Writing tip Wednesday: “10 Things I Learned About Writing and Publishing From Managing a Porn Store” | LitReactor

Source: 10 Things I Learned About Writing and Publishing From Managing a Porn Store | LitReactor

By Christoph Paul

I used to manage a porn store in northeast D.C. I worked there for two years and it was the best writer job I ever had. There were whole blocks of time where I could read and write while I sat behind the counter. It was a blessing to get paid to practice my craft. All the hours added up and I became a better writer, but managing the porn store also taught me certain skills that I use on a daily basis in my writing and publishing career.

Covers and Titles

The first thing I learned was that we had to buy and sell lots of rentals on our new releases to stay afloat. If I picked a lot of bad movies for the new release wall that didn’t get bought or rented within the first month, my boss would be pissed. The customers also got pissed, and then I would have to deal with a lot of bullshit instead of focusing on writing or reading. The only real work I had besides putting movies back on their shelves was picking the weekly new releases. With the goal of having my boss stay off my back, I made sure to kill it each week with my new release section. I learned what sold and what type of titled stood out. I use that same skill when writing or publishing a new book. Whether it be porn or fiction, the cover and title has to show the readers and viewers that they will enjoy the product. The cover must at least peak curiosity and satisfy something a reader or porn watcher is wanting. Bad covers, whether on a porno or on a novel, are easy to spot and will always stay on the shelf.

Dialogue

My shift was eight hours a day, five days a week. Though I would have loved to spend every hour reading and writing, I had to interact with the customers. There were a lot of regulars who wanted to talk about politics, sports, their personal lives, their kinks, and their jobs. They would not hold back, and almost treated me like a priest. I heard some hardcore confessions. When I am figuring out how a certain character would sound, I have a ton of examples from the porn store. I can use their quirks and speech patterns to inject more realism and humor into my dialogue. Whether it be someone in the closet renting gay porn or a person explaining why they don’t want to have sex with their significant other anymore, I heard people speaking their truths. This gave me an ear for both inner and outer dialogue. There are things that a character reveals in more subtle and nuanced ways, through their rhythms, vocabulary, and even through the things they pointedly leave out.

Writing Through Chaos and Distractions

You can write anywhere. That is what I learned those years behind the porn store counter. I’d have homeless people come in, zoning law inspectors, gang bang recruiters (seriously), cops coming in to shoot the shit, the boss stopping by to complain, and customers looking for very specific fetishes. I learned to stop and deal with who or whatever I had to attend to, and then get back to writing. While there, I finished the second draft of a literary novel, some short stories, and read a ton. I learned there is no perfect place to read and write, and that even through the most awkward disruptions you can still find time to be creative.

Con Selling

If you can sell a $29.95 DVD with ‘anal’, ‘cuckold’, and/or ‘big cocks’ in the title, you can sell a book you have edited or written to a stranger. I picked up some practical sales skills at the porn store. My constant goal was to keep enough money coming in so my boss never suspected I was writing on the job. Though selling shitty porno movies and fake penis growth pills felt disenchanting at times, it taught me how to interact with strangers. When I started doing book festivals and conferences three years ago, they were a joy, because I actually believed in my books and understood how to communicate each book’s value. While penis enlargement pills are bullshit, I actually believe in what I sell. That combination of enthusiasm and sales skills has helped me finish in the black for almost every con/festival I have attended.

Character Studies

It wasn’t just dialogue I learned from the porn patrons. It was crafting real characters with real quirks and commonalities. Listening and talking to the porn store patrons was as good as reading any craft book on creating realized and memorable characters. After working the store for a year, I could usually tell a lot about a person within the first minute of talking to them. I noticed the physical: body language, the sound of their voice, build, did they look me in the eyes or not; sociological: how well read or educated they were, where they worked, what kind of money they made, religion, nationality; and emotional: were they stable, lonely and needing to connect, fake happy, assertive or aggressive, timid. All of these characteristics combined into making them who they were. I could use this skill to build real characters in my fiction. I could take physical, sociological, and emotional attributes and combine them into a unique human being. I would sometimes compare them to real individuals I met at the porn store to see if they felt ‘real.’

Genre Expectations and Surpassing Them

Different fetishes and types of porn are really just different genres. The videos that end up getting rented and bought the most not only meet ‘genre expectation,’’ they also add something special. While I don’t want to get super graphic here, it usually involves something memorable in the video—a scene, a style, and many times, a certain actress. I learned from the popular porno videos that when writing in a certain genre you have to make those genre fans happy, but also give them something unique. It can be your style of language, it can be taking a new approach on a familiar trope, and most importantly giving the reader an outstanding character. When you meet the expectations of genre and create something memorable in your story, your books will sell as good as porn.

Talking Books

On very slow days I would sit behind the register and read. A lot of customers didn’t want to interact and I would just look up, put in my bookmark, and get them their movie. This was pretty standard, but sometimes the porn patrons would be curious about what I was reading. Many of these guys were proud non-readers. I took this as a challenge to infuse the porn store with at least a little literary curiosity. To do this I had to tell them why the book was enjoyable and get them interested enough to want to hear more. I was very proud when I was able to get 4 men excited about the story of one of my favorite novels, Anna Karenina. Experiences like that have made it a lot easier for me to write the back copy of my own as well as other writers’ books.

Vibrator Editor 

Until I got the hang of it, selling and recommending vibrators was a challenge. Though white male privilege exists, it doesn’t come in handy when talking to a woman about what vibrator she should buy. At first it was very awkward and I didn’t sell many vibrators, but I learned that I had to help the female customer feel comfortable. I also needed to be knowledgeable and a little humorous, as well as respectful. When I took this approach I easily sold vibrators and learned better communication skills. These skills help me so much when editing other people’s work. Communication and making artists feel comfortable is important. Sex toys, someone’s story, they both involve vulnerability, but if you communicate the right way, a writer will be able to access the right technique and tool for the job.

Storytelling

When it was cold, the porn sales always rose. Wintertime was the most popular time in the store. Not just for rentals and purchases, but for guys just wanting to hang out. The porn store would feel a lot like a barbershop. There were guys who proudly didn’t read and didn’t even like watching movies or TV. They only liked sports, but some of these guys would come up with the funniest stories I have ever heard. There were always men wanting to talk, but if you couldn’t tell a good story or keep people’s interest, they wouldn’t give you a chance to be heard. I saw that being a great storyteller had nothing to do with being a great writer. Storytelling was a separate skill, and there were some guys who might not have ever picked up a book but could tell a great story. I started listening to these guys and dissecting their stories. I realized they were using many of the techniques I read about in the craft books about great storytelling.

Snobbery

I started the porn store job a good 7 years ago. At the time, I was a big literary snob. I believed that only the serious literary novel is what people should read, and even though I was selling porno, I thought erotica and romance writers were total hacks. After two years of working there my mind really opened, and I saw that whether it be porn, erotica, or romance, they were art forms and audiences enjoyed the fantasy and desire that they provided. I lost my snobbery, seeing that any kind of storytelling takes skill. A few years later I would take what I learned at the porn store and write erotica under a pen name. The erotica I have created is still the most successful work I have published. If I hadn’t worked at the porn store, I would be just another bitter failed literary novelist complaining about Chuck Tingle.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 2017, Writing Tip Wednesday

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s