Is it Erotica?

by Suzie Quint

I'm published now and that's a wonderful feeling, but there are still a few things that confuse me. Okay, there are a lot of things that confuse me, but we're only going to talk about one today.

I choose Pink Petal Books as my publisher, at least in part, because they have such great covers. (See? Isn't mine fantastic?) Traditional publishing seems to be falling apart at the seams, so the decision to go with an epublisher made sense to me. Epublishers pretty much got their foot in the door with erotica, and I think, in some people's minds, that mostly what you find there. It's no longer true. Now you can find anything from sweet romances to hard-core erotica. I don't know if the numbers still show most of the royalties being paid to erotica authors, but for a long time, that was the common knowledge.

So what am I confused about?

I'm confused about what earns a book the label "erotica."

You see, when I was trying to figure out where my story fell in this wide spectrum, I read some erotica authors like Emma Holly. Some were good, some were not to my taste, but what they had in common was the intense focus on sex. And usually, sex long before there was any sort of emotional bond. Often, at least one of the characters had very liberal views about sex partners and sexual activity (bondage, voyeurism, threesomes, orgies, etc.) Yes, they had a story. Well, the better ones did, but in most cases, I don't think the audience for these books are reading for the riveting plot.

I was saddened. Mostly because I could see I was not going to be getting any steaks from this cash cow. I knew I couldn't write like that. Not comfortably anyway. Yes, my stories are sensual. Spicy. Sexy. I don't close the bedroom door, and I don't wait until the end of the story for my characters to consummate. Love is the payoff, not sex. For me, the emotional lives of the characters are the heartbeat of the story, but I don't think they're any hotter than most of Toni Blake's mainstream books. (That may just be my perception.)

So imagine my surprise when I saw that my publisher had listed the book on several distribution sites as, not just erotica, but as five-chili-peppers hot erotica.

I cringed. I considered asking them to change it. I knew anyone who expected an Emma-Holly-type story would be disappointed.

In the end, I decided to let it stand. This is their business, after all, and I'd chosen to trust them with my baby. I don't want to second guess their every decision, but it has led me to question how one decides what is erotica and what isn't. Is it like my definition of kinky? (Kinky = something I wouldn't do. This is a wonderful definition, BTW, since it means that if I'll do it, by definition, it isn't kinky.)

Isabel Allende is quoted as saying, "Erotica is when you use a feather, porn is when you use the whole chicken." So maybe I'm using the wrong feather because there's a whole world of difference between a chicken feather and an ostrich feather.

So help me figure this out. What makes a book erotica in your mind? Where do you draw the line?


  1. One person's erotica is another's pornography. I don't think it can be defined, except bydefining it for yourself. For me, erotica turns on the mind as well as the body. Pornography turns on the body. They both can be extremely graphic, no holds barred. However, erotica can also turn you on simply by showing, for example, a woman being splashed in the face by a gushing water hose. Pornography would just show the penis exploding in her face.


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