How To Start An Erotic Fiction Discussion Group Wall
   
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Tips On Starting And Developing An Erotic Fiction Discussion Group
by
Stan Kent
(1998)


For the last eighteen months I've had the pleasure of coordinating, reading and hearing uncensored erotica in public, mainstream, shopping mall-type bookstores - Borders in Santa Monica and most recently Book Soup in West Hollywood. As joint coordinator of an erotic fiction discussion group I've met some fabulous authors, received valuable feedback on my writing and helped the bookstores sell a lot more dirty books than they would have without our group's efforts.

To help you replicate this experience a few tips follow. First it should be pointed out that so much of our success comes down to individual efforts of dedicated people, particularly Tré Giles, who at the time was Community Relations and Promotions Manager for Borders Books in Santa Monica. He advertised the appearance of an author as the first meeting of the store's Erotic Fiction Discussion Group. Being a published smut author I'm always looking for an avenue of self-promotion so I showed up for the evening. Tré and I hit it off, and the rest is smut history as we used our mutual energies and connections to attract many distinguished luminaries from the erotica scene for our monthly discussion group meetings.


That same chemistry can be duplicated in any community. First of all, you need a bookstore to call home. If you're the events coordinator or manager of a bookstore then this step is easy. Our Erotic Fiction Discussion Group far out sells the other groups in the store. The group will boost sales, and it won't be just men in dirty raincoats pawing through the stacks looking for the really naughty bits. Women comprise fifty percent of our group. We learned that smut sells to a wide variety of people. Good smut sells even better if you afford people a chance to hear it, discuss it and even meet the author.

If you're an author who wants to start a group you should find a bookstore that's predisposed to erotica and be prepared to make your case to the manager or events coordinator. Many mainstream stores now have erotica sections. If they don't, your job is going to be a bit more difficult, but not impossible. If a bookstore doesn't feature erotica, but carries such works hidden in the A for Anonymous section, all is not lost. Most bookstores will be willing to give an enthusiastic group a chance, and if in that trial period you can boost sales, you'll become a permanent institution.

Let's assume you have a home for your erotic fiction discussion group. How do you get the group off to a good start? Authors. That's the answer. Author appearances bring out people, so check with publishers like Blue Moon to see if there is a published author in the area or one who is on tour. The author doesn't have to be the Stephen King of smut. Any published author will do, but one with a name or controversial book will help. Choose a date and set the time and reconfirm with the store and the author. We meet at eight p.m. which is a later time than most discussion groups because of the subject matter, but you will know your area best and what works. Then publicize the event through the local press and in the store emphasizing EROTIC Fiction Discussion Group. You will be surprised how much that EROTIC word grabs attention.

All of the basic promotional rules that apply to any bookstore event are relevant to your discussion group, but by its notoriety erotic fiction can attract much more than the usual attention. Even bad publicity is good as long as the store doesn't mind. Remember, historically the banning of a book was a sure-fire way to make it a bestseller, so work every angle. We never went so far as to sponsor an anti-smut rally outside the store, but there were moments when we considered it as a way of getting the news cameras down there. You'll have to be the best judge of your local community's tolerance for free speech, and do your best to walk the fine line between acceptance and outrage.

The bookstore is the best source of publicity. It daily attracts traffic from a predisposed audience. Arrange for a display featuring the book and a poster with an author photo, which most publishers or the author will happily supply. Such a display will catch the attention of all those people who pretend they're looking for the latest legal potboiler as they wander the stacks in search of a good one-handed read. See if the store will discount the book. Most will give a 10% special event discount to spur interest. If the bookstore has a mailing list use it - mail a flyer with a discount coupon attached for the subject work. The store will usually pay for the mailing as part of their promotional budget or regular mailing. Ask the store to save the names of the people who used the flyer to buy the book. There are always a few errant souls who spend the bucks for the book with every intention of coming, but never make it. If your flyer caught their attention they might be interested in other events. Nurture every contact you can.

If you aren't able to find an author in the time frame you're interested in, then choose an erotic work as the subject of the inaugural night and publicize the evening in the same way. It might be wise to choose a well known erotic work such the Story of O for the first night.

So let's assume the bookstore is behind you. You've publicized the event. You've talked friends and relatives in to attending. It's the first night. It's eight p.m. You're sitting in the literary alcove, and there are five people sitting in a semi-circle facing you. What do you do?

Cheer!

Five is a good start. In any discussion group there will be a nucleus of die-hards. Some nights you might attract thirty people, but it will be those core regulars that keep the group alive, and they'll usually be the ones who were there at the beginning.

Before starting any proceedings on this night and at any subsequent events send around a sign-up sheet to build up your mailing list. As you attract the famous authors who'll generate large crowds it's a good idea to remind the throng that this isn't just another author appearance. The night is part of a regular erotic fiction discussion group. Set the stage. Mention past and upcoming events. It's wise at this point to give a short statement regarding the intent of the group. For example, "We're here to foster a open, uncensored forum for the discussion of all branches or erotica, including local authors, published or unpublished, who may want to debut their work." Encourage people to speak freely. You'll have to continually work at it because people aren't used to hearing or saying in public, "I slipped his cock into my mouth and sucked until I thought his balls were going to come exploding out of the swollen, sensitive head."

Everyone knows that the other purpose of the evening is to sell books, so it doesn't need to be stated, other than to remind people that the subject work is available at a discount, and if there is an author present, a signing will follow. If you work in a bookstore you know a signed book is a sold book.

Attracting local authors, budding or blossomed, to participate in the group is an essential component of success. When all else fails they'll read their work, but more importantly, authors know other authors, are plugged in to the industry buzz and can help a bookstore find good topics. Many authors may want to test their work in front of a live audience, and it's great for the group to feel that they're part of the creative process. Authors also have friends and relatives who are used to being dragged to readings to create a crowd, and crowds beget crowds.

If you have a guest author he or she will read for at least thirty to forty-five minutes, and questions will hopefully follow, as will the signing. Be prepared with a list of questions in case the group doesn't have any or are too shy. Once you start, they'll follow.

If you don't have an author reading it's wise to get the evening off to an uninhibited start by having the group read a portion of the novel as if they were the author. Choose two people from the audience - preferably male and female (hermaphrodites can play either role) and have them read the dialog in a short scene with you as the host reading the narrative and playing any incidental characters.

This role-playing gets everyone in the mood and helps people who haven't read the book appreciate the novel's subject matter and the author's style. If you can't coerce people into participating in a scene then you as the coordinator should read something from the book to get things started. By either role-playing the scene or reading a section yourself you encourage the audience to talk. In an erotic fiction discussion group the audience needs to be continually reminded that they can say naughty things out loud, in a public place. In the absence of an author reading, having members of the group read someone else's words vaporizes the inhibitions and opens the doors for their own interpretations. Don't just start with a "Well, what did you think of the book?" Unless you're lucky enough to have in your group several vocal erotica enthusiasts you'll be met with a variety of shrugs and smiles and "It was okay," comments. A reading will also attract people just wandering through the store. Without fail we pick up a few warm bodies once they overhear the lusty discussion.

As people become more comfortable the discussion will lead itself, but as with any group, the direction can often be dominated by one or two individuals.
In every reading there will be common themes that pervade erotica and help build continuity and camaraderie within the group. You'll find them, don't worry. One aspect of erotic writing we have a lot of fun with is building our thesaurus of body parts used by erotica authors. You'll be surprised how many authors don't want to call a cock a cock or a pussy a pussy. At most readings we find some terms that no one can read with a straight face. We maintain a list, and every so often we review it. For those of the group who are authors, this is a valuable resource.

Another common fun theme is the Page Test. Take any book of erotica and open it at random. Do you land on a sex scene? Is there something juicy transpiring? If so, the book passes. If not, well, do it again. If after three tries nothing titillating has been found then the book doesn't qualify as erotica. This completely arbitrary ruling can be debated amongst the group. It's just a vehicle for prompting discussion.

Another area that bears discussion is the design of the book. Albeit the publisher's domain and out of the author's control, we always find ourselves commenting on the presentation of the material. Even though we focus our discussion on the novel's content, the cover and blurb are irresistible topics, especially from the perspective of what makes a good one-handed reader stand out from the other works in the stacks.

Encourage constructive criticism. The intent of the group shouldn't be to be a cheerleader for every erotic work, because let's be honest, when it comes to books with strong sexual content there's an awful lot of crap-writing posing as one-handed reading. Our group is blunt. When we don't like a work, we say so, although most people out of literary respect tend not to do so in the author's presence. When we discuss a work without an author present no holds are barred. Part of the attraction of an erotic fiction discussion group is to overcome the genre's shortcomings by holding erotic writing up to the same critical eye that other genres are subjected to, with the final arbiter being "Does the book get you off?" Keep in mind Oscar Wilde's wisdom from The Picture of Dorian Gray, "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written."

At first you'll be struggling to find authors and topics, but eventually your calendar will be full for six months in advance, and you'll be juggling dates. Erotica, smut, porn, whatever label you want to put on writing designed to titillate the senses is a huge, diverse subject. We never refuse a topic. Whether it is refined literary erotica, soft-core fluff or hard core stroke stuff, we find a way to showcase the subject. Sometimes we even meet twice a month when we have no other opportunity to book an author. We even branch out into non-fiction. Many sex workers and self-help types publish stories of their lives. Readings by such figures attract big crowds, and you'll find that a portion of the audience sign up to be on the discussion group's mailing list and become regulars. You'll also meet some fascinating people.

Well, that's it. Enough talk and advice. Go out and spread the erotic word. Good luck in expanding America's erotic horizons. Let's return the book to its rightful place as our premier sex toy.

Now let's go back to the Early Nights Wall ...

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