Recently I lunched with a fellow freelancer from the newspaper where I write. It was more of a networking lunch, since he’s been doing this longer than me and I’m looking to branch out. He’s a fledging author working on his first contemporary romance and he had questions about getting published. He’d read some of my books and hit me with a good question: what is the difference between erotica and erotic romance?
Talk about being momentarily stumped! I replied that erotic romance has to have some kind of emotional involvement or connection between the characters, whereas erotica is two people jumping from one hot encounter to another with little rhyme or reason.
That may be oversimplifying it, but I think that was the correct response. When I reviewed romance books online, many of them were self-published. I noticed that a fair amount of them fell into the latter category rather than the former. The authors used thin plots as an excuse to bring two people together for the sole purpose of having sex. Nothing else seemed to matter. No character development, no detailed physical descriptions, no atmosphere, no emotional bonding, and sometimes not even names.
I’m not saying that each hot encounter you include in an erotic romance needs to have all of these elements. I’ll admit that on a couple of occasions, I’ve used the nightclub or party hook-up device to get two people between the sheets. Each time, I tried to justify it, especially if it seemed to go against the character’s grain that I had already established. I don’t like to write erotic scenes just for the hell of it, and the majority of mine happen for a reason, as a natural progression in the story or relationship. I’ve noticed the same thing with the books I’ve read from authors on this site.
Another good friend of mine self-publishes on Kindle Direct, after years of going the traditional publisher route and deciding he wanted to keep all of the profits for himself. He sells a lot of books each month, thanks to a large following he’s built up over the years. Some of his series sell better than others. I’ve read a few of them, and no disrespect to my friend, but he basically writes porn with a plot. And most of the time, not much plot at that. When I politely pointed this out once, he showed me his latest sales figures. I kept my opinions to myself after that.
My lunch friend and I got further into the discussion when he said he was confused by the difference between happily-ever-after and happy-for-now endings. Most publishers insist on one or the other for an erotic romance. I explained that HFN meant that the characters might not be together until eternity, but that their exit was more than “Thanks, I’ll call you the next time I’m in town!” Happily-ever-after is just what it implies, with more of a sense of closure. I also cautioned him that if he used that type of ending, it might be difficult to write a sequel with the same characters.
In closing out our meeting, he asked for my advice if he wanted to pursue his project. The best things I could come up with were for him to be comfortable with what he was writing (in other words, don’t publish something that he or his family would be embarrassed by later). The other was that if he did write blistering hot sex scenes, carefully consider if he wanted to publish under his own name.
Did I miss anything?
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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author of romantic mystery/thrillers and contemporary erotic romance. His website is www.timsmithauthor.com.