erotica and discretion

Reading on the Down-Low: Erotic Romance and Discretion Go Hand in Hand

I’ve been writing erotic romance for almost twenty years, and one of the things I’ve learned is that this sub-genre and discretion are extremely important. It’s one of the reasons why I keep this blog rated pg and never post explicit excerpts, so I can discuss topics like this openly and no one will be offended. It’s also why I allow anonymous comments here on the blog. I know most people who read erotic romance don’t advertise it to their friends and don’t like to use their real names when they are commenting. And most comments from readers, if they dare to comment, are anonymous or fake names. In other words, they are reading on the down-low.

And there’s nothing wrong with this. This is why most authors who write erotic romance use pen names. They don’t want their bosses to know, their families to know, and sometimes even their friends to know what they are reading. I’ve had authors tell me this over the years and I don’t think I’m being presumptuous. I decided a long time ago I’d use my real name because I felt more comfortable with my real name. But I fully understand it when an author uses a pen name.

The reason I’m writing this post is because an author contacted me last week with a problem. Her publisher wants her to do a live book reading event and she’s apprehensive about it. First, she writes e-books, caters to people who read e-books, and doesn’t think doing a live event in some out of the way place she’d never normally go to for personal entertainment is going to help sell her books (she writes e-books and it’s all about online promotion, in her opinion). Second, it’s going to take her a long time to get there and she’s going to have to spend a lot of money on gas, parking, and tolls. Third, and probably the most important, she’s apprehensive about reading excerpts from her books, even if it is a small audience, because she’s not comfortable reading erotica, hers or anyone else’s, in public.

I hate to give anyone advice. I really do. But this time I broke the rule and opened my big mouth. And that’s because I’m not fond of reading erotic romance in public. It isn’t the same as Jonathan Franzen reading excerpts from Freedom. There’s something about reading an erotic romance in public that leaves me feeling awkward and out of place. And I’m no prude. I love the genre, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t still be doing it after twenty years if I didn’t. But I think erotic romance is a more discreet form of entertainment and it’s not something I feel comfortable reading in a public forum. I know other authors will disagree and I know they do public readings without thinking twice. But, frankly, I don’t care what they think in this particular case. If you take a good erotic romance, even one that has sold well and had great reviews, out of context, even slightly, it turns into a carny sideshow or a skit for Saturday Night Live…at the author’s expense, not the publisher’s. There’s actually a live journal web site that laughs at erotic romance, with excerpts and examples. I’m aware of this all too well. It’s happened to me when I least expected it with one snarky book reviewer, and I learned the true meaning of how an erotic romance can be twisted and turned into a sideshow with the wrong interpretation and a bad editor who misspelled one character’s name.

But I do believe that readers appreciate author discretion when it comes to erotic romance. Since the advent of e-readers, people can now buy erotic romances and read them very discreetly and no one will ever know. I think most of my readers do this, at least from what I gather through the fan mail they send me. And I respect their discretion, and hopefully they respect mine.

Then there’s the problem of what erotic romance is. Some believe it should have more emotion than erotica, others believe the opposite. I’m not getting into that because I’m still not sure what the true definition of an erotic romance is and I’ve been writing it almost all my life. But I do know there’s always a certain amount of discretion, which actually makes reading or writing erotic romance even more fun. And if an author who writes erotic romance doesn’t feel comfortable doing a public reading, I see nothing wrong here. I think the readers will understand…probably more than anyone…and forgive her. And the author I’m talking about in this case won’t take the risk of turning her work into a sideshow at her own expense.