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