I’m sure you’ve heard of erotica, “romantic” and of erotica authors making fabulous amounts of money. If you haven’t, you must be so new to popular fiction you don’t know dick about it.
Did “don’t know dick about it” make you blink a little? Yes, that was intended to shock you. Erotica is shocking, if you’re new to it. But if you think it’s just pornography with a pretty tag, think again. The quote I just used and others like it are found in erotica, but that’s a tiny glimpse of the big picture. Read on and discover the rest of it, for erotica is different.
A clear definition is difficult. Erotica has tentacles in a dozen genres. It’s also a genre of its own. It’s not sufficient to say erotica is a story with explicit sex. Nor is erotica only about sex, unlike its gutter-cousin, pornography. At its purest, the new erotic novel is a brilliantly-written story with super-nova sex that compliments the caliber of the writing, and is fundamental to the plot and characters. In other words, if you remove the sex, the story can’t be told.
“Romantica” is used for romance + erotica, a huge category. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find traditional romance there. Erotica authors inherently don’t like boundaries — they’ll throw suspense, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, or paranormal into the mix. Some of the most popular romantica out there feature vampires, shape-shifters and elves.
You can head to the other end of the spectrum and find “big-scale novels in which the women and men are larger-than-life, the stakes are high, the stories are layered, and the sexual heat is a few degrees less than the surface of the sun.” (Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel, Writers Digest Books.)
Unlike pure romances, erotica doesn’t use poetic euphemisms. The story is laced with sexual imagery and language. Sex acts considered taboo in romance can be a feature. The novel is charged with sexual tension.
However, even erotica has a vast range of explicitness, types of sex, and even quantity of sex. Erotica publishers such as Ellora’s Cave , who offer primarily romantica, rank their books according to the amount and type of sex, and the language used.
Similarly, print books (e.g.: the Brava imprint by Kensington Books) offer degrees of sexuality, but not all rank their books. As these lines are new and still experimenting, you may be surprised by what you find …er… between the covers.
How successful is the erotica genre? Enough so that Ellora’s Cave, an e-publisher of romantic, has gained recognition by the Romance Writers of America as a legitimate publisher (which makes them one of the first e-publishers to meet RWA’s stringent requirements). Dozens of Ellora’s Cave regular writers have moved to full time fiction writing. A Brava author netted the first one-million dollar advance in romance writing. Many erotica authors are achieving break-out status with their novels — they’re reaching very large general audiences who read the book for story and for whom the sensuality enhances the reading.
Erotica, to further differentiate it from pornography, is primarily a woman’s market, and unlike romance, there’s a bigger percentage of men writing and reading erotica, and male writers can write under their own names.