Saturday, January 30, 2010

Peering Over the Ghetto Walls

Once a year or so, I think about the state of erotica. With erotic romance* steaming along in popularity, literary erotica** writers seem to be horrified, angry, resigned, or try to ignore it, but the ramifications affect us.

Publishers that used to put out literary erotica are asking for erotic romance. Given that romance is around fifty percent of the books sold, and probably a much higher percentage of the ebooks sold***, we can't blame publishers for going where the money is. Publishing has enough problems (most self-inflicted, but that's another subject). Some traditional publishers of literary erotica have folded (Blacklace, for example, in one of the sterling moments of publishing stupidity - see "self-inflicted fatal wounds").

But all of this consternation leaves out some important finger pointing back at the literary erotica community.

Listen - it's lovely to sit around with your friends and moan about how the world doesn't understand you. If your aim is to write as a hobby, then more power to you, and don't worry about the rest of this rant. But if you want to be published, stand on your tiptoes and look over the ghetto wall. What ghetto? the insular world of erotic writing.

We've insisted for so long that no one loves us or takes us seriously that we ignored a few important publishing trends. We don't pursue agents or major publishers. Sure, agents say they don't handle erotica, and just five years ago admitting that you wrote erotica was writing-career suicide, but that ignores the fact that a lot of what's being published as literary fiction lately is erotic. Either those writers slipped out of our ghetto, or while we're facing the city gates, they're plundering through the gaping hole in the wall behind us.

Yes, yes, yes, we're all very proud that we write erotica, but what's in a name? Shelf space in a damn bookstore, that's what. Not your dignity. Genre is an artificial construct for marketing purposes, so why not tell an agent that your novel is literary fiction? Keep muttering to yourself that it's really erotica. Go commensurate with your fellow writers about how you had to sell out to sell your book. But at least take a walk outside the ghetto walls and take a hard look at today's publishing world. The view is very different from the outside.

* My definition of erotic romance is a story written in the genre style of romance.

** My definition of literary erotica is a story written in the genre style of literary fiction (and yes, that is a genre, no matter what anyone tries to tell you)

*** With the powers that be of romance sneering down at sex scenes, the romance writers who *gasp* knew that women liked sex, turned to the publishers who welcomed them - epublishers. Now the traditional publishers have seen the folly of their uptight ways and have launched lines that are more inclusive, but epublishing got there first, created the fan base, and gave the readers what they wanted, an almost unheard of approach in publishing. (more "self-inflicted problems")

1 comment:

Vincent Diamond said...

Interesting post, Kathleen; I heart the way your mind works. Yep, e-publishers definitely have been taking the risks the past 5 years going after a niche market. Now that the "niche" is expanding and affecting traditional publishers, their tune has changed.

:) V