The Autobiography of Writing an Erotic Novel
Not everyone decides to write an erotic novel. In my case, I had been writing short stories for about two years and sending them to literary magazines and fattening my rejection folder. Some rejections were handwritten and encouraging, and one literary magazine wanted to publish one of my stories, but after a year had elapsed, they wrote to apologize that they had run out of funds and wouldn't be able to publish my story.
Frustrated with my failure to be published, I decided that I would write something that sells. I had just read at the time The New York Times bestseller Penelope Ash, written anonymously by thirteen New York Times editors.
Publishing was very different in the early 70s. Grove Press was my obvious choice, and when I sent my novel to them, they were interested. But the editor who was considering my manuscript left Grove, and then when I asked for its return, they told me it was lost. Fortunately, I had made a carbon copy, but retyping my novel took months since I had a new baby and a two-year-old demanding all my attention.
Not wanting to waste years making the rounds of the publishing houses, I took a chance and sent my manuscript to an author whom I enormously admired, and still do, telling him of my experience with Grove, and could he perhaps recommend a publisher or agent? My favourite author, not only recommended his agent, whom he would call next time he was in New York and mention my name, but also made favourable comments and included a one page glowing critique by a woman writer friend.
The rest, as they say, is history. The New York agent represented me and within three weeks I had a contract with Dell Publishing. Dell waited one year before publishing my novel to see the outcome of the repressive Burger Court under Nixon. My novel sold briskly over a period of three years without any advertising. When I asked my agent how it was doing, he said, it's a bestseller—it's selling at the rate of 15,000 copies a week! I was in heaven. Yet a trip to the New York bookstores showed no copies on the shelves.
Then after many years of raising three children and a shattering divorce and two unpublished novels, I decided to dust off my erotic bestseller. Times had changed since Grove. My book was rejected on the basis of not enough romance, and I was told that the heroine must have only one lover. Well, I wasn't writing about marriage, or one-on-one; I was writing in the tradition of John Cleland's Fanny Hill about lusty, passionate, joyful sex. And yes, even romantic. Fanny marries Charles at the end of the book. As the internet burst with sex, the print publishers seemed to have retreated into correctness.
Again, my agent, now considerably older, took up my cause. Ultimately as a result of his initial efforts, and after writing a whole new chapter as long as the original novel to satisfy the length requirements, Blue Moon published A Country Girl. From despair to joy, my novel sold out its 3000 printing in less than six months. But in spite of a back order of 500 copies, they declined to reprint.
My experience the second time publishing was different from the first. A Country Girl was available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, airport and independent bookstores, and sex stores in North America, and had worldwide distribution. I would go into my local bookstore and turn my novel face out and bask in the pleasure of my novel sitting on a bookstore shelf. I always offered to sign copies, and one manager arranged to have me sign preordered books at a display table.
Once my novel had sold out, the copyright reverted to me. What to do? An erotic novel that had sold over 64,000 copies, without any advertising, and now out of print. The option was clear. Bring it back into print. After again trying the route of publishers and agents that considered erotica and having no luck, I turned to self-publishing.
I signed with a major print-on-demand publisher after they assured me that there was no problem with the explicit content only to have my contract cancelled four months later when I submitted my manuscript. The content, I was informed, did not meet their publishing guidelines, and I was referred to clause 19 of my contract stating that the author warranties the work is not obscene under U.S. law. This had already been proven years before, during repressive times with no law suits, and my novel obviously conformed to US obscenity laws. The publisher emphasized that "publishing is a business of opinion, and our opinion is but one." To their credit, they immediately refunded my money.
Once again, I was stuck. I looked into my options and decided to become my own publisher and print with Lightning Source. I had even chosen the name of my publishing company, but I decided to call Xlibris whom I had been talking to before. After my previous experience, I had no expectation that Xlibris would publish my novel, which indeed is explicit and honest, but also romantic, innocent, and passionate.
Again, luck prevailed. Fortunately, I had a strong supporter at Xlibris. When she asked if my book was anything like Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, which she loved, I said, Even better! Well, to my surprise and joy, they agreed to publish my novel. And today A Country Girl, with a new cover and the addition of seven original nude drawings, is back in print forever!
Happy? Yes! I've travelled a long way with this erotic novel, beginning in 1970, when I wrote in longhand at a small wooden kitchen table and then typed the manuscript on the toilet seat in the bathroom so as not to disturb my then-husband, who was studying at our only desk in our small bachelor apartment, to 30 years later when I wrote the concluding chapter on a computer, and might I add, with no diminution of spirit or lusty intensity.
Initially, I wrote under a pseudonym because of my parents, husband, and children, but when Blue Moon published A Country Girl in 2005, I decided to use my real name. I am proud of my erotic novel, and also of myself, since I never gave up. I believe in my story, and even today after all these years, when I reread Angela's adventures, I am still moved and often surprised, yet again, at her boldness and passion.
Copyright © 2008 by Jeanne Ainslie