Kendall Grey feels that her art, her true passion, is urban fantasy, a genre that is apparently leagues above erotic romance in terms of merit and morality. I find this stance so patently absurd; I wrote some fairly successful urban fantasy, and no one seemed to feel those had any artistic merit. The most common question I faced from people who didn't "get" the genre or who thought it was some worthless fad was, "Isn't that just paranormal romance?" Because it wasn't enough. It was genre fiction, it wasn't smart, it wasn't worth reading.
Sounds kind of like what people like Kendall Grey would say about erotic romance.
I became so fed up with and hurt by people and their foolish misconceptions about what was and wasn't real writing. I loved my books. Writing them was fun, and I was proud of them. The added bonus was that I could support myself writing them. I didn't feel like I'd sold out because I wasn't writing literary fiction, because I was happy.
Those are the three magic ingredients to a successful writing career, by the way: Fun, Pride, and Money. In that order of importance.
Eventually, I burnt out on urban fantasy. It wasn't as fun for me anymore, and I wasn't excited about any of my urban fantasy ideas. So, I picked up a pen name and turned to a genre that was fun. The first book I wrote was Ravenous, a pirate-vampire-menage-a-trois. No, seriously. It was silly and fun and the prose got super purple. I had a blast. Did it make me ten thousand dollars in a week, like the book Kendall Grey only deigned to write? No. I don't think it's made ten thousand dollars since it came out years and years ago. But I'm still proud of it, and I still have good memories of writing it.
Next, I wrote Glass Slipper, a novella that I fell in love with from the first page. I could honestly write seven more stories just about Josephine and Julien and all the hot sex they could get up to as a married couple. You know, when you've been together a while and you can really let go? Yeah, they're doing something naughty right now, I'll bet. But I digress. I am proud of that novella, I had fun with it, and it made me a little money.
As I started out down the erotic romance path, I began to meet people who wrote in the genre, people whose paths I never really crossed before just because that's the nature of the business. They were all warm and funny and incredibly good at karaoke. The readers? They loved their genre without reservation. And everyone involved in that community? They weren't ashamed of what they wrote, read, and loved. Everyone was celebrating their love of reading and writing dirty books. I was writing something I really enjoyed it, I was proud of what I was doing, it wasn't making me the most money ever but hey, the other two made up for that. I felt like a writer again.
I recently had a book, well. Fail to meet my expectations for sales. I am devastated. For the past few weeks, I have been struggling in deep depression, doubting myself, doubting my career, wondering if all my failures are a sign that I should give up, that I am a terrible writer, that I am worthless. But do you know what keeps me going? The Boss. A story I wrote because it was fun, and I was having fun writing it. And I'm proud of it. I've never been so proud of anything I've ever written before (with the exception of a eulogy, but that's a downer and it was definitely not erotic romance because that would have been grossly inappropriate for the occasion). Is it making me money? Nah, I'm giving it away for free. Because I'm proud of it, and I want people to read this thing I did. And according to Kendall Grey? I'm doing it wrong:
"You can be noble and stick to your guns and say, 'Screw that! I’m gonna keep writing what’s in my heart no matter what!' Fine and groovy, as long as you accept that this guerilla mentality of badassery won’t pay your bills. More power to you for upholding your principles!"I disagree fundamentally with anyone claiming writing anything will "pay your bills." See, I'm pursuing what I love- erotic romance- in a market that Kendall Grey seems to be claiming will make authors heaps of money, if only they compromise themselves. Here's a cold, hard fact: Kendall Grey made ten thousand in a week? I made ten thousand last year. Same "trashy smut" that's all the rage these days. And you know her failed UF series? Turns out that one of the most highly anticipated books of 2013 was Dead Ever After, an urban fantasy! What a fucking concept! It's almost as though no matter which genre an author writes in, some will succeed financially and some will fail!
I would be a liar if I said I didn't get bitter and envious when I see other authors, you know, paying their water bills or going to the dentist since 1998 or wearing clothes that don't have holes in them. At the end of the day, though, I'm a pretty happy person, and I consider myself a success. Because when I sit down to write, I'm not forcing myself to write something I don't care about, or actively hate. I'm not victimizing myself by choosing to write what I write. I don't walk away feeling cheap, dirty, or ashamed.
And another really cool thing about the path that I'm on? I'm meeting an amazing little group of weirdos just like me, but also just slightly different enough from me that we can all be interesting to each other. We can all bring something to the table.
"Once you’ve done your part to feed the reader machine, and you get paid ridiculous amounts of money for publicly shaming yourself and lowering your standards, you’ll be armed with the power to write what you want. Once you’ve built your readership, there’s a good chance many of your readers will follow you into your preferred, artsy-fartsy genre because they like you. Yes, you may have to compromise and write more sell-out books along the way to feed YOUR machine, but the beauty is that you can do BOTH and make it work."I can't even get my head around a statement like this. When one of you guys draws me a flag of a fish with a severed arm in its mouth? That's amazing. When you tell me about how your husband passed away unexpectedly and my 50 Shades posts are the only thing you can laugh at? You have no idea how much that touches and baffles me. And then I see someone encouraging other writers to "feed the reader machine." This advice robs the struggling writer of the experience of connecting to their readers. A little over a year ago, I felt so incredibly alone and like such a failure. And now I feel like I have a success that, while unmeasurable in sales figures or dollar amounts, is truly greater than the money I was making before.
The reason Kendall Grey feels ashamed isn't because the genre is "trashy smut." The reason Kendall Grey feels ashamed is because she feels the erotic romance genre has no value or artistic merit, and she's prostituting herself to it. Because she apparently believes that erotic romance authors don't take the same amount of care and pride in their work as she did with her artistic urban fantasy. These are not problems with the genre. They're problems of an individual.
We would all like to experience the runaway success of a 50 Shades or a Harry Potter. But if that's why you're in the business, you're always going to be bitterly disappointed. There will always be a publishing company who doesn't want you. There will always be a book you work hard on that doesn't perform the way you want it to. And there will never be a rhyme or reason to why some books become insanely popular, while other books sell five copies. If the only way to make yourself feel better about your writing and your choices is to apologize for them and justify them with dollar figures... you're doing something very wrong. And if a part of that involves insulting readers and writers and tarring an incredibly diverse genre with a judgmental and narrow-minded brush? Then what are you even doing writing in that genre in the first place?
Erotic romance has plenty of detractors from the outside (and some from the inside). We don't have to be a Sunshine Sisterhood; that's a mentality I've complained about, myself. But we do at least owe the genre and the readers the respect of doing the best we can, and believing in our own work.
So to everyone aspiring to cash in on 50 Shades by dashing off a dirty book on your lunch hour: If you don't like erotic romance, then you shouldn't feel the need to grace the genre with your artistic presence. It won't suffer without you and the books you lower yourself to write.