Monday, August 10, 2009

What's in a Definition?

What I'm reading: Motor Mouth, by Janet Evanovich

Apparently, there were some serious issues with Twitter for a couple of days at the end of last week. Since that's one networking site I have yet to join, I remained blissfully unaware and suffered no withdrawal symptoms. To date, this cartoon in yesterday's paper sums up my feelings about Twitter.

Moving on to the topic at hand: I ran into a surprising opinion about the book's classification when one on-line review site listed Romance among the genres it would accept for review, with the caveat that it didn't review erotica.

Reading further, I was astonished to find that the review site's definition of erotica was any book where explicit sex occurs on the page. Their reviewer was kind enough to look at the love scenes before accepting the book for review (saving me time and money), and based on that, declared the book erotica. Now, I'll agree that my love scene might have had some erotic elements, but does that make the book erotica?

Keep Reading...

According to definitions I've researched, "erotica" is:

"A genre of literature that includes sexually explicit details as a primary feature."

Note "primary feature." Two love scenes in a 350 page book don't exactly constitute "primary."

Typically, in an erotic romance, sex drives the relationship, where in a traditional romance, the relationship drives the sex. So, in erotica, characters will more often than not have their sexual relationship first, and the romance comes later.

Given that all my books have sex on the page, and all reviewers to this point have considered the heat level, "mildly sensual" I was a bit surprised to find out that my books would be considered erotica by anyone's standards. But it's their site, and they're certainly allowed to make the rules. And, I suppose, their own definitions.

If I had submitted any of my books to Ellora's Cave, the 500 pound gorilla in the erotica market (although they've copyrighted their own definition of "Romantica), They'd have hit the 'reject' button so fast my head would still be spinning. Heck, my mother doesn't think my love scenes are all that steamy. She recommends the books to her friends.

My issue stemmed from their site saying they review the Romance genre. Again – they have the right to define their own standards, but as I look back over the big-name, best-selling author romance books I've read over the past year, I don't think many would have qualified for a review. And they're definitely not shelved or labeled "Erotica."

To me, it's kind of like saying, "We're restaurant critics. We review French, American, Italian, Thai, Chinese, and Indian food. However, if you serve Chinese food, be aware that we do not want to review any dishes made with soy sauce."

This wasn't a case of a member of the review staff not wanting to review erotic romance, it was the board policy. Seems to me that if they're going to be that restrictive in their definition of Romance, they should simply not offer to review it at all. Or say they review "Sweet Romance."

Okay – that's my opinion, to be taken for what it's worth.

Meanwhile, I've decided to give a shot at entering one of my manuscripts in a contest. They've got a word count limit and require a synopsis be part of it. So, the longer the synopsis, the fewer words of story. Trying to balance getting the total words to include enough manuscript to hook a judge with enough synopsis to make sense will be a challenge. It's been several years since I entered this kind of a contest.

I've also submitted workshop proposals for a couple of conferences. We'll see how those pan out.

And I exceeded my weekly word count goal by Friday, which meant I could spend time with our son who was home for his high school reunion. (Although most of his time was spent doing the male-bonding thing with hubby, where they spoke photography, or hanging with his friends, or playing with his iPhone.) Still, it's nice to visit, even for short periods of time. And he's shown me more apps for the iPhone than I could ever dream of. Given that I don't have an iPhone, I didn't think they were as cool as he did.

A reminder – my August contest, where I'm giving away an ARC of WHEN DANGER CALLS, runs through the end of the month. This is an Advance Reader Copy, and by now, is one of very few in existence. Yes, you have to jump through a couple of hoops to enter (answering a two-part question), but the answer's easy to find on my website, and no purchases are required. I'll even autograph it for the winner.

Tomorrow, my guest is author Nancy J. Cohen, who will be filling this slot with excellent tips about finding inspiration.


Margaret Reyes Dempsey said...

Great post. I agree that the true test was your mom recommending the books to her friends. LOL. My mom scolds me for using the occasional "bad word" in a blog. Did I mention I'm 44 years old? :-D

J.A. Saare said...

Hey Terry,

I had a very interesting (and long winded) conversation about this with a family member that reads and enjoys romance. We both mentioned how differently the material is now versus ten or fifteen years ago when sex was implied instead of shown. What was once about romance and love has become little more than white hot sex and shock value.

I do find it odd that someone said "romance but no erotica" but think that in today's market, anything given the classification of "romance" is automatically clumped as a "sex" book, for lack of a better expression.

I like books that are sweet and sensual. I also like books that have me blushing and peering over my shoulder to make sure someone isn't reading over it!

I did want to say that in my writing (especially erotica), I strive to have a strong emotional bond between the characters. Some don't do this, and that's fine. But I do think you can have both.

Love the blog!

Terry Odell said...

Margaret, my mom gives my books as gifts to her friends (and I'm a bunch of years older than you, so you can imagine what age category HER friends inhabit). One of them even wrote me a letter saying how impressed she was with Finding Sarah.

Terry Odell said...

JA - I would have had no trouble if that review site said, 'we don't review erotica' - it was the way they lumped all romance with sex on the page into that category that bugged me.

I can remember when books with any sex at all were banned (or were sent out with plain brown wrappers.)

Jess said...

Wait...there's sex scenes in your books?! I must block those out... ;)

Cate Masters said...

I love that cartoon. I'm on Twitter and there's much garbage, but also some great info and links. Another way to connect with readers/other writers/other great people.
Your post is great and very timely for me - my first walk on the wild side, Wilderness Girl, is about to be released. My family has been mum about it, but when I came across the definition of erotic romance (versus simple erotica) it fit my story well. So I'm glad to hear other authors make the distinction too.

Terry Odell said...

Cate, thanks for the comment. I'm still not ready for Twitter. Barely managing Facebook (but why does everyone feed Tweets to Facebook? I get dozens of private conversations there. Bad enough I know what someone has for breakfast, but why do I need to know what they're telling their friends.)

There is such a continuum along the romance genre, but I think some basic definitions ought to be standard.

Mona Risk said...


Maybe that review site should specify they want inspirational or sweet romances only? My books contain a few sex scenes and yet never qualified to be erotica by Ellora's Cave standards and by erotica authors who explained that writing erotica is very different from writing romance with sexual element.

Sheila Deeth said...

I like your definition. I'm fairly new to the romance genre, and I've finally worked out what the phrase "sweet romance" means. But it does sound like a place doing reviews should have worked it out, and learned to use it, before me. Love the soy sauce analogy!

Lisa Lane said...

It's interesting how many people will judge a book based on how much explicit (evil, wicked, pornographic) sex it contains. I've raised quite a few brows in the past, in my assertion that among my genres I write "literary smut". ;-)

Heaven forbid. Such ugly words, right?

I also love to write erotic horror and pulp sci-fi; I would hope that my erotic romances might be judged on the positive merits that go into those works, as well (such as theme, alliteration, and use of character).

And I hope the sex is hot, hot, HOT!

Terry Odell said...

Mona, Sheila, Lisa -
Thanks for dropping buy. I certainly don't object to book content; I agree with Sheila that a review site listing categories of books it reviews ought to understand what they mean.

Labels are tough -- but I'm not sure it's wise to make up your own, given they're used to help guide readers to what they're looking for. Ah, but that's an entirely different topic!

Mary Ricksen said...

It's all in the word.
Thank goodness no one in my family reads my blogs. I'd be in big trouble. Bad Mary, Bad.

Looking forward to Nancy's blog tomorrow!

Carol A. Strickland said...

I work in the "adult products" industry. We don't call it porn. Don't know why. The definition of "pornography" is (thanks, Mirriam-Webster) "material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement."

What's wrong with that?

For me, I'd prefer that books agree on a labeling system for books (any genre). We're talking about letting buyers know if what they're purchasing has nothing beyond a chaste kiss vs every chapter having three sex scenes. As a reader, I'd find it gratifying to not buy books that turned me off within the first ten pages. (Afraid I don't like erotica at all. I get enough of that at work, thanks.)

Such a ratings system would help this particular reviewer, who obviously isn't that well-versed in romance much less romantica (insert trademark symbol here).

Lots of other reviewers in the sea. Hope you find a bunch that suit you!

Kathleen said...

What great input from one of my favorite authors. Thanks, Nancy!

My best source of inspiration is on-site research. Sometimes I find research in the simplest places--listening to passers-by on the beach, the post office. Once, I was almost sat-upon by a woman three times my size in a chiropractor's office because we disagreed on a "heated" topic. Hey, when you read that scene in one of my next books, you'll know where I got the inspiration!

Kathleen Pickering