Saturday, April 18, 2015

Herding Cats: The Joy and Challenge of Organizing a Boxed Set by Suz deMello

Some of you may remember this Super Bowl commercial—it’s one of my favorites.

At the end of the commercial, here’s how the company, EDS, promotes itself:
In a sense, it’s what we do. We bring together information, ideas and technologies and make them go where you want. EDS—managing the complexities of the digital economy.

A few months ago, my primary publisher underwent a corporate contraction which, unfortunately, garnered an outsize amount of adverse publicity. Authors were concerned about a variety of events which might take place. On the yahoogroup I set up so we could privately exchange information, I read fear, worry, anger...but candidly, little action.

I don’t consider myself a leader. In fact, more than one group I’ve been in has lost steam and foundered, so often I wondered if I was some sort of Jonah, a bad-luck jinx. But I do prefer action, so after a while I proposed that we take the energy we’d been expending on negative speculation and focus it on something positive. To mangle Paul McCartney, I wanted to “take a sad song and make it better.”

I proposed creating a holiday boxed set. Thus was born the Naughty Literati, a group of twelve authors who have, as our website says, “come together to show off their epic talents in short stories filled with powerful eroticism and satisfying romance.”

Why short stories? The timeline was short, so I suggested short stories. That may change. And because some were leery of too much structure, I kept it loose. Although the conventional wisdom is that readers don’t like subgenre mixing—M/M mixed in with F/M, for example—I didn’t care. I’m not interested in telling anyone how to do her art. If someone wanted to write M/M, cool. If someone wanted to contribute a ménage story, equally cool. Although the Naughty Literati all came from a publisher of erotic romance, I pushed for no set heat level. I felt sure that there would be plenty of hot sex, but I wasn’t going to decree XXX or BDSM.

Because every writer in the NL is a professional, I felt comfortable with few rules and I think others are also.

It’s been sort of a “seat of the pants” undertaking—the organizational equivalent of being a pantser as opposed to a plotter. But because I have a legal background, and used to run a law practice, I tend to be highly organized. I tried to think ahead, to anticipate issues before they arose.

We benefited by being a group of highly motivated, talented, smart and

responsible individuals. Each of us brings gifts others may lack. Nic Austin is a wizard with Photoshop and has created beautiful covers and logos, plus the blog and the website. Marianne Stephens is my right-hand gal, my co-organizer, my sounding board. I can’t begin to say how glad I am she’s there for me. Regina Kammer “concatenates” like nobody’s business. Everyone stepped up to edit, copyedit, promote...there’s a myriad of tasks to complete.

There were challenges, of course. Primary among them, for me, is my naturally strong personality. I’m dominating and have the paddle and floggers to prove it. I had to rein myself in, occasionally reminding the others, “Hey, I’m not the Queen. I don’t have a tiara or Corgis.” (Damn. I like Corgis.) And I had to keep people on task without, quite frankly, being an asshole about it.

Whenever there was a potential point of disagreement, I took the easy way out. I put issues up for a vote. I have to say that while many diss Yahoo, their polling feature has been invaluable, as well as files, photo storage and databases. Communication was relatively easy.

Initial challenges: creating a loose but meaningful contract. Getting everyone to sign it without being a jerk about it. I felt that the arithmetic associated with divvying up the royalties could lead to serious issues, so I persuaded everyone to hire an outside company for that very purpose. The same company has handled publishing and distribution as well, for a portion of the royalties.  

What can I say right now? Naughty List, the first boxed set, released during the winter holidays, is still selling nicely. We then released another in February, Naughty Hearts. I especially love the art on this one--it's got a clean, elegant look even though the stories are unabashedly dirty. We're in the midst of creating our third bozed set, Naughty Flings, a springtime set.  

Even better, the mere existence of the group, with its intense focus, has energized us.  For me, I had been strangled in the grip of writers’ block so long and tight that I often contemplated giving up.

Not any more. My story for the summertime boxed set is coming along well, which is excellent since, again, we’re working with a very short timeline.

Lesson learned. Next year will be easier, and there will, I think, be more boxed sets from the Naughty Literati for years to come. At this point we’re planning about four anthologies annually, each corresponding to a season.

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s been best about this experience. Falling in love again with writing has been a big deal for me.

But surpassing everything has been the joy of working with a group of such fantastic colleagues. “Heart-warming” is a word that’s overused, but the caring and commitment I see from the Naughty Literati truly does warm my heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment