Thursday, June 08, 2006

A few words about women's erotica

Summer is here, and with it the usual romance writers' conferences. Once again, editors of various romance houses are talking about acquiring erotica and erotic romance. But some of the things I'm hearing have started to worry me.

(This is not, by the way, a comment about my own wonderful editor, Cindy Hwang, who really does get it.)

Erotica and women's erotica are extremely new markets, and the houses aren't sure yet what's going to sell. So they're trying all kinds of stuff to see what works.

Since both erotica and women's erotica are topics I care about, I decided to share my thoughts -- (and hope I don't get myself blackballed in the process.)

Now, when I was 20, before I became a really diehard romance reader, I read erotica. And since nobody was publishing women's erotica, there was nothing to read but erotica for men. I was desperate enough to read it anyway, because frankly, I had more libido than boyfriends. (This was MANY, many pounds ago, and before I met the man of my dreams.)

I found men's erotica unsatisfying stuff, frankly. Yes, some it was arousing, more or less, but mostly it was just frustrating. The heroines were all life support systems for genitalia, which made it difficult to care about them, while the guys were cads who treated the women like toilet paper. Even when a female character had a bit more to her, she usually loudly declared her independence by the end of the book and flounced away, leaving the hero a broken man.

As for plot -- surely you're joking. Men don't read erotica for plot. It only takes them 10 minutes to beat off. If they want a plot, they'll go read WAR AND PEACE. Now, me -- it takes me a bit longer, which gave me far too much time to think, "This doesn't make any sense."

As a reader, I wanted characters I could care about, male and female. I wanted a happy ending. I wanted a ROMANCE. And I wanted hot sex. I was obviously not going to get that from men's erotica, so eventually I got disgusted and went off and started reading romance.

At the time, the hot sex was more implied than anything else, and most of the heroes in those bodice rippers were jerks, but there was a happy ending and a romance, and I decided that was as close as I was going to get to what I wanted.

In the meantime -- around 1990 or so -- I started writing what nobody else was giving me. Steamy sex, happy endings, and romance. Utterly unpublishable at the time, of course, because the stories were too short and the sex was WAY too hot for the romance market.

So, fast forward to 2006, when romance houses have suddenly discovered erotica. So what do some of these editors say they're looking for? Plot? Not particularly important, one said.

"We don't really want to see the hero's point of view," another said. (Sounds to me like he's going to become a life-support system for genitalia. Sound familiar?)

"We don't necessarily want a happy ending. We want a series of sexual encounters. These are not romances."

Well, SNOT. Here I waited 20 years for New York to start publishing what I want to read, and most of the houses (with the exception of the splendid and wonderful Berkley) are doing the exact same damn thing as the men's erotica that turned me off when I was 20. Except maybe more artsy. As one writer friend explained, "These books are supposed to be voyages of sexual self-discovery for the heroine."

Hell, THAT doesn't sound like any fun!

And that's the real problem. Erotica is supposed to be FUN. That's the whole point. If I am sitting here getting all warm and yummy reading about some marvelous hunk, I am NOT, thank you, in the mood for a voyage of sexual self-discovery.

Let me be crude: I WANT TO GET OFF.

Do not hand me an endless series of depressing and meaningless sexual encounters. I did that when I was in college, dammit, and I hated it the first time.

Here's a clue, ladies: orgasms and depression are not a good combo. In fact, where there is depression, there is no orgasm. Orgasms are fun. Sex with a handsome, horny guy is FUN. It's supposed to be fun.

Now, if I pick up your work of erotic fiction expecting to have a warm, happy time, followed by molesting my husband, and instead you leave me feeling like it's 1982 and I've just woken up next to yet another jerk...

Well, the next time I see one of your books sitting on the shelves at B&N, I will keep right on shopping.

On the other hand, if you show me a good time, at the end of which Our Heroine finds warmth and joy with a guy with a really big d**k...well, you've got a new fan.

Consider this a message to all you budding newbie Women's Erotica writers. Keep this post in mind, and I think you'll find many happy sales.

Angela Knight


Sheri said...

Yes, you are exactly right!
And I figure that the NY houses will figure it out eventually when they see what sells and what doesn't, but most of them really don't get it.

Kate Douglas said...

Darlin' I agree with you 1000%, but I really think the problem will solve itself. I write for Aphrodisia, Kensington's new line of least it started out as erotica but already it is calling itself erotic romance. I have a feeling those books that are pure erotica, more a litany of sexual situations without story or character, and which don't give the reader a satisfactory HEA or at least a "happily for now" are not going to do as well as the truly romantic stories with real hot sex. My opinion, true, but my Wolf Tales are doing really well and while the stories are filled with hot, kinky "over the top" sex, they are also the most romantic and emotional stories I've ever written. I'm guessing readers will determine the course of the erotic romance industry by the books they choose. Most readers want a story they can hook their fingers into and hang on for the ride. I don't think you get that with a series of sex scenes. Obviously, there are readers that want those, and with the broad choices available now from so many publishers, they can find just about anything they prefer. I happen to want some romance with my sex. I want a plot and good strong characters I can identify with. I get it in books like yours and so many other authors of erotic romance. Just give the industry time. They'll figure it out eventually.

Ann Jacobs said...

You're right. Most female readers want erotic ROMANCE, not a meaningless string of sexual encounters devoid of emotional connections.

A hero to die for, a heroine I can identify with (even if she is years younger and more enlightened in her choices than I), and a story framework within which they can have no-holds-barred sex without hangups are what I look for when I read--and what I try to write in my erotic romances.

Yeah, it's fantasy, but I want it all, even the concluding stroll off into the sunset (with the guy-to-die-for with the fantasy body) to the fictitious world of Happily Ever After.

ShelbyMorgen said...

Snort. WTG AK. I write a more Sci-Fi/Urban Fantasy than traditional romance, but no matter what you call it, once principle applies to women’s erotica: I want to fall in love with the hero. Serial episodic sex in books is the same thing it is in real life -- pointless. Women need more than that -- we want a hero to die for. Or at least worth sacrificing yourself for. Though it’s handy if both the hero and heroine make it though the book. Or the series.

And yeah. I want to know what he's thinking, and it better be more important than "Great tits." I’m not saying you have to make the guy talk so much or think so much he’s more than likely gay (and gay guys are still GUYS) but male POV -- especially if he’s worshipping the heroine’s body -- can and should enhance the sex scenes. Let me know how and why he finds her captivating, and let me know his emotions are fully involved. Otherwise, we’re back to pointless, mindless sex. Might as well watch a couple of cats humping out in the back alley.

Jaci Burton said...

Hell yeah and a hallelujia!

Hot sex? oh yeah. But gimme my HEA, otherwise I'm just not interested.

I've already heard readers complaining about the books without the HEA. They want their hot sex, but they want their HEA, their emotionally satisfying outcome at the end.

don't we all?

I can't write a book without a HEA, no matter how hot it is. I think a lot of us feel the same way.

Great blog post, AK!

Shelley Bradley said...

Do I hear an amen? You are so, so right!

I've heard the no plot, no HEA, no romance comment and though, huh? I wouldn't want to read that. What makes you think I want to write it?

Berkley HEAT doesn't require an HEA, but I write for that line and insist on having one. My upcoming WICKED TIES is a big, ol' BDSM book--but it's romantic. He loves her. She loves him. Without all this, for me, the sex in any book is just pointless and frustrating. Hard to get off when I couldn't care less about the characters, their emotional journey, and I know their brewing sex life will go nowhere. The point of the book isn't just orgasm... What are these people thinking?

Thanks for bringing this up!

Sherrill Quinn said...

What everyone else said! I don't want just meaningless sex scenes strung together--I want to see the development of the relationship. Give me my HEA, dammit!

Judy Mays said...

Hey AJ,

I love you. You hit the nail right on the head. Sex for sex's sake is boring. I want plot, an alpha hero, a heroine who can handle him, and hot sex with a HEA. Not too much to ask for in my opinion.

Jenna Howard said...

This should be required reading for every writer who says "Oh yeah...I can write an erotic romance. It's just a lot of sex."

I need the romance. I need the relationship. I need the hero's POV. I need the emotions otherwise...what's the point? Doesn't matter to me if the sex scenes are deliciously hot if there's nothing out of the bedroom (or where ever they're boffing) because if I don't care about the characters, I don't care period. Plus what is sexier then a reformed hero madly in love with the heroine as he does delicious things to her body? Grrrowf.

I'd give a standing ovation but I'm wounded so I'll just raise my glass and toast you with a "hell freakin' yeah!" and quaff back an Advil.

catt said...

EXactly!! maybe they will see where they are going wrong, and change it.HOPEFULLY. i went through the same thing you did, very frustrating.

Jeigh said...

I agree 100% And you are right about not coming back if there is no HEA...I have a couple authors that I refuse to read because there was no HEA. Women want HEA, with their hot sex!

Kate Hill said...

I like both types of stories. To me, they're both good, except when I'm in the mood to read one type or the other, I don't want to be misled. If there is no interaction between the characters outside of sex and the story doesn't have a HEA, please don't label it an erotic romance. Straight erotica is great, but not if I'm expecting a romantic storyline along with it. I'll read both, as long as I know what to expect when I pick up the book.

Kathleen Dante said...

Hell, yeah! I tried the "self-discovery" route with Black Lace and have to say it just wasn't my cup of tea. When I read erotic, I want a strong plot, a romantic relationship, a satisfying ending and the hero's POV. I don't want a sexier version of women's fiction! At the very least, the hero and heroine should be worth rooting for and should be "together" at the end.

I know Shelley posted that Berkley HEAT doesn't require an HEA, but my contract with them specifies erotic romance. That, in my opinion, means HEA required -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.

What I'm afraid of is those lines that brand themselves as erotic romance, just to get the romance-buying crowd, then provides erotica as self-discovery. That would piss off a lot of readers. I just hope the problem corrects itself *before* it turns away too many readers.

Morgan Hawke said...

Amen AK!
- Ya’no, I was at that writers’ convention. I heard what those supposed ‘gods of publishing’ editors were saying, and it just about gave me the biggest moment of disillusionment in my life.

These were the High and Mighty EDITORS of the Big Houses -- where all us ebook authors aspire to publish… They were supposed to Know Everything!

- What sold like hotcakes...
- What didn’t work...
- What made an Author a STAR.

And they didn’t have a damned clue as to what made Erotic Romance the genre it was!

- “It’s not a romance…”
- “Plot isn’t important…”
- “Just make it hot.”
- “ER is a showcase for the sexy hero. The heroine is incidental. The readers could care less about her.”
- “It doesn’t need a Happy Ending.”
- You don’t need to bring your book proposal when you go to an author/editor interview…” (Oh wait, that’s a different rant.)

Not one frikkin Clue!
Talk about your total disillusionment.

They knew the Name, but clearly they hadn’t bothered to Read any of the books that made the genre what it was. Or they only read the Early ER books -- the cheap ones.

Isn’t the first rule of writing…?
“Write what you KNOW.”

Well damn it, the first rule of publishing should be:
“Publish what you KNOW.”

Do your RESEARCH Damn It!
- Who is consistently getting the best Reviews?
- Who do the fans Talk About?
- Who are the top money-makers at each of the ebook houses?

But most of all...
- READ the damned ebooks that MADE Erotic Romance the hottest selling genre it is today!

Is that so hard?

SOME of those houses got smart and acquired seasoned ebook authors, (in some cases, completely by accident,) and surprise, surprise...! Those authors sell like mad bastards. AK, MJD, KD, JB...

Well, gee... How did THAT happen? Could it be because those authors Knew their Genre?


So far as I know, Berkley has a clue, Red Sage (Secrets) has always had a clue, and Kensington is getting their clue the hard way -- through sales numbers. (The seasoned ebook authors are outselling all the other authors combined. Imagine that?)

But from what I heard at that last convention, coming out of the mouths of those editors, print publishing still has a long way to go before they finally realize what Erotic Romance actually is.


Barrie Abalard said...

Honey, I hear ya. I started writing romantic erotica in 1995, mostly short stories that I sold to one of three publishers of spanking fiction. (I still write stories for one of them.) Thing is, I never was much of a romance reader--mostly because, until the last few years, romances didn't have much in the way of hot sex. Give me a realistic HEA (not an oxymoron, snort) and some really hot sex with a man who likes to spank his lady, and, well, I'll read it. And read it. And read it.

Great post!



Eve Vaughn said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I love lots of hot sex in my stories, but I'm not interested in sex for sex sake. I don't want to walk away from a book feeling like I've wasted a chunk of my life. You go AK!!!

FeyRhi said...

I'm a huge fan of erotica but I insist on my HEA! If I don't want a plot I'll watch cheap porn. (or any porn for that matter *G*)

As a writer just starting out in this market, the publishing attitude concerns me. Here I am agonizing over backstory and emotions and they're just looking for "wham bam thank you mam"?

Let hope they clue in quickly since I'll be querying them at the end of the summer (or so).

Jan Springer said...

Well said, Angela. :-)

jan, toasting a cyber glass of champagne

Jeanne said...

I'm sitting here after reading your rant and thinking, OH, GOD, NO! I thought NY knew what the hell was going on and why epubbed authors are writing what they're writing. My dh says, "Well, everything you write seems to be erotic!" And I said, hell yes! I love writing stories that get me hot and bothered and have the HEA I crave. And, yes, every sexual encounter is part and parcel of the story. Remember that old song? "You can't have one without the other."
I started reading romance novels over thirty years ago when my dh and I had a children's book store and I got free galleys of books at ABA conventions. I got bored with the asterisks in Cartland's books after about five. Then I found Small's "The Kadin". Now that was exactly what I wanted then. Sex and a fascinating story with intelligent women and sexy men - lots of sexy men.
And that's what I want now. So I write that - intelligent women, hot sex and hot men and a HEA!

sexmuse said...

dang, name names so I know where to sub my non-HEA cotton candy erotica. :-) (only have j/k)

Seriously, I think "erotica" is a hard word to define before anything is attached to it (e.g. "women's" versus "men's" erotica). Erotica as a stand alone term should be universal to men and women ... when someone tags a gender qualifier on it, I think it becomes a euphemism for what gets one gender off. Not really *porn* but gender targeted sex writing. (Hey, that can be fun, too!)

I haven't picked the first Spice up, but I have high hopes for that line producing genuine erotica. (Since I've been so disappointed by what most of the new erotic romance/women's erotica publisher's have been putting out, I've been waiting for Gina Bacarr's "The Blonde Geisha" as my first Spice purchase.

A really good erotica isn't going to fall into any formula. It can be a love story, it can be a romance, it can be a female or a male quest story, it can have explicit sex or merely be incredibly sensual. Whatever it is, it should always be powerful, whether depressing or uplifting.

I can see that I'm definitely in the minority (think it's 19 to 1 at this count!), but I welcome more erotica and less romance in these new women's fiction lines.


December Quinn said...

Hear, hear!

This is why its so upsetting to me to see RWA continue to poo-poo erorom. If they refuse to define erotic romance as romance, then honestly, why wouldn't the publishers not see it as romance either?

You can't just say, "Oh, the sales numbers won't bear it out and the readers will buy real erotic romance and la la la." Because when that first wave of "erotic romances" hit the stores, and readers--many of whom are picking up their very first erotic romance--see there's no HEA, they're going to give up on them. And that doesn't hurt the publishers. They go on to publish something else. It hurts us, the writers. It hurts the readers who are looking for something special.

If RWA continues to insist that erorom "isn't romance", then of course the publishers aren't going to know any different.

Angela James said...

This point was debated at length among a number of readers on blogs last month after I spotted an interview with the Editorial Director of Kensington's Aphrodisia line in which she clearly states HEA not required, though they're labeled as erotic romance.

Since you have mostly authors commenting here, I thought you'd be interested in reading the feedback some readers gave to this. I'm posting a link to a discussion that spun off from my blog, because this discussion has the most comprehensive discourse without visiting ten other blogs, lol.

But to summarize for you--and this was shown in a small poll given on my blog where there were about 40 respondants and 75% of them responded in this manner--most romance readers demand a HEA in their romance. If it's labeled a romance, erotic romance, then the publisher and author had better be delivering the expected HEA or readers will abandon said author and publishing line in favor of someone who will deliver.

Romance readers agree that romance does change and evolve, but most felt that the HEA was too expected and integral to give up. They don't want to just sex, no plot, no characterization. They want to see a relationship, a building of ideas, a meeting of minds. Anything else isn't romance, it's erotica, women's fiction, chick lit, etc. Don't call it erotic romance or romance and expect that readers won't be savvy enough to know the difference--and speak with their wallet.


Karen said...

Very, very well said.

Thanks for the great ost Angela ;)

Adrienne Kama said...

You are absolutely right! Erotica is great if that's what a person is looking for, but erotica is not erotic romance. If I've purchased a book marketed as an erotic romance, I'm not interested in reading a series of bed-hopping scenes. I want romance! I want to fall in love with the hero! If not a HEA ending, I want one that is at least satisfying. If the book is a fantasy erotic romance and part of a series I don't mind the book ending with the heroine going her own way, knowing she and the hero are going to meet up again for another adventure.

But no romance ... that's just boring.

Thank you for the wonderful post.

Rebecca York said...

Hi. I've been reading the comments with interest, as they say. Unfortunately, I think there are some women who can't tell the difference between erotica with a relationship and erotica without. Or maybe they don't care. I have a new book out called SHADOW OF THE MOON. I just got a letter from a woman who says she's a fan of mine. But she hates this book. Why? Because I dared to use S&M as my theme. She accuses me of using crude language and graphic descriptions. Well, the language in the book is exactly the same as the language I regularly use. My descriptions of love scenes are similar--except that there's some mild bondage and subjugation as part of the action. I'd never write a romance without a happy ending. I focus on the developing relationship between my h/h the way I always do. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THE S&m SUBJECT MATTER. (Tastefully handled, I might add. -g-) This reader can't see past that aspect of the book. Perhaps the editors who want hot sex and no relationship can't tell the difference, either? Sad thought. Or maybe they'll be smart enough to get it?

Rebecca, scratching her head

Rae Monet said...

Will they REALLY figure it out... I have my doubts with some of the publishers, but then again, some I'm very happy with. So it's, yet again, a waiting game. Let's hope it's not another 20 years until I get what I REALLY want. Thank god Angela's out there in mass market. That's all I can say.

Glittery Sawa said...

I totally get you and I am with you 100%, I cant get my friends to understand this way of thinking, and I let them tease me about my books, but I know when I read them I am taken into another world and can forget all the troubles in my for that short bit of time Im reading them!

Cora Zane said...

Amen, sister!

You're absolutely right...I do not want to read about an up and down sexual journey, and I don't like depressing sexual "mis-encounters" before a character hits the sexual jackpot. I want to read erotic romance between characters that are going to have a chance out of the bedroom.

I think this mass rush to publish erotica has a lot to do with the sucess of epublishers like Ellora's Cave, NCP, and others who are slowly taking readers from NY houses. Marketing people who don't understand erotic romance, are only going to see it as rampant sex and aren't going to understand it well enough to sell it effectively. Don't get me wrong, there are exceptions: Berkeley and Kensington (Aphrodisia) come to mind right away. But in general, those trying to jump on the erotica bandwagon are really missing the point. They read the sexy excerpts and decide to heap everything sexy into one genre--erotica, sexual journey--without noticing the defining elements of romance blended in.

mandymroth said...

Great blog post and comments!

averagedrinker said...

erotica...omg! i love it. i always think the stuff i read there are applicable to me. i'm proud of it because i'm pertty confident about how i go about romance. webdate_dot_com has made me the better girl i am now.

Joelle said...

I have to say a huge THANK YOU! I never knew there were books like Angela Knight's Mercenaries. I loved it! It's about time someone took into account that we (women) want it all too! The HEA and everything in between. I can't read it enough; and my husband isn't complaining either...LOL.
Thank you very much.

Bernita said...

Such excellent common sense - and some great lines.
Thank you.

Jennie OTN said...

Well said!

If there's no HEA it drives me nuts and I end up pacing around the house for days wondering what the hell went wrong. The same kind of thing has popped up in more traditional romances (bombshell line at harlequin for example) where the heroine doesn't end up with the hero...or is sort of deciding between 2 heros....doesn't really do it for me.

Delilah Devlin said...

By the number of comments posted here, I can tell you struck a chord!

Sex for sex sake has its place, I'm sure--in the erotica section of the bookstore! What gets me riled up is seeing our books stocked there instead of the romance section. Readers have to find us. Many have followed us from e-pub to print, and I hope they set the booksellers straight about where they want to find our books.

What's really fun to receive are the readers who write to say they'd never read anything so hot in their life, and they can't imagine ever going back to reading the tame stuff again. Once that bedroom door is opened, they want to remove it altogether! So, in the meantime, we write the hottest things they've ever read, give them a real story that's only enhanced with the sex, and a hero they want to follow through the fire!