The journey to becoming a published author can sound daunting and mystifying for those who haven’t done it before. Systems within publishing, especially in the traditional publishing industry, are also set up to privilege cis, straight, white, hetero, mainstream voices, creating barriers and challenges for anyone who isn’t what the mainstream imagines an author should look and be like.
Both of us ended up authors not because we’d always dreamed of being published, but because the books we needed weren’t written yet.
However, especially in the field of sex and relationships, we need to hear more from those who aren’t in that sacred circle of sexuality. Both of us ended up authors not because we’d always dreamed of being published, but because the books we needed weren’t written yet. Here’s a bit about each of our experiences writing sex-positive books.
Kevin A. Patterson, M.Ed
Early in 2015, a couple of pivotal things happened at once. I had found myself deep-diving into my local polyamory community and I had begun dating, Rebecca Hiles, a sex educator. While neither are particularly book-worthy on their own, the way they combined ended up changing my life…and giving you this article to read.
I was already in the middle of a period of learning and self-exploration. Spending lots of time in my local polyamory community was part of that. As a result, I went to Ev-Er-E-Thing. If there was a potluck or a happy hour or a movie night or a munch or a meetup, I was there. And that’s where I found the subject of my work.
The thing about being Black in a country founded on and steeped in white supremacy is that you always have to measure out how much racist bullshit you’re willing to put up with just to live the life you want to live. The juice always has to be worth the squeeze. Polyamory, for me, made so much sense as a lovestyle that I decided that I was willing to put up with certain levels of white nonsense in order to make it work.
While I could protect myself pretty well by vetting any potential white partners much harder than I vetted any People of Color that I dated, the local community was what it was.
It was impossible for me to not notice how white everything was. The books and the podcasts that I immersed myself in rarely featured any Black folks. The online discussion groups were mostly moderated and populated by white folks as well. It was hard to miss. While I could protect myself pretty well by vetting any potential white partners much harder than I vetted any People of Color that I dated, the local community was what it was.
There’s no way to completely cut racism out of any community when that community still exists within a racist society. As one of very few Black or POC who regularly attended local area events, I became adept at traversing the landscape and finding the kind of love that I was looking for along the way. But I was never quiet about how much of that was a struggle due to the demographics.
I know what it’s like to silently wish for more or better representation all while well-represented folks use my presence as an indicator that more or better representation had already been achieved. I wouldn’t let that happen in regards to polyamory. So, I spoke up about it. Whether online or in-person amongst friends, I pointed out how few Black folks were a part of a community based in and around the 40-45% Black city of Philadelphia. It was really about feeling more at home in a place I had already decided I was going to stay. I didn’t have any larger plans…until I did.
Amidst all of that talking, my then-partner Rebecca made the suggestion that I adapt what I had been saying for an audience. As The Frisky Fairy, Rebecca had long been a fixture in academic circles focused on love, sex, and relationships. They saw what I was saying as an extension of those same fields and felt that I belonged.
Philadelphia wasn’t the only American city with an all-to-mostly white polyamory scene.
I had already started the interview series blog Poly Role Models. Apparently, that gave me just enough credibility to get my foot in the door with these educational spaces. That’s where I learned about the magic of talking about myself. As it turned out, my stories weren’t entirely dissimilar from the stories of others. Philadelphia wasn’t the only American city with an all-to-mostly white polyamory scene.
Everywhere I spoke I ran into several POC who had dealt with the same types of othering or tokenism or fetishization that I had. The people sharing those stories needed validation that their experiences weren’t unique and honestly so did I. They also needed confirmation that polyamory, in general, had a place for them even if that meant carving out a separate, intentional space. Me talking about myself helped provide that.
More importantly, though, me talking about myself helped offer perspective to the people who had the ability to affect real change on the representation of our polyamory communities. Sometimes that manifested in white tears during one of my workshops as someone suddenly realized how off-putting and harmful their actions may have been. Other times, that added perspective lead to real changes in real communities that made real people feel safer and more welcomed. This even occurred in my own local area.
The idea came pretty quickly to adapt my speaking engagements into an actual book that you could carry around with you. I essentially took the same talking points and expanded them. The book, Love’s Not Color Blind, released in March of 2018 to lots of critical acclaim and even won an award. It’s led to a nationwide book tour, more media appearances than I care to count, and expanded reach to the people who my work is meant to serve.
All of that just by talking about myself. As I indicated before, my work resonated with people because it reflected more personal experiences than just my own. When I talk about me, I’m really talking about all of us. I’m not the sole keeper of these ideas, feelings, or concepts. I’m just a vessel to communicate collected thoughts to broader audiences.
So, if that’s the case, what collected thoughts are you carrying around? Which stories of yours need to be told on a wider scale? Who is waiting for the validation of their experiences that you can provide by sharing your own?
For me, Rebecca Hiles served as a catalyst. They encouraged me to do something that I was already capable of doing but never quite realized. It’s helped me reach and serve lots of people who could relate. Maybe you need a catalyst as well. If so, let this be it.
You relate to somebody who needs to hear from you. So let them.
Theory is great and essential, and at the same time, we need some information about how to take that theory and translate it into real-life applications.
Dr. Liz Powell
I never thought I’d write a book. Now, I’m working on my second one (all about sex and relationships for folks with ADHD). As someone with ADHD, long-form writing is really challenging for me, sometimes it’s PAINFUL. I’m much more of a talk things out, have conversations, feed off of each other’s energy kind of person. So how did I end up here?
A few years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine about how there aren’t enough books about non-monogamy that are about PRACTICAL skills instead of theory and ideas. Theory is great and essential, and at the same time, we need some information about how to take that theory and translate it into real-life applications. That friend and I decided that we wanted to write a practical, hands-on book for non-monogamy together.
My initial plan was to record conversations we had about different topics and have those transcribed so that we could edit them into the final text. This, to me, seemed like the best possible approach for me – I get to play to my strengths by talking and still end up with a written final project! However, our schedules diverged, and we couldn’t find the time to dig into the co-writing. Eventually, he decided to pull back from the project.
In classic ADHD fashion, I found a way to create a huge, stressful deadline to push me through the writing – NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and happens every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month, enough to be a short book or the majority of a larger work. NaNoWriMo gave me the oomph I needed to get most of my book done. To add to the stress, after completing NaNoWriMo I started an Indiegogo to fund the costs of the book. Knowing that I promised people a book by a certain date helped me finish out the rest of it so I could go ahead and publish.
With great control comes great responsibility.
For me, I chose to self-publish. The choice of whether to use a publisher or self-publish can be a challenging one. When you self-publish, you get a lot more control. I got to hire an editor who understood my perspectives and approach, hire a graphic designer who gets my brand, and pick a timeline that worked with my life. Since I self-published, I also make more money on each copy of the book that I sell. The downside is that I was the only person promoting the book. If I want it sold in stores, I have to figure it out. If I want sales, I have to promote it or find other people to help promote it. With great control comes great responsibility.
Working with a publisher can have great benefits too! You can get an advance which helps to pay you for your time while you’re writing. A publisher tends to give you deadlines, so if you need someone to set a timeline for you, that could be super helpful. They can get your book carried in stores, book speaking engagements and public readings for you, and use their standing and reputation to lend credibility to your book. On the downside, you may not have as much control over the editing, formatting, cover, or other design elements. Your advance has to be paid back by sales, so until you sell enough books, you don’t get paid. Plus, you tend to make less per book than when you self-publish. If you want to work with a publisher, you probably want to find an agent to help advocate for you. Either way, make sure you know what your contract includes, what happens if sales are slow, and who’s responsible for promoting the book in different ways.
No matter how you decide to write and publish your book, remember that no one else can write your book. How you think and talk about a subject is going to be unique – no one else is you! Especially if you’re not cis, straight, abled, and white, your perspective is probably less represented. Make sure to find some folks to read your draft before publishing and give you feedback who will be kind and honest with you – you don’t want just raving fans, you want people who can help you make your work the best it can be.
- Write what you know. Your personal experiences are going to resonate with the people that need them the most.
- Record yourself talking about the subject. If you can hold an hour-long conversation about it, you can probably write a book about it.
- Listen to other perspectives, even if all they do is strengthen your own.
- Take breaks to have fun and do other shit. Finish what you start but don’t let what you started finish you.
- You might never feel like your book is finished, so instead, just stop when it’s done enough.
- It’s okay to do less. You don’t have to cover every single topic from every single angle in one book.
- I still worry my book is useless garbage; it’s not, but we tend to be our own worst critic.
- If there’s something in the book you want to change, you can!
- Done is better than perfect! Your ideas can’t help others when they stay inside your head
- Favorite tools – Scrivener (it’s a great program for writing), Google Drive, Amazon Direct Publishing, Indiegogo, NaNoWriMo
You can find Dr. Liz at DrLizPowell.com, and their book, Building Open Relationships. On social media, Dr. Liz is @SexPosPsych on Twitter, @DrLizPowell on Instagram, and Sex-Positive Psych on YouTube. Dr. Liz also has a Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/drliz. Finally, if you have ADHD or if you’ve dated/had sex with someone who has ADHD, you can find the survery for their upcoming book here.
Kevin Patterson and his books exist at KevinAPatterson.com and he can be found as @PolyRoleModels on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Patreon.
You can find Kevin and Dr. Liz’s class, Unf*ck Your Polyamory, here.