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Anne M. Marble (amarble "at" sff.net) has published articles in Gothic Journal and Writer's Digest and is a columnist for the At the Back Fence column at All About Romance (AAR), "the back fence for lovers of romance novels." In her "spare time," she moderates AARlist, a busy list of romance readers sponsored by AAR. Just about everything she writes includes a romance element, even if it's a fantasy novel about a lord and a countertenor. You can read about her novels in progress, plus posts about publishing scams, ebooks, romance, fantasy, etc. in her blog, Gorok and Wulf Host a Blog. Her day job involves editing articles for the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

January 2005:

Getting to Know the Erotic Romance Field

It's no secret that the erotic romance (or romantica) market is one of the hottest markets out there. Both in print on on-line, authors are pushing the envelope, and sometimes even finding new envelopes. Even Harlequin is coming out with an erotic romance line.

Is erotic romance right for you? Not necessarily. If you hate the books, you probably won't be able to write them. Before you try your hand at writing erotic romance, ask yourself if this is the right market for you. Have you read the stories? Do you enjoy them? Or do they make you shudder, and not with delight? Not everyone is cut out for this market.

Read the Stories

Of course, before you even consider writing for this growing market, you should read what's out there. Don't just read one or two stories or only stories from one publisher and assume that you know everything about the field. There is a wide range of differences from one publisher to the text, not to mention differences between the print and e-book markets.

In addition, while you read the stories, you can figure out what you like -- and loathe. Do erotic romances about vampires make you say "Eww, blood"? Then you probably aren't cut out to write those stories. On the other hand, maybe you think werewolves are hot, or fairies, or for that matter, modern-day cops and cowboys. If that's the case, you might want to write about those.

When you read stories, you should also try to "get" the turn-on for readers and understand why readers like certain types of stories. If you're already familiar with the erotic romance field, then you might think that you can get away without reading the stories. Not necessarily true. Now is a good time to approach them as a writer first and a reader second. Find out what makes the stories work. Even reread some of your favorites and keep a writer's eye out for the techniques that made those stories so good. Read new publishers and delve in new subgenres. Don't be afraid to reread stories you didn't like. That way, you can analyze what went wrong for you, and what did work.

Oh, and of course, unless you are aiming only for the print market, you should be reading e-books. Lots of them. It doesn't matter whether you read them on your computer or on a PDA or specialized reader. Just read them and get used to reading them. Even if you are aiming at a publisher that puts out both e-book and print editions, try reading e-books, because your readers will be doing the same thing. Besides, the e-book editions are cheaper than the print versions and come out sooner than the print editions, and not all e-books end up in print editions. So you'll save scads of money, you'll be able to read the books the day they come out, and you'll be introduced to a wider variety of books and authors.

Enjoy What You're Writing

If you're not excited by what you're writing, don't expect readers -- not to mention editors -- to be turned on by it, either. Don't write vampire stories just because they're "hot" if you hate vampires. Find something you like to write about instead. Remember, if you care about what you're writing and give it enough power and verve (and great characters and good writing, of course), you might create the story that sparks off a whole new hot trend.

Even if you like reading erotic romances, writing sex scenes might make you uncomfortable. This doesn't mean that you should avoid the market. Then again, if you're not having fun, that could translate to the page. Does writing sex scenes make you wince? If so, after you've written a sex scene, put it aside for a while and then come back to it. Then, reread it. How does it read? If the awkwardness you feel comes across in the writing, then it could sink the story. Don't give up, though. Maybe you can rewrite it. Or maybe you can write it again. Practice doesn't just make perfect, it can also help you become more comfortable with what you are writing.

Know the Market

You must know the market. Understand the differences between erotic romances and the rest of the romance field. What separates a sensual romance from an erotic romance? The most obvious differences are in the type of language used; the levels of sensuality allowed; the acts your characters can get away with; the number of sex scenes; and the fact that the scenes are sometimes (OK, often) sex scenes and not love scenes. The language is much more frank, too. You won't find lots of euphemisms in erotic romances -- gone are the lances and members. Instead, slang terms for body parts are accepted, even encouraged.

Yet even these vary by publisher and by type of publisher. For example, most of the electronic publishers accept stories about threesomes (usually male/male/female -- these are women's fantasies, after all). However, these stories are extremely rare with print publishers of erotic romance.

Don't get "hung up" on the sex. Understanding for the erotic romance market is more than just knowing about the sex scenes and the language. When you read erotic romances, keep your mind on the rest of the book, too. What is the style like, from one writer to the next? How long are the stories? How emotional are the stories? What types of settings are preferred? Are some plots very prevalent, and some less so?

Extremely alpha heroes and "capture" stories are prevalent with many publishers of erotic romance. At the same time, don't confuse those stories with the "bodice ripper" romances of the 1970s and 1980s. These stories simply don't compare to the ones of the past. For one thing, the sex is much more fun. In most erotic romance stories, the heroes can't get away with the same things that the alpha heroes of the past did. In almost all cases, the heroines wouldn't let them -- unless they were into that sort of thing, and that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Also, unlike the heroines in so many of those old stories, the erotic romance heroines get a say in what they're doing. They not only get to enjoy the sex, but they may actually want to be tied up. While some erotic bondage romances are about capture and domination, most feature only willing partners. Many are about the bondage community rather than "kidnapping" scenarios.

Once you have read widely in the field, you might find a publisher whose style you like. This will give you someone to aim for -- after you have researched the publisher. At the same time, don't give up on other publishers, either. Many of today's hot new erotic romance stars write for more than one publisher.

Study the Publishers

Erotic romance is more than just Brava, Harlequin Blaze, Red Sage, and Ellora's Cave. There are a lot of other publishers, particularly in the e-book field. Also, some big name publishers are beginning to publish erotic romances in mass market imprints -- for example, the Berkley Sensation line has included some erotic romances, as has Leisure LoveSpell. St. Martin's and Pocket have also put out erotic romances in trade paperback format (usually anthologies). Also, Harlequin's will soon feature erotic fiction in their SPICE line. The publishers range in everything from the number and type of stories they publish to the subgenres they specialize in to the levels of sensuality they prefer.

One important thing to keep in mind is that many of the publishers of erotic romance are small press publishers (such as Red Sage) or e-book publishers (such as Ellora's Cave, Changeling Press, and others). When you study one of these publishers, there are certain things to keep in mind. The small press books get limited distribution. Don't expect to make a fortune selling to these publishers. After all, how often do you go into a bookstore and see trade paperbacks published by a small press? While the distribution may be fairly good for a small press, you're not going to stumble across them everywhere. And what about e-books? Distribution isn't a problem with e-books as they are sold right from the publisher's website, but of course, many people are still avoiding e-books like the plague. Also, there are a lot of electronic publishers to choose from, with new ones still appearing, so picking the right publisher is vital.

If you decide to go for an electronic publisher, make sure to study that publisher very carefully. Just as you earlier, you read books from a writer's perspective, now you should look at the publisher with a reader's perspective. Is it easy to use? Does the search function work? Do the pages load quickly, or at a crawl? Are the books sold in a variety of formats? (Believe me, this is important to e-book fans.) Is it easy to buy from them? Do they make it easy to download a title again later, or are there restrictions? Are their books distributed through other channels, such as Fictionwise? Erotic romance fans will put up with a lot to find the books they want to read, but even they will give up if the site is hard to use or if the selections are sparse.

Finally, as with any publisher, read the contracts carefully. Some have terrific contracts. Others, unfortunately, do not, particularly in the e-book field. (To be fair, the better e-book publishers generally have author-friendly contracts.) Join lists or boards frequented by e-book and erotic romance writers to find advice and tips on what to look for. Also, research publishers before submitting to them, or at the very least, before signing that contract. (See below for some on-line resources that can help you there.)

Read the Guidelines

As with any other publishers, you should read the guidelines before you even consider publishing with them. This is particularly crucial when submitting to the erotic romance market. Why waste your time and the editor's time by submitting a male/female romance to Torquere Press when they only publish gay erotica and gay and lesbian romances? Similarly, you wouldn't want to send a gay romance to Brava or Harlequin Blaze. Luckily, guidelines are easy to get. At the most, you'll have to spend the price of a postage to send away for guidelines. Some print publishers (such as Red Sage) make things easier by including their guidelines on their web sites. With e-book publishers, guidelines are always but a click away, and almost always linked right on the home page.

The guidelines of erotic romance publishers are a treasure trove of information for the hopeful writer. They tell you what's expected -- what their readers want from a story. They also get into the nitty-gritty. For example, they describe preferred lengths, preferred subgenres, manuscript format, and of course, taboos.

Taboos? Yup. Don't get the impression that anything goes. Some taboos are common to all erotic romance publishers, and they are fairly obvious. For example, no pedophilia, no necrophilia, no incest, no snuff, no bestiality. (By the way, sex with sentient shapeshifters does not count as bestiality.) Also, many erotic romance publishers don't want to see rape used for titillation, although it may be used as a plot device. The guidelines will tell you what's allowed and what will get your manuscript rejected faster than you can say "Faster! Faster!" In addition, while many e-publishers are eager for bondage stories, not all accept these plotlines. The guidelines of HeatWave (a fairly new entrant in the erotic romance field) clearly state that they don't want to see any bondage or S&M at all.

When checking out an electronic erotic romance publisher, don't just read the guidelines for writers. Read the descriptions provided to readers. Most of these publishers have a rating system related to the level of sensuality. For example, Ellora's Cave rates books as S-ensuous, E-rotic (the most prevalent), and X-treme titles. Loose-ID rates books as Spicy, Hot, and Scorching. Triskelion Publishing has a special "Sister O" imprint for its hottest romance, and these range from "Flame" to "Ionic." HeatWave publishes books in two categories of sensuality, StormSurge and HeatStroke. At all publishers, the descriptions are quite specific about what a reader can expect from those stories -- in both content and language.

Besides reading the guidelines, go beyond the guidelines by looking at what's available on the site. If you're aiming at an electronic publisher, you'll notice that erotic romance e-publishers have organized their sites by category. This is a great help for writers. Looking at the categories can be a clue as to what's popular with readers and what that publisher specializes in. For example, at Ellora's Cave, you might notice categories such as "Capture/Bondage," "Contemporary," "Fantasy," "Vampire/Werewolf," and so forth. Also, compare the number of books from category to category. For example, Ellora's Cave has a category for "Gay/Lesbian," but as of now, there are only four books in that category, and most of them are about a menage a trois.. On the other hand, at Changeling Press, there is a "Gay/Bisexual" category that consists of more than 45 titles. So if you have a book about a sexy gay vampire burning a hole in your computer, there's a publisher to keep in mind.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

  • This Is a Highly Interactive Field -- The erotic romance field (particularly the e-book field) is very interactive. Many erotic romance authors not only have websites, they also have blogs and even busy mailing lists. Many of the publishers have extremely busy mailing lists or discussion boards. Writers frequently have contests where they give away free books. This doesn't mean you have to join the festivities. But it might be more rewarding (i.e. more fun) for you if you do. Besides, what they hey, it's a great way to keep your name in the minds of readers.

  • Shorter Lengths Are Prevalent -- Many erotic romances, whether published in print or on the web, are novella length, sometimes even shorter. Writing stories this length is a challenge because they are generally shorter, and include more sex, but you still have to fit a story in there, as well as characters your readers will care about. In paranormals, you will also have to add at least some worldbuilding, although in shorter stories, readers will understand that they might have to follow a series over time to get the full concept of your vision for this setting.

  • Here Today, Gone Tomorrow -- For all the well established electronic publishers, there are also horror stories of e-publishers that went under. Because erotic romances are hot now, there will be new electronic publishers sprouting up. Be cautious before signing up with a new publisher. Also, be cautious of signing up with a lesser known publisher. If readers don't know the publisher is there, how will it stay afloat for long? If a publisher folds, you may not be protected. There have been cases of writers finding that their books are tied up with a defunct publisher or even learning that their the books have been sold to another publisher -- without their permission.

  • Even with E-publishers, You Might See Yourself in Print -- Many e-book publishers also make their titles available in print. Ellora's Cave is probably best known for this as its trade paperbacks are appearing in Borders and Waldenbooks stores all over the country. This can be great, but keep in mind that some publishers use a different contract for the print editions. While they won't charge you for publishing the e-book edition, some do charge for the trade paperback edition.

For More Information

If you want to know more about writing erotica, one of your first stops should be the Erotica Readers & Writers Association (http://www.erotica-readers.com/). Be sure to check out their articles and market information.

EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection (http://www.epicauthors.org/), is a great resource if you are interested in publishing e-books

You can learn more about publisher requirements, response times, royalties, and so forth at Emily Veinglory's Erotic Romance Publisher Comparison Site (http://www.veinglory.com/P.html). Be sure to check all three pages of information.

Emily Veinglory also runs an erotic romance forum (http://veinglory.8.forumer.com/index.php)

You should always look up potential publishers at the Preditors & Editors site (http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/).

Another source of information about electronic publishers is the Piers Anthony's Internet Publishing page (http://www.hipiers.com/publishing.html). This page is useful because it includes feedback from writers, including those who have been burned. It shouldn't be your first only place to get information on publishers, however.

Absolute Write has a Writing Erotica board (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=43).

Related Articles on Writing-World.com

An End To Euphemisms: Is Erotica Right for You? - Tracy Cooper-Posey

Writing and Selling Erotic Fiction - Catherine Lundoff

Copyright © 2005 by Anne Marble

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MORE RESOURCES FROM THE EDITOR:


Guide to Paying Fiction and Poetry Markets

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How to Write for Magazines

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Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer
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The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals
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