Lately, I’ve noticed some erotic romance authors referring to their genre as smut, or dirty, and to themselves with various similar titles — smutkateers or naughty authors, or various other titles, with the emphasis on the sexual content of their stories, and the beddable quality and sexual prowess of the heroes they write about. I confess that these author sites leave a bad taste in my mouth.
I’ve been writing and publishing erotic romance since 2003, which puts me in the vanguard of the erotic romance genre. I’ve seen the genre through its entire evolution and I think its safe to say that it’s here to stay, and that I have a pretty good idea of what erotic romance is…and is not.
I can also say that I believe it’s still one of the most misunderstood genres inside one of the most misunderstood industries in publishing today. Romance in general has always been utterly denigrated and misinterpreted by outsiders. And now, even romance insiders are missing the point when it comes to erotic romance.
Erotic romance is a subset of the romance genre. It is not a different species. This is a critical point to remember, because everything else springs from this key definition.
Erotic romance is a romance, first and foremost. It just happens to have an explicit and arousing sexual storyline to go along with the romance storyline. Think of erotic romances as normal romances told with the bedroom door thrown wide open.
If you were to take out the romance storyline, you couldn’t tell the story.
And the reverse also holds true.
If you were to take out the sexual storyline, the story would also collapse.
A properly told erotic romance has character and romance elements entangled inside both the romance and the sexual storylines. Taking either the romance or the sexual storylines out of the story wrecks the book.
Think of your own personal love story. When you fell in love, you learned a lot about your new lover when you were in bed together, didn’t you? And that learning didn’t just include sexual preferences. You learn a lot about another person in such intimate circumstances. Well, erotic romances acknowledge that fact and explore a romance properly, with the bedroom door open for the reader, showing a realistic romance.
Many erotic romance also have additional plotlines — romantic suspense, paranormal, mystery and more — and these storylines are balanced and interwoven between the romance and sexual storylines.
Erotica, on the other hand, is a genre of fiction that is completely unrelated to the romance genre…and therefore is completely unrelated to erotic romance.
Erotica has no romance in it.
Erotica has no additional plotlines in it.
Erotica is purely about the sexual activities of a protagonist, and any plotlines that exist in the story are built purely to titillate and arouse the reader. Erotica is designed to be 100% a sensual experience for the reader and nothing else. Language, plot, character, imagery, everything that happens in the book occurs purely for this goal.
As you can see, there is a vast difference between erotica and erotic romance. That is why I find it troubling when erotic romance authors focus so heavily on the sexual content of their work, to the exclusion of the romance and storylines of the novels they’re writing. Yes, sex is great, but it’s not the sole focus of erotic romances, which are still romances at their core, and always will be.