposal, and he sent me a copy of his agreement.
Unlike the previous agent, this included provisions for breaking off the agreement if I wasn’t satisfied. My friends who know about the writing business looked the agreement over for me, and were okay with it. After my usual anxious waffling, I put the printed, signed agreement in the mail. It should reach the agent in Toronto by the end of this week.
I have no idea what’s going to happen next. The agent says he will start showing my current draft of of the manuscript and a new version of the proposal to American publishers in July. I definitely want to keep revising the manuscript, as I’m running the chapters through my writer’s workshop. I have yet to look at certain research elements, such as Robert Bienvenu’s thesis.
I will continue blogging on this site.
In other news, the shared world science fiction project my writer’s group has been working on for six years is finally nearing completion and we are talking about self-publishing as a “season” of novellas.
This is the first piece of commercial video editing I ever did, using Windows Movie Maker to combine recorded audio with still images. It was a piece for the late Openfile.ca, covering a Vancouver-based photographer who did an art photo book of portraits and interviews of professional dominatrixes. I’ve transplanted it to Youtube.
My first self-published ebook, The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to the Fifty Shades trilogy, is now available on Amazon Kindle. Smashwords is next, though I’m having trouble getting the formatting to work properly.
An expert and historian on consensual sadomasochism began a critique of the sadomasochistic scenes in the best-selling Fifty Shades erotic romance trilogy by EL James. It evolved into a far-reaching analysis that ranges from 18th century romances, to the link between vampires and capitalism, to The Godfather II, to the tangled boundaries between romance and abuse, all on a quest to explain the popularity of this story. This ebook contains revised and expanded material previously published on historyofbdsm.com.
On Wednesday, March 28th, I took a deep breath and clicked “Upload”. My first self-published ebook, The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to the Fifty Shades trilogy, had been carefully converted into clean HTML, and it and the accompanying image files went out into the world.
Within only a few hours, I got a response asking me why my text was also found on a website (i.e. my historyofbdsm.com, where the original blog post series remains). I had no idea this would be a problem. The blog Bad Books Good Times did the same thing with their blog series on Fifty Shades of Grey, and mine had extra material as well as extensive copy-editing. I sent Amazon back an email explaining the situation. No response yet.
While my book was churning through some recondite procedure at Amazon, I diverted my attention to the number two market, Smashwords. I like Smashwords’ philosophy better than Amazon’s: no DRM, lots of different formats.
At the moment, Smashwords wants publishers to submit in Word .DOC format. This suggest an unhealthy reliance on Microsoft’s word processor, exacerbated by the fact that I don’t use MS Office and prefer to work in LibreOffice. Even if you work in Scrivener or something else, Smashwords wants you to upload in Word format, and a very particular form of it. LibreOffice Writer can save in MS Word .DOC format, but it does some peculiar things along the way, like removing headers and footers. I suspected this venture would be fraught with difficulties.
I spent Wednesday evening and Thursday morning reworking the file to Smashwords specifications, and using a combination of GIMP, Libre Office Draw and IrfanView to get the cover image looking good and in the right dimensions. I also ordered another ISBN for the Smashwords edition, which was free thanks to the government of Canada. (One of my advisers on this project says she uses the same ISBN for all her
Smashwords has a two-tiered system. On the first tier, where Smashwords sells your book by themselves, they’re much less fussy about formatting. But if you want your work on Smashwords’ second tier, in which they submit your work to Apple iTunes store and other big retailers, your book needs to conform to a much stricter format.
I spent most of Thursday afternoon removing the auto-generated table of contents and manually rebuilding it with bookmarks and hyperlinks. (You can link directly to headings in LibreOffice, which I use, but the Smashwords Style Guide says not to use them, and create bookmarks instead.) I uploaded it a second time, and watched as it worked through what the Smashwords people refer to as “the meatgrinder”.
It looked good for a while, but then I got the error message from the epub validator. Running it through the epub validation app generated error messages like:
tmp_6357f15fbd059ed108102a8a3a7ceaf1_1cizwC.ch.fixed.fc.tidied.stylehacked.xfixed_split_023.html element “span” not allowed here; expected element “address”, “blockquote”, “del”, “div”, “dl”, “h1”, “h2”, “h3”, “h4”, “h5”, “h6”, “hr”, “ins”, “noscript”, “ns:svg”, “ol”, “p”, “pre”, “script”, “table” or “ul” (with xmlns:ns=”http://www.w3.org/2000/svg”)
What’s worse, I downloaded the epub Smashwords had generated and found that all those manually created bookmark hyperlinks for the table of contents had vanished, and all my Quotation styles had been lost too, and the bullet lists were a mess. I’m not even sure what I can do to fix this problem. I may have to borrow somebody’s copy of MS Word and use that to rebuild the table of contents.
I’m particularly annoyed at Smashwords’ insistence on only accepting Word format, when it’s just going to be reworked into a version of HTML anyway.
Results so far: Still not up on Amazon. It was up on Smashwords for a while but missing important formatting. I unpublished it until I can get it the way I want it.
There’s an app called Jutoh that is supposed to convert Libre Office Writer .ODT files into something Smashwords finds palatable. I’ll give that a shot.
At the risk of a workman blaming his tools, I think this indicates that we are still in the early days of ebook publishing, and that ebook formats are primarily intended for fiction. When you try to do things that are standard in non-fiction books, such as bullet points, indented quotation paragraphs, or endnotes, you run into problems. We are a long, long way from “click to publish”.
Under urging from friends, I’ve decided to start a new project and resume an old one.
The first is The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to the Fifty Shades trilogy, a version of the live-blogging series on my other blog. After more than 80,000 words of commentary and critique on this bestselling erotic romance, I decided to revise, expand and edit them into a book, with some new material. It will be published via ebook on Amazon Kindle and other channels, though I won’t remove the original posts. I see this as charging a premium for a more refined product in a more convenient format (unlike the Fifty Shades books, which look like the original fanfiction postings were published without any copy-editing.)
Yes, it’s somewhat parasitical, but since EL James is freely cribbing from Stephanie Meyer, who says she was cribbing from Jane Austen, why break the chain? In part, this is motivated by money. I have the much discussed “platform”, with my website and my satellite content on Tumblr, Pinterest and Scoop.it, but no revenue short from a trickle from the ad banners and the Amazon affiliate links. I want to see how much money I can bring in, even though the high-water mark of the trilogy’s commercial success has passed (at least until the movie hits theatres).
I’m just dipping my toe into the murky waters of self-publishing via Kindle. I’ve already applied for an ISBN (free in Canada), and I’m grappling with the Kindle’s idiosyncratic formatting. There’s still a myriad of other issues like making the cover image, deciding on the licensing and so on. In part, this is a training run for the next big thing.
The second project is getting back to writing my history of BDSM book. I know I promised I would finish a draft last year, and didn’t, but let’s give it another shot. I intend to finish a draft by the end of year and if possible, and self-publish it. I’m even considering launching a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to finance getting it professionally edited and formatted.
I’ve officially agreed to edit a collection of essays on the history of Master-slave relationships, commissioned by the Master Taino’s Training Academy.
I’m very excited about this project, as I will help create a contribution to the scholarship of the history of this field, and also get to work with people who have been involved in this subculture from its earliest days. My hope is that this book will have a place on shelves next to classics like Leatherfolk and Different Loving.
This project should run into 2014, at which point I will present the finished manuscript to MTTA for them to either publish themselves or present to a publisher.
Okay, the bus gets to the truck crossing. We file out, get in line, same as usual.
The Homeland Security agent/guard/officer/whatever I get looks like a cliche stereotype. Navy blue uniform, short, squat guy, thick neck, looks like he sweats a lot, bulldog physique, super-fine military buzz cut, looks like he drew his hairline with a ruler.
He looks at my passport and says, where are you going?
I know you arenâ€™t supposed to say, â€œIâ€™m travelling on business,â€ because then they start asking about whether youâ€™re taking money or goods into the US. I also decide that being evasive about my trip would look bad. I decide honesty is the best policy, but hope he doesnâ€™t pry too far. â€œIâ€™m presenting at a conference in Maryland.â€
I hesitate a bit here. Then say, â€œConsensual master-slave relationships.â€ Being vague would only make him more suspicious.
He seemed completely baffled by the concept, as if he had never heard of anything remotely like it before.
I explained a bit. â€œitâ€™s all consensual, all role-play.:
He still looked at me like I was talking about putting live frogs in blenders and hitting frappe.
He asked me about my profession, and where I lived, which I told him. He asked to see some proof I had been invited, and I showed him the email with my plane ticket information.
He still looked confused. â€œIs this a sexual thing at all?â€
I said, truthfully, â€œYes, some of the time.â€
I took a book out of my pack and showed him a picture of Hannah Cullwick and gave him a 10-second presentation on her relationship with Arthur Munby.
He looked and said, â€œAnd she enjoyed this?â€
â€œYes, she did.â€
He said, â€œI have a freelance journalist travelling to present on master-slave relationships,â€ as if this was something completely unprecedented.
This is when I started to sweat a bit. I was imagining that heâ€™d take me into some little room, thereâ€™d be another officer, thereâ€™d be latex gloves and CSIS and theyâ€™d beat me with phone books or somethingâ€¦
Finally, he put up his hands and said, â€œI just need to know you arenâ€™t doing anything illegal.â€
I told him, â€œNo, thereâ€™s no touching. I just give a lecture.â€
At long last, he turned away.
Just to make absolutely sure, I asked, â€œAm I free to go?â€
He said, â€œYes.â€ He looked like he was thinking, There are weird, messed-up people in the world, but if theyâ€™re not doing anything illegal, I canâ€™t do anything about it.
I ran my bags through the scanner and got back in line. THEN I got the shakes.
When Iâ€™m in a scary situation, I stay quite calm externally while it is happening. It doesnâ€™t hit me until afterwards.
By comparison, my encounter with Canadian border authorities was over in less than 30 seconds.
I’ll be at the Master-slave Conference 2012 on Labour Day weekend in Maryland, presenting on Sunday afternoon, 2:00pm to 3:30pm.
Origins of consensual Master-slave relationships in the 18th and 19th centuries
This presentation will explore the relationship between Atlantic slavery and erotic writing in the 18th and 19th centuries. The social relationships of slavery were used as “a mine of sentiment” by Romantic writers in both Europe and the Americas, and popular media used slavery as an element in stories of melodrama and Gothic romance, which in turn informed sexual fantasies. These fantasies are most fully realized in the consensual Master-slave relationship (and secret marriage) between gentleman barrister Arthur Munby and maid-of-all-work Hannah Cullwick in the late 19th century.
The rest of the time I’ll be taking meetings and recruiting contributors for a project I can’t discuss in detail yet. Networking, I’ll admit, is not my forte, but I’ll do my best.
It’s supposed to be 30 degrees that weekend, and I’ve heard stories about summer near Washington DC. Not the best climate for leather and latex.
If you see me, say hello.
On the way, I’m passing through Seattle. Depending on how the time and finances work out, I may drop by the Centre for Sex Positive Culture.
“Print is dead.” – Egon Spengler, Ghostbusters, 1984
The Vancouver Sun and Province are moving to a paywall system.
This new â€œmeteredâ€ system will help generate revenue to invest in the insightful, award-winning print and digital journalism expected from the biggest and best news team in Western Canada. We remain committed to investigative reporting and working to ensure transparency from governments and public agencies.
All our print subscribers will receive free, unlimited access to vancouversun.com and The Vancouver Sunâ€™s mobile apps, included with delivery of their daily newspaper. Once registered, our customers can enjoy all digital content from any computer or mobile device, and join online conversations with journalists and other readers on a range of topics.
I’ve written a few articles for the Vancouver Sun, none recently, and I believe they no longer buy from freelancers anyway. (I’m not a regular reader of the Sun or the Province, and when I do read a print newspaper or check a news site, I prefer the Globe and Mail.) In fact, over my career, only a minority of my paid writing has seen print, and that minority gets smaller every year.
(OTOH, my last magazine piece, with only a small excerpt published online, got the attention of a publisher and my first meeting with a book editor. So there is something to be said for both print and exposure in the right circles.)
I realize that making money in publishing is hard, but I don’t think paywalls are viable in the long run. Maybe for high-status publications like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, but not for the Vancouver Sun or the Province.
Here’s a minor satori I had about publishing and media. While doing research for a job search last year, I found an index of employers in Canada. Skimming the table of contents, I couldn’t find anything regarding publishing. I checked the index and found “Publishing. See Pulp and Paper products” That gave me an unpleasant moment of clarity.
So, from a lot of people’s perspective, on a deep, ancestral level, the publishing industry is not the business of ideas or even entertainment. It’s merely one subset of the larger business of moving tree product around. On the big org chart, the newspaper and magazine business, the paper of record, the first draft of history, is somewhere between the people who make toilet paper and the people who make little paper umbrellas in tropical drinks.
However, the business of ideas has been gradually diverging from the business of pulp and paper, into a new medium with new characteristics. Paywalls represent a last ditch effort to hoard ideas instead of letting them be promiscuous.
The flipside of the paywall model, for the publishing business, is the ad-supported model, where you don’t charge for the content but sell eyeballs to advertisers. If you can figure out how to generate content for free, even better.
A friend just got picked up to blog on the Huffington Post, based on the excellent citizen journalism work he’s doing on his own site. HuffPo has given him a byline, exposure, status (people return his calls when he mentions he works for HuffPo), the rights to his output… everything a journalist could want, except actual money.
I wish him the best, but I won’t be joining him. Years ago, I made the choice not to write for other people for free. I’ve fudged that a few times, but for the most part I’ve stuck to it. That means I’ve spent so much time on certain stories that paid so little that, if I worked it out to an hourly rate, I’d cry. But I still got paid: money in the bank, groceries in the fridge.
Sure I’ve invested a hell of a lot of time and work in my two blogs, and seen only a tiny financial return for it (I still haven’t broken the $10 threshold for Amazon affiliate payback.) But I’ve been working for myself, with my own editorial control, my own rights, etc. I work for free, but I don’t toil for free. If I’m alienated from my labour, you’d damned well better fork over some cash.
So where does this leave my writing career? I’m still going to insist on compensation. My big question right now I how to break into the next tier of paying work.