Reality 301 with @heidicullinan


Tonight Twitterverse roared with outrage over Kendall Grey’s post on Authors for Life where she bemoans the fact that sometimes, publishing is hard. Grey spent four years writing and a great deal of money and effort promoting an urban fantasy trilogy; it tanked. She wrote an erotic novel she describes as a “piece of trash” in two months, spent much less in promotion and gave it much less effort, and that book made some decent money. She’s angry that she wasn’t rewarded for her “beautiful, artistic” book and that by selling out she made money. Grey writes:

I know it’s depressing to hear that in order to find success, you may have to compromise your principles. I’ve come to grips with the fact that in the current market, trashy smut sells, and urban fantasy does not. Tough shit for me. If you want to sell books, you have to feed the market what it craves.

Grey goes on to state that

once you’ve done your part to feed the reader machine, and you get paid ridiculous amounts of money for publicly shaming yourself and lowering your standards, you’ll be armed with the power to write what you want.

I think the best place to start in response is to take a moment to acknowledge where this kind of selfish, angry thinking comes from, and like most things gone awry, it starts from something well-meaning. We could build several acres of affordable housing out of the stacks and stacks of books, blogs, and inspirational memes urging writers to write from the heart, to follow your vision, to let your voice ring out and be heard. The problem is that almost always after that advice comes the promise that should a writer (or any artist, really) follow this path of purity, success and happiness will unquestionably follow.

It’s not that this promise isn’t true, exactly. It’s that for far, far too many writers “success and happiness” gets equated with “lots of money and fame.” Here’s the reality of making art: the brass ring is BRASS, not gold. To believe even for a moment that simply producing the work of one’s heart means one will now be a bestseller is beyond naive. To proceed as if commercial success is due because of one’s effort or expenditure is embarrassingly foolhardy. But most of all, publicly ridiculing readers, especially one’s own, is a hanging offense, and anyone who commits it will very quickly feel the cinch of a brutal noose.

Without question, it would be wonderful if every time an author produced a work of her heart it met with commercial success—or if not wonderful, it would at least be very tidy and cute, like a toddler league of tee-ball where both sides go home convinced that they won the game. It’s understandable that writers approach publication with the conceit that if they write it, it will sell, and probably a little of that bluster is necessary to get through those initial rounds of trying to get published. It’s an incredibly conceited idea to put words on a page and ask other people to pay to read them. Hell, even asking for their time is arrogant. Requesting payment is graduate level self-importance, and being part of a corporation allowing many people beyond the initial author to make livings off these sold words is a doctoral thesis of hubris. To even consider stepping into the hot mess of being an author takes some serious mental jujutsu, and yes, imagining one’s story as some kind of messianic tome likely cuts through a lot of white hot terror.

Writers may live in that rose-colored bubble, but authors cannot. Anyone who puts words on a page and calls it a story is a writer; authors are those who intend to make at least a subsidiary living off their works, who write for more than themselves and their besties. Authors do not write because they believe they have innate truths they must impart upon the world but because they would like to be read. Most importantly, authors, true authors, quickly shed their writerly crutch of predestination and come to terms with grizzly truth: authors exist entirely at the pleasure of the reader.

Some genres sell better than others. This isn’t because best-selling books are more artistic or even better written than their peers. This is because the books that sell well are the books which more readers wish to read. Only in literature classes are books read because they’ve been put on a pedestal. Even the snottiest, the-smell-of-a-book-makes-angels-weep erudite societies read because the books they’ve chose to elevate give them pleasure. Every reader believes the books she loves to be the most holy of texts, and the truth of the matter is that every reader is absolutely correct in her conviction. What happens in this little thing we like to call a market economy is that when a great number of readers all happen to find the same kinds of books or titles of books pleasurable, the authors of those books make money.

A failure of a book to make money might be a failure of marketing, but it also might simply not be a book which gives a large number of readers pleasure. That’s as deep as this shit goes.

I understand that it’s disheartening to pour effort and money into a work of art and find that others do not value it with the same intensity. I’ve been to this rodeo more than a few times, and yes, it’s painful and hard on the soul. It is also the sort of thing that grown-ups do every day. Anyone deluded enough to think they are owed monetary success because they bled for their art is in for some hard, hard knocks and buckets full of tears. There will be many cries of “unfair” and much jealousy and hatred. And to be fair, all authors go through this every time they watch their books ride the waves of bestseller charts and the ego torture chamber known as Goodreads reviews. Even the most well-adjusted of us watch that horrible piece of shit book beat our baby to pieces and gnash our teeth and shout at our monitors demanding to know what brain-donors are shopping on these days.

But holy Smart Bitch on a cracker, Batman, to write a post about how stupid readers are and worse to actually put it out there on the internet is so beyond the pale there’s a special hell for that kind of idiocy. Let me repeat: authors exist at the pleasure of readers. Without the people who buy and read my books, I am just another dizzy broad writing shit down. Readers aren’t just an author’s audience; they are her lifeblood. Yes, we make up characters and worlds, but readers are the magical, ephemeral beings who give their time and money to our work, who sing praises of our stories to their friends, who make this whole game possible. Readers are the holy ground where authors’ egotistical nonsense transforms into story. Readers are to be treasured and worshipped, and if an author has an urge to type a nasty review in reply to a reader or write a snarky post, she’d cause so much less harm to herself if she’d cut off her hand first.

Yes, it’s true, one can phone in a book in a popular genre and make more money than one can by bleeding out in a less popular one. However, “the market” is not some craven, slobbering beast created by men in smoky rooms twirling their mustaches. The market is made up of readers gathering without prompt or organization to purchase what authors write. The market is the reason writers are able to even dare to dream of getting paid for creating story. The market isn’t here to prop authors up so we can write what we want and tap our toes until our work gets the kind of attention we think it deserves. The market isn’t here to serve us. It’s here for us to serve.

Ms. Grey, what you’ve dished out for the market tonight might have come from your heart, but much like your urban fantasy series, it isn’t something anyone has a taste for. The market, your readers, and the internet have heard your scorn, and we won’t forget what you truly think of us anytime soon.

That isn’t just a promise. It’s reality. And yes, it’s going to follow you all the way to the bank.


112 Comments on “Reality 301 with @heidicullinan

  1. Reblogged this on The fiction of Amelia C. Gormley and commented:
    I’ve been spluttering indignantly over Ms. Grey’s post for hours now. Her implications were 1) that erotica is trash and not art, 2) that erotica authors are sellouts with no artistic integrity, and 3) that erotica readers are simpletons who only want an easy read and can’t appreciate “true” art. It smacks of sour-grapes entitlement and it’s offensive to any of us who have found our artistic expression within writing and reading erotica.

    • Yes, the snark at erotica writers and readers is an especially gritty jab. I just cannot grapple with the idea of PUBLICLY calling one’s successful work a piece of trash.

    • Just amazing that an author would be so trashy to the readers that actually put her where she was!

  2. I might have a PhD, but when I read for pleasure, I want to enjoy myself. While I like UF, I love MM, so that is where my money goes. Looking at my credit card statement, a large portion of my discretionary spending is on books, none of which Ms. Grey will receive.

    • When I was an undergrad, I read heavy British literature all day, and I enjoyed it, but every Friday and Saturday night I read piles of romance novels for my pleasure, for my sanity. When I went to William Wordsworth’s grave and those of literary figures at Westminster Abbey, I was moved by a sense of history. When I met Jude Deveraux a few weeks ago, I wept like a baby. Wordsworth was important, yes, but Deveraux? She is vital–to me. Sacred is relative and personal and should never be judged like that.

  3. Pingback: Remember that your readers can see you online! | Loriel Jarvis

  4. Well said! The thing that struck me most was that she implores readers “not to throw stones” when she states that they generally don’t want art, but that seems like such a strange request after a post like the one she wrote that literally denigrates everyone who considers their works of popular fiction honorable or artistic, and also insults her lovely readers who spent their money on her self-proclaimed piece of trash, Strings.

    As a full-time author, I am very inclined to sympathize that the books of her heart weren’t a commercial success. I feel her pain and have been there. But rather than being able to empathize, or even listen to what she tried to couch as “advice” or worse “encouragement”, all I came away with was the taste of her bitterness and sour grapes in my mouth. It sounds like she actively looks down on the people who purchased her book with their hard-earned money, and seem almost angry that the sales eclipsed her other books, which, by her own account, are urban fantasy. Not literary fiction, or some other much-lauded genre. If she holds the belief that there are “urban fantasy books with strong romantic elements” that can be called “art” (albeit, by her) and “beautifully written” it seems strange that she is not also capable of recognizing that there are erotic romances, or contemporary romances or thrillers(Gillian Flynn has a beautifully written group of them that ROCKED the bestseller lists) or steampunk adventures that can be artistic as well. I only hope she finds her way to realizing that A. They are out there, and B. She could have chosen to write one, rather than the “trash” that she then tossed out to her readers like chum, only to crap on them for reading and enjoying it. You think your book sucks? WRITE A BETTER BOOK. Don’t just throw it out there and thumb your nose at your readers. Nothing makes me sadder than that, and to see authors make sweeping judgments about genres they clearly haven’t read the best of and putting other authors down. If I had paid for her book, that post would have made me feel like a rube for thinking that she actually had set out to provide me with a great reading experience and had given me a little bit of herself in her book. If she says it’s garbage, then I would return it and get my money back. If I was a chef and sat in the kitchen rolling my eyes, angry that all the sheep out in the dining room with inferior palates are enjoying my terrible food, I’d like to think you would no longer come to my restaurant. I only hope readers see the post and recognize that this author doesn’t deserve their money, time or consideration.

    Just curious, as well…If you write a book that no one reads or paint a painting no one sees, is it still art? Art is medium meant to be shared, and I’m not sure who made her the authority on what constitutes art, but I can tell you this. I will never buy her trash. I will never buy her art.

    As to the sweeping generalization that people can’t write something they love and can be proud of but still pay the bills? I disagree. I do all of the above, and have the BEST job and the BEST readers in the world.

    Christine Bell
    “Sellout”, and author of “trash”, YA paranormal, steampunk, and contemporary romance novels

    • This. I get where she’s coming from and that she didn’t mean to be insulting, but that really only makes things worse. I cannot fathom writing something I detest, personally, but I understand that sometimes that’s the way one makes money. But to publicly throw sand in the eyes of those who clearly loved that work? I don’t even know how to process this.

  5. Wow. A part of me thinks I should be extremely angry at this woman who so blatantly thinks those of us who read erotica are basically mindless twits. I shake my head at her audacity. There is a large part of me, however, that feels sorry for her. I’m sorry she felt she sold out. I’m sorry she’s not happy with the body of work she turned out. I’m sorry she so obviously felt she wasted her time on a body of work that people actually read. What a miserable state to be in.
    Is it hard to write something, put it out for others to read and then wait for the reviews? Absolutely. I do feel bad that something she felt so passionately about didn’t do as well as she would have liked. But to be angry enough to diss her readers? Seems to me that’s a bad, bad move. I don’t think I could justify spending my money on someone who so obviously thinks I’m an idiot. Is it just me who feels this way? Life isn’t fair. Nobody ever said it was. It seems to me that she’s biting the hand that feeds her and in the long run that can’t be a good thing.

    Thank you, Heidi, for writing what you do. For doing it so well, and for making me look forward to spending my money on your stories. xoxo

  6. I stumbled upon the MM Genre about a year ago, when my son told us he was gay. i found not only some great stories but also found some really great authors who I am learning more about by reading their Blogs and Facebook and tweets. It’s a family and don’t mess with a family.

  7. She’s not wrong. You can either be commercially successful or creatively successful, you don’t get both. But holy crap, talk about cutting off your head to spite your nose. That predicament isn’t the consumer’s fault. It’s a choice every author knows they have to make, and they choose appropriately, or they try their best to skirt the line between both, which takes more talent than this one probably has.

    (Or they just kick up a lot of drama and get tons of free press, but you know, that’s always a fun game)

    • The sick thing is I’ve been thinking about this same thing for a month or so now, about how at a certain point of craft the game becomes finding a way to serve your muse and your own desires while serving one’s public and trying to make that readership grow. I guess it could be called selling out, but I like to think of it instead as sacrificing my ego to something beautiful: deeper, broader communication with other people, with culture, with humanity. That seems a bit fluffy and idealistic when I write it, but it’s a hell of a lot nicer than thinking my readers make me sell out to make a living.

      • LOL, this is why I write fanfiction. The financial and marketing pressure would just kill it for me. I have a lot of respect for authors who can both be great writers and great businesspersons. It’s a lot to balance, and I really just want to write bad porn when I get bored. So kudos to authors like you!

    • I know what you mean, but I’m not sure it’s true. If anyone writes a book they love, they have been creatively successful, as far as I’m concerned. If lots of others love it too, they have been commercially successful as well. Bully for them! If what you mean is that it’s hard to get the plaudits of critics and large commercial success at the same time, that is certainly true. But that’s because critics tend to live in a rarified atmosphere not shared by the vast majority of the reading public, who want their books to be fun to read. I like a difficult book from time to time too, but I like easy-to-read ones more!

      • That’s it exactly: it doesn’t have to be a difficult book to be great. It does have to resonate, though, if your aim is to reach as many people as possible–and that’s the game. Does it have to be full of heavy meaning? Not necessarily. Even a raunchy, toe-curlingly wicked book can be sacred. I think it’s about joy, about letting that through to the reader. That can become harder when some joy doesn’t resonate and others do, or when we write too fast or too long.

        That IS a sacred thing to me, though–even if the story was full of lightness and humor, it can still be very meaningful, especially if it’s something that brings joy to the reader too, or escape, or anything. Communication doesn’t have to be deep to be great.

      • Yes. This.

        I feel tremendously creatively successful. And since I could pay our household bills from my royalties (albeit in very low-cost-of-living Alabama) I feel financially successful, too. And the deepest irony of my professional life is that when I finally said, “Oh, fuck all the ‘rules’ I’m just writing what I want” I ended up with my biggest financial success–and my most frequent accusation of selling out. (My heart must be a SUPER trashy place.)

        But even before that moment, I never wrote something I didn’t love, didn’t find exciting, didn’t BELIEVE in. I have more ideas than I can keep in my head. The business aspect is trying to prioritize the most marketable of the things that excite me. The learning curve is understanding that I may never fully know what that means.

        And integrity is never putting out a product I don’t believe in, whether it’s 10,000 words of unapologetic erotica or 100,000 words of…even filthier and less apologetic erotica. I owe the people sacrificing their time & money to let me live this dream at LEAST that much.

      • I didn’t mean that it was impossible, just an impractical goal to strive for, to write something good as well as widely marketable. Look at the popular stuff at any given time. It’s popular for a reason, but it’s probably not because it’s incredibly well written or artistically/socially/creatively significant in any way.

        And there’s nothing wrong with that! I don’t want 100% of my media to be ~deep~, either. Sometimes I just want to get down with some tropey, Been Done A Million Times, appeals-to-my-id stuff. Who am I kidding? That’s half of my day.

        But there is a definite point where you have to make a choice. I don’t think of it as selling out really, not unless it’s something you internally genuinely hate (as seems to be the case with Ms. Grey). That said, I do appreciate her self-awareness. Too many times I see erotica authors touting their M/M as some form of ‘queer advocacy’, in what seems like an attempt to falsely validate their enjoyment of writing it and participating in the community.

        My point is really that it’s OKAY to not be writing the next War and Peace, and it’s even okay to own up to that, but the air of shame some authors bring to it, however inadvertently, is insulting waaaaay more people than themselves. I’m tempted to bring feminism v. patriarchy into it, but I’ll spare us all that essay.

        • The most harmful aspect to me is that we like to believe this kind of disdain would translate, but there are readers coming out saying they loved the book and now feel like the author of a work they loved is mocking the work and them for liking it.

          When I went up to Jude Devereaux at RT, part of me was so terrified she’d laugh at me or dismiss me. She didn’t, of course, and I had no basis to believe she would, just that I always fear people will do that when I’m being honest and sincere and vulnerable. I feel like this is exactly what Grey just did to the readers of Strings. It’s needless, and it’s cruel.

          • Yes, exactly! It’s one thing to recognize you’re not writing Amazing Significant Literature, and quite another to say that’s somehow *bad*. You make a great point about authors—and ESPECIALLY erotica authors—having a wide open opportunity to alienate and embarrass their readers. We’re already putting our money in their hands, but upon interaction we’re also sort of putting something SUPER personal in their hands, which is the implicit knowledge of something that’s resonated with us sexually. That’s definitely something that should be handled with care.

            • I write erotica, and I write it because I LOVE it. I love to read it, and write it. It’s not the only thing on my shelves though. There’s a crap ton of UF, Fantasy, and even some YA. I was absolutely appalled when I read that post. I replied with a polite, but really angry comment…and then I deleted it. I have no desire to get into a flame war with anyone. I’d never diss my readers. Not ever. I realize that they owe me absolutely NOTHING. And that thing that happens when someone reads my book and likes it, and then they actually contact me or leave me a review? Holy crap on toast! *Mind blown* That means, like Heidi mentioned, that we (me and a reader) connected through those pages. It’s freakin’ magic! And it is super personal, and to do what Grey did and alienate her readers this way is just such terrible form. At first I thought her “disclaimer” on her book was a joke, then I read that post and realized she was insulting her readers on Amazon. Right there front and center. Except they had no idea that they were being made fun of. That the “disclaimer” was not in anyway supposed to be taken as funny. It’s like standing in the middle of a party, and everyone is laughing at you, but you don’t know why.

    • I have to disagree that it’s not possible to be BOTH creative and successful, both artistic and marketable. While the definition of “commercially successful” is probably easier to agree upon, the definition of “creatively successful” or “artistic” is something we [the collective we, that is] could probably debate for a long time because it’s entirely subjective.

      The thing is, you NEVER know when you write something if it will be commercially successful. Even if your last book hit it big it’s no guarantee the next one will. Saying something must not be creative or artistic BECAUSE it was commercially successful and marketable is something that can only be said after the fact, i.e., after it becomes successful, and therefore strikes me as sour grapes (in general, I’m not saying Angsty intended that…). It also seems to say there’s something repugnant about writing to make money, about writing for a living. The fact that one can write AND make a living on it, as more and more people are finding themselves able to do, is, to my mind, a good thing, not something that somehow proves all those authors are sell-outs while the ones finding it harder to sell their books are the true artists suffering for their art.

      • “I have to disagree that it’s not possible to be BOTH creative and successful, both artistic and marketable.”

        Totally agree. It’s very very hard work sometimes, and for me at least is rarely something I can predict, though I’m starting to get better. I feel that keener sense of what will sell, of what readers want is GOOD. It’s not selling out. It’s finding away to balance that dance. It’s never easy and never the same from day to day, but that’s what makes writing for a living fun for me. I mean hell, if I wanted easy…

        • I think finding ways to give the readers what they crave while still retaining your voice and the key elements that made you want to tell the story in the first place–this is the key to writing a successful book. Okay, you can never guarantee readers will actually love it, but I don’t see why that goal should be seen as selling out. I consider myself in the entertainment business rather than a lofty artist. I want readers to get a few hours of sheer enjoyment when they read my stories. That’s the goal. It’s not so much about the money, but about providing a fantastic reading experience.

          Although, you know, the money is nice. I do have to put food on the table, petrol in the car… and I desperately need some new shoes!

  8. Wonderful insight as usual Heidi. I especially like “…there’s a special hell for that kind of idiocy” – and it’s a hell of her own making. I wonder how many books I read before the era of Social Networking and the Internet. It’s a wonderful yet tricky world because we get to know the authors of our favorite books – see their process and what inspires them, yet authors also friend readers on Facebook share their personal lives and ups and downs so we can see – and we become connected in a way. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really a connection or if it’s purely marketing. To be honest, making this connection has allowed me to choose who I like to read beyond a chance first book, and when I see consistently good writing from an author and find their Social Networking sites strike a healthy balance of professionalism and personal insight- a “genuine” interest in their readers, and damn good writing, I become a loyal reader and will read something new and different perhaps outside that author’s usual genre I may not have read otherwise.

    • I often think we’d be better off not knowing each other’s dirty laundry, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to connect. Joining Jennifer Crusie’s yahoo group a decade ago led to being mentored by her and forming friendships and professional connections with scores of women, many of whom I still know today. It’s hard to swallow the frustrating feelings writing and being so public can engender in authors, but I don’t see how insulting readers, especially in such a backhanded way, helps a damn thing.

  9. I feel betrayed – I was one of the first readers when it came out on 4/20 (upon another GR friend’s rec) – I posted my GR review on 4/21 and pimped it out to all of my GR groups and it’s even loaned out right now. I added two quotes for the book which have 20 and 8 likes respectively. It was lewd, crude, funny and different. I wanted to read the next two books in the series.

    Guess what, I have no interest in reading anything Kendall Grey writes and I plan to contact Ammie for a refund when it gets returned in the loan – so that will only be 99 books sold that week.

    p.s. love Heidi’s books! I highly recommend Special Delivery and Double Blind.

    • Lei, I just stumbled on your GR review and it made me cry. (I think it was you. This? This is EXACTLY the sort of nightmare scenario I thought of when I first read Grey’s post. What a horrible, horrible thing to do to a reader, and it happened to you. I’m so so sorry.

      And if that is you, as I think it is, I sent you a sad little PM via goodreads. If that wasn’t you, I’ll say the same thing here I said there; I’m so, so sorry this happened to you. It’s awful, it’s criminal, and it’s cruel. ((((Lei))))

      (Thank you for liking my books and rec’ing them. When Special Delivery 3 comes out, if you like it, I promise I’ll never shit all over your enjoyment in public.)

  10. Reblogged this on rawiyaerotica and commented:
    This post is from brilliant writer Heidi Cullinan. The message? Never, ever put down your readers. Word to all of you, the Triad appreciates all success on all books! We love readers and strive to write books that will entertain and please. 😀

  11. Heidi, I couldn’t agree more. It really irritates me when writers take an entitled attitude like this. Readers like what they like, and if they don’t like your work then you either have to suck it up and accept the low sales or find a way to make it more commercial that you can live with. Writing something you hate with a cynical, “let’s see if the morons will swallow this tripe” doesn’t make anyone happy.

    I’m just happy my muse is a smutty beast. Writing erotic romance isn’t a sell out for me. It’s what I love doing, and it upsets me to hear the whole genre being belittled as lacking any artistic integrity. Besides, what’s wrong with writing that’s fun and lighthearted? Or that turns you on? There’s a reason lit fic never sells as well as genre fic. It just isn’t as much fun to read.

    • “There’s a reason lit fic never sells as well as genre fic. It just isn’t as much fun to read.” THIS.

      I think of how naked and raw and exposed I’ve felt writing erotic works, of how to the bone I go for those stories, and I cannot fathom thinking of that as trash. TO CALL YOUR OWN WORK THAT. What the fucking fuck.

      • The insult to her readers is unforgiveable and to me, unimaginable. As in, I can’t imagine ever belittling anyone who had actually BOUGHT MY BOOK in that way. If you buy my book, you are my friend. At least in this professional space and the least you deserve is my respect. But to belittle your own work that way is almost worse. If she didn’t write the best erotica she could, then she really did sell herself out. It’s not about the genre but about her having the gall to put out something she thought was trash. That’s the sell-out here. That’s where she compromised her art, as far as I’m concerned, as well as the hard work of all the other authors who love this genre and put all of their art and heart into it. And, of lesser importance, but it has to be said – on a purely professional level, even if you think all of those ranty thoughts, what sort of nuff-nuff SAYS SO TO HER AUDIENCE?

        • “It’s not about the genre but about her having the gall to put out something she thought was trash. That’s the sell-out here. That’s where she compromised her art, as far as I’m concerned, as well as the hard work of all the other authors who love this genre and put all of their art and heart into it. ” THIS TOO. Apparently I’m just going to start quoting everyone now…

        • Exactly. Writing erotica well is horribly exposing and actually pretty tricky to do. But fun too, at times. I’m all for writing being fun. “Art” doesn’t have to be deathly serious and ponderous to have value. Sometimes we just need an infusion of the lighter side of life. Then again, I’ve always been drawn far more to comedy than tragedy, and I see no need to apologise for that.

  12. I am a reader. Yep, I’m also a writer. I believe at this point I’m more of a reader over a writer. I read more than I write.

    Do I want to sell more of my stories? Hell yes. Here’s the rub; I have no money to promote my novels. I rely on my own marketing to sell a novel. If my novel isn’t appealing enough, I fail.

    Kendall Gray needs to move along and suck up her financial loss. Let’s face it, buying your way into success is pathetic.

    • I’ve spent money and time promoting works, but the only time anything ever takes off is when it strikes a cord with a number of readers, and THEY do fourteen times the promo and for free. Why in the world would someone sneer at that?

  13. Reblogged this on Wine, Women & Wordplay and commented:
    Recently, a disgruntled writer perpetrated a stunningly rude and unwise rant about writing on her unsuspecting readers. Many people (unsurprisingly) took it amiss. The wonderful Heidi Cullinan, though, wrote a balanced and sensible response which deserves reading by anyone who wants to make a living in this art form. Thought I’d share it with you.

  14. I’m not even sure which part of this makes me saddest. Her hurt and frustration are understandable–don’t we all think the works we love the most should be the ones everybody else loves most, too?–but the presentation and the way she deals with reality are just so, so bitter and hurtful. And part of it is that she clearly believes the Great American Lie: if you do what you love, you’ll be good at it; if you’re good at it, you’ll make oodles of money doing it. Sorry, but I call bullshit on that noise. I work my ass off as a high school teacher, everybody loves me and knows I’m good at what I do–and I’m still on the same pay scale as the teachers who just give worksheets all day (actually, I make less, because I’m not certified).

    • Oops. I hadn’t really meant to post that yet… Anyway, my point was that skill does not equal money does not equal success. And success does not necessarily equal fulfillment, depending on your definition of success. I straddle that line between writer and author; I’m fortunate enough that sometimes people pay money for things I write, but I even don’t try to make a living from it. When I write, I can sit down and think, “I want to write about a phoenix and a hamadryad. (No dragons? No werewolves or vampires? Audience just shrank.) They’re going to be females (and there goes most of the market–f/f sells like shit compared to m/m). And it’s going to be historical, but not regency (there goes most of the rest of my potential buyers). Oh, and they’re forbidden by the gods to have sex (no on-page sex=who’s left to read this?).” And I can know this, and do it anyway, because it’s a hobby and not how I pay my bills. It’s a luxury. And yes, that’s the basis of my least popular story by far, but it’s my favorite. It’s not a success by commercial standards, but it’s a success to me because I wrote what I wanted to write and I’ve heard from a few people that they loved it and it made them happy, and that’s what counts to me. If a couple extra bucks show up with my next royalty check, that’s just icing on the cake. And if people want to spend their money on other things I’ve written instead, I’m not going to be angry with them–I still wrote that stuff, too, and I’m responsible for it, and I wouldn’t have put it out there if I didn’t have hopes that it would also mean something to somebody who read it. And why on earth would I pass judgment on someone for having the gall to LIKE what I–*I*–wrote? If I thought somebody would be an idiot to like it, it shouldn’t ever leave my laptop.

      If you’re pretentious enough to call your own work “art”, then you better be damn sure you’re not putting out “trash” right alongside it. Be proud of what you write, be proud of what you publish, and then let readers make up their own damn minds about whether or not what you wrote means anything special to them. Gahhh.

      • Former teacher here too. *toasts*

        Writing from the heart and accepting it might be less profitable can end up making those who do love your work that much more precious. Just last night (I think drawn back here by this post) a longtime reader whom I love, whom I’ve met and who is a dear, wonderful person, posted on another entry how she’s excited for my popular series, but is still dreaming for the next installment of my not-as-popular fantasy series. Everyone can love Special Delivery, but those who love the Etsey series have a special chamber in my heart. So do the Special Delivery fans! It’s like there’s one room, though, that’s a crazy, noisy, wild gathering, and one where we’re quieter, softer. Having both kinds of fans is a blessing.

        (I love f/f by the way, and am reading a great lesbian historical right now…)

  15. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Heidi. I came to the game late, not having read the actual post which has since been taken down. Publishing is a frustrating business that can truly wear you down if you let it, but then again, who hasn’t had disappointment in life? It all boils down to how you handle it, hopefully with grace. As a published writer, you learn that not everything you write will be loved by one and all, or sell well, but you keep on writing because it’s your passion. It’s not about the money, it’s about loving what you do and doing it because you have stories you want to share.

  16. The post has been taken down, but you can’t erase screwing up and dissing an entire genre along with the authors and readers of said genre. Everyone is entitled to have pissy hissy fits, but to throw one in a blog post? Over your books not selling? I have an eleven year old drama king who can throw a better fit than that over his video games not working. Did she not think this other book selling would lead readers to her earlier work? I know when I find an author I adore, I go back and get their other work as my budget affords. *shakes her head* I. Just. yeah. Excuses after you screw up are just that, excuses.

    • I write all over the genre map, and to a degree this is true, but because I have several distinct tracts of style, my readers are starting to form camps: they read one style, a few, or everything. To the point I’m redesigning my website to make it easier to navigate my varying styles. I don’t want to trick someone into reading my favorite works. I want readers to be happy and find what they want, and if they spread the word about a favorite book? EXCELLENT. They don’t read everything I’ve written? I can make peace with that, because I”m the same way with a lot of authors.

  17. I’ve always been lead to believe that it’s art if you say it is. There is an undeniable skill to writing an engaging story with believable yet exciting sex and relatable characters. Does Ms. Grey not know how hard it is to write an alpha male who isn’t a sexist pig? Or a dominant man who isn’t coming across as a woman hating bully? There is a fine line to be walked by anyone who writes with the hope of arousing their readers. Especially if you are writing for women. One misplaced word or action, and the whole mood is lost.

    I am surprised at what she said. I have seen a comment or two from her readers who are really unhappy about it. She seems like a smart person but that wasn’t the smartest thing she’s ever done. I’m pretty sure though, she would take it back if she could.

  18. It makes me sad that she wrote something that she feels is “a piece of trash”. I can’t imagine pouring my heart and soul into something and then later thinking it was a piece of trash. It makes me sad that she felt she ‘had’ to sell out to get noticed.

    I agree, I think it’s a HUGE slap in the face to the readers and the hubris of this whole thing is just shocking 😦

    It seems I learn something about writing and what to do or not to do as an author every day.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful and eloquent post.

  19. Success is subjective but for some making a lot of money on their books means they’re a success. I think most writers grapple with themselves for their art, including actors and musicians. Many do “sell out” because they want money, fame and prestige. Others stick to making good art as Neil Gaiman has said and it doesn’t matter if they make a dime off of it.

    Is the point as a writer to get published just to make money? Is success materialistic or getting a big reward and have many zero’s in your bank account? If you don’t write what you love and just write because you think you’ll get a lot of money, then you’re going to be very disappointed because in the end you’ll hate your art and may become a very sad individual regardless of all those zero’s in the bank.

    If you can make good art, art you love and make money off of it, then that’s a plus.

    • I wrote a post talking about exactly this a month or so ago when the GRL brouhaha was in play. WE define what success is for ourselves. No one else. Though I suppose we now need to add the caveat, “If your definition is crazymaking and you resent the kind of success you get, maybe keep that to yourselves or take up gardening.”

  20. I love writing my erotic romances, I pour my heart and soul into my stories. But success or not, never, ever dish your readers. I love my readers! I love interacting with them, they are the life blood of any writer. So every author beware what you put out on the world wide web, can and WILL come back to bite you in the arse, and not in a good way.

    Grey took down her original blog post. So thank you Heidi for now allowing silly people like Grey to get away with their stupidity.

    Cheers Angela Castle.

  21. As (I *think*) one of the first people to rave about this book on GR to all my friends, I was just left feeling cheap and used and very taken advantage of. Even worse, I thought I had found this great, fun, sarcastic raunchy book, and a new author to enjoy, only to find out it was all just a joke, which made ME feel like a joke for loving the book. It honestly made me feel a bit sick at my stomach last night when I read that post, not to mention VERY angry. I did pick up the first book in her UF series, but I won’t be reading it, and I won’t be picking up anything else this woman writes.

  22. I’m so glad I came across this post. A link to Ms. Grey’s original post was listed one of my Facebook author groups last night. I read it and was just completely in awe of Grey’s total lack of respect for her readers and fans. I hurried off to a late dinner with my hubby of which this was the topic of a big rant on the car ride to and from the restaurant and at the dining table. The “F” bomb was dropped several times with a a helping hand from some other choice expletives.

    It was sad seeing the twitter feed of readers stating they had just began reading “Strings” and have since asked for a refund.

    Aside form Grey’s horrible treatment of her readers and the reviewers who have taken time and money to read her work, her post was insulting to all authors/writers who chose to write in “trashy” genres. Apparently I’m an uneducated moron (holding a Bachelor’s in Microbiology AND immunology AND a Master’s in Liberal Studies from a big name school no less), who just hasn’t realized that I could be creating “art” instead.

    Yes, on some levels I feel sorry for Grey because she is obviously unhappy writing “smut”. Instead of ranting at readers and the genre in general, perhaps her time would be better spent re-evaluating her choice of careers.

    • “Apparently I’m an uneducated moron (holding a Bachelor’s in Microbiology AND immunology AND a Master’s in Liberal Studies from a big name school no less), who just hasn’t realized that I could be creating “art” instead.”

      Jennifer Cruise is one of the sharpest cookies on the block and was in the middle of her women’s studies degree when she began reading romances for a project. She loved them so much, found them so powerful that she began to write her own, got her MFA and changed her life. Not wildly erotic stuff, no, but sexy and funny and she got looked down on by the academics who wanted to know when she was going to write a “real book.”

      I’m so sad for the readers. I want to have them all over for a comforting homemade meal of stew and biscuits and then send them home with armloads of books.

      • lots of romance authors have degrees like that – Eloisa James has a PhD in Shakespeare and teaches at a big name college in NYC; lots of law degrees, some medical degrees, Diana Gabaldon of Outlander has a PhD in Wildlife Ecology (IIRC).

      • This is not a case that will occur in academia. Few months ago I was at my frend’s book promotion. She wrote a chick lit novel, and the person who was talking about her book and who was also an editor of the book said something like this: oh well she proved/showed that she can write a chick lit, but now is time for her to write something serious.
        I could not beleve that, what is serous? Well in my country in thi category falls everything connected with war that ended 18 years ago , transition from communism to capitalism, poverty, social issues/dramas, and 2nd world war – those things I really do notwant to read.

  23. I LOVE this post. You said eloquently, in a way I can’t possibly manage at the moment. I made sure to add this page’s link to my Strings GR review. Thank you!

  24. Well written and to the point. She has turned off more people than she attracted. I had her book as something I might get but even though I think I might like it I likely won’t read it or at least not for a long time because of the attitude. I don’t want to come down on a fellow author but readers are the ones that you need. You can get your book read if you don’t have them. It’s simple or least it should be.

  25. I’m late to the party. Can I point out that her initial thesis, before she even gets into her rant about selling out, is just plain wrong? “Trashy smut sells, and urban fantasy does not”. Um. No. I read a literal crap-tonne of urban fantasy, and god knows the vampires and werewolves, witches and fae on my bookshelf, and the ones at my local Chapters could also be used to build a small subsidized housing community. So her whole rant is for naught, because she clearly doesn’t understand the market. Saying “urban fantasy doesn’t sell”, because her urban fantasy didn’t sell, is like saying “Canadians suck at hockey” just because the Leafs lost their playoff game on Monday. So basically, her entire argument is null and void, because her initial argument has no basis in reality.
    That said, I’m very sorry she’s hurting so much that she felt she had to write what she did. Although I’m not an author, I certainly know what it’s like to work your ass off on something and feel under appreciated for it.
    And I’m vaguely confused by the follow up post at Authors for Life which now says it was supposed to be about trying new things, from Miss Grey’s “unique” perspective. And that they didn’t anticipate it being taken so negatively. Really? I’d like to hear that explanation much more than I’d like to hear anything else Ms. Grey has to say.

    • Yeah, can you imagine something like this coming through on Coffee & Porn in the Morning? Like you wouldn’t go, “Uh….” and suggest she rethink this? Because that hasn’t been addressed, but yes I wondered how this got to print on a not-just-personal blog.

  26. The wonder of it all is that there are no rules. The wonder, the glory, the heartbreak, the excitement of complete and utter chaos. I adore Kendall Grey and STRINGS. She doesn’t talk, she howls. She doesn’t write, she explodes. She sees the edge, steps over it, and keeps on going. And even after this debacle, she’ll continue to howl because it’s a hard old world and writers are a downtrodden people. Why else have so many of us been destroyed by drugs, alcholism, gambling, and general foolishness? Dis readers, don’t dis readers, it’s all so much blistering nonsense. Harper Lee wrote the book of her heart and now it’s canon. There are no rules. What a great time we live in to be a writer\author\rebel\gunslinger\word addict.

    • Agreed! An author puts there soul into words, the last thing they need is another author to put things in front of a reader taken out of context. Shame on Heidi, and shame on Lauren Dane.

      • If the full context would improve comprehension, why has the original post been taken down?

        Authors and readers are free to defend Ms. Grey, and I’ll stand in no one’s way. But if there’s nothing wrong with the post, there’s no argument to be made in its removal. I do believe she never intended this kind of reaction, but this is in fact the greatest job of an author: intent must be adequately conveyed. In fact, I would say that given both the content and tone of her post, this is the core of the matter. It’s fine to wish the burden of tone lay with the reader, but real world experience will prove over and over again, as it has since communications between humans began, that this wish will never be fulfilled.

  27. There’s definitely a betrayal I felt as a reader (and heck, as a writer/aspiring author) when I read about this first on my GR friend feed. I’d bought the first two books of her “Just Breathe” series because many people I trusted in my GR friend feed had rec’ed it to me and I took no hesitation – the premise was awesome, the cause the author was working for was awesome, and the cover (imo) was to die for. Not to mention what parts of it I read, the writing was right up my alley. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to read those two books, because it’s not as if I can return them (I bought them a while ago), but I don’t want the money I spent for them to go to waste.

    I’ll admit I was on the side of saying no to her erotic series because the humor and descriptions weren’t my cuppa from what I read of it, but then when I read that blog post, I couldn’t believe what I read. I have my own ranty post to pen on the matter, but I think you, Lauren Dane, Jenny Trout among others hit the nail on the head with this (and I discovered your blog in the process, huzzah!). I don’t understand, even now, how she thought saying those things wouldn’t make people angry and/or feel betrayed – especially since it was an insult not only to the genre she was writing in, but to her readers/audience, even the potential audience that hadn’t yet discovered her. And it’s a betrayal of trust considering not only she was duping her audience for what she was writing, she was duping herself for what a lot of writers/authors pride themselves in doing – writing to their passion and communicating an honesty in doing something that they love.

    Thank you for writing this, and much love.


  28. You write to make money and think your work is trash? Not sold, and won’t be buying. I may be an author, but I’m also a reader and comments like that are just insulting to those of us who actually enjoy writing books in this genre. Believe me I’m biting my tongue on all the things I’d like to say about this, but I’m not impressed!

  29. Wow, as an author I actually was insulted by this post. You may consider yourself a puppet on a string serving only whenever your readers tug it but I don’t. I don’t know if the person who made the first rant is a good writer or not. Could be she sucks. I have no clue. Is it smart to dis readers? No. But are most of them smarter than the average bear (to quote a cartoon)? No. A good author will bring them (or try to any way) into a story they might not otherwise be interested in. To say you have to lower yourself to the reader is cutting the author’s talents short and killing any chance the reader has to expand their horizons. Having sat in on tv shows I can tell you they are dumbed down on purpose and there are readers who will think 50 Shades of Grey is right there with Hemingway and never know the difference. They may also think the world is flat. It is a fine line between making any project pay off and it going bust. It could be marketing, bad timing, who knows what. Part of the current problem with publishing is exactly the advice you have given here. It use to be publishers pushed readers to a Hemingway or a Harper Lee and amazed them, now they are shoved towards a 50 Shades Of Grey ‘because that is what they want’. It is what it is but to think that an author has to live in the gutter to make it is as insulting as it gets and pretty well defeats why most authors become authors to begin with.

    • Jett, I can’t speak to what Heidi intended, but that’s not what I took her to mean. I don’t think she meant that you have to lower yourself or your art – rather, that’s what the original poster said. I took Heidi’s point to be that you can’t necessarily expect major monetary recompense for writing the book of your heart. You might write what you consider art, or what others consider art, or you might not, but it will only make lots of money if it resonates with enough readers. That doesn’t make writing it worthless. And it doesn’t mean that work with a small audience is worthless. But being liked by a lot of people doesn’t make that work worthless either. The part about respecting the reader was because the original poster insulted her readers for liking the work (hers) that she classified as trash. If readers pay you the compliment of buying and supporting your work, it seems at the least churlish to insult them for their preferences.

      • I agree with most of your response here. To begin with this is a field you don’t do for money. I mean you try and keep the bills paid but don’t expect anything more. Stats say that over 90% of all writers makes less than the poverty line. That speaks for itself. But she did talk about giving the readers what they want in this post and that is as bad as doing it for the money. Seriously, I found that so insulting. In some ways it is worse. than doing it for money. You should never insult a reader. I mean seriously, they may not get you but hey, it may be their background or just a matter of taste. Don’t judge. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Writers do sell out. Famous writers have done – and I hesitate here because I think if a writer likes a genre then fine go for it as everything has its place. There is always that guilty pleasure so to speak. – works under pen name to make a buck. Anyone remember Anne Rice having to do erotica under a pen name to make money? Hey, you do what you have to do. Fine. BUT like I said earlier, part of the problem is this attitude of give the readers what they want. In the past it was give the readers something they never knew. BIG DIFFERENCE. And right now, writers are in part the blame for the slide in readership. So are publishers for pushing it. Don’t care about the money. Don’t care about the readers. (Would Slaughter House Five been approved by anyone beforehand? To Kill A Mockingbird was rejected by how many people? ) Write the story you need to write. Sure try a business plan. Hey, it is real life but don’t let readers dictate what is written. My god, literature will never advance if that is the case. And frankly, when I writer is honest about having sold out and feeling those pains of regret, don’t jump all over her for being honest. Someday you might be in the same spot.

        • I think we can all sympathise with her frustration. But she could have expressed it without insulting the readers who supported her and other writers. Readers don’t owe writers anything, but I do believe that writers owe the readers who support them respect.

        • There’s a time and place to vent frustration, but the public sphere of the internet is not that place. This is akin to making insulting remarks about a group of people in public and then being angry at a member of that body for accidentally overhearing.

  30. I’ve worked in marketing for a long time, so Kendall Grey’s blog post didn’t offend me as much as it did some others. I doubt that any target market — readers or other consumers — would feel particularly flattered if they heard themselves described in a strategy session. We don’t call this “selling out,” though — we just call it “selling.” 🙂

    And she’s right, to a certain degree. At the end of a hard day, I absolutely do want easily-digestible, bite-sized chunks of entertainment. It doesn’t make me “stupid”; it makes me part of a demographic to whom erotica and romance is a big sell. The only difference between Ms. Grey and someone like me is that I pitched my idealism yonks ago. I’ve worked as a copywriter for companies that I would *never* shop at in a million years. I figured out really quickly that there’s a big difference between getting published in “Glimmer Train” — nice accolade, right? — and, well, actually making a living as a writer.

  31. Heidi, you are a goddess of epic proportion for this post. I’ve always been confused that the idea of art and entertainment don’t ever touch. It IS an art form to make someone laugh, cry or smile. No matter the genre, you’re taking someone out of their life and transporting them into a world filled with words you made up. That. Is. Art. I think the bigger problem is that belief prevails. If you enjoy it then it must not be art. If you didn’t bleed for it it’s not art. I call bull. Quite frankly I don’t want my books in museums or broken apart for someone’s thesis. I want my books to be enjoyed. I want to entertain and if that makes me a sell out then I want a gd t-shirt too.

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  34. I was raised to believe money is power. The Consumer is King.

    I choose who and what my hard earned money supports. There are always other vendors, institutions, farmers, authors etc… out there

    At a young age I made my parents boycott certain brands and institutions because their policies towards many issues offended me… because MY MONEY IS MY POWER. I continue this practice to this day and have instilled it in my children.

    I chose in this instance to exercise my power by asking for my money back (without having read the novel). My reason? I did not agree with the authors view of her consumers (e.g. ME).

    Be it a novel, a drink an item of clothing or where a piece of fruit is grown consumers need to realize that their pay cheque is their power.

    There are many authors out there who have not offended me by basically calling me illiterate that I enjoy reading. If you commercialise your art and earn a pay cheque from your craft and are not writing for your own personal enjoyment you need to understand a basic PUBLIC RELATIONS principle.

    Do not piss off your target audience/demographic/consumer. 😉


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  36. e siarkę oraz saletrę, wszak rycerz był przekonania, iż bronzed funkcja
    odłamkowe nie zaszkodzi. Popatrzył bez pośpiechu równo w wypchane wnętrze, widoczne coraz
    z wykorzystaniem nie do samego końca
    zszyty wejście. Czy pr.

  37. Sounds to me like the author was speaking from a place of frustration and hard-learned lessons & it hit some people wrong. Hey, we’ve all been there, right? Not necessary as authors but as frustrated human beings. 🙂 I just think we haven’t all said something unpleasant on the internet. Usually we end up saying foolish stuff to people in person or something, where it doesn’t have to last forever and be seen by hundreds of readers.

    I think, though, there’s another angle to this.

    Sometimes, when an author writes something quickly, it’s actually BETTER than when they takes ages and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. She may have learned the wrong lesson from her situation! Isn’t that kind of sad? 😦

    This post here explains what I mean better than I can say it:

    [Soundbite if tl;dr: “The creative side is just a better writer than the critical side, no matter what the critical side tries to tell you.”

    – See more at:

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