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Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Cindy Spencer Pape

Romance vs. Porn: The Erotic Debate

There’s a lot of discussion in the romance world about the definition of romance, specifically is erotic romance really romance? Or is it erotica? Or, is it frankly, just porn for women?

My take? There are a lot of people who like erotic romance. That’s the two word deal, or as one of my publishers calls it (this is a trademarked term, folks!) Romantica. Without the romance, it’s just erotica, or literature with the sole purpose of sexual titillation. That’s not a bad thing, not in my opinion, but it is different. Just like romance without the erotic component is a different type of book. There are markets for each of the three. Magazines seem to be the primary outlet for erotica, and mainstream romance novels continue to make up a huge segment of the fiction market, but there has only recently been an open acknowledgment of the combination—erotic romance—where emotion and sex form equally important components of the story.

In the e-book market erotic romance has found a strong foothold. I think there are a number of reasons for this. Anonymity of purchase is certainly one. There’s no bookseller looking down his or her pointy nose and shaking a finger. No PTA president seeing you walk out the door with “smut.” Speed of purchase is another. There’s also the fact that on-line stores can simply stock more variety of titles, so there’s sure to be something to everyone’s taste.

Yes, in the electronic market, erotic romance far outsells sensual romance. But I don’t think that’s universally true. In paperback, I think you’ll find that erotic romance, while definitely a growing market, is still the minority. Face it—the system was already there for mainstream romance, so the buyers haven’t felt any real pressure (other than cost) to switch. But since e-books really pioneered the erotic romance subgenre, that’s where the sales tend to soar.

Like many other authors, I write both, as a friend put it, hot and hotter. When I started, it was what I’d consider steamy mainstream. Dragon in the System, with Cerridwen Press is an example of that. But when the time came for the sequel, Djinni and the Geek, my editor was honest. If I heated it up just a bit more, I’d sell many, many more copies. So I did, and yes, I did. Lots more copies. So rather than write more at the lower heat level, I’ve mostly chosen to go hotter. Am I trading my soul for money? One commenter, an author I greatly respect, asked us to consider why we write as well as what we write, and to consider how our choices reflect on others who have chosen other paths.

So I did. And you know what? I don’t think my choices reflect on any other authors in any way at all. I choose to write, and read, what I enjoy. And yes, that’s a pretty wide range. Right now, I’m working at pretty much the far end of it, as opposed to the middle, where I started. Do I write for myself? I guess. I’d write whether anyone was buying it or not. But yes, I’m attempting to someday make a living at this, so I will continue to attempt to write to the market. I do not write anything that morally offends me, or that I am ashamed to put my name on. Since I use my real name, I think that’s critical to note.

And when asked if I try out everything I write about (sexually speaking), I have this to reply. “When my husband grows wings and a tail, we’ll talk about it.”

~~~Cindy Spencer Pape has been, among other things, a banker, a teacher, and an elected politician, though she swears she got better. She still does volunteer work in environmental education, when she can fit it in around writing. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two teenage sons, a dog, and a lizard. Her website is


Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Thanks so much to Marianne and Judy at Whipped Cream for hosting me this week, and to everyone who stopped by and left a comment. As I type, I am getting ready to zip out the door to the Ellora's Cave Romanticon this weekend, where I'll get to spend three days surrounded by other lovers of erotic romance--oh--and hunky cover models!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Cindy,

As an author who got started writing erotica and then expanded to erotic romance, I'd like to suggest that there's more to the genre than simple titillation. My definition of erotica is fiction that explores the characters' sexual experiences and their reactions, without any requirement for a long term relationship. This definition doesn't rule out relationships--they're just not the focus.

There are a handful of publishers who have very successful erotica lines that focus on (print) short story anthologies. Cleis, Pretty Things Press, Lethe, etc. Anyone looking to sell erotica (and erotic romance, for that matter) should visit the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Calls for Submissions pages (

There's a lot more out there than just magazines!


Molly Daniels said... your comeback, Cindy:) Have a GREAT time at RomantiCon!

Katalina Leon said...

I like having the option to write "Sensual" or go full on"Erotic". I think it's more honest and more reflective of a woman's actual life and fantasy life. We are sexual creatures with an ebb and flow (Sorry bad pun) Fiction of the past didn't fully reflect that. Contemporary erotic fiction is providing women with the freedom to bring their sexuality out in the open and say-"I like this!"

AllureVanSanz said...

I think the definitions are subjective for erotica, erotic romance, and hot romance or...whatever the newest term is for the day. lol Every day I turn around and someone has another term for their WIP and the sex content.

I've heard this one recently, and it has me shaking my head. "I write adult romance scorchers."

O.K. ?

The woman didn't like the word erotic because it "sounds too much like porn".

I leave the definition of my books to the people who read them. If someone wants to call something I write porn, more power to them. Call it whatever you want, just buy it.

Now, before anyone bites my head definition of porn is anything that focuses solely on the act of sexual gratification.

So for me, anything with a plot more complicated than a pizza boy arriving at the door wouldn't qualify. But as writers, some of us have to admit that when we write quick, short stories about sex...we can call it erotica all we want but the goal is to please people and the story consists of nothing but sex and a pizza-boy plot so maybe we shouldn't take offense if someone labels it porn.

That's just me. ::grins:: Erotica does sound more feminine though, doesn't it?


lindseye said...

Porn is just the sex with no relationship like the Penthouse stories, it gets you all hot and bothered but that's the focus. No relationship or development of character. Erotic fiction does not have HEA as the focus or even a HFN where that is the point of erotic romance. Erotic romance is like mainstream romance with the bedroom door open.

Mary Ricksen said...

It just goes to show that we are a sexual being by nature. Some of us are just more liberal than others.

Fran Lee said...

Thanks for a great week, Cindy! Excellent post6s every day...loved it! Have fun in Akron!

s7anna said...

Great post Cindy!!! To me at the end of the day, all it really comes down to is a great SIZZLER of a read!!! Then again, that's probably because I'm only a reader...but I do enjoy a steamy hot read and I really have no problems having it labelled as erotica, erotic romance, or romantica. I just love to read and they MUST MUST have a happy ending!!!...Labels need not apply!!!

Happy Reading!!!
Anna Shah Hoque