For many readers, trying something outside your usual reading zone just isn’t possible, because it pushes too many comfort buttons. Reading is supposed to be fun and entertaining and once you’ve found a genre you like, you tend to stick to it.
But sometimes, venturing beyond your personal borders helps you discover new genres to love, too.
This is what happened to me about ten years ago. I was encouraged to try writing in “this new genre that is starting up,” – erotic romance. The risk was a bit more substantial than just trying my hand at a new genre, because erotic romance was purely an e-publishing phenomenon when it first started, so I would be turning my back on a New York career, as well. But I made the leap and never regretted it.
In 2008 I moved into another sub-genre: MMF menage. I eased into this arena one toe at a time, but within a few books I was wildly in love with the genre and I’ve been writing it ever since and have no plans to stop any time soon.
If you’ve never read erotic romance, or considered reading or writing it, you may be wondering why anyone could be so enthusiastic about the genre. So I thought I would give you a quick braindump on all the reasons why.
First of all, get rid of any idea that erotic romance is erotica, pornography, or an easy way to make money by writing loosely strung together sex scenes with a happy ending clipped to the end.
Erotic romance writers don’t write erotic romance just to make money, although there is money to be made from the genre. Writing erotic romance is hard. A well-told sex scene is among the hardest of scenes to craft well and I don’t know a single erotic romance author who can dash off flawless, original sex scenes without sweat. Other scenes can roll off the fingertips. Not the sex scenes. They take blood, toil and brain-power to develop. Writers don’t keep writing erotic romances just for money when there’s that sort of effort needed. There has to be more to it than that…and there is.
Erotic romance is not erotica*. Erotica is a specialist genre of its own. It has its own rules, its own readership, its own publishers, reviewers and even its own booksellers. Erotic romance, on the other hand, is a sub-set of the romance genre. It follows the same rules as all romance books – it includes a happy ending, a strong romance storyline, and often involves a secondary storyline: paranormal, suspense, science fiction, etc. Sometimes – and this is happening more and more often these days — the erotic storyline is the secondary story.
So why would writers write erotic romance and why do readers read erotic romance in more numbers than ever before?
Yes, yes, Fifty Shades of Grey did the erotic romance genre a nice healthy little boost of good – it brought fresh new readers into the fold. But in a way it also did the genre a lot of harm. Those readers read Grey and figured the entire genre was made up of badly written prose, blushing sex scenes, and vanilla BDSM. (I don’t touch BDSM!) They also came to the genre with one need: They wanted to be titillated. They wanted to be aroused. They were mostly looking for the erotica and pornography that Grey tried to deliver, but only hinted at.
Erotic romance can do this. It can arouse. It can titillate. It can deliver sex in steaming bucketfuls. Unfortunately, there are many examples of published erotic romances out there that seem to imply that this is all the genre is about. Sex, more sex and let’s all get our jollies off.
When erotic romance was first established back at the turn of the millenium, this was a primary thrust (pun not intended) of the genre. The genre was new, it was going for sensationalism and it was strident in its need to carve out a niche for itself. Now, thirteen years on, it is an established genre that is barely separated from mainstream romance anymore. The Romance Studio have done away with their “erotic” sub-genres in their annual awards, and many authors don’t bother adding the “erotic” label to their books anymore. It’s a given. The “sensual only” authors are beginning to be the ones who need to differentiate themselves.
Because of this mainstreaming, the sex-sex-more-sex attitude has backed way off and erotic romance authors are able to concentrate instead on the other aspects of erotic romance story-telling instead. Now, erotic romances are fully maturing into brilliant media for mind-boggling romances.
There are no limitations.
Think of HBO, or Showcase. Think beyond the fact that they can show all the nudity and sex they like and get away with it (oh, and suck in viewers, too). Think, instead, about the sort of stories they can tell because the ratings Nazis aren’t breathing over their shoulders. Some of the best series and movies have come from those two production companies alone: True Blood, Dexter, Boss, Rome….
This is something I learned within a book or two after entering the erotic romance genre: I could tell any story I liked or wanted to tell. As long as it was suitably sexy (I was writing for Ellora’s Cave and they had sexual content guidelines …and that was all) and I wrote a coherent, entertaining romance, they were on board.
Thirteen years later, the genre is established, I am independantly publishing, and even those simple restrictions are gone. I can tell any story I like with one proviso: It must have a happy ending, as that is the only Romanceland absolute. As I can’t even conceive of writing a story that doesn’t have a happy ending (even the happy-for-now endings that are the growing norm), I am free to write what I want.
Erotic romance is the HBO of Romanceland.
Even the sex has a place in the story. It isn’t there simply to rouse the reader – not anymore, although there are still stories and authors who are simply wrapping a shallow romance around sex scenes and calling it done, and there always will be. These super heated, erotic-focused romances have a place and a devoted audience. But erotic romance is so much more.
Because the bedroom door can be left wide open you, the reader, are brought inside the relationship in a way you just don’t get to share in a non-erotic romance. Consider any romantic relationship of your own – consider how much the relationship leapt forward once you had sex and how much relationship stuff happened during, in and around sex. How much did you get to know that person because of and during sex? A lot, right?
Intimacy skyrockets, after sex. Bonds are formed and strengthened and the relationship grows deeper and private. There are things between you two that the rest of the world no longer gets to share.
All that “stuff” the reader misses out on in a non-erotic romance. There is a gauzy curtain (or a thick, impenetrable bedroom door in some cases) that is spoiling the full 360 degree sense-surround view of the romance.
But in an erotic romance you, the reader, get to see and hear and feel all of it. You get to fall in love right along with the heroine. The romance storylines the author can tell become deeper, the conflicts can be more realistic – and more brutal – which means it impacts harder, and the resolution and happy ending is that much sweeter as a result.
In summary, erotic romance these days isn’t just about the sex. Not anymore. It’s a genre where full-throttle, unique story-telling and heart-wrenching romance can happen with an effectiveness that you simply can’t replicate in non-erotic genres.
This isn’t a treatise meant to convert the world to the virtues of erotic romance. But if you’ve never tried one before and you’re feeling brave, you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Enjoy.
[*Sidenote: If you would like a more in-depth discussion about the differences between erotic romance and erotic, try “Erotic Romance is NOT Erotica!”. I’ve also tracked the evolution in erotic romance since it began around 2000/2001, in “Spanking on the Sofa…Are Romances Getting Hot All Over?” where I suggest that the “normal” romance you’re reading these days is in fact the sort of ‘erotic romance’ we were first publishing a decade ago. Times change!]