Ellora's Cave: Where To Write Fiction And Make Money Doing So, Part One
No more fucking around.

We are sick of hearing fiction writers complain about how no one likes reading, how hard it is to write true and beautiful things for a living. This no longer cuts ice, fiction writers. There are places out there where you can go to write fiction and make money at it. Maybe it's not the fiction you want to write. Maybe it's neither true nor beautiful. But look: we're in a down economy and that means unless you get down to business, you're going to starve. Don Quixote repented of all his holy nonsense in the end, and you will too. The only narrative that matters is cash, and in this series, we're going to tell you where to go and who to be in order to get it.

There's an invisible hand in this marketplace, and it's desire. People pay money to read what they desire, and only a few whiners desire to read full-bodied books, books where motifs and themes and imagery roll around in the glass like the notes of fruit at the bottom of a glass of Merlot. (Wine-tasting is probably also crap.) The rest of us are probably happy if the book has a ghost in it, or if the main character is a wealthy genius kid with a quirky life, or if it's about a small town and seems well-meaning. These are the narratives we like: fun, cloying, sentimental.

And for the rest of us, there's only one narrative we care about: sex.

Ellora's Cave publishing sells sex, and sells it well. They sell it so well that they get to patent and trademark their own word, "romantica", a "unique blend" of romance novels and erotica.

What are the defining characteristics of "romantica"? According to the Ellora's Cave site, there are three components:

(1) The sexual relationship must be integral to and an important element of the storyline and the character development. Sex scenes should contribute to furthering the plot or affecting the development of the romantic relationship or the growth of the characters.

(2) The story must include abundant and explicit sex and sexual tension, starting early and continuing throughout. Sex scenes must be described in graphic detail and explicit wording, not delicate euphemisms or purple prose.

(3) ... The primary focus must be on the development of a romantic relationship, and there must be an emotionally satisfying committed ending for the main characters.

Let's focus on this last (although the ban on "delicate euphemisms" is worth noting.) A happy ending is a condition of the sale. What's more, a happy ending is by definition a committed ending.

And herein lies the genius of Ellora's Cave.

In one of my history classes a long time ago, some college type or other was railing about the Ford Motor Corporation, for whom he'd worked or a relative had worked in the past. Ford had one assembly line to produce their basic car frames, same steel across all models. Once the steel was poured the line divided into three: Lincolns, Fords, Mercuries, arranged in decreasing order of price. They came off of each line looking totally different to the casual eye, the illusion of variety generously provided by detailing machines and chrome blasters.

That is what you will learn to do when you inevitably give up and go to work for Ellora's Cave! You'll be a chrome blaster, a hood ornament designer--for sex and its only logical end, marriage!

Ellora's Cave is set up to provide you with a basic product: sexual tension with a happy, heteromonogamous ending. It will be as obsessive and as formally perfect as a villanelle, but much more lucrative. It will be the kind of villanelle that lonely women want to pay you to hear.

On top of that steel skeleton you can throw whatever coat of paint you want, and they do. More bookstores should possibly adopt the Ellora's Cave system of classification: separate listings for "Vampire" and "Werewolf/Shapeshifter", for "Time Travel" and "Sci-Fi", for "Psychic Fiction", for "Rubenesque." The covers are all pretty much photos of shirtless men wearing different hats to provide a sense of thematic consistency, a "leitmotif" in classical music terms.

Just as a car manufacturer might also dabble in motorbikes, so too does Ellora's Cave dabble in straight-up erotica (called "Exotika") and traditional Regency romance novels ("Cotillion".) There are limits, even with "Exotika." Women sleeping with women is too exotik by far, according to the conduct and decency guidelines. If the girls want their own girly-girl books they can go hang out at the womyn's bookstore and lounge around on the hemp rug in their sweaty tank tops eating their vegan sausage patties, and they can just write their own erotica, can't they? Except no one will pay them for it. Girls with girls! No one wants to pay for that on their Kindle!

You also can't write rape scenes, unless "the heroine clearly wants the situation to occur by the time there is penetration." Other than those twin moral monsters (rape and lesbian relationships, plus the boilerplate "excessive gore"), it's all fair game.

There are more guidelines for how you will write and structure the actual story. No point-of-view "head hopping", for example, like in The Sound And The Fury or some other book that promotes empathy rather than exploitation and is thus not very romantica. "Brave resistance = money for author," runs another guideline. The heroine should not be "unwilling to give the hero a break" or no one will like her. "The hero and heroine can not have sexual penetration with anyone else once they've met." "Heroes are always tall... never pretty... and well-endowed." And here's a piece of advice that any writer of any kind of fiction can use, no matter how high-minded his or her premise and approach: "Vamps, futuristic/sci-fi, and MaleDom bondage sell the best."

So here is the total absence of variety: one plot, one church, one story, cradle to grave. Here is the systematic reinforcement of stereotypes; here is explicit encouragement for women not to be ball-breaking rights-demanding teases, as long as the man is well-endowed and is not "pretty" and is not really a rapist, at least not once there's penetration. Here is an affirmation of life's ultimate meaninglessness and fate's iron control, dressed up in cliches that don't even pretend to be anything but cliches. And here is $$$ for you and happiness for thousands of women around the world.

According to their author information/submission guidelines page, Ellora's Cave sells 65,000 books a month. That's mostly e-books, at $4.45 an e-book at current prices, or roughly $280,000 a month gross for nothing but raw stories. Some of the books later become Real Books, just like the Velveteen Rabbit, with real ISBN numbers and $10 cover prices and everything. Royalties are paid monthly and are paid at a rate of 37.5%. So every book that sells, you get around $1.50, or slightly more than the $1 a book that elitist lit snobs get by all reports. It is enough for a working girl.

I have no idea if they pay advances or not, and my guess would be no. But the author's guidelines assure me, and all of you, that once you crank out a few titles you'll develop a name for yourself and your older work will start selling better, allowing you to make "a very cushy living." According to the EC newsletter, the company publishes something like one e-book a day, every day. So it's easy to keep up with the demand and keep the royalties flowing if your stuff takes off with the yearning public.

Perhaps you think I am poking fun. But I am not poking fun. Ellora's Cave makes money at the cost of human consciousness and women's political and social legitimacy, but they do make money. They make enough money to actually request books from people. They have a wish list of books that they want to commission from you: anything from the "Hunters For Hire" line, a linked series of erotic novels about space bounty hunters, to the "Lotus Circle" line, a collection of non-erotic novels about characters with "at least one extrasensory ability or metaphysical skill" that the average person "might already possess... or learn to use or develop it as well." Can you imagine editors at Random House being so excited about what they do that they actually write down a list of the types of books they'd want to see and distribute them to the writing public? "REWARD: a novel, heavy on the Nabokovian wordplay, that deals with racial strife and sibling rivalry in a small Greek town. $50,000 advance, DEAD OR ALIVE."

Random House does not to my knowledge do that. To my knowledge they sit in cubicles slowly pulling reams of paper off of a gigantic slush pile, reading five-page chunks of each so they don't get in trouble for Skipping or Skimming. They forge unreadable signatures on manuscript cover sheets, and they pop asprin like Pez, and they tell themselves that they are in charge of literature, all the lit that's fit for right-thinking people to read.

Ellora's Cave, however, is delighted to hear from you. Yes, what they want is not what you, as a snot-nosed literatus, would ever want to write or read. But someone wants to read that stuff, and they're willing to pay you real money to write it for them. Sing for the Fat Lady, Seymour!

All writers' guidelines and submission information is available at the site. They'll get back to you in six weeks with an initial response, and they buy something like 5% of their unsolicited manuscripts. In fiction writing, those are excellent odds.

Do not throw your life away on "high literature". It is like wine; it only sells to rich people who hate you. Coca-Cola sells for a reason: it makes people happy. Take this as inspiration, from the work of EC writer Anna J. Evans:

No one took Melissa seriously, not one single person in her entire life. She was the fun, freewheeling, good-time girl. She was the bubbly blonde who never let life get to her. That was what people expected of her and that was what she delivered... no one ever seemed concerned that life as a foster kid from the age of five might not have been a bucket of margarita mix with the tequila included.

"Oh my god!" Suddenly Melissa's thoughts were interrupted by a series of loud, piercing blasts, booming sounds that seemed to shake the walls and tilt the ground under her feet.

On the outside she is happy, but really she is sad, and also she wants to be monogamously penetrated by a powerful man. This is fine. Respect this and collect your check.

It'll be okay. If you ask people for money in exchange for your writing, you're buying your life from those people--be they New York publishers and literati, or be they the readers of Ellora's Cave. There are worse things you could do with the life you buy than make your customers happy for a little while.

Posted by future on Sun, 13 Jul 2008 22:43:59 -0400 -- permanent link

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