The Erotic Lens
2023 (Cleis Press)
If you are a writer of erotica, you know the name Rachel Kramer Bussel. She has written widely on the subject of sex, dating, body image, and more for over twenty years, with her pieces appearing in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper´s Bazaar, Men´s Health, Forbes, and many more. And while she has written and published some outstanding erotic fiction of her own, too, most writers know her primarily as an editor and teacher of the genre. In the past twenty years, Bussel has edited and anthologized over 70 volumes of erotic writing, from Best Women´s Erotica (Volumes 1-8), Dirty Dates: Erotic Fantasies for Couples, The Big Book of Submission (Volumes 1 & 2), and many more. In addition, she also frequently offers workshops in writing erotica, providing practical information and tools that can serve experienced writers as well as curious novices.
Her latest book, though, is not a new anthology nor a sexy piece of fiction. How To Write Erotica, instead gathers some excellent suggestions and advice on writing within this genre. It can serve as a primer for beginners contemplating entering into this field, whether as a hobby or a professional business; her book will also serve a valuable handbook for working writers who want to develop their craft, to experiment, to keep the tools of their trade sharp. The guest list to this party is a long one, and everyone will have a good time.
Thankfully, How to Write Erotica emphasizes craft--the actual writing. As someone who has participated in a number of spaces for "erotic content creators" over the past couple of years, it´s amazing how few have any sort of discussion about the actual work itself, on what we are writing, and how to do it. Bussel offers a wide range of tools with the same warmth, generosity, and curiousity she displays in her Erotic Writing 101 courses (which I highly recommend, by the way). Quickly, readers will suddenly see the world through what she calls "the erotic lens," and realize that everything could potentially be the basis for an erotic story. She supplements her prompts and tools with examples from the work of a number of excellent writers--from Sinclair Sexsmith and Guy New York, to Mx. Nillin Lore and Regina Kammer, among many others. Combined, Bussel offers a glimpse at the scope of possibilities, reminding us that the best erotica is about more than how well one can describe a sex scenes.
But there´s more. In the later chapters of the book, Bussel also introduces a number of supplementary topics that are no less important for everyone working in this field today. She underscores the importance of doing research to why beta readers are so important before you publish. She offers advice as an editor and essayist on some strategies for diversifying one´s income as an erotic writer, talks about why one should have a pseudonym, offers an excellent resource of some places to get one´s writing published, and much more. How to Write Erotica is just as interested in addressing "the business" part of one´s work, as well as one´s craft.
One personal gripe: I wish Bussel would have included more importance to reading erotic writing, as one of the crucial ingredients to writing strong erotica. I suppose this is implied, as How to Write Erotica features so many excellent excerpts from so many terrific writers, selections which range from BDSM to vanilla, and from fantasy, sci-fi, historical, and realistic.*
*(I was at an online meeting last year with a number of erotic writers, and was stunned to discover that the vast majority of them do not read erotica at all--they´re just cranking out their own books & stories--leading me to wonder if perhaps this is part of the problem, that everyone is writing and selling, but too few are reading and buying).
But that´s a minor point, considering the wealth of good information here. Overall, How to Write Erotica is without a doubt one vital and excellent book. The ideas, suggestions, and prompts that Rachel Kramer Bussel offers in her book are invaluable, and her book is a resource I know I will put into practice.