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Just Because It’s Got the Name, Doesn’t Mean It’s the Same

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It seems only yesterday we were reading about various “traditionalist” attacks on Erotic Romance.   Remember the graphical standards debacle?   Or how about the accusations that GBLT and polyamorous Romance weren’t real Romance?   But the intervening years have shown that Erotic Romance is not only a viable subgenre, but is, in fact, as much real Romance as any other “respectable” subgenre.   Oh, I know not everyone is thrilled with some of the more explicit directions the genre has taken, but the Romance community and genre is large enough that the diversity can be pretty easily accommodated.

One of the reasons I think Erotic Romance has faced so much controversy is the way it can sometimes blur into straight erotica or even pornography – that is, away from the emotional journey of lovers and into the sexual odysseys we generally associate with pure erotic narrative.   And indeed, depending on how a reader connects to a book in question, arguments about how to label specific works are not uncommon.   Yet structurally speaking, the boundaries of Erotic Romance are clear, or at least as clear as the formal boundaries for Romance are.   A love story, a strong focus on the development of the love relationship, a happy resolution for the lovers.   That Erotic Romance may articulate the development of the characters and their journey to love primarily through sex does not make Erotic Romance any less romantic or any weaker as generic Romance, nor does it mean Erotic Romance authors can’t really push the envelope.

What does weaken Erotic Romance, in my opinion, is knowingly or negligently placing works that are not Romance into its categorical space in order to take advantage of the bounty that hotter Romance appears to represent to authors and publishers alike.   And what I mean by “negligently” is without knowing or making any effort to know and understand the Romance genre, and without any apparent desire to work within its extremely generous formalistic boundaries.   Because, seriously, it’s not that exclusive to demand that the term “Romance” characterize books that focus on a love relationship and a happy resolution in that relationship.   There’s a lot of space in that definition for innovative, envelope-pushing, provocative, fresh, challenging fiction.   But anyone wanting to write genre Romance is probably going to have to do more than read the definition as it’s posted on the Romance Wiki or on the RWA website.   Because not everyone is going to have the kind of luck Gene from the new season of Top Chef had when he created a classic Indian dish without knowing anything about Indian cooking.   Most of us have to understand the rules before we know how to break them effectively.

So to answer the question before it’s asked, yes, this post is partially a response to the ongoing Ravenous Romance discussion.   And no, I don’t know for sure that the books they end up publishing are going to be erotica or porn dressed up as Romance, regardless of what anyone associated with the publisher might say.   But this is not the first time we’ve seen the erotica as Romance problem arise, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.   And since I’ve been reading more and more Erotic Romance (as a natural consequence of the market’s expansion), I’ve become pretty emphatic about believing that there is a clear distinction between erotic Romance as a subgenre of Romance, and that the distinction lies in the focus on love and emotional growth within the story.   Further, I think it is damn difficult to write really awesome Erotic Romance, to imbue a lot of sexual content with equally prevalent emotional impact, and to mirror that intensity with potently written sex.   Writing emotionally powerful Romance is difficult enough, but using sex as a vehicle to communicate that power sets an even higher bar, in my opinion, because catalyzing that ecstatic combination in the reader of sexual arousal and empathetic connection with the story is a multi-layered challenge.

Yes, I know there are books categorized as Erotic Romance that have and will continue to provoke debate – that they’re straight erotic or pornography, that they’re too tame, that they’re sexist, that they’re badly written, etc. etc. Also, each reader has a different sensibility around sexual explicitness – what is really out there to one reader will read as positively conventional to another.   And we are well aware that the lure of Romance’s substantial market share can create the illusion that it’s easy to write or sell Romance to the hungry masses of Romance readers.   There are many things that will continue to complicate our discussion of the relationship between Erotic Romance, erotica, and pornography.   And on the surface, "Erotic Romance is merely erotica with a happy ending’ arguments may appear to be more sex positive (especially when they capitalize on the sector of Romance readers who prefer more conventional genre books).   But in reality, I don’t think erotica is more sex-positive, because what is more sex positive than offering readers an experience of incredibly hot sex and happiness for the people having it?   That doesn’t mean I think Erotic Romance is more sex positive than erotica, either; it just means that I don’t think Romance is or should be a “respectability cover” for erotica or pornography.

Although I think some people believe that it is, and I wonder if the marketing of erotica as Erotic Romance is a product of this belief, as incredibly insulting as it is (to erotic and romantic work).   Some of it is just plain profiteering, I’m sure, as publishers and authors marvel over the market share Romance commands.   And the profound genre loyalty of Romance readers, I believe, means that we have a built-in trust toward books that are labeled Romance.   So we buy and if we are disappointed, we most often simply move on.   But we remain loyal to the Romance label, a label that, in the entire field of genre labeling, does not enjoy a great deal of mainstream respect.   Which means that if a publisher is labeling its books Romance, it’s aiming specifically at a Romance readership, not aiming for widespread literary respect.   We saw this with Aphrodisia and with Juno’s Paranormal Romance line, and now with Ravenous Romance.   And I have to say that Ravenous Romance’s intentions regarding the Romance readership are about as clear as mud to me right now.   Are they selling porn, as one author insists?   Are they selling erotica, as their TwittErotica contest (not to mention various comments by related parties) suggests?   Or are they selling what their publishing name advertises?

Because when I pick up a book labeled Erotic Romance, that’s exactly what I want:   hot sex and loving happiness for the people having it.   I want to know that I will be taken on a journey in which the emotional relationship between the characters will largely be communicated through their sexual experiences.   I want to be turned on from head to toe, to put it bluntly, and at the end of the book I want to know I’ve just read a love story.   If I want another experience as a reader, I will turn to another genre, whether that is literary fiction, SF/F, erotica, mystery, or autobiography.   There is enough room for everyone in the literary market, just not necessarily in Romance.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

77 Comments

  1. dew
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 06:06:38

    I wouldn’t know, because the two times I’ve tried reading recently written erotica, I wasn’t able to get more than a few chapters before I quit reading. I was thinking I was going to enjoy reading some hot scenes, but instead suffered through forced sexual acts (not always sex) after forced sexual act. What I was hoping would be a turn-on turned out to be a turn-off instead. Apparently there’s a market for forced sex, but it’s not for me. I want the heroine to *want* sex with the hero.

    But I agree with you that erotic romance should still follow romance rules as far as HEA.

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  2. Mrs Giggles
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 07:39:49

    I think the problem with erotic romance isn’t the nature of the genre as much as how some readers are willing to accept the various types of sexual fantasies present within the genre. To me, if an erotic romance doesn’t explore a particular sexual fantasy to a greater degree, then there is no difference between it and a contemporary romance that has hot sex scenes, and we don’t need the “erotic romance” label as a result.

    Therefore, when it comes to ER, I make it a point not to apply political correctness. What passes as sexual harassment makes a viable domination fantasy in ER, for example. Same with prostitution and rape fantasies, or anything that is covered by folks like Nancy Friday in the past and present. Otherwise, what is the point of having an erotic romance subgenre if it’s going to be merely another subgenre with added sexual explicitness?

    When someone asks me what the difference between ER and porn, my answer is simple: it depends on you. Just as you will know porn when you encounter it, you’ll also know ER when you read it. Only, don’t expect other people to 100% agree with you lay down the boundaries, because someone’s ER is always going to be someone else’s porn. Labeling is always subjective that way.

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  3. Kimber An
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 07:54:57

    This was associated with the labeling poll. In my experience, readers are unhappy with labeling over two things):
    1) When an Erotica novel is labeled Romance. (Psst, they also hate it when other things are mislabeled, like a Paranormal is thrown in with regular Historical Romance.)

    2) Calling sex love. A lot of us have experience with both sex and love and we know the difference, which has enabled us to live happily ever after. We know that love can lead to great sex. However, great sex is not love. Just because a couple has great sex, it doesn’t mean they’re going to live happily ever after. There’s got to be more to the story. So, if the story is about sex, call it Erotica. If it’s about love, with or without sex, call it Romance.

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  4. DS
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 09:20:11

    I think ultimately it is up to the market. I remember reading books labeled as romance– published by Avon even!- where there would be an epilogue set in the future where one of the protagonists is dead and the other is remembering their long married life together– One of Jo Ann Simon’s time travel novels (early 80′s) does this. Or one of the protagonists from the previous novel was dead when the sequel starts– or dies in the sequel– Sandra Brown and several others I remember did this.

    There was more than one series of gothic romances (Florence Stevenson and Virginia Coffman each wrote at least one of these) that featured the same protagonist but the love interest from the previous book didn’t carry over– anyone who watched popular American TV series of the time will remember this one because a lot of them did not have a story arc just episode after episode where the love interest would be killed off or just forgotten when the episode ended.

    I think that the definition of romance is fluid and will expand and contract at the market demands. I guess a recent example was the argument about the HEA (where the relationship is set in amber at the end of the book) and the Happy for Now or Emotionally Satisfying ending, which seems to have garnered quite a bit of support.

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  5. Jane O
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 09:29:11

    As a reader, I’ve grown accustomed to generic titles, covers that have no connection to the characters or story inside, and misleading back cover blurbs. I find it annoying, but I have grown accustomed, and I can generally tell if I am looking at a historical or a contemporary.

    However, when it comes to erotica, I would greatly appreciate accurate labeling and I would think this would be a benefit to both authors and publishers. There are readers who want erotica and readers who want to avoid it. Both get annoyed when they discover they have wasted their book budget on something they don’t want.

    If publishers don’t want the words (and that seems odd when we are talking about books), maybe a symbol? Five chili peppers?

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  6. GrowlyCub
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 09:39:08

    I’m one of the people who have absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to romance mislabeling and it doesn’t matter where exactly it happens.

    If it has ‘romance’ on the spine/in its advertising, it better have a HEA or HFN ending.

    I think there are two different motivations for the mislabeling. In print, it seems to be motivated more by taking advantage of the large number of readers, whereas in e-pubs, it seems to be motivated by trying not to be conventional.

    If a book doesn’t have a HEA/HFN, please call it a love story, not a romance.

    While ‘romance’ may have been used in different ways over the centuries, as a genre label it has meant for a very, very long time a story about characters who fall in love and who have a desire and commitment to stay together at the end of the story.

    I have a serious antipathy against people who dick around with that label to ‘push the envelope’ or to make a quick buck off romance readers.

    I think the problem arises particularly in erotic romance, because the envelope pushers are defining HEA in a very narrow way (as in married, pushing out babies, white picket fence), which I do not (see above definition).

    I’ve definitely noticed an increase of books mislabeled as romance (in print) and I’m convinced it’s the marketing folks doing it because the romance pie is such a nice and big one (and it’s a much more pervasive issue there because they get to draw from so many more subgenres; if I end up reading another women’s fic book disguised as a romance I’ll go puke on somebody’s feet, I swear!).

    What they don’t seem to understand is that while a lot of readers are interested enough to branch out into other genres and more forgiving about the mislabeling there are those like me, who do not forgive and forget. I hate feeling manipulated and I react accordingly. I have stopped buying authors and I’ve stopped buying from certain publishers (which is admittedly a bit easier for e-pubs than for print ones).

    The most recent example that still rankles was with an e-pub. I will not buy again from Extasy because they labeled a story ‘gay romance’ in which one of the protagonists ends up hurt and alone while the other one goes back to women right in front of his eyes. When I complained (because the writing was so good and I cared so much about the characters, so the disappointment was incredibly intense) I got really bad attitude from the author (as in, it’s a love story so if I want to push the envelope even while calling it romance and you don’t like it, piss on you) and even worse attitude from the publisher about how this book WAS a romance, and anyway, there was a second part coming…

    The story only had 90 pages, so there was no reason not to publish this book as a whole, if there was a second part and when they sold the first part there was no indication on the website that this story was not complete.

    Again, let me repeat, if the story craft had been so-so and the characters only ok, I wouldn’t have felt so ripped off, but the writing was so good until that ‘ending’ that I was indignant on the characters’ behalf and when I got all that ‘you are just dumb’ from the author and publisher, it was an easy decision never to give either a penny ever again.

    I think part of the mislabeling issue in general comes from the fact that romance readers have much more varied tastes than detractors give us credit for and many do not complain or even feel upset when a story is labeled ‘romance’ even if it barely has romantic elements.

    I don’t know if I’m in the minority about insisting that a book labeled ‘romance’ needs to have the characters intent on making a go of it at the end or not, but I know I have only so much time and so many dollars to spend and if a book doesn’t fit my expectations and I feel manipulated or condescended to into the bargain, I won’t buy again.

    I read for the journey of how the characters get to the HEA/HFN. It doesn’t ‘give anything away’ to know before I start reading that the story has a HEA/HFN or if it doesn’t I want to know beforehand, because I won’t waste my time with it.

    Truth in advertising and all that!

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  7. DS
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 10:20:43

    And it just occurred to me is one of the problems genre romance has is the word romance had an existence in literature prior to the appearance of the genre and it was usually just short handed as love story. The current definition of genre romance is only a couple of decades old.

    When talking about science fiction & fantasy or sff or sci-fi or scientifiction (early term) the name doesn’t really conjure up any particular image. Mysteries or Detective Fiction are about the same although there was a genuine effort in the first half of the 20th century to determine what should or shouldn’t happen in a mystery, e.g., the narrator shouldn’t be the killer, no invented poison or scientific apparatus should be used as the weapon, can’t rely on a sudden unaccountable intuition on the part of the Detective– but I never hear anyone argue them any more and every one has been broken over and over and over again.

    However everyone has an idea of the meaning of the word romance (whether it is a bunch of flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day to Romeo and Juliet to True Romance magazines– are those published still?) And if you asked a lot of people on the street– probably even people who read romances– if books with strong romantic content like Gone With the Wind are romances I would bet that a fair number would say yes. On the other hand a fair number of genre romance fans would probably also say that Danielle Steel’s novels are not romances. (I’ve never read any of her books, it’s just I have seen this argued.) Nor is Gone with the Wind. And you could probably get a good argument going about Jude Devereaux’s Knight in Shining Armor.

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  8. Ciar Cullen
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 12:27:36

    Kimber An’s summary is fabulous, what I would have said if I weren’t a rambler.

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  9. Robin
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 12:30:00

    When someone asks me what the difference between ER and porn, my answer is simple: it depends on you. Just as you will know porn when you encounter it, you'll also know ER when you read it. Only, don't expect other people to 100% agree with you lay down the boundaries, because someone's ER is always going to be someone else's porn. Labeling is always subjective that way.

    I agree that there will always be debates about individual books; after all, it occurs with so-called wallpaper historicals all the time (it’s a wallpaper, no it’s not, etc.). But I still think we can assign some generic clarity to the Erotic Romance subgenre, and that it comes in the *function* rather than the *type* or *amount* of sexuality and sex in the story. If the sex moves the Romance forward and facilitates the character development AND the love relationship, it’s ER, IMO. Just like the distinguishing element in all subgenres are supposed to facilitate the love relationship (and I think I just hit on the reason I get so frustrated by superficial treatment of history in historical Romance, but I digress). I tend to have a much broader conception of genre than a lot of people, but I still think generic distinctions are both possible and important to make, as long as we are doing so structurally and not ideologically.

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  10. Robin
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 12:57:53

    And it just occurred to me is one of the problems genre romance has is the word romance had an existence in literature prior to the appearance of the genre and it was usually just short handed as love story. The current definition of genre romance is only a couple of decades old.

    This point came up during the discussion of Juno’s use of the “paranormal romance” tag for stories that were not genre Romance. Juno argued that the older definition of the word Romance (a long narrative or adventure tale and the precursor of the novel, aka, a roman) was applicable to their label. And heaven knows I have an extremely liberal view of genre Romance, more liberal than a lot of other readers. But because genre Romance is such an established category of fiction now, I tend to be cynical about attempts by publishers to use the term without intending to target genre Romance readers. If the market were tiny, I’d probably be more easily convinced, but given the overt interest some pubs have in sharing the genre Romance market, it’s difficult for me to see the use of “Romance” as anything but an Althusserian hailing to the Romance reader, a ‘hey you, be a typical Romance reader and buy this book’ sort of call.

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  11. Seressia
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 13:24:30

    I’m with GrowlyCub; I have certain expectations when I read certain genres. If I’m reading something labeled mystery, I expect the case to be solved at the end of the book. Science fiction should have robots or space travel or other planets or the future in it. Fantasy means magic, fantastical creatures. And romance means HEA or HFN. I get very upset when there’s neither or even a declaration of feelings.

    I read one where the couple was like, wanna go for coffee? after they had sex and flirting and went through a near-death experience. That one was my first wall-banger. Another had the hero and heroine apart for most of the book and he died then she dies. Both had romance on the spine. Neither author saw another dime from me.

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  12. Bev Stephans
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 13:25:47

    Yes, I want my romance to have a HEA, be it conventional or erotic. What I want more than anything else, is good writing. If it’s not well-written, it doesn’t matter what you label it!

    I have read some erotica that was so badly written that I couldn’t finish it. It may as well have been porn. On the other hand, I have read some very well-written erotica that was worth praising to others.

    I have read a lot of well-written conventional romance and a lot of stinkers too. I’m using the label conventional for want of a better word, but I hope you get the idea.

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  13. Hortense Powdermaker
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 13:49:51

    The trouble with labels: the definitions are often illogical, used inconsistently, and they don’t appear on printed books anyway.

    The RomanceWiki definitions (WADR to those brave souls who tried to wrestle this can of worms to the mat) is not all that helpful when “single title” is included as a subgenre and “category” is not. Or when half the other subgenres could fit into the subgenre of “single title.” Or when “chick lit” is defined as romance.

    The RWA definitions have the same problem. The average reader might not understand that a “series romance novel” is a code for category (or is it?) and that all the other subgenres can fit under the “single title” umbrella. Erotic romance is not on the list as a “subgenre.” The “central love story + emotionally satisfying ending” definition of romance encompasses a lot of ground.

    Anyway, print books: I took a quick look at some romances and not one of them is labelled a “romance” anywhere on the cover, much less given a subgenre identity like “paranormal.” The last sentence of many blurbs, in fact, is a rhetorical question that, paraphrased, can be summed up as “but will they get there?” implying that there may be no HEA or HFN, thereby violating one of the most rigid romance rules.

    I think there’s a difference between the average reader’s understanding and romance wonk terminology. As Teddypig observed elsewhere, some people think Brokeback Mountain is a gay romance.

    So I’d argue that what distinguishes a romance from a love story may be clear to a romance wonk, but the subgenres – not so much. Trying to work out a shared understanding of the boundaries is useful, though, which I think is one of the purposes of this discussion?

    And I agree that any publisher should have a working knowledge of the product they’re developing, even if the reader can’t parse the subgenre distinctions.

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  14. Emmy
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 13:59:34

    There have been a few stories labeled as romance that are pure porn, but that’s not in the majority. Erotic romance, romantica, or whatever the heck else it’s labeled as tends to have a basic template: boy meets girl, there’s some sort of attraction, sex happens, they skip off into the sunset holding hands, the end. Of course there are variations…boy meets boy, two boys meet a girl, etc, but that’s basically how it goes.

    The problem seems to be in how the sex scenes play out. How many, how long, how descriptive. Those old Zebra historicals I used to read with the rip out ads in the middle? I could always tell where the sex would be, because it always occurred precisely at the halfway point of the book, which is where the ads were placed. The newer books often have the oofing going on right in chapter 1, with the rest of the story coming after. Does that mean it’s not romance?

    And why does it matter? A good book is a good book, no? I’ll read well written porn over a poorly written ‘traditional’ romance any day.

    It seems like only the romance community has conversations like this. I read sf/f forums, and I have yet to read a post where someone suggests a book isn’t fantasy because they dragons don’t breathe fire at the correct temperature, or the magic isn’t magical enough. I mean, really. Why does everything *have* to be neatly labeled? Is it even possible to label a book in a fashion that would please everyone? I, for one, am not interested in seeing a book labeled Romantic Overtones With Lots of Really Kinky Sex, but the Occasional Sweet Making Love Scene and Ye Olde HEA Ending.

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  15. K. Z. Snow
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 14:13:45

    Every single last author of erotic romance will claim — stubbornly and, sometimes, indignantly — that no sex scene in any of her books is gratuitous. They all contribute to plot advancement and/or character development. They all are integral to the discovery-of-love storyline.

    So what are you all kvetching about? Don’t you dare try to tell us our smut erotic romance isn’t dominated by the romance! It is! It is, I tell you! Even if the heroine is locked in a prison cell on a distant planet with three ambisexual alpha somethings that must mate, THE ROMANCE COMES FIRST, DAMN IT!

    ;-)

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  16. EC
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 14:41:00

    I think one of the problems with too much sex in a book–any book–is that it gets predictable and, yes, after boink, boink, boink, just plain boring. That, of course, is a personal opinion, and we all know how much weight they carry.

    But, the above said, I go along with the idea of publishers labeling their books as honestly as possible. Maybe something like . . . number of penetrations per 1000 words. Kidding, just kidding.

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  17. jenre
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 14:46:39

    Whether a book contains explicit sex or none at all, if it is labelled as a romance I expect there to be some kind of emotional journey between the main characters (no matter how many there are) which culminates with an ending where I believe that the characters will be happy and stay together for the forseeable future. There doesn’t have to be grand declarations of love – in fact some stories where characters declare their love after knowing each other for two days don’t ring as true as those which end with an agreement to ‘work things out and see how they go’. If I don’t get at least that by the end of a romance book then I feel cheated.

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  18. Julia Sullivan
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 14:56:03

    Therefore, when it comes to ER, I make it a point not to apply political correctness.

    I don’t think that dew was being “politically correct” in saying that she didn’t like forced-sex scenes: I think her point was that, to her, that is not erotic, and that she would be more interested in erotica/erotic romance that explored a different set of sexual fantasies than that.

    Right now I think there is a mindset in the erotica/erotic romance world that only male-dom fantasies will sell. In my opinion, that’s almost certainly incorrect, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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  19. Nifty
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 15:16:54

    I like Romance…and I like Erotica (of the porn variety). I’m not much of a fan of erotic romance. My problem with ER, primarily, is that it fails to satisfy me on either front. When I read erotica, I want the sex with no relationship crap getting in the way. Frankly, I don’t even care if they know each other’s names. On the other hand, when I read romance, I want the characters and the relationship. The sex is a part of that, sure, but I want to BELIEVE in the relationship and the HEA. I want to be swept off my feet by the characters’ story. And in order for all that to happen, the characters need to have more going for them then great sexual chemistry.

    It seems to me that in the ER books I’ve read recently, the development of the emotional relationship has flown out the window. The characters are compatible sexually, but they seem not to have much of a connection beyond that. We’re TOLD that the characters love each other but I just find it hard to believe that that love goes beyond the surface and a physical/sexual connection. I find it extremely difficult to buy into the HEA of an Erotic Romance. Part of that, I believe, is due to the fact that half the book is given to descriptions of sexual congress. That leaves only half the book for plot-and-character development and the building of the so-called romance. All I know is that I finish an ER and am left with the feeling that the the couple will be divorced within a few years, once the sexual novelty wears off.

    Another issue I have with the erotic romances is that they’ve got tons of sex but not a lot of sexual tension. There’s no courtship, no teasing, no wooing, no longing looks…no coming ever so close to doing the deed, only to be thwarted at the last minute. There’s no foreplay. I mean, sure, there’s physical foreplay once the characters start getting it on. Heck, these ER fantasy guys are perfectly willing to spend HOURS on foreplay. But in an Erotic Romance, the “getting it on” part could happen on page 10, and what fun is that? So, like I said…there’s no foreplay, no sexual tension.

    Okay, and here’s another problem I have with erotic romance: I feel like it uses LOVE to rationalize the fact that the female character is horny and just wants to get laid. Why all the hearts and flowers stuff? Can’t she just have sex just to have sex? Or is there still something wrong with that concept? In a way, I feel like erotic romance totally buys into that old saw that “nice girls don’t.” Feeling love for the hero — by, uh, page 30 — somehow makes it okay for her to engage in the kind of wild and kinky sex she used to secretly dream of but would never really consider because it was just wrong. That just seems disingenuous to me. And more than a little misogynistic.

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  20. Nifty
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 15:21:26

    Oh, and another problem I have with Erotic Romance these days is that it’s just so prevalent, I never know what I’m getting. I may buy a romance thinking it’s going to be a romance, only to discover that’s it’s really more of an erotic romance, which is a major letdown. Not all “erotic romance” has the handy covers of half-naked guys. Some erotic romances have very “traditional” covers, especially those that are historicals.

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  21. GrowlyCub
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 15:49:25

    That leaves only half the book for plot-and-character development and the building of the so-called romance.

    I find Nifty’s point really interesting, because that’s how I feel about romantic suspense and paranormal romance. I gave up on romance in the late 90s/early 2000s because I couldn’t find emotionally satisfying relationship stories any longer. Everything seemed ‘oh, and if I stick a drug smuggler plot in here, I don’t have to worry about developing the characters’ emotional journey’ or ‘oh, if I have ‘witty’ banter, folks we be too busy laughing to notice there’s no substance here’ or ‘if I stick a werewolf pack in here, the reader will be so bowled over they won’t notice the characters are cardboard’.

    I my case it was actually erotic romance that brought me back to romance in general, because I found authors whose stories centered around the characters in and out of bed, no suspense, comedy, chick lit, women’s fictiony plot devices to avoid writing about the characters. I loved it! :) I’ve rediscovered my love of romance and found some new to me authors of historicals and contemporaries that have kept me very busy over the last year and half.

    I do see the point Nifty makes, because since my return in June of ’07, I’ve read some really not so good ER, but as somebody else said, I’ve also read some really, really awful ‘regular’ romance over the last 25 years.

    I also think that the boundaries of what’s enough/too much sex are very individual. I’ve read some historicals that I felt should have come with an ER label, and some ER that made me go, ‘huh? where’s the sex/sexual tension?’

    My definitions would be something like this:

    Porn: very visual, insert tab A in all available slots B, plot not in evidence nor desired, written to elicit sexual response in reader and nothing else

    Erotica: very visual, written to appeal to the mind first, gonads second, usually more in the vein of vignettes or hook ups, often not much delving into relationships

    Erotic romance: romance with lots of sexual tension, heat and love making going on; appeal to mind first, gonads second; relationship story with HEA/HFN; sex is there to titillate but is secondary to the relationship story

    Romance: relationship story with HEA/HFN, with sex ranging from fade to black to explicit; if the sex titillates it’s by accident, grin. :)

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  22. Dana
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 16:22:14

    My definitions would be something like this:

    Porn: very visual, insert tab A in all available slots B, plot not in evidence nor desired, written to elicit sexual response in reader and nothing else

    Erotica: very visual, written to appeal to the mind first, gonads second, usually more in the vein of vignettes or hook ups, often not much delving into relationships

    Erotic romance: romance with lots of sexual tension, heat and love making going on; appeal to mind first, gonads second; relationship story with HEA/HFN; sex is there to titillate but is secondary to the relationship story

    Romance: relationship story with HEA/HFN, with sex ranging from fade to black to explicit; if the sex titillates it's by accident, grin. :)

    Growly Cub, I love your breakdown of the genres here!

    One of the things I’m taking away from this thread as a writer…well, from this website actually, is it really does behoove writers/publishers to make sure they label as accurately as possible, given that different readers will have different ideas of what’s appropriate within the various genres.

    I personally like all the sub genres (paranormal, etc.) that I’ve read, but thought this was an excellent point and something to be aware of when writing:

    Everything seemed ‘oh, and if I stick a drug smuggler plot in here, I don't have to worry about developing the characters' emotional journey' or ‘oh, if I have ‘witty' banter, folks we be too busy laughing to notice there's no substance here' or ‘if I stick a werewolf pack in here, the reader will be so bowled over they won't notice the characters are cardboard'.

    I only just started reading eBooks, so I’m guessing I’ll come across some of these eventually…

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  23. Kimber An
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 16:31:36

    Readers feel their intelligence is insulted and that they’ve been cheated when books are mislabeled. I know publishers are trying to snag new readers, but do they ever stop to think about all the readers they lose in the process?

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  24. Lori
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 16:42:33

    Nifty, I think I love you.

    I was trying to think how to say the exact same thing. In fact, my friend and I were discussing this in regards to our own writing: we both love the sexual tension, the build-up between characters. Not just sexual build-up but also the slow unfolding of awareness, confidences, friendship and love. Whether characters are running from drug lords or werewolves or just over-bearing parents; we’re excited by the unfolding and the growth in every aspect of the relationship.

    And I’m personally finding that the need to filter stories through erotic hazes becomes labor-intensive as a reader. It’s okay to have characters who can eat their corn flakes without an erection popping up while thinking about their overwhelming desire.I mean, as much as I’ve ever desired another, I haven’t spent every moment in an erotic haze unable to focus on anything but my throbbing nether regions.

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  25. Dana
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 16:45:27

    It's okay to have characters who can eat their corn flakes without an erection popping up while thinking about their overwhelming desire.I mean, as much as I've ever desired another, I haven't spent every moment in an erotic haze unable to focus on anything but my throbbing nether regions.

    HAH! I snorted my coffee when i read this… best laugh of the day and now I have clear sinuses too! :-)

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  26. Ann Somerville
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 17:11:39

    @GrowlyCub:

    My definitions would be something like this

    That’s pretty much how I’d define them too.

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  27. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 17:33:20

    For me – much like the rest of you. Erotic romance is a story about a developing romantic relationship that ends in commitment and a happy ending. There are fairly frequent sex scenes, graphically described and these should contribute to the developing romance.
    And yes, we are talking genre romance here, not pre-genre definitions. In this case, the dictionary definition is largely irrelevant.
    Romance may or may not have sex scenes, but is about a developing relationship and has a happy ending. Usually heterosexual, but here’s my question:
    In a book like Suzanne Brockmann’s “All Through The Night” which is an M/M romance, is it labelled as erotic just because it’s M/M? There are no graphic sex scenes in this book, none, and I’ve read other M/M romances that are low on the sex, so aren’t they just romances? And yet they’re stuck in the erotic category more often than not.

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  28. GrowlyCub
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 17:58:36

    I have issues with Brockmann, but I wouldn’t label an m/m story ER just because it’s m/m. So, if it’s a relationship journey story with males falling in love and deciding to stick together with very little to no explicit sex, I’d call that romance not ER.

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  29. azteclady
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 19:46:14

    Lynne, where have you seen Suzanne Brockmann’s All Through The Night labeled as erotic romance, if I may ask?

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  30. Ann Somerville
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 19:54:46

    @Lynne Connolly:

    yet they're stuck in the erotic category more often than not

    One of my biggest gripes ever. M/m and f/f being labelled as ‘adult’ or ‘erotic’ – or even as porn – just because of the gay relationship, regardless of the amount of sex. Gay romance can be anything from sweet to raunchy, and two guys or two women having loving sex do not porn make. I’d like to see the day where just the very existence of gay sex or gay romance in a novel isn’t treated as a kink all of its own. It’s objectifying.

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  31. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 20:46:26

    Nonetheless, there had been a gradual lessening of social exclusiveness apparent at the general parliamentary as well as at the cabinet level

    That’s what I meant and I’m very much with Ann on this one. I cited the Brockmann book because it’s the best known M/M and contains no explicit sex scenes. Written by a less well known author, yes, it might have found its way on to the erotic sites, just because it’s M/M.
    However, this review borders on it, and suggests that Jules and Robin’s romance needs special warnings:
    http://www.theromancereader.com/brockmann-allthru.html

    A book I read recently that is reviewed that way was Claire Thompson’s “Handyman.” This is a sweet love story with sex scenes, but there isn’t any kink in the story.
    Maybe it’s because Claire does do the heavier BDSM stuff as well, but this book didn’t have any of that in it. (Not that I object to “that.”)

    But to put this romance that spends more time out of the bedroom than in it, deals with the problems of a widower who is finding it hard to cope with his love for another man and has no BDSM or even any suggestion of it in the same category as, say, Ms Thompson’s “Sub for Hire” is a shame, because it might be missing its audience.
    I don’t read widely in M/M, but I’ve read anything from full-on M/M which rarely gets out of the bedroom to sweet no-sex romance. It just seems daft to put them both in the same category.

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  32. Grace
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 21:36:58

    GrowlyCub, that’s a pitch-perfect breakdown in my opinion, both as a reader and an author. Brava!

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  33. Noelle
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 21:37:51

    Wow. As a newly contracted ER writer all this discussion is great if not a little overwhelming.

    I do agree that things labeled as Erotic Romance that are not hurt the genre to a large degree. And I’m picky about the romance part. I once threw an ER against the wall because even through it had a HEA the best friend rescued the heroine at the end instead of the hero. All he did was call up and say “Oh Sorry I wasn’t there.” WTF.

    And whether you choose to believe me or not I am as against gratuitous sex scenes as I am the designated hitter. For me Sex is in the top three of what I look for in ER but only with good conflict and a deep emotional journey.

    What I want in ER is essentially the unrated version of a mainstream romance.

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  34. MaryK
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 22:10:30

    Erotic romance isn’t the only sub-genre getting hijacked. I’m still irritated over being conned into reading Dead End Dating based on its clear cover label of “Paranormal Romance.” Basically, the “hero” is one of the made-vampires who are looked down on as trash by born-vampires like the heroine. At the end of the book the “hero” and the heroine go their separate ways. She even thinks something like “I wish we could get together, but he’s so beneath me and my family would disown me.” I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fall under any definition of Romance. I got rid of that book as fast as I could.

    Publishers are obviously taking advantage of the Romance label to sell more books, and they need to realize that they’re shooting themselves in the foot. If the Romance label is diluted to the point of meaninglessness, overall book sales will fall because readers will be more cautious.

    If I’d known that Dead End Dating was really in the vein of MaryJanice Davidson, I might’ve been willing to follow the series. But bating and switching is no way to foster love for a series. Someone has compared it to confusing apple juice with tea. If you’re expecting a big swallow of tea and you get apple juice instead, it’s really nasty because your taste buds thought they were getting something else. I like tea and apple juice, but they aren’t interchangeable. So, yeah, “I like books that say romance to be romance.”

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  35. Diana Peterfreund
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 22:14:14

    Sidestepping the actual issue of the article, I was struck by the opening paragraph. All of the debacles listed referred to things that had nothing to do with the market, treatment of the genre by publishers, booksellers (and there’s plenty to talk about there!) or readers, but instead, SOLELY by RWA through its contest, policies, and newsletter. Which is kind of like pointing to three instances of the local Neighborhood Watch Society getting up in arms about a National ID.

    In other words: much ado about nothing. How do any of these debacles affect the actual readership?

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  36. Eliza Gayle
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 22:42:38

    Just when i’m certain of the clear differences between romance, erotic romance and erotica, along comes a thought provoking thread that makes me once again consider how I perceive it.

    I do believe there are clear boundaries between them but also know how perceptions change from reader to reader.

    The creative side of me loves that our genre has stretched and grown to many successful sub-genres but as a reader if I pick up a book or two in a line clearly marked erotic romance and it’s not a romance, I feel cheated. I have quit buying a whole line of books at my local bookstore for that very reason.

    There are a lot of books out there to choose from and most people can’t buy them all, I guess by mislabeling them and annoying certain readers it becomes easier for them to decide what books or what publishers they don’t want to buy.

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  37. MB (Leah)
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 23:09:13

    I read mostly erotic romance and erotica and the only issue I’ve had with labeling is when there’s been a warning: explicit sex and language and then there’s nothing more than “they did it” in the book. If there isn’t any warning like that and there’s not any or much explicit sex, then I’m not disappointed.

    I have been confused by Black Lace’s “erotic romance” on their covers. I’ve read many many Black Lace Books and when I review them I have a hard time about what to label them because almost all of them have characters who do get together with some kind of HEA or HFN even if it’s not a classic romance. I would say they are more erotica, however, the pure erotica that I’ve read doesn’t usually pack the emotional punch for me that many Black Lace books do. So it is confusing.

    I really like GrowleyCub’s definitions. That’s how I would sort of divide them.

    In fact, my friend and I were discussing this in regards to our own writing: we both love the sexual tension, the build-up between characters. Not just sexual build-up but also the slow unfolding of awareness, confidences, friendship and love.

    This is one thing that has been coming up for me a lot lately. As I do read mostly erotic romance, I do find many books totally lacking in that sexual tension and build up. One book that comes to mind is Monica Burns’- Dangerous. The sexual tension was so intense between those characters that it literally drove me insane. In a good way.

    I find too often that there is a lot of sex, and I feel the love between the characters, but it’s really missing that nice slow dance that makes you scream for the two to get together already. I think it’s very difficult to do that, without it becoming a frustrating wallbanger which is why I think I don’t read it that often. But it is something I really crave and wish was done more.

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  38. Robin
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 23:09:53

    Which is kind of like pointing to three instances of the local Neighborhood Watch Society getting up in arms about a National ID.

    Obviously I disagree with your analogy, in large part those issues were IMO reflective of similar debates within the Romance community (inclusive of its readership). All you have to do is look at the discussions that occurred on reader blogs to see how issues related to the definition of Romance (which leads right into its marketing) are very much of interest and concern to readers, whether those issues manifest publicly in the RWA, on a reader blog, or in the marketing department of a publisher.

    How do any of these debacles affect the actual readership?

    Because how Romance is defined shapes how it’s written and published and marketed, which shapes how readers acquire books and have the opportunity (or not) to read particular types of books. If you have a reader, for example, who only buys books stamped with Romance on the spine, or published in a Romance line, her choices will be directly affected (aka limited) by how all the other players who affect what is considered Romance think and act. To risk reference to yet *another* discussion focused on the RWA, namely the question of why — as Barbara Samuel asserted most decidedly — “readers should care about the RITA awards,” it comes down to the fact that books are not written or published in a vacuum. Even more basically, though, something doesn’t have to affect me personally to interest me or provoke my opinion.

    I may be reading your comment incorrectly, and if I am, I apologize. But to be perfectly honest, I am inherently suspicious of these ‘how are readers really affected by this’ questions, as they strike me as insinuations that I need some kind of club card to participate in them. Every time that question was forwarded during the Edwards plagiarism scandal, I got a little bit more cynical. So my jadedness meter tends to be set on extra-sensitive around this whole ‘why are readers involved in this discussion’ inquiry.

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  39. Robin
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 23:15:25

    I do believe there are clear boundaries between them but also know how perceptions change from reader to reader.

    IMO, one of the problems is distinguishing between how readers respond to books and the structural distinctions between subgenres. For example, I resonated strongly with many of Nifty’s comments, especially her insights about how ER can often come across as just as traditional as non-ER in its treatment of the heroine’s sexuality. But as much as I agree with many of her comments, I think they have more to do with issues within ER than with generic boundaries.

    Obviously there is overlap, and that makes it difficult, too. But I think at some point we need to try, at least, to distinguish between formalistic issues and ideological/content/thematic issues and then move on from there. Because, as someone commented above, that’s a pretty big job right there, lol.

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  40. Sami
    Nov 16, 2008 @ 23:29:37

    “What I want in ER is essentially the unrated version of a mainstream romance.”

    This is how I’ve always seen ER too, and what first attracted me to the sub genre. When reading ‘conventional’ romance I always wondered what went on in those intervening hours after the first sex scene and the ‘I love you’ part. How many times? How many ways? (perhaps that’s my natural voyeuristic curiosity). That’s not to say it has to be fifty times or fifty ways to make a book erotic romance, two or three really explicit, really emotional scenes can be just as satisfying IMO. I think romance can get pushed into erotica/porn territory when the focus is on the amount of sex, rather than the depth of it. The emotional depth is more important than the number of times our hero can get it up over cornflakes (ha ha).

    I want to know how the couple connects sexually AS WELL as in other ways, not instead. I think the best erotic romance shows this.

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  41. Karin
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 01:05:44

    GrowlyCub, I love your genre definitions. It’s definitely nice to know the distinctions and to have things labeled correctly.

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  42. Nora Roberts
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 05:48:10

    ~it's not that exclusive to demand that the term “Romance” characterize books that focus on a love relationship and a happy resolution in that relationship.~

    No, it’s really not.

    It simply takes more discipline, more craft, and some knowledge and affection for the genre to be able to create a story–whatever the sexuality level, whatever spoke on the wheel–on that basic framework.

    ~it just means that I don't think Romance is or should be a “respectability cover” for erotica or pornography.~

    Agreed. I don’t write ER, but if I did I’d wonder and worry that readers looking for and expecting ER–esp those who might be trying that area of the genre for the first time–who buy a mislabeled book will assume this is ER. And may not try it again.

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  43. Jane
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 09:32:56

    @Diana Peterfreund: I didn’t realize that there were topics that were off limits to readers and that authors were responsible for setting the boundaries. It seems pretty easy to ascertain why labeling is so important to the reader and that is so her money is spent on the books that she desires to read and that contain the content that the label promises rather than being sold a false bill of goods.

    But maybe readers are only concerned about truth in labeling and authors don’t care because all they want to make is a sale.

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  44. Diana Peterfreund
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 10:52:57

    Wow, did you guys ever misread my comment!

    I’m not saying “this is off limits for readers to discuss!” which is the way it seems both Jane and Robin took my comment. (Jane, I’m not even talkinga bout the article, just about how the “examples” are all based on minor RWA scuttlebutt instead of actual issues.) I’m saying it’s pointing in a finger in the wrong direction. If you want to talk about ways in which anti sentiments actually AFFECT the market and the ability of readers to get their hands on the books, look at Walmart refusing to carry something because of sexual content or oversexualized covers. As an example. How about challenges to libraries? How about arguments over placement in stores — romance, fiction, erotica sections? All of these things happen, and IMO, are of much more import to the discussion at hand that what some group of writers wants to argue about in the pages of their little newsletter.

    The minority of biddies in RWA can do as much hand-wringing as they like, it actually *doesn’t* have any effect on what publishers buy and what readers read. While all of these so-called debacles were going on in the RWA, every one of the big publishers were either busy starting up dedicated erotica or erotic romance lines (Spice, Aphrodisia, Avon Red, etc.), expanding their lines (Blaze increasing to six books a month), or buying up a ton of new authors who were known for writing the sexy stuff (witness most the 2006-2008 debuts at Bantam).

    I don’t think the debacles would have happened if the people who hated these kind of books weren’t threatened by how WELL they were doing in the marketplace. RWA *can’t* define romance. I could write a dozen letters to the RWA newsletter saying that arranged marriage books aren’t romantic and they should be banned from the RWA and that anyone who writes one shouldn’t be considered a romance writer.

    Good luck seeing that have any effect on whether or not arranged marriage books aren’t published by the cartload and devoured by the millions.

    In SCBWI, it’s so common to see handkerchief clutching and fainting-couch falling over all the inappropriate content in YA novels (insert problem of choice here: sex, violence, children disobeying parents, you-name-it) that it’s practically a cliche. Oh, the children! We must think about the children! Meanwhile, Breaking Dawn, which has both sex and violence, sells a million copies on the first day. Yes, all that complaining amongst authors on the industry loop really makes a difference, huh?

    This has nothing to do with what readers are “allowed” to talk about. I just think that, given the opportunity, I’d let RWA debate in its little echo chamber and spend my energies fighting against real world issues that DO affect the market.

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  45. anonymous
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 11:17:51

    As I do read mostly erotic romance, I do find many books totally lacking in that sexual tension and build up.

    Most of the reason that you find these books lacking sexual tension is that the PUBLISHER won’t accept books without enough sex from the get go. I write erotic romance and recently had a novella of mine rejected by a print publisher…one of the reasons being “not enough sex for an erotic romance.” I will say that my 35K novella had 4 full-on sex scenes that left nothing to the imagination and a couple of self-pleasuring moments. THIS is what writers are up against. It’s frustrating to say the least.

    Apparently, it’s not good enough to write good characters, good dialogue, good sexual tension (all of which I was praised for in my rejection letter). You have to have a requisite number of sex scenes, too.

    I wish more readers would make known the fact that just because it’s erotic romance doesn’t mean it has to have sex every chapter.

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  46. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 11:46:47

    Most of the reason that you find these books lacking sexual tension is that the PUBLISHER won't accept books without enough sex from the get go.

    One of the reasons I enjoy writing for Ellora’s Cave is that I don’t have to write up to a certain level. You have the same editor, the same treatment, but you might elect to go in to the Cerridwen line.
    If a book is labelled erotic, it has to have a certain amount of sex – by no means sex in every chapter, btw, I think in “Sunfire” I have sex in something like 7 out of 20 chapters.
    And sexual tension has nothing to do with the number of sex scenes, how early they do it, or how graphically those scenes are described. Are you saying that the minute people go to bed together and orgasm for the first time, that sexual tension disappears? Because that’s far from the case. True, working sexual tension into an erotic novel is a different technique to working it into a non erotic one, but it can be done and is done by a number of fine authors.

    I write erotic romance and recently had a novella of mine rejected by a print publisher…one of the reasons being “not enough sex for an erotic romance.” I will say that my 35K novella had 4 full-on sex scenes that left nothing to the imagination and a couple of self-pleasuring moments.

    Which publisher? That sounds like plenty to me. But I only write erotic romance for 2 publishers. Others might have different mileages.

    Apparently, it's not good enough to write good characters, good dialogue, good sexual tension (all of which I was praised for in my rejection letter). You have to have a requisite number of sex scenes, too.

    If it’s erotic romance, then the reader expects a high level of sensuality described in graphic language. But I’ve read erotic romance which has hardly any full sex scenes in it, mostly in the BDSM category. Each publisher has its own requirement, and they know what they can sell, so unless you come up with a groundbreaking knock-your-socks-off book, you have to go with their requirements.

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  47. Robin
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 12:17:39

    @Diana Peterfreund: Thanks for clarifying your comment. If I had been writing an article about the public shunning of erotica, I would have spent more time examining some of the things you suggest. But I was merely trying to set up the discussion I wanted to have, which was one of *mislabeling* ER to sell straight erotica, and since we had some really long discussions online about ER starting from the other side of the ideological divide, I used those.

    In other words, I was less concerned with the RWA factor than I was with the complaints themselves, which I clearly don’t see as isolated as you do. I mean, how can it be that there’s such a difference between my example and yours when Walmart isn’t carrying books due to certain covers, and that’s exactly what the so-called graphical standards issue addressed? I guess I just don’t see the divide as distinctly as you do, since Walmart’s prohibitions seem to be mirroring those things the RWA has squabbled over. We may be addressing the issues from different points, but IMO it’s all part of the same thing. Yes, Walmart has more power than the RWA to impact sales, but that is a whole article in and of itself, one I wasn’t writing, lol.

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  48. Diana Peterfreund
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 12:40:47

    Oh, I DEFINITELY agree with that, Robin. It is a different issue than labeling, which I think is a very worthy issue and an ongoing one. (Though a confusing one — I try to stay away! Right now, I have no idea how to classify my upcoming YA on the romance/not a romance divide. I say it’s a romance, but the comments here have me scared.)

    I suppose that, as you mentioned being sensitive about the whole “what should readers worry about” issue, I am sensitive to the RWA pile-on I often see online. It’s common for me to see a blog post talking about the latest crackpot Letter to the Ed. listed as a reason that such-and-such author would NEVER join RWA, and I’m like, come on guys — most of us aren’t nutjobs and just wanna talk dialogue or heroes and which agent is acquiring new clients. It seems to assume RWA politics has a lot more oomph than it does. For instance, I have never published a romance, but I’m in PAN, because the people checking those applications are a lot less interested in whether your book fits their definition than what publisher is listed on the spine. (shhhh, don’t tell anyone!)

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  49. MB (Leah)
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 12:43:30

    And sexual tension has nothing to do with the number of sex scenes, how early they do it, or how graphically those scenes are described.

    True, working sexual tension into an erotic novel is a different technique to working it into a non erotic one, but it can be done and is done by a number of fine authors.

    Yes, I agree with you totally, which is why I thought it’s not done very well very often. I think many authors confuse, or just don’t know how to create the tension along with graphic sex.

    The sexual tension for me is what intensifies the romance part, turning it into a passionate romance as opposed to just a romance with two people in love having sex or bordering on becoming erotica with lots of sex and no passion. But this is straying off topic as to how romance/ erotic romance and erotica should be labeled. Sorry.

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  50. Ann Bruce
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 13:22:43

    Readers feel their intelligence is insulted and that they've been cheated when books are mislabeled. I know publishers are trying to snag new readers, but do they ever stop to think about all the readers they lose in the process?

    Let’s throw in “down-right pissed off,” too. I know I’ve knocked off entire publishers off my buy list for the repeated offense of slapping “Romance” on books that were clearly not. Am I unfairly punishing that publisher’s other authors who don’t try to cheat readers? Yes, but reading is supposed to be enjoyable. I don’t find it enjoyable when I want to toss a book against a wall because the publisher thinks a string of repetitive sex scenes makes a romance.

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  51. Ann Bruce
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 13:26:45

    Apparently, it's not good enough to write good characters, good dialogue, good sexual tension (all of which I was praised for in my rejection letter). You have to have a requisite number of sex scenes, too.

    I’m curious about this publisher, too. Would you care to share?

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  52. Kim
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 13:51:22

    For someone who doesn’t care for the erotic or overally sexual in nature trend going on right now, having a choice NOT to read that stuff is important. But, the lines are blurred now and while I’d rather have romance on the spine, 9 times out of 10, in the books I pick, I’m getting way too much sex and not enough romance or the actual story.

    This is why I’ve moved my reading tastes to the science fiction, urban fantasy and fantasy genres. In a lot of them, I get romance and story – but not a lot of sex. I get to see the love grow – if there is one. Not because he/she are destined to be together or soulmates that absolutely have to be together or the other can’t survive blah, blah – but an actual romance.

    It’s a shame though – because in a lot of cases, I’d rather read romances – I love a good story where I get to watch the romance grow with spiced up sexual tension. Instead, even in historical and all, I find too much of the erection while eating corn flakes stuff (love that analogy! :D) and I’ve just had enough. Yeah, I know people are loving the erotica and hot stuff – but come on publishers – bring back some of the sexual tension and romance in my romances!!!!

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  53. anonymous
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 14:16:31

    I'm curious about this publisher, too. Would you care to share?

    No, but I will say it was not an epub, but an NY Publisher.

    To Lynne: I get what you are saying. I do. But I was specifically told it did ‘not have enough sex for an erotic romance.’ That tells me it has nothing to do with the romance at all or how well I wrote it…but everything about how much sex. That irks me.

    A good romance is good romance. Maybe I’m stretching here on my own book…clearly, it was rejected for other reasons than sex scenes alone…but when I read repeatedly that many readers are tired of books that are all sex and no story to support the sex, it just irritates me. Because it’s not that these books aren’t being written! They are. It’s just that some publishers won’t give you the time of day.

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  54. Ann Somerville
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 17:41:47

    @anonymous:

    Isn’t 35k a tad short to be shopping to a NY publisher?

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  55. Anonymous
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 18:21:58

    It’s more challenging to write and maintain sizzling sexual tension throughout a book than to write sex scene, after sex scene, after . . .

    Maybe that’s the reason we’re not seeing much of it. Hell, maybe it’s a lost art.,

    I remember, back in the day, “not enough sexual tension” was a phrase oft used on rejections.

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  56. Anne Douglas
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 18:23:37

    Isn't 35k a tad short to be shopping to a NY publisher?

    All the Anthology slot fillers have to come from somewhere…

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  57. Anion
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 18:25:59

    35k is a very odd length for a NY house.

    And I’m sorry, but I don’t see where the problem lies in being told there isn’t enough sex for an erotic romance. It’s not wrong or arbitrary for a publisher to assume their readers expect a lot of graphic sex in a book being sold as erotic romance. I get irritated when I buy a book labeled “erotic romance” and the sex scenes are no more frequent or graphic than they would have been in a “regular” romance; I spent my money for a specific thing, and I expect to get it.

    You say you have four sex scenes and “a couple of sef-pleasuring moments”, but how graphic were those scenes? What sort of language did you use in them? How long were they? How detailed, how intense? We’ve recently seen a publisher who apparently thinks “he fucked her in a variety of positions” is erotic; they might think so, but nobody else does.

    Frequency of sex is far from the only indicator of eroticism.

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  58. Ann Bruce
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 18:58:23

    35k is a very odd length for a NY house.

    Sounds like an anthology for Berkley or Kensington. I can’t think of another NY publisher that regularly puts out anthologies.

    I was curious about the rejection because after the reading the comments, I thought the ms was rejected because of insufficient NUMBER of sex scenes, rather than not enough sex. The former I can’t agree with because I’ve read ER with two sex scenes, but they were drawn-out and steamy so the book definitely qualified as an ER. The latter is completely understandable.

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  59. Mireya
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 19:58:58

    I tend to avoid this sort of topic for obvious reasons. However, I am going to make an exception.

    This issue has been ongoing for years. This is not new by any stretch of the imagination, and actually, it is because of this that the management team of the newsletter I co-own actually put in black and white a definition of what erotic romance should be over four years ago. As more new epublishers opened their doors, the more the lines were blurred, and in our opinion, abused i.e. erotica and porn being blatantly marketed as erotic romance. I even wrote an article for the newsletter on the subject about five years ago. More recently, we had a series of articles in which we discussed this subject as well as the issue of lack of editing quality in erotic romance ebooks.

    Anyway, what I am trying to say is that the issue is not new. However, I am very glad to see that more people are noticing and being vocal about this. Since blogs are now highly popular, in some instances having more foot traffic than reviews websites, and since now the issue has been taken by at least one very popular romance related blog, I hope this means that publishers will have a harder time trying to sell any sort of erotic fiction as erotic romance, in the belief that romance readers are stupid and will buy whatever just because it is labeled “erotic romance”.

    As to what erotic romance is, yes, it is a highly subjective matter. However, as I said above, my team managed to come up with a definition that works for us and gives some uniformity, making the reviewing task easier. That definition also gives room for some romances that even though are not classified as erotic romance, are considered to be hot enough to be at least borderline so it pretty much filters out the non-romances, and allows some room for highly arousing romance books that could interest erotic romance fans, and yet could end up being overlooked by fans due to their not being labeled as erotic romance.

    Regarding the amount of sex in an erotic romance, an erotic romance doesn’t have to be filled with sex scenes for it to be arousing, however, whatever sex is there HAS to be BLUNTLY GRAPHIC. That’s one of the reasons why erotic romance is not for everyone. Of course, it is a publisher’s prerogative how much sex they want in an erotic romance. But if any editor out there is reading this, bear in mind that for a true erotic romance fan, it’s the quality of the sex scenes, how well they are written and arouse, rather than how many there are. The sex overload is mostly fancied by those new to the sub-genre, but eventually the fan will seek quality rather than quantity… and that is how you will keep the fans coming back for more. I’ve lost track of how many reviewers have quit my newsletter because they just got tired of so much sex and the lack of good stories in a lot of the erotic romance now available. Please do not overlook the characterization and the plot, an erotic romance is nothing without those extremely important elements.

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  60. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 21:30:35

    Actually 35k sounds a little long for a Berkley antho. Standard, to my knowledge and in my experience with Berkley, is 25k. A little over probably isn’t an issue, but ‘a little’ is a couple thousand words, not 10k.

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  61. theo
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 21:52:20

    @Jane, Love the new template! :D

    I think for me, Kimber Ann and GrowlyCub gave the best definitions.

    I don’t read m/m or f/f and I’ve read a small handful of threesomes. But that’s just me. However, those that I did read managed an HEA and to me, the journey from the getting to know each other to the HEA, the relationship and the growth involved, is what constitutes the romance, regardless of how many or how few sex scenes there are.

    And I can’t remember who said it, but yes, I get totally pissed off when I buy a ‘romance’ only to find out it’s something else entirely. There is an author I read who I really enjoyed, whose books were romance, classified as such, marketed as such, and were in fact, romances, all in a series but each had their own HEA. Suddenly, I pick up the next in the series and WOW! Out of over 350+ pages, less than 100 were devoted to the H/Hn even though the book was marketed as the next in her romance series. Turned out to be something completely different. So, that was the end of that author for me!

    What it ends up being for me is, if you market the book as romance, it better have the relationship first, the HEA second and no matter how much sex, it all needs to make sense and be well written or it’s not romance. To ME! That doesn’t mean others agree with me. But it’s how I’ve always thought it to be and expected it to be.

    FWIW

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  62. Jill Myles
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 22:35:11

    Oh oh oh! I love the new template too! So pretty and neat!

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  63. Anion
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 03:45:14

    Actually 35k sounds a little long for a Berkley antho. Standard, to my knowledge and in my experience with Berkley, is 25k. A little over probably isn't an issue, but ‘a little' is a couple thousand words, not 10k.

    That was my thought as well, Shiloh. I’d heard 30k as the absolute high-end cut-off for Kensington too.

    Either way, I still don’t have a problem with an erotic publisher rejecting a book as not sexy enough.

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  64. Anion
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 03:45:42

    Oooh! My first comment on the new template and it’s bloooo! Hee. I’m going to pretend that’s good luck. Because that will make me happy all day.

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  65. Ann Bruce
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:53:48

    I'd heard 30k as the absolute high-end cut-off for Kensington too.

    I’ve had NY editors tell me they prefer 25-30k for novellas, but 35k is acceptable if the story needs it.

    BTW, me likey the new template, too!

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  66. Ann Bruce
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:58:13

    Um, is it just me, or is the sidebar punted to the bottom after the main articles?

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  67. karmelrio
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:08:11

    I question the value of publishers trying to quantifying “erotic” with any degree of granularity. It’s so subjective. One person’s porn is another person’s mild kink.

    That said, I think Ellora’s Cave does a great job of categorizing its books in ways that tip the reader off to the book’s content: by theme (for example, Gay/Lesbian, Rubenesque), and by Genre: (for example, Quickie / Menage a trois or More / Contemporary). EC used to have a ratings system that indicated each book’s ‘hotness’ scale (S-ensuous, E-rotic, and X-treme) which I don’t see on the website anymore, but I used to find this helpful.

    i.e. erotica and porn being blatantly marketed as erotic romance.

    Whoa. “Porn” being “blatantly” marketed as erotic romance? Oh noooes! How dare they! Ahem. Sorry. I feel there’s just a little bit of a value judgment sneaking in here. Like I said above, your porn might be my tame erotica. Why shouldn’t such material be openly, frankly – and yes, “blatantly” marketed? IMO, the mere presence of the word ‘erotic’ in the book’s marketing materials, or on the book’s cover, should be enough of a tip-off to the reader that the contents of the book are sexually graphic. If such content offends you, don’t buy the book.

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  68. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:50:42

    One person's porn is another person's mild kink.

    IMO this is because we stubbornly try to define ER by the *amount* and *type* of sexual content, not by the *purpose* it serves in the story. IMO determining ER should be about *structure* and *function*. First, structure: are all the elements of a Romance present? Is there a central love story, does the story focus on the emotional journey of the lovers to a happy ending (HEA or HFN)? Then, function: does the sexual content help move the love story forward? Does it help articulate the character development? If the answers to all those structural and functional questions is “yes,” then IMO it’s ER. If not, then it’s something else, which must be determined by a separate itemization.

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  69. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:20:10

    Why shouldn't such material be openly, frankly – and yes, “blatantly” marketed? IMO, the mere presence of the word ‘erotic' in the book's marketing materials, or on the book's cover, should be enough of a tip-off to the reader that the contents of the book are sexually graphic. If such content offends you, don't buy the book.

    There’s nothing wrong with blatantly marketing erotica as erotica. What’s wrong is to market it as as (erotic) romance when it doesn’t have a relationship at its central core and a HEA/HFN, which was the whole point of the discussion.

    I don’t want to read erotica I want to read erotic romance. I’m not offended by erotica I just don’t want to read it, and not buying it is hard when it’s mislabeled.

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  70. MaryK
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:20:47

    If such content offends you, don't buy the book.

    That decision is denied to me if the book is labeled wrong. Sure, I could page through every romance I buy to confirm the content is what I want but that defeats the purpose of the label.

    IMO, the mere presence of the word ‘erotic' in the book's marketing materials, or on the book's cover, should be enough of a tip-off to the reader that the contents of the book are sexually graphic.

    The key word is not “erotic.” The key word is “romance.” The Romance genre is about successful romantic relationships. I’d love it if publishers marketed porn and erotica openly, frankly, and blatantly. The problem is that they don’t. They want to sneak it [and other things :( ] in under the Romance genre umbrella as a marketing strategy.

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  71. Ann Bruce
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:01:00

    @karmelrio – It’s false advertising to label erotica and porn as romance. That’s what many readers here are taking issue with. (Bad grammar, I know!)

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  72. Mireya
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 08:35:42

    @karlmerio: You completely missed the point of the thread AND totally misinterpreted my post precisely because you don’t seem to understand what the issue that we are discussing is. We are talking about how it is wrong to market a book as erotic romance if it is not. That simple.

    As to your value judgment comment, I don’t appreciate it, but I’ll leave it at that. You based your assessment on a post that you did not understand.

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  73. karmelrio
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 18:52:45

    I understand the issue under discussion just fine, and I apologize for bailing on the thread before I actually made the point I intended to make.

    We’ve all heard the saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on me.” To me, this is a ‘vote with your checkbook’ issue. If readers feel that certain lines falsely and consistently misrepresent the contents of their books, don’t buy another of that line’s books. If the product doesn’t meet your needs, don’t buy it.

    Complain to the publisher. Make your opinion of their product known, in no uncertain terms. If publishers don’t respond to expressions of concern on this issue – if you as a reader feel that the publisher deceptively labels their books to maximize sales – don’t give that business your money. Hit ‘em in the wallet, where it hurts, and transfer your dollars to those lines who label or categorize their books in ways which meet your needs as a reader.

    But please recognize that not all readers have that same need. Thanks.

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  74. Nora Roberts
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 09:15:33

    ~But please recognize that not all readers have that same need. Thanks.~

    It isn’t about need, it’s about misrepresentation in order to scoop up sales, in order to scoop up those sales from another market. In order to exploit the success and the readership of that market.

    It’s not about level of sexuality, it’s about whether a book is accurately labeled.

    It’s very easy to say don’t buy that line or publisher again, but it doesn’t get to the core issue. Misrepresenting a book in order to sell it to readers who are looking for something else.

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  75. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 10:44:09

    IMO, the mere presence of the word ‘erotic' in the book's marketing materials, or on the book's cover, should be enough of a tip-off to the reader that the contents of the book are sexually graphic. If such content offends you, don't buy the book.

    This is just my opinion here, but it seems to me the issue is more of books being labeled erotic romance, when they are more straight erotica with romantic sub-elements or just nothing but a bunch of sex scenes endlessly strung together with no thought of plot.

    I’m very picky about who I read in erotic romance. While I love erotic romance, for me, the romance has to be every bit as much of the story as the eroticism, and I don’t find that all that easily. Too many stories have as much sex as story (or more) and that doesn’t work for me. Characterization gets lost, the plot is thin, etc.

    Just putting a couple of people together and having them have sex every chapter, through in some thin plot where they get mad, then make up in order to have more sex, and then all of a sudden tack an I LOVE YOU on the end doesn’t make a book an erotic romance, but it’s too often what I see.

    Then there’s the flip side of labeling a book as erotic romance when it’s actually just a hot and sexy story. The typical mainstream romance can be very hot and sexy, but that doesn’t make it erotic.

    It’s more about defining and understanding the genre so it’s correctly marketed and not so much about whether or not an erotic romance is offensive.

    edited

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  76. Paula Guran
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 13:28:14

    Just setting the record straight :-)

    Juno has never called its line “paranormal romance”. Yes, we did one anthology in 2006 (our second release) titled “Year’s Best Paranormal Romance” that included a lengthy introduction explaining the use of the term “paranormal romance” in the title. That book, however, was categorized as “fantasy” as are all Juno titles.

    The anthology series was re-titled “Year’s Best Romantic Fantasy” for the second volume in spring 2007 — partially to avoid references like this one.

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  77. Anion
    Nov 20, 2008 @ 14:19:41

    I'm very picky about who I read in erotic romance. While I love erotic romance, for me, the romance has to be every bit as much of the story as the eroticism, and I don't find that all that easily. Too many stories have as much sex as story (or more) and that doesn't work for me. Characterization gets lost, the plot is thin, etc.

    Just putting a couple of people together and having them have sex every chapter, through in some thin plot where they get mad, then make up in order to have more sex, and then all of a sudden tack an I LOVE YOU on the end doesn't make a book an erotic romance, but it's too often what I see.

    Totally droppin’ the ditto on Shiloh here (I know. I am so hip, with my slang; 23 skiddoo!).

    Every sex scene in an erotic romance should show the relationship growing and changing. Every. Single. One. And not just the relationship growing and changing, but how it grows and changes, and why. The sex scenes should be integral to the romance, not outside of it, and certainly not interchangeable. (That’s not just a matter of different positions or whatever, either. You should be able to read a scene from the beginning, and a scene from the middle, and a scene from the end, and know just from those scenes what the relationship between the two people is at the point in the book where they take place.)

    The way they touch each other should change. The way they look at each other should change. What they say. What they do. The language the writer uses. Are they more or less tender? More or less daring? How have they changed? Writing good erotic romance is the ultimate test of Show, don’t Tell; if you can’t convey through the sex scenes how these people feel and what they think, and are just shoving cookie-cutter sex in and sticking a contrived happy ending on because you think that’s all it takes to make an erotic novel an erotic romance, or because you think “erotic romance” is easy to write…well, you’re wrong. (Note: I assume the rules for sex scenes are similar in straight erotica, but in the ones I’ve read the focus seems to be more on the heroine experiencing new things and opening herself up to erotic possibilities; she’s not necessarily really growing or changing as a person so much as she is growing and changing as a sexual being; it doesn’t always make her a stronger, better person. But it could be the ones I’ve read simply aren’t as good as they should be, so don’t quote me on that.)

    If nothing in the relationship grows or changes during a particular scene, don’t write the scene; even in some of my hottest books I had the occasional “They fell on the bed…”-type line and then the next scene started. Nobody ever complained. :)

    To put it a lot more smoothly, the sex in an erotic romance should contribute to and expand the relationship of the characters (while arousing the reader, yes). It’s not just there for sex’s sake.

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