Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Erotic romance doesn't seem to be what it used to be ...

I have been reading erotic romance for more than seven years. I actually discovered the romance genre as a whole thanks to erotic romance. Granted I always had romantic tendencies i.e. I used to write romantic stories for my little sister to read when I was in my teens, and I loved "Pride and Prejudice" and "Jane Eyre", as well as "Rebecca" as much for the story as for the romantic elements... I just had not realized it yet.

When I first started reading erotic romance the stories were all shorter than a standard print book. Many were also pretty "light" on the plot/characterization department, yet I never had issues feeling the romance in them. Of course, I liked that they had so much explicit and hawt sex. Everything was fine until one day I realized that a story I had just finished reading for review had "too much sex". Say WHAT?

I have to say I never thought I would feel that way about an erotic romance. It never crossed my mind at all. From that point forward, the number of stories I found were "too much about the sex" kept increasing exponentially, and that is when I started wondering why: was it me being picky, was the writing style too heavy on the sex, was the publisher changing its "house rules" or flat out sucking in a big way as it pertained to their editors, was it something else.

Shortly after my realization that there could be the perception of "too much sex" in an erotic romance, I started mentioning it to some friends and fellow reviewers of the genre. That's when I discovered that I was not the only one having the issue with an increasing number of erotic romance books. Talking about the subject with them, I also noticed that we went through the same phases: from the "discovery" phase, when everything we got our hands on was WOW, to the "burnout" phase in which the number of titles that we found to be satisfying kept decreasing. I now call that initial "wow" reaction from newcomers to the genre as the "titillation phase".

I think that, initially, people who discover erotic romance go through the "titillation phase". They are readers of romance that had been thirsting for graphic sex in their reading material (and by graphic sex I mean MORE than what can be found on mainstream romance), and they didn't find it until they stumbled on one of the epublishers that specializes on the genre. This phase, however, seems to wear off for many of us fans the more erotic romance we read. That certainly has been the case for me and most of my friends that read this genre.

Once this novelty/titillation factor wanes, we get into the biggest issue for most veteran fans of erotic romance: the seemingly “too much sex-too little plot syndrome.” Yup, ironic isn't it? But erotic romance is supposed to be about the sex after all, right? Well, the answer for many of us is a big NO. In the online circles in which I move, readers demand at least a semblance of a romantic plot and characterization in an erotic book to actually call it a romance. A cursory "I love you" at the end of the story is simply not enough or satisfying enough for a veteran reader looking for a good read unless, of course, all the reader is seeking from her read is sex for the sake of sex. However, even if the book has a lot of sex more than anything else, the "I love you" has to feel real to the reader for the reader to feel "satisfied" with the story. And that is the bottomline: reader satisfaction.

As I see it, I don't think most erotic romances today have more or less sex than their predecessors. However, there are a lot erotic romance titles available and several of the large print houses introduced erotic romance imprints to their lines over the past several years. Add to that the differences as to how each publishing house interprets the words "erotic romance", and the choices out there are many and quite different between one another, even though they all use the tag "erotic romance". Though many argue that there is an audience for all interpretations, fact remains that the market is pretty full, the economy is shot, readers are reaching their "reading maturity" on this genre, meaning that they now know the differences and there is no novelty factor to take into consideration any longer. Readers tend to start looking more for a story and characterization the further they read into the genre. Many start outright skipping sex scenes as well.

In short, I think the epublishers should start taking into consideration the "reading maturity" of their audience and improve on the quality of their product i.e. make sure that what they call erotic romance has an actual story and characterization to match. If they don't, some of them will start losing their reader base. It may not be noticeable at first, but in the long run, it could end up seriously affecting them. After all, a solid reader base is what keeps a publisher in business, particularly with the economy as shot as it is.