I touched on the concept earlier this week of why books are like sex…and why writers are like whores. But let me be a bit more specific, for just as there are different levels of writers (NY Times Bestsellers vs. midlist, for example), there are different levels of whores. From a historical (Victorian) perspective you had the street-walkers and the prostitutes – the women who *had* to do it, simply because they had no other choice when it came to supporting themselves. For whatever reasons, their options were severely limited and so the acts in which they participated were born of desperation.
And then you had the lorette – which was a sort of kept woman (particularly in France). Her lovers were of the upperclass, but she was not flouted publicly. The term “respectable mistress” has been used to describe her, for she was certainly above the streetwalkers, and could often slide between the upper and lowerclass worlds, but she never really fit into either.
And of course, the royalty of whores would be known as the courtesans. Although providing sex to the extremely wealthy clientele was one of their services, a courtesan was often in an unusual position for women during this time frame. For one thing, they were usually highly educated (and oddly enough, proper women were discouraged from any sort of higher learning. They were supposed to be wives, housekeepers, baby-makers and well-versed in social niceties. And um. That’s it.). Many courtesans may have started as actresses or dancers, singers or poets…something considered respectable by society, but it was their ability to fascinate the men of their time that was of the most value. Many of them played cards, ran salons, were fabulous horsewomen or provided music or witty conversation or music.
More to the point, a courtesan knew her own value. She commanded a high price from her suitors and often lived in a style of extreme luxury. When a chosen patron could no longer afford her, she simply moved on to another one. And there was rarely a shortage of potential suitors – to be able to afford a courtesan was a massive status booster, even if somewhat scandalous. I’ve got to admit that it’s really rather fascinating that “proper” women were kept within such strict sets of protocol…and yet the men flocked to the very women society frowned upon.
On the other hand, if you compare that to books – which did you prefer growing up? The required reading of school? Or the secret stash of pervy romances your mom kept under her bed? The forbidden has always been sought, often gaining a certain amount of accepted notoriety as a result.
Truly though, the courtesan was able to supersede society boundaries. By making herself (and accepting that she was) a commodity, she ensured her place was secure.
In many ways, this is very similar to authors. It’s not enough to just sit back and write these days. We’re expected to network – twitter, facebook, blogging, interviews, workshops – anything and everything we can do to get our names and our writing out there. We keep up on the latest news in the industry, our ears to the ground for those things under behind closed doors – which agent is open for submissions, who’s paying out the highest royalties, what editors *really* want.
In the end, it should be about the writing, but don’t underestimate the power of placing value upon your work. If you don’t, then who will?
Real life example? Go check out Amanda Hocking. She’s self pubbed since April of 2010…and sold over 185,000 books this year alone, driven simply by word of mouth and social networking. *That*, my friends, is a courtesan of publishing.
At the moment, I sort of see myself as a lorette. I’ve got a publisher, but I haven’t quite mastered all the ins and outs of this new world. I’m still learning the subtle intricacies and with my first book about to be released in a few weeks, I’ll admit it’s a bit nerve-wracking. Thus far I’ve skirted between the no-man’s land of published author and aspiring writer…accepted into the upper echelon, but without having to prove myself to the public.
Will A Brush of Darkness find itself a pariah, outcast on the streets, throwing its pages open wide in the vain hopes that someone will read it? Or will flocks of readers clamor for more, lifting me to the shoulders of literary greatness? (Or at least borderline recognition. I’ll take that too.)
Only time will tell. And as a brief plug for myself, there’s a first chapter excerpt up on my website today. Go read it! J