I was interested in delving into the world of erotic writing, and felt no one was better able to answer my questions than Rachel Kramer Bussel. She has been writing erotica since 1999.
Bussel is a writer, editor, blogger and instructor. She is the author of the e-book “Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays” and editor of more than 50 anthologies, including “Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica,” “The Big Book of Orgasms,” “Fast Girls,” “Gotta Have It,” “Cheeky Spanking Stories,” and “Best Bondage Erotica 2015.” She's a sex columnist for Philadelphia City Paper and DAME, and has written for Cosmopolitan, Elle.com, Glamour, New York Times, Salon, Slate, Time.com and other publications.
I see myself as a connector in terms of offering details based on my intently studying the genre, to those who are just starting out. These days, I’m even more excited to brag about my students’ bylines than my own.
XBIZ: Why did you start writing erotica?
Rachel Kramer Bussel: I’d been reading it for several years and was intrigued enough to try penning my own stories. Writing erotica has been a way to delve into my own sexual history and fantasies, and find out what resonate for readers.
XBIZ: What makes an erotic story good or bad?
Bussel: In many ways, the same elements apply that make any story good or bad. Does it grab the reader’s attention? Does it maintain the drama and tension and make the reader eager to keep going to find out what happens next? Also, I think good erotica doesn’t assume anything about sexuality; it doesn’t assume that what’s titillating for one person is going to be titillating for another.
It takes the reader deep inside what makes the action hot for that character. It’s not just catering to people’s preconceived ideas about what’s sexy, but often showing them new aspects of sexuality they may not have considered. I believe a good erotica writer can eroticize anything, and get a reader captivated by drawing on the essential core of humanity they’re tapping into, no matter the specific topic.
XBIZ: How did you come to put together anthologies?
Bussel: After I wrote my first few erotica stories, I was asked to co-edit an anthology, and from there I branched out into editing. I think it’s a natural progression, and since most of my work is very solitary, this is a way to connect with writers and learn from them. I think my books are stronger for having such a wide array of voices, and I always make sure I include several stories by authors I haven’t worked with before so that the anthologies and books stay fresh and exciting for readers.
XBIZ: Do you think women are more open to erotica now compared to say 15 years ago?
Bussel: I think people are more aware of the variety of erotic books available. “Fifty Shades of Grey” helped open the e-book and print markets and let women, many of whom hadn’t read romance or erotica before, know that these types of books were out there and that many were written by women who they could relate to.
XBIZ: Are there opportunities for new writers, or is it a closed environment?
Bussel: Erotica is a genre that is extremely open to new authors. Every year there are numerous anthologies with public calls for short stories, and there are new e-publishers forming every year that are looking to grow their author base. I consider erotica very welcoming to new writers, and now with self-publishing, that’s even more the case. I think “Fifty Shades of Grey” has influenced many people to start writing erotica. In addition to writing and editing, I teach erotica. I see myself as a connector in terms of offering details based on my intently studying the genre, to those who are just starting out. These days, I’m even more excited to brag about my students’ bylines than my own. Helping new writers get published is what continues to motivate me.
XBIZ: Cleis Press publishes your work. What impact do you think they and other publishers have on the business?
Bussel: I think self-publishing works for a lot of people, but for me, I appreciate having a publisher that creates beautiful print books, as well as e-books and audiobooks, does foreign sales, and all the other tasks a publisher does. They get my books into stores so that I can focus on the creative side of my work, which involves seeking out new authors from around the world, putting together varied anthologies, doing readings and events to promote my books and connecting with readers in various ways. Publishers take the raw manuscript and turn it into a product and work with distributors to get books into large and small stores. I love that my books are available at stores like Barnes & Noble across the country and at smaller sex shops around the world. I just discovered that Berlin sex shop, Other Nature, has copies of my titles in both English and German. I don’t think that’s something I personally could have done without a publisher.
XBIZ: Do you write solely about sex?
Bussel: I write about a wide range of subjects, with sex and dating my main beats.
XBIZ: How do you think erotic writings, be it anthologies, books, etc., impact the sex business, content-wise and financially?
Bussel: I think there’s a lot of synergy between erotic books and other erotic products. If someone is buying a sex toy, purchasing an additional item like a book can be a great complement to their purchase and isn’t going to add that much to the price. Also, consumers may buy erotica as a way to preview things they are curious about, such as spanking or bondage, and then later purchase implements to use for those purposes.
XBIZ: For beginners, and even those who are advanced, what would you recommend of your work?
Bussel: “The Big Book of Orgasms,” “Come Again, Sex Toy Erotica” and “Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1” all have wide variety. “Come Again” has a fair amount of humorous erotica. For those into BDSM or are curious about it, “Please, Sir” (submissive women/dominant men), and “Please Ma’am” (femdom erotica) offer variety in those specific areas.
As part of my journey to sexual freedom that I describe in my memoir, “My Sexual Awakening at 70,” I read and wrote erotic stories. Doing so provided a whole new avenue for me to explore into my sexuality. Whether it’s for yourself alone, or for you and a partner, or you do it with an eye toward selling, writing and reading erotica is fun, informative and can stretch you sexually. Why not give it a try? You might discover a hidden talent!