Today, I’m happy to be swapping blogs with Gale Martin, Author of Grace Unexpected. She sent me a post about writing honestly and being true to your manuscript instead of going to places you’re completely uncomfortable with just because someone says you should make it “more”… whatever that may be. Check it out and then stop by her blog to see what I wrote!
Getting readers hot and bothered: should you or shouldn’t you?
by Gale Martin
Remember back in high school when kids running for student council would write SEX in big letters at the top of a poster. The smaller print below read, “Now that I have your attention, vote for Fred Farkel!”
Well, I’m not using sex as a decoy to draw you into this post. I fully intend to talk about it, about using sex scenes and sexual references in writing my newly published novel GRACE UNEXPECTED, which launched this week.
Back in 2008, before a literary agent picked it up, my novel was a lot sexier. The editor I was working with at the time kept encouraging me to ratchet up the sexual tension, to be more graphic. I was a little uncomfortable with where she wanted me to go with GRACE U. I wanted to entertain and make people laugh more than titillate. But the editor won out since she had loads of industry experience, and I had none. As a result, the novel began with a bedroom scene that was ultra-steamy. Not erotic. Just steamy. But also very funny. I queried this rather sexy version of the book and got dozens requests for partials.
Sidebar: Yes, my query for GRACE UNEXPECTED was that good.
However, most of the interest in my novel ended once they reviewed the first three chapters. Many agents got snagged up on the opening sex scene, saying things like, “Sorry, this isn’t for us” or “This wasn’t what we expected.”
Sidebar: I’ve found when agents want your work they use the pronoun “I.” When they are rejecting your work, they use plural pronouns like “we” and “us.”
I emailed my editor, who used to be an agent herself, to let her know about the rejections piling up. “Wow. Agents have really gotten prudish,” she said, sounding genuinely surprised.
Several months later, another agent offered to pick up GRACE UNEXPECTED and proceeded to have me ratchet down the heat level of some of the steamier scenes. Later during a NY writing conference, when I told my fellow attendees at a conference about my agent requiring me to remove most of the steamy stuff from my book, they were incredulous. “Don’t do that,” they said. “Why do you think people want to read the book?”
Sex in fiction is a sticky wicket. Some people want to read about it. Some writers would rather die than write sex scenes in their legitimate (non-erotic) adult fiction—women writers in particular.
An earlier version of GRACE was soundly rejected for being too sexy. And of course, we can all name the title of the super-sexy book that is rabidly popular, which I won’t name here because I’ll turn to a pillar of salt after dozens of agents thumbed their noses at my earlier, steamier version, if I even mention one word of its all-too familiar title.
So what’s the moral of this post? The moral is write the book that’s in you. Don’t put too much confidence in an editor—even one you’re paying—especially if you are not comfortable making the changes she suggests. Don’t automatically capitulate to any gatekeeper if you feel differently in your gut. Trust that gut. Don’t write in sex because it’s selling right now and don’t write it out because last year everyone’s bestsellers were squeaky clean.
Tell the story you need to tell in the way you need to tell it. I contend you’ll have more success as a writer if you are true to yourself and don’t bend to the whims of fads and fashions and pick your battles with your editor, standing your ground when necessary.
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Gale Martin’s humorous backstage novel Don Juan in Hankey, PA was published by Booktrope Editions in 2011. Grace Unexpected, contemporary women’s fiction also from Booktrope, was just published July 13 of 2012. Visit the online launch party at galemartin.me through July 20.
She has a master of arts in creative writing from Wilkes University. She has worked in higher education marketing for ten years and lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a rich source of inspiration for her writing. Her blog “Scrivengale” can be found on her website at http://galemartin.me.
In addition, there are a limited number of print review copies of Grace Unexpected available and numerous eBooks for early readers on a first-come, first-served basis. Simply email galemartin (dot) writer (at) gmail (dot) com to request one.
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