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So What Do You Do, Zane, New York Times Bestselling Erotica Author?

"A writer that's going to have a lifelong career has to promote themselves."

- February 8, 2012
She is credited with bringing erotica from the back of the bookstore and into the mainstream with the explosive success of The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth. Was it the detail of the love scenes, the sexually liberated female characters, or just the juicy plots that did it? The millions of readers who catapulted her titles onto the New York Times bestsellers list a whopping 26 times and made Zane's Sex Chronicles No. 1 on Cinemax would probably say all of the above.

Yet, despite her philanthropic efforts and work in bringing other authors into the limelight through her imprint with Atria/Simon & Schuster, Zane is not without her critics. She's been attacked for everything from her large number of young fans and her support of the LGBT community to, of course, her explicit content.

"I'm not swinging from chandeliers all day or going to sex parties all night," she told us. "The majority of my day is spent helping women with their situations, saving people's lives."


Name: Zane
Position: Author, publisher, screenwriter and TV producer
Resume: Began her career as a regional sales executive and part-time divinity school research assistant. Started writing short stories at night and publishing them online. Landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster and wrote 26 bestsellers, including Addicted, Skyscraper, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and The Hot Box. Started her Strebor publishing house in June of 1999 and landed an imprint deal with Atria/Simon & Schuster in September 2003. Currently adapting her bestseller, Addicted, into a film for Lionsgate.
Birthday: September 18th
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Education: Was the first jointly-enrolled high school student at Spelman College before transferring to Howard University to double major in chemical engineering and English
Marital status: Divorced
Favorite TV show: I Love Lucy
Guilty pleasure: Taking "trips to nowhere" with her children on the spur of the moment
Last book read: Man Swappers by Cairo
Twitter handle: @PlanetZane


Why write about erotica?
I didn't aspire to be an erotica writer. People honestly think that all I write is sex books and that is the least of which I do. Before I started writing novels, I had never read erotica in my entire life. I was bored one night and I started writing a story and sharing it on an Aol chat line. Those friends shared it with a few others and, in three weeks, I got over 8,000 hits on my site. Then, there was a rumor that I had a book out and three publishers offered me deals, but I turned them all down. Honestly, the majority of my books have a much deeper premise to them. It just so happens that I do not tone down sex. I write my sex scenes the way I write everything else -- just me being wild enough to be honest.

What do you say to those who don't consider it real literature, just literary pornography?
That’s their opinion. I never set out to please everyone. I understand my purpose. Any book that I’ve ever written, I can clearly tell someone what the book is about. It has a clearly defined plot. As a publisher, a lot of people have the misconception that I publish only erotica when, in reality, I only have two erotica writers. We publish everything from literary fiction and mystery to nonfiction as well as gay and lesbian fiction. I'm not swinging from chandeliers all day or going to sex parties all night. The majority of my day is spent helping women with their situations, saving people's lives. My life's work is empowering women and, yes, that includes sexually.

"A lot of authors believe that all they have to do is write a book -- that's foolishness."

Why did you decide to become a publisher in addition to being an author?
Even when all I had was a website, people were sending me their stories to put on my site. So, in a sense, I've been a publisher from the beginning. Within the first year of my first publishing deal, I had signed seven contracts with Simon & Schuster for 15 books, so I think it was a natural progression. What made me go ahead as a full-fledged publisher was that I received so many emails from women around the world from India to Korea who were embracing my novels, who said the novels helped them realize that there was nothing wrong with them or with sexual desires, that they shouldn't be ashamed. To me, publishing serves a much deeper purpose in my life: It's the opportunity for me to give voices to people who may or may not ever have that chance.

How have eBooks affected your business?
For mid-list authors, it's actually not a bad situation. eBooks are far from taking over, though; that's a huge misconception. Financially, it is not really hurting mid-list authors whether the book is sold as an eBook or a traditional book. The ones that are really being affected are authors like me, or Patricia Cornwell or James Patterson who have hardcover books. If Patricia normally sells her hardcover at $32.95 and the reader can buy it at $9.99, that's a significant difference. But it is what it is. Personally, I don't read eBooks. I prefer a hard copy.

One thing some authors do not seem to understand, whether it's traditional or eBooks, is that the publisher is the one who takes all of the financial risks. As a publisher, my job is to offer authors distribution and to get their books out there. Publishers do a lot of stuff that authors will never understand and definitely would never be able to do on their own. I have to admit that we will go to the extreme of watching our authors interact at BEA [Book Expo of America] and analyze them. We ask ourselves would anybody buy a book from them based on the way they act? Nobody should have a sense of entitlement just because they wrote a book. At the end of the day, publishing is still a business.

What advice do you have for authors who complain about a lack of publicity? If they are doing so much of the publicity and marketing work themselves, should they receive a higher royalty rate?
No, they should not receive a higher royalty rate. I hear complaints about publicity all the time across the board. As an author, I believe that I should be the one publicizing myself. A lot of authors believe that all they have to do is write a book -- that's foolishness. I still promote myself all the time. The key to becoming a successful author now virally is to let people get to know them as people. That's why I have such a large readership: My books are the things I talk least about when I'm social networking.

Since 1997, I have been answering emails and giving advice. The reason people email me is they feel that I honestly care, and I really do. You don't have to do in-person meet and greets. Remember, I didn't have my first book signing until I had sold millions of books, because nobody knew who Zane was, not even my mom or dad. I did it all in secret while working my day job. A writer that's going to have a lifelong career has to promote themselves, because if you promote yourself your readers won't care what books you come out with. They're buying the brand.

"eBooks are far from taking over -- that's a huge misconception."

You deal with serious adult matters, yet there are young girls who sometimes pick up your books. How does having young readers affect your work, if at all?
First of all, it's their mothers and fathers that are bringing them to the book signings. They're just happy to get their kids reading. Remember, I'm a mother as well, so I'm very aware of what young people are exposed to. I don't think it affects my work because, as young as these kids are, they know most of this stuff already. My readers are also getting exposed to different topics like homelessness, low self-esteem, and empowerment. It’s about having your heart broken and deciding if you are never going to try again or that you’re going to have to trust again.

The funny thing is, one of the very first book signings I did was put on by a group of preachers' wives where I spoke to a group of church women about black female sexuality. At another church event followed by a book signing, the women were slipping copies of Purple Panties, my lesbian series, under the other books they bought. It was the biggest seller all day.

What are your thoughts on bookstores shelving books in the African-American section instead of alongside other fiction works?
They sell better. That's been documented. There's no question about that. When someone goes into a bookstore and they're looking for African-American books, they're going to look for the African-American section. If they dig mystery books, they’re going to look at the mystery section. I've done my research and seen the figures; I've met with the owners and heads of bookstore chains. I used to sit in a Borders bookstore, bring my manuscript submissions with me to read, and for hours on the weekends I'd watch how people selected books, what caught their attention, what made some people look at books more, and what they actually took to the register.

You and I are working on expanding your empire to include a radio show as well as another television series. Why did you want to enter those markets and what can fans expect?
To me, those are the things that I'm passionate about. For television, I love being able to create it, and it's one of the things that I've always enjoyed the most. Radio is something very natural to me. I'm able to take what I already do every single day, as far as dealing with women and their issues, and transform that to another medium. The thing is, I would not do anything that I don't feel comfortable with or, more importantly, that I don't feel passionate about. When publishers first started approaching me and told me they'd like me to change my writing style and tone down the sexuality in the books, I turned them down, no matter how much money they were offering.

What's your No. 1 tip for aspiring sex and relationship writers?
Character development is important across the board, whether it's TV, movies, books or whatever medium. A lot of people say they can write a hot sex scene and they say, "Oh, that's erotic," and it's not. People write romance scenes and sex scenes and no one cares. Why should they? Pornography is simply two people walking into a room and going at each other. Erotica is when you know who the people are, what they mean to each other. You see the whole vision. You want people to know these characters, hold them dear and be vested in the character. To me, there is nothing more important.

NEXT >> AvantGuildSo What Do You Do Jamie Raab, Publisher of Grand Central Publishing?


Jeff Rivera is the author of Forever My Lady (Grand Central) and a GalleyCat contributor.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.



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