James Brown may forever be known as the hardest working man in show business; but, when it comes to bestselling authors, the intrepid business woman behind the nom de plume Zane might very well be the hardest working woman in erotic fiction.
With her newest title, Busy Bodies (an anthology of steamy short stories) set for release on July 16, two seasons of the Cinemax series Zane’s Sex Chronicles under her belt, and the Lionsgate adaptation of her second novel Addicted wrapped and awaiting a premiere date, you might wonder when Zane sleeps!
Between work on her formidable list of upcoming projects, theGrio caught up with the plucky author, whose faithful following of readers has landed her on the New York Times bestseller list an astounding 26 times.
Zane shared her personal recipe for success, advice for young, black writers and her top tips for entrepreneurs.
How a research assistant became “Zane”
You might be surprised to learn the mega-author (who assumed her pseudonym when she was a part-time research assistant for her theologian father) got her start sharing a few short stories on AOL chat rooms.
“I had always loved books and had a very vivid imagination as a child, but as far as becoming ‘Zane,’ that wasn’t until November 1997,” Zane told theGrio. “I wrote a short story and shared it with a few people I’d met online. I self-published three more stories online and got about 8,000 hits by word of mouth alone.” Over the next three years, Zane’s popularity grew online and she was contacted by several major publishers, offering book deals she ultimately turned down.
“They were asking me to tone down my material. They said it was too graphic,” she said. “That wasn’t something I was going to do; I’d received so many emails from readers thanking me for affirming that they were normal, who felt empowered by my material.”
A consummate businesswoman, with a marketing degree from Howard University, Zane then decided to run a test to gauge the viability of her product. She placed an ad on her website advertising her short stories for a nominal fee, and got an overwhelming response. “Then I knew that I could sell a book,” she observed.
Zane self-publishes to great success
Soon, after self-publishing her first novel The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth, Zane decided to sign with Simon & Schuster in 2000, recognizing the limitations of self-publishing and her ability to manage the growing demands of her popularity. Perhaps more surprising than her precocious use of the Internet – harnessing it pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook to promote her writing – is that the mogul behind the sex-soaked Zane brand did not set out to write erotic fiction at all.
“I had never read erotica,” Zane said. “I just knew that I wanted to write vivid stories. Stories that have romance and sex scenes. The reality is people don’t go from being active in their day-to-day lives to being silent in the bedroom. To me, the sex was always just another part of any story.”
Zane on Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon
Zane has achieved a sustained, slow-burning success in the billion-dollar romance novel industry over the course of a quarter century. What has distinguished her writing for all these years? And how does she feel about the sudden, explosive success of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise? “I still don’t read erotic fiction,” Zane explained about this subsection of the romance books sector. But she knows enough about the business to recognize that 50 Shades of Grey was hardly the first book of its kind.
“I actually really love self-help books, but if I had to take a wild guess, I think what probably distinguishes my books is that, if you took the sex out, you would still have all of the building blocks of a compelling story: character development, good story lines,” Zane said. “I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’m very happy for the author. What amuses me, though, is that people act like erotica just went mainstream. Even if you took me out of the equation, there have been other major crossover successes.”
Trailblazing in the erotic literature arena
Zane mentions the Sex and the City franchise as a prime example of a pioneering sex-filled blockbuster that predates Fifty Shades of Grey. Plus, “…I hit the New York Times bestseller list for the first time in 2001,” the star author remembers. Zane is aware of the racial undertones that surface in an analysis of the different levels of success she’s experienced versus the meteoric rise of relative newcomers such as Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James.
“I’ve had a lot of success, but I haven’t been asked to be on Good Morning America, for instance, and it’s not because my writing doesn’t appeal to white readers,” Zane elaborated. “I have had white men come up to me and tell me they love my books.” Whatever the racial politics governing the publishing and publicity machine may be, Zane chooses to focus on sharing the lessons she’s learned with a new generation of writers and entrepreneurs.
Zane’s words of wisdom for business and writing
“If you really want to be a writer, you need to understand what writing is all about,” Zane told theGrio. “So many young writers don’t understand the concept of writing a book. They need to study the craft and do a lot of reading. If they’ve already written a book, they need to get it in working order and define their style. What is their purpose in writing?”
In keeping with her business approach to creativity, Zane believes that — as a good practice in writing and life – “People [should] do a SWOT analysis every [6 to 8] months. It’s when you list your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The goal is to move your weaknesses to the strengths column, eliminate your threats, and capitalize on your opportunities.”
Next from Zane: A book on publishing books?
In addition to giving talks on the subject of entrepreneurship and writing, including a speaking appearance at the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit, Zane’s advice on both can be found in yet another one of her projects – Infinite Word: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Publishing. She had just slipped it to her publisher the morning of our interview.
“They didn’t even know I was working on it,” Zane said.
“I wrote the book for authors who want longevity in writing,” she further explained. “A lot of writers are lazy, or arrogant. There is a difference between being a writer and being an author. Writers spend time alone, write the book, and are introverted. An author has to have a personality. Someone has to find something interesting about you. Some people are naturally extroverted, but others need to develop those skills. When I meet new writers and consider them for publication, I ask my staff if they would buy a book from the person.”
Zane’s self-expressive ambitions abound
As yet another project, Zane is also the publisher of Strebor Books, an imprint of Atria Books, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. But that’s not all. Among the other items on the author’s long to do list — which might easily be mistaken for steps in a final bid for world domination — you’ll find plans for a line of nutritional supplements for men and women, and her intent to produce a play, an independent film feature, and a reality show that focuses on empowering women. Be on the lookout for Zane’s lounge wear line for women, and her regular radio gig as well. You heard it here first!
How does Zane do it all?
When asked how she juggles so much, this driven, defiant example of modern black womanhood responded with a girlish laugh. “People are surprised to hear that my life is pretty normal,” Zane said. “I took my two kids to see Monsters University just this morning.”
article by Chase Quinn via thegrio.com