From Issue 3.6 - Summer 1997
It wasn't so long ago that books about S/M and the leather/fetish lifestyle were in short supply, mostly limited to porn and fiction classics. Fortunately, the birth of small presses devoted to publishing hot and original works about S/M are making this shortage a remnant of the past.
Three publishers have done more than their share to fill the gap: Circlet Press in Boston, and Greenery Press and Daedalus Publishing in San Francisco. All three were started by writers who wanted to publish their own work and that of their friends, and have evolved into full-fledged operations that publish work by a variety of authors on a wide array of topics.
Circlet Press (www.circlet.com; 617-864-0492) publishes theme collections of science fiction and fantasy short stories dealing with S/M and alternative sexuality. Most are edited by Circlet founder Cecilia Tan -- better known to many by her online moniker, ctan -- who runs Circlet with her partner Corwin. Circlet was founded to provide a market for science fiction and fantasy that was unpublishable elsewhere due to its erotic content.
Tan's work has appeared in a wide variety of publications. Her 3-story collection "Telepaths Don't Need Safewords" -- which includes the semi-autobiographical tale "Heart's Desire" -- was the first Circlet chapbook (published in 1992), followed shortly by Lauren Burka's "Mate."
Circlet Press achieved its first audience within the East Coast science fiction scene and on the Internet. Tan relates that after she published her first stories, she was approached by potential writers, booksellers, and readers. Tan says, "the only thing missing was the publisher" -- a role she decided to fill herself.
From its small beginnings, Circlet Press has expanded extensively, and now publishes a widely distributed selection of books. Circlet's titles appeal to a wide range of audiences, including those of all genders and orientations. In fact, real world notions of gender and sexual identity often hardly apply at all in the speculative realms explored by Circlet's authors.
While the earliest books were fairly consistently S/M-oriented, later books have branched out into other areas of alternative sexuality. Selected titles include "Genderflex" (stories about crossing, blending or obliterating gender lines), "Worlds of Women" (stories of female sexuality), "S/M Pasts," "S/M Futures," "Of Princes and Beauties: Adult Erotic Fairy Tales," "Selling Venus: Futuristic Tales of the Age-Old Tradition of Exchanging Sex for Money," "TechnoSex," and "Wired Hard" (futuristic gay male erotica). Circlet also deals with the magical and supernatural, with titles such as "Erotica Vampirica," "The Beast Within: Erotic Tales of Werewolves," and "SexMagick."
Circlet seeks submissions of short fiction (3,000-15,000 words) during the early months of the year. Collections due out in 1998 and 1999 include "SexCrime," "Dreams of Dominance," and "Sextopia."
In becoming a publisher, Tan drew on her background as a political and sexuality activist. She says that "publishing hot erotica itself is political." Tan specifically focuses on stories of positive sexuality, and does not publish works that include rape, violence, or non-consensuality, or that reflect negative attitudes about sex. She believes that science fiction is a medium well suited to the exploration of "any non-standard, alternative form of sexuality." Tan asserts, "When you let your imagination go to dream up the wildest, hottest sex you can imagine, how can you confine yourself to the simple "real" world?"
Review of Circlet Press' "Erotica Vampirica"
Greenery Press (www.bigrock.com/~greenery; 1-888-944-4434) markets their books as "reading for the sexually adventurous." The company's mainstay is how-to books on specific topics relating to S/M and alternative sexuality, many written by publishers Janet Hardy (who writes as Lady Green and Catherine A. Liszt) and Jay Wiseman.
Hardy's first book began as an outline for a workshop for dominant women, which became "The Sexually Dominant Woman: A Workbook for Nervous Beginners," published in 1994. Wiseman, Hardy's life-partner, was by then already self-publishing the "Bay Area Sexuality Resources Guidebook," and knew the ins and outs of distribution. Fortuitously, as it turned out, Hardy lost her previous job with an ad agency, allowing her to devote more time to the new publishing venture. Both Hardy and Wiseman are active in the San Francisco S/M scene and conduct workshops on a variety of topics. Lady Green is a columnist for Cuir Underground.
In the early days, Greenery books were spiral-bound and quick-printed as needed (Jay Wiseman Books and Greenery Press merged under the Greenery name in 1995). Hardy relates that when she first looked into doing perfect-bound books -- which requires a print run of at least 2,000 books at a time -- several banks "snickered politely" when she requested a loan. Instead, she put out a call for backers in her quarterly newsletter, and received enough money to perfect-bind five books, which got Greenery to the point of being self-funding.
Greenery publishes several books on sex tips, tricks, and toys, including "Supermarket Tricks: More than 125 Ways to Improvise Good Sex" and "Kinky Crafts: Do It Yourself S/M Toys." In 1994, Hardy and frequent collaborator Dossie Easton wrote the well-regarded "The Bottoming Book," following a year later by "The Topping Book." Wiseman's "SM 101: A Realistic Introduction" -- in a new revised and expanded perfect-bound second edition -- is a comprehensive look at many aspects of S/M, from finding a partner to exhaustive safety information.
As Greenery evolved, the press began to publish work by outside authors, including "Miss Abernathy's Concise Slave Training Manual" and "Mercy?? No!!," a book of cartoons by B.N. Duncan. Hot off Greenery's press are "The Compleat Spanker" by Lady Green, "The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities" by Catherine A. Liszt and Dossie Easton, and "A Hand in the Bush" by Deborah Addington -- perhaps the first book devoted solely to vaginal fisting. Forthcoming work includes "Bottom Lines," a collection of light verse and cartoons on the subject of erotic spanking.
New material comes in by various means. Sometimes Hardy has ideas for a book project and seeks out an appropriate author. Other times, authors approach Greenery with book ideas. Hardy says she is "definitely open to author inquiries." Greenery seeks work "that communicates the author's excitement about the topic, that is written with humor and a personal style, and which has a strong emphasis on safety and responsibility."
Hardy enjoys the whole process of publishing, of "seeing a book go from the spark of an idea through finished volumes." The hardest part, she says, is the financial uncertainty. She says, "I love the feedback I get from our readers, who are wonderful," but adds that "the trouble with being a sex publisher is that it tends to leave one very little time for actually having sex."
Review of Greenery Press' "The Ethical Slut"
Daedalus Publishing (www.bannon.com/daedalus; 415-626-1867) primarily publishes educational books. Founder Race Bannon says, "at first my only goal was to have my own first book published." He knew that most traditional publishing companies did not handle S/M literature, and he wanted the book to be properly promoted, not sensationalized or misrepresented. That first book was "Learning the Ropes: A Guide to Safe and Fun S/M Lovemaking" (published in 1992), which proved to be "a huge success."
Shortly thereafter, Bannon published "Ties That Bind" and "The Leather Contest Guide" by Guy Baldwin, and began his career "as a publisher, not just a self-publisher." Most of Bannon's early offerings were by and about gay men, including "Leathersex: A Guide for the Curious Outsider and the Serious Player" by Joseph Bean, "The Master's Manual" by Jack Rinella, and "Beneath the Skins: The New Spirit and Politics of the Kink Community" by Ivo Dominguez. In 1995, Daedalus published Mistress Nan's "My Private Life: Real Experiences of a Dominant Woman," and in 1996 published William Henkin and Sybil Holiday's pansexual "Consensual Sadomasochism: How to Talk About It and How to do It Safely."
Bannon's initial motivation for both writing and publishing was "to present leather/SM/fetish sexuality in literature in an intelligent, informative manner." Daedalus as so far published non-fiction work, but will soon widen their scope by publishing a limited amount of fiction in 1998. In fact, the publisher's most recent offering, "Between the Cracks: The Daedalus Anthology of Kinky Verse," has already broken the non-fiction barrier. Bannon says his ultimate goal is to have "a publishing company that provides high quality non-fiction and fiction titles addressing a wide range of sexualities."
Bannon initially financed Daedalus from cash reserves from his corporate days. Daedalus distributes through a diverse range of channels, including large chain bookstores, small independent and specialty bookstores, non-book retailers such as leather and erotica stores, and the World Wide Web. Ironically, although Bannon started the company to publish his own writing, he now finds that publishing leaves him little time to write.
While Daedalus is in principle open by author inquiry letters (they don't read unsolicited manuscripts), the company is currently backlogged on publishing, with some fifteen books scheduled for publication through the year 2000, including Bannon's "Bound to Please: A Guide to Erotic Rope Bondage."
Bannon says he hopes Daedalus books "contribute to people accepting, and enjoying, the full range of their sexuality." He says, "While I do miss the corporate salary sometimes, I would never give up the feelings of satisfaction that my company brings me."
of Daedalus Publishing's "My Private Life: Real Life Experiences of a