BDSM Writers Con Makes Headlines
Writers, readers, enthusiasts, and experts alike gathered August 21–24 for the 2014 BDSM Writers Convention. Founded by sexologist Charley Ferrer and sponsored largely by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the convention began three years ago as a small gathering of BDSM (a combined abbreviation of the terms bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, and sadism & masochism) erotica authors and seasoned BDSM veterans, with the intention of educating writers in order that they might depict the alternative lifestyle more accurately.
Before long, readers began showing interest, and the event grew from an intimate gathering to a convention with more than 100 attendees. Ferrer, who prefers the moniker Doctor Charley, mentioned some initial hesitation with opening the conference to a wider audience, but that quickly dissipated as attendance surged: this year’s 150 participants included 60 authors and 90 readers involved or interested in the BDSM lifestyle. The shift in demographic necessitated a structural change, dividing the conference into two tracks that catered to those generally curious about BDSM history and practice and authors within the genre.
Of the 30 workshops offered, most fell under the “Everyone” category, with longtime BDSM veterans providing insight into the psychology of power exchange and issues of consent and offering live demonstrations. Ten of the workshops focused exclusively on the ins and outs of both writing and publishing BDSM erotica. The conference had an unofficial kickoff on Wednesday, August 20, with an “Author Buddy Program” during which novices could receive tips and feedback from published writers. Further writer-oriented workshops addressed the effective depiction of common genre tropes, including sexy villains, dominant heroines, and supernatural creatures, while numerous panels dealt with marketing and publishing finished works. A publishing panel took place on Friday, August 22, and featured literary agents and representatives from publishers of romance and erotica such as Samhain, Riverdale Ave, and Insatiable Press speaking on the current state of the erotica market and listening to pitches from new authors.
Part of Ferrer’s intent was to bring attention to promising new writers, a goal that surpassed even her own expectations. She adds that nearly 40 book contracts were signed as a result of the pitches. With a nearly 100 percent rate of retention for conference participants and an ever-increasing number of workshops, the resounding theme of BDSM Writers Con seems to be “bigger and better.”
Of course, such an event could not pass without a few mentions of the notorious “50 Shades” trilogy. Reactions were not as severe as one might expect, considering the backlash the series received for its depiction of BDSM relationships. While many of the speakers criticized the books for their inaccurate, and at times downright unhealthy, portrayal of the lifestyle, they also acknowledged the mainstream attention the title brought to it and to the genre overall. Publishers in particular hailed this moment as the “bubble” for BDSM erotica—the golden moment post–50 Shades book and prefilm in which independent authors can piggyback on the popularity of the franchise. This upswing in interest has created an influx of readers and writers and for this experts such as Ferrer are grateful—as an author of multiple books explaining the BDSM lifestyle (BDSM: The Naked Truth; BDSM for Writers), she considers the primary motivation of BDSM Writers Con as being “to increase education and to decrease prejudice and misinformation” about what remains a largely stigmatized community. The hope is that the curious will find organizations and events such as these, where they can safely learn from those for whom BDSM is a reality and not just a plot point.—Ashleigh Williams
Ashleigh Williams is Editorial Assistant, School Library Journal