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State of the Erotic Romance Market from Laura Bradford, Agent Awesome

The following is a speech that Laura Bradford gave at the Passionate Ink cocktail party at RWA National Conference 2009.   Laura is the owner of Bradford Literary Agencywho represents authors such as Ann Aguirre, Beth Kery, Jess Granger (whose book I am reading right now), Lauren Dane, Megan Hart, to name just a few.   The Conference was abuzz with this speech and I begged Ms. Bradford for the privilege of reprinting it here at Dear Author. Thank you so much, Ms. Bradford, for this invaluable information.

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A few months back I was asked to speak about market trends at the Passionate Ink gathering at the 2009 RWA National conference. To that end, a week before National, I called editors from most of the major New York publishers with some interest in sensual or erotic romance. It is not an exhaustive list. With one GIANT DISCLAIMER that this information is based on one agent’s conversations with a handful of editors about what their houses are currently on the lookout for, here is the information I shared with the Passionate Ink RWA chapter last week:

Avon

* Avon is still acquiring for their Red imprint though there aren’t a set number of books/ year or month they are aiming to acquire. As they find material that they love that seems to be somewhat spicier than what is published in the more mainstream Avon imprint, they will publish that material under the Red banner.
* Books published in the Red imprint are mostly one woman, one man and always romance focused. However, I was told that they have recently acquired a new series by Diana Mercury called Pleasures of the Forbidden Valley which is about a woman married to more than one man.
* I consider Red to be one of the more conservative "erotic romance" lines in the marketplace. When I suggested that Avon Red was more comparable heat-wise to Kensington Brava than Kensington Aphrodisia, the editor I spoke with agreed with that assessment.
* Avon Red is currently published in trade paperback format.
* When I asked specifically about single author anthologies (I get asked about these very often), I was told that they aren’t a particular favorite at Avon and that they generally prefer to publish single-title length novels.
* In summation, the Avon editor who was kind enough to answer my questions said, who knows what tomorrow will bring? If Avon tries something a little more daring now and then, like this new Diana Mercury series and it is a huge success, they might do more in that direction. So nothing here is set in stone forever.

Bantam

* Bantam does not currently have a named erotic romance imprint. They consider their entire program to be author-centric, not about filling a set number of slots. If they find something they love, they will find a way to make it work. Currently they publish 2-3 romances per month.
* Bantam is not currently looking for more erotica per se. In the past, they have done erotica and erotic romance in trade paper and due to the recent economic shifts, the trade paper format has taken a bit of a hit.
* Random House has recently done some restructuring and now Bantam is more closely affiliated with one of the other arms of Random House, Ballantine. Right now Bantam is in the process of trying to evaluate what they have and what Ballantine has so the two lists can complement each other and not compete.
* I was told that Bantam has a lot of paranormal at present and that they would love to acquire some straight contemporary ala Lisa Kleypas’ contemporaries. Also more "sweet" romances like what Macomber and Sheryl Woods write.
* On the subject of single author anthologies, they have done them in the past but their preference at present is for single title length novels.
* It was noted that very, very sexy historical is still doing really well for them.

Berkley Heat

* Berkley Heat, Berkley’s named erotic romance line publishes 2 erotic romances/month in trade paper format. I was told that they are actively looking for all subgenres and that they would be happy to see more threesomes and moresomes.
* At present, it was mentioned that their contemporary erotic romances were selling a bit better than some of the other subgenres. They are open to single author anthologies and m/m is okay, though it was suggested it could be even better with at least one female in the mix.
* They are specifically looking for emotionally-based material.

NAL Heat

* New American Library shares the imprint name Heat with Berkley, but they have a totally different group of editors acquiring for the NAL Heat line and as a result the line has a slightly different general flavor from its Berkley counterpart.
* At NAL, the editor I spoke with said that they are shifting away from material with lighter tones and moving towards darker themes. Seeking an example, I suggested the difference between MaryJanice Davidson and Angela Knight and the editor agreed. This is not a rule, I should note, just a bit of a trend.
* NAL is looking for more paranormal and when I asked about specific variety I was told that they weren’t "done" with vampires and shifters or any other type of paranormal universe.
* NAL Heat prefers to publish single title over any type of anthology.
* NAL publishes 2-3 trade paperbacks per month distributed across their Heat line and their Signet Eclipse Trade line. There is at least one Heat book/month, at least one Signet Eclipse Trade/month. Signet Eclipse Trade was described as work that can be erotic, like a Heat title, but the hook and the focus must be the romance.
* Lacey Alexander was named as a good author to read in the NAL Heat line.

Dorchester

* Dorchester does not publish erotic romances, though it was mentioned that they are certainly open to "really, really hot romances". In a cross-publisher name check, the editor I spoke with specifically mentioned liking the heat level of SJ Day’s books with TOR.
* Dorchester is not open to any ménage, heavy bondage or m/m.
* They would prefer not to be submitted single author anthologies-’they have not sold well for them historically, it was reported.
* I asked about Dorchester’s general upper limits on spice levels and I was told that Jade Lee and Jennifer Ashley are their authors who write the spiciest material.
* The editor I spoke with mentioned that fantasy romance seemed to be new and really growing and that they were particularly hungry for that subgenre.

Grand Central

* Grand Central tries never to say never about any particular type of material.
* At present they have one erotic romance author, Lilli Feisty, who is published in mass market.
* Like most other houses, it was reported that their books are generally getting hotter across all imprints.
* The editor I spoke with wanted me to assure authors that they are still actively acquiring and still pushing books despite the economy.

HQN

* HQN is not an erotic romance imprint but I was told that they would love to add some really sexy titles to their list a la Victoria Dahl. The editor I spoke with said that Dahl writes some of the most explicit material that they publish. Rhyannon Byrd and Gena Showalter were also mentioned as examples of HQN writers who write extremely sexy material.
* With regards to any particular desired "flavor" of that sexy material, HQN likes a sassy, edgy type of sexiness, all about sexual fearlessness, take charge heroines and straightforwardness. They are not interested in anal, threesomes or any truly gratuitous sex.
* On the subject of language, it should be organic to the story so the word pussy might work for one story and not another.

Spice

* Spice is the trade paperback erotic/erotic romance imprint of Harlequin. In 2010 and 2011, they will publish 12 books/year. Word count is 85-100k words.
* It is a small program which allows them to be really, really picky. At this point the size of the program depends on the success of the program, so if their list keeps doing well, they will start to increase the number of books each year.
* The editor I spoke with mentioned that they have a lot of historical at present and a nice selection of contemporary. They would like to add some paranormal to their list and they are open to something either super unique and fresh or something super marketable and proven.
* Spice prefers novels to single author anthologies.

Kensington Aphrodisia

* Kensington Aphrodisia recently reduced the line from 4 books/month to 2 books/month. I was told that it was not true that the line is shutting down and indeed they are currently acquiring across all subgenres.
* In paranormal, because they already have authors that have done the standard paranormal fare (Werewolves and Vampires), they would like to see something in some other paranormal directions.
* Aphrodisia remains open to single author anthologies.
* Aphrodisia is seeking work that is extremely original. They are looking for concepts that can be sustained over many books and overall, they are looking for what can’t be found in a traditional romance. To that end, it needs to go beyond one woman, one man, one romance, one relationship.
* The editor I spoke with noted that they have found that they do better with authors that can keep up with a 2 book/year pace minimum.

Kensington Brava

* Kensington Brava generally publishes 3 original titles a month; 1 historical, 1 paranormal, 1 contemporary. Some months they may publish 4 books if they also have an anthology.
* They publish 1 mass market reprint/ month. This reprint title is selected based on previous sales of the trade edition.
* The editor I spoke with noted that while they are open to publishing single author anthologies, before acquiring that anthology they really want to know that author can write a full length novel.
* Brava is especially hungry right now for paranormal and historical material.
* When I asked for the names of authors who wrote what is considered the hottest, most boundary-pushing material in the line, Sylvia Day, Diane Whiteside and Allison Kent were named.
* It was noted to me that if something was submitted that was good but too hot for Brava, the Brava editors would pass it to someone acquiring for Aphrodisia.

Pocket

* Pocket is not actively acquiring erotica or erotic romance though they do still have their partnership with Ellora’s Cave to publish anthologies.
* The Pocket editor I spoke with said that the were looking for books that are very sexy noting that paranormal often seems to easily push the boundaries on heat level. Gena Showalter, Shayla Black, Kresley Cole were named as three authors who write some of the spiciest material Pocket publishes.
* At present, they are only seeking hetero romances. Though they aren’t necessarily looking for threesomes, it was suggested that if they were done right-who knows?
* Like the other publishing houses I spoke with noted, the Pocket editor I spoke with did mention that they have found the trade paperback market has cooled off a bit in this economy.
* Pocket is especially looking for contemporary romance that trends towards women’s fiction. They are looking for strong, emotional family stories, depicting modern problems-something between Debbie Macomber and Jodi Picoult.
* In summation, I was told that Pocket currently has a really strong list and right now they can afford to be rather picky-they just aren’t really starving for anything in particular. They have lots of paranormal and historical but are open to more if it really reinvigorates their respective genres.

St. Martins

* St. Martins is looking for great new, fresh voices in all the genres they publish: historical, urban fantasy, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, women’s fiction, paranormal, contemporary romance.
* They are NOT looking for more of what they already pub. To use the example the editor I spoke with gave, they already have Sherrilyn Kenyon, they don’t need someone else exactly like her.
* In terms of spice level, I asked what was a strict no no and I was told that nothing was considered forbidden unless it was illegal.
* They do publish erotic romance, but not in specifically named imprint. Lora Leigh, Sasha James, Opal Carew were named as authors that write some of the spiciest material St. Martin’s publishes.
* They are open to m/m and will consider single author anthologies, but it is really, really not their preference.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

17 Comments

  1. jmc
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 10:07:38

    Has St. Martin’s published m/m romance in the past? If they have, I will absolutely go looking for it, but I don’t associate it with SMP.

  2. Wendy
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 10:26:02

    This probably shows how long I’ve been around the online romance community, but remember when Brava first launched and it blew everybody’s fragile little minds? Some readers literally had their pitchforks and torches ready. They seriously thought it was the downfall of western civilization ;)

    I don’t like paranormal mixed with my erotica (I just don’t), but not surprised to see some editors/houses want more of it. I might be tired of it, but if my library patrons are any indication, paranormal is still in hot demand.

    I would love for Brava to get back to their historical roots. They launched that line on the backs of writers like Bertrice Small, Robin Schone, Susan Johnson and Thea Devine, and over the years they seemed to focus more on contemporaries and paranormals. I adore spicy historicals and would love to see more of them. But that’s just me being greedy.

  3. Fae Sutherland
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 10:41:06

    Not gonna lie, I’m more than a little excited to see two major NY pubs say they’re willing to look at m/m erotic romance, even if it’s not their first choice.

  4. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 10:56:17

    Wendy, my historical Courtesan Court trilogy debuts at Brava next year. :) And Laura Bradford is indeed Agent Awesome! She sold me to both Kensington Brava and Berkley Heat. Without her typing ‘MORE’ in red on my manuscripts, I’d still be my shy shrinking violet self.

  5. Denise
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 11:01:28

    I keep seeing how certain lines are published in tradeback and then remarks that with the economy, the trade format is taking a hit. It’s no wonder. It’s an expensively priced format, not to mention an awkward size.

    Does anyone know why publishers choose the tradeback format over the mass market format for certain lines? It seems the price point alone would deter a fair number of readers from buying.

  6. Juliana Stone
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 11:07:01

    I think this report is a great indicator as to how the state of romance and erotic romance, or erotica is doing. It’s still selling. The only downside that I can see is the Trade format. It’s too bad they can’t package the erotic lines in mass market and I’m not sure what the argument is there.

    My editor at Avon told me that sales were fine, in fact romance is doing wonderfully well. Again, my book will be in mass market when it comes out and I think that’s a very good thing.

    And yes, Maggie, I have to agree, Laura is made of awesomeness, sprinkled with sparklies and chocolate covered peanuts! She rocks, and I’m happy she’s my agent too!

  7. Chrissy
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 11:16:33

    You guys– gah! You rock. This is invaluable info.

  8. Noelle (Chloe Harris)
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 11:22:16

    I wasn’t able to make Nationals so thank you for reprinting this.

    I have not always felt confident about my subgenre but this makes me feel very good that ER in general is going in the right direction.

    And I’m happy to be a part of it with a historical ER with Aphrodisia coming out in Feb.

    But I do agree that I’d like to see them go into formats with a better price point than Trade.

  9. Melissa Lopez
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 11:30:16

    Thanks so much for the invaluable info.

  10. Michelle
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 11:47:11

    @Denise
    I think trade paperback came about because a big lit fic house used it as a way to package literary fiction. Folks might not be willing to pay hardcover for a new, literary voice but they would pay the less expensive trade paperback price, and they were able to position this format as still high brow. Presumably, the lit fic readers would look down on mass market. I do know folks who will only consider trade because they think it’s a more high brow product. I’d assume that houses make more on a trade paperback sale than an individual mass paperback sale and other houses jumped on this new format as a way to increase profits, but I don’t have the facts to back it up. Serious nonfiction – university press type stuff that only academics and the truly nerdy like me would read – has often been published in a trade paperback format as well for years and years. In some ways, that’s a bummer because those big, thick books can get beat up pretty quickly.

  11. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 12:06:51

    It was noted that very, very sexy historical is still doing really well for them.

    That’s what I want to hear!

  12. JJ
    Jul 24, 2009 @ 14:34:23

    Does anybody know who the alter ego of Sasha James is? BN says that the alter ego is a noted novelist known for erotica. I

    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/One-One-Three/Sasha-James/e/9780312560157/?itm=1

  13. EC Sheedy
    Jul 25, 2009 @ 00:42:16

    Thanks Dear Author and Laura Bradford for this publisher recap. I didn’t make the RWA Conference this year, so this is juicy stuff for me!

  14. Jane
    Jul 25, 2009 @ 07:05:41

    @JJ – nope. The blurb sounds completely conflictless, though.

  15. Teal Ceagh
    Jul 27, 2009 @ 05:33:44

    I’m glad to know that erotica and paranormal aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.

    I find Grand Central’s comment the most interesting, though. “Like most other houses, it was reported that their books are generally getting hotter across all imprints.”

    That’s something I’ve been noticing a lot, lately. You have to wonder where the trend will take us. Will the line between erotic romances and non-erotic eventually blur and disappear? Will we need to start labelling the sweet romances instead, to distinguish them from the majority?

    Like all the unheavals going on in the publishing industry, I’ll be watching this one with great interest.

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