self-censorship

The Interesting Case of Erotic Romance vs Porn Fiction by Ryan Field

The Interesting Case of Erotic Romance vs Porn by Ryan Field

I won’t be linking to anything today because I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time. A conversation I had on Twitter earlier today prompted me to get moving on it and stop putting it off. I’ve mentioned the topic before, but I don’t think I’ve gone into any detailed explanations. And I think it’s important to do this sometimes so readers understand what often motivates authors who write erotic romance…or even erotica. We don’t do these things by accident. Also, let me make it clear this is my opinion and it’s what works for me as an author, and I feel this way about all erotic romance, not just gay erotic romance. If you don’t agree with me, I respect your right to do that.

Way back when in the earlier days of the Internet, when I subtitled the blog with this…A quiet blog that discusses LGBT issues, fiction, publishing, pop culture, and happily ever after romance books with naughty guys who always have strong stories…I didn’t do it by accident. I wanted to make a point of stating that there is a big difference between erotic romance and fiction that’s considered “porn.” “Strong Stories.” I’m not going to try to define porn here because even SCOTUS hasn’t done that yet, but the one definition of erotic romance I’ve always seen is that erotic romance is a book or story that contains sex and has a story line. A strong story line. In other words, if you take the sex out of any erotic romance the story should still be able to stand on its own. In most cases erotic romance authors work even harder with their story lines to offset the sex. Yes, there are books out there with just sex. They often call them erotic romance. I don’t. And neither do most of the erotic publishers or authors I know. The story is still the main focus.

For me, the sex in an erotic romance should move the *story* forward. I never thought of my stories as moving the sex forward. And I’ve gone to great lengths at certain times to prove this with my own books.

In book 2 of the Chase series, Chase of a Dream, I purposely…not by accident…released two distinctly different versions to the public with the intention of showing that an erotic romance can stand alone without the detailed sex scenes. Here’s a link to the version that I labeled “Unabridged.” That version contains the original sex scenes. As you can see from the cover below I even stated that clearly, on the cover, so there wouldn’t be any mistakes. Of course a few people made the mistake and I quickly exchanged the books for them so they could get what they wanted without have to go through a third party.

With that said, here’s another link the to version of Chase of a Dream that I released *without* sex scenes. I repeat, no explicit sex scenes. A PG rated gay romance. It was a matter of revising the unabridged version of about 7,000 words. That’s all. 7,000 words of sex were removed. The entire book is about 60,000 words. So you see where I’m going with that. If an erotic romance with explicit sex scenes only has 7,000 words of sex in it, there must be a storyline somewhere. More important, I didn’t consider this self-censoring because I wanted both versions out there so readers could decide which one they preferred. I wanted the readers to make their own choices. It was double the work, but I still think it was worth the time, effort, and expense to publish it both ways. As far as I know, no other erotic romance out there has been released with and without the sex scenes in two different versions.

Here’s the cover of Chase of a Dream without sex scenes. Again, as you can see I made this clear to the reader by stating “Abridged version does not contain strong erotic scenes.” There were still a few people who didn’t see that and I quickly exchanged the book for them. In most cases, ironically, where there was a discrepancy, the people who accidentally made the mistake wanted the version with sex.

And to take this just one step further, when I got the rights back from a book that was released about five years ago titled The Bachelor, I revised it completely, changed the cover, and then re-released it with a new title, Meadows Are Not Forever. That book always bothered me because I didn’t like what the publisher wanted with it. So I indie pubbed it myself and I think I improved it. The MOST significant thing with that book is that this time I did self-censor, admittedly, and I did it for a reason. I wanted that book to be out there *without* sex scenes because I never thought the story line needed the sex scenes. And I’m no prude, trust me. I just wanted that book to be a sweet little romance that talked about gay relationships where sex can be more of a problem than a solution. Here’s a link to that one.

One book reviewer almost made me cry when he wrote this:

This is the first book by Ryan Field I’ve read, and I have to say I’m very pleasantly surprised. In Meadows Are Not Forever he introduced us to a young man on the cusp of leaving the young stud age and moving into the mature, adult age because, gasp, he’s learning there is more to life than just SEX. I know, for some of you it maybe hard to believe, but it’s true! And like many of us when we made that transition he learns what is really important in life.

This reviewer has no idea how much that meant to me. He “got it” and I never had to explain a thing and didn’t have to go into detail about sex scenes. That almost never happens. 

What prompted me to write this post was a comment I saw on a tweet earlier today about erotic romance. It was done in jest and there was no harm intended. Someone said something to the effect of “That book has too much sex for me,” and then they joked about it in a friendly way. However, my reply was that you can always skip the sex scenes and there’s still a strong story line…or should be a story line. In fact, I could take each one of any of my books or stories, now in the hundreds, and revise them without sex at all and they could still stand on their own. When writers who understand what erotic romance is, and they’ve been doing it long enough, they are always thinking and planning ahead to make sure the story line is always more important than the sex scenes. I personally think the sex does, indeed, add to the stories and move them along…I also think it creates another level of reality in a world of fantasy that’s often necessary. I like to write sex scenes and read them. But the truth is they aren’t always needed. I know there are people who disagree with that, and I’m fine with that. However, that’s why I wanted to prove, instead of just talking about it blindly, that an erotic romance can stand alone without the sex scenes.

And if these books and stories can’t stand alone without the sex they aren’t erotic romances as far as I’m concerned. I’m not judging them, not by any means. I don’t care if an author wants to just write sex scenes and make them the story line. I think that’s wonderful and more power to them. But that’s just not how it works for me with erotic romance. I’m sure this won’t end the debate of erotic romance vs porn in fiction, however, at least I explained what motivates me when I either add, or remove, sex scenes from a book.

But most important, if there’s a strong story line readers can always skip the sex scenes in an erotic romance and still enjoy the book…or least they should be able to do that. The story should always come first. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Self-Censors Sex Scenes

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is making (and starring in) a film titled Don Jon and the way he’s self-censored a few of the sex scenes in the film has been getting a lot of attention. Although no one has gone into any great detail about this, and it’s hard to really grasp what they consider graphic sex scenes from the limited information out there, Gordon-Levitt stated he’s cutting the sex scenes so the film can get an R-rating in the US.

 BERLIN – Joseph Gordon-Levitt will cut out the most graphic sex scenes from his directorial debut, Don Jon’s Addiction, in order for the film to qualify for an R rating in the U.S., the actor-director said Friday.

“Yes, we expect we have to do that, and I’ll be getting started on it as soon as I get back,” Gordon-Levitt said at a press conference at the Berlin International Film Festival, where Voltage Pictures’ Don Jon’s Addiction is screening in the Panorama section.

Questions about whether the at-times graphic romantic comedy — in which Gordon-Levitt plays a modern-day Lothario addicted to pornography — would have to be toned down for U.S. release have been swirling since the film premiered in Sundance.  You can read more here.

In addition to self-censoring the sex scenes the film also received a new title in what seems to be an effort to mainstream it even more so. It was originally titled Don Jon’s Addiction. Here’s more on that. I’m linking and not commenting because that’s basically all that’s out there. The film won’t be released until later this year.

In this article at Huff Po Gordon Levitt said this:

“I never wanted to make something that was overly provocative, I never wanted to shock people,” Gordon-Levitt said. “I wanted this to be a pop movie, a mainstream movie.”

So he’s shooting for average? I honestly don’t know what to make out of this statement because I’ve never actually seen anyone do or say things like this. We usually hear that a film like this is supposed to be provocative, it’s supposed to shock people, and no one ever offers any apologies at all. I have no comment on whether it’s good or bad, and I’ve always enjoyed Gordon-Levitt’s work. I just find it interesting. But more than that, the film hasn’t been released to the mainstream yet, but it’s been shown at festivals. To me making changes like this reminds me of when a self-published author releases a book, waits for reviews to come in, and then takes the book down and makes changes according to how the book was reviewed with the thought of pleasing everyone. If you notice, people rarely write a review that says: “There’s not enough sex in this book.”

I don’t think it’s possible or realistic to please everyone with creative content, especially when it comes to books or movies with strong sex scenes. When I released my book, Chase of a Dream, in two versions, I self-censored the abridged version because I thought I was giving people choices. I also wanted to show that an erotic romance can be self-censored by the author and it won’t lose anything in the storyline. At first I thought all those who have always claimed I write too many strong sex scenes in my erotic romances would be thrilled that I’d done this for them. In the same respect, I thought the readers who enjoy reading sex scenes in erotic romance would be content that I hadn’t left them out either.

What I found was interesting. The unabridged version of CoaD with the sex scenes sold basically the same way all my other erotic romances sell, and the self-censored version without sex scenes barely did anything significant. And the storyline was exactly the same in both books. The only difference was I edited 7,000 words and removed the sex scenes in one. Those who have reviewed my books and commented I write too much sex never said a single thing about the sexless version. They went dead silent, and I wasn’t completely surprised about that. It was a great experiment in writing and publishing erotic romance, and the only regret I have is that I had to exchange a few books for readers who had made the wrong purchase. They bought the sexless version by mistake and I gladly gave them a new digital copy of the unabridged book.

I doubt I’ll see Don Jon when it’s released in theaters because of the way Gordon-Levitt self-censored the film, unless they are offering two versions. I’m not against self-censoring, but I wish he’d cut the sex scenes before the film was viewed at festivals. Another thing I’ve learned from writing erotic romance all these years is that it takes a hell of a lot to shock people. I’ve learned never to underestimate my readers. They vary in ages, lifestyles, and there’s not much I can write they haven’t already seen (or done) before. To suggest anything less would be almost insulting to some. So I highly doubt that anything that was removed from Don Jon would have shocked people all that much. In fact, I’m always looking for something with a little shock value because I think people want that.

I do understand the reasoning behind why Gordon-Levitt decided to make the changes. I also understand what it’s like to listen to all kinds of opinions and get confused sometimes. I once released an anthology that I’d collaborated on with another author and we wanted the title of the book to be In Love with the Boss. The publisher insisted on In Bed with the Boss. The publisher won. I don’t have any complaints about that. It’s the same book no matter what the title is. The only reason I wanted In Love with the Boss was because I wanted readers to know it contained love stories with sex scenes, and that the love was the focus, not the sex. But in the end I don’t think it mattered all that much. 

I also think that if you’re writing a book, or producing a film, or even painting a portrait, you should own that work at all times, and whether or not you shock a few people shouldn’t come into play. Especially with a film like Don Jon that has a theme that seems to revolve around a guy who is addicted to porn. Some of the best films in history have been those that have shocked us in one way or another.

I do hope that when the film reaches on demand there are two versions offered for those of us who can handle a little shock once in a while. But I haven’t seen anything mentioned about that, so I might have to wait until it finally reaches cable to see the toned down version. I will watch it then. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Gordon-Levitt film I didn’t like. I just wish they would all give us more credit sometimes when it comes to sexual content in films, and offer us choices. I also understand that the R-rating is important, but then again that could be debated because this isn’t Spider Man or Harry Potter, where we don’t expect sex scenes. 

Chase of a Dream: Which Sells Better, Erotic or Censored Non-Erotic Version

For those who don’t know, when I released Chase of a Dream I published two versions of the same book. One was the unabridged erotic romance with all the original erotic scenes and one was the abridged version with all the explicit erotic scenes edited out of the book.

I did this for several reasons. One, because I wanted to see if it could be done without hurting the storyline. I discovered I only had to cut 7,000 words from the original 60,000 word novel and nothing at all changed in the story. It’s still a romance, it’s still as emotional, and it still has a happy ending.

The second reason I did this was to see if I could do it. I’ve been writing erotica for so long I truly wasn’t sure if I could write something that wasn’t erotic. What I discovered was interesting. While I do write explicit sex scenes in my books, I don’t write that many. Again, interesting. After editing the erotic scenes out of Chase of a Dream I went back to other books I’d written and had published through publishers and I found the same pattern in almost each book. Of course some did have slightly more than others, but it all averaged out to not as much as I thought I’d had. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I do try to give my readers what I think they want because that’s what matters the most to me.

The third reason I released two versions of COAD was to see which version would sell better…or if there would be any difference at all. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never seen this done before with an erotic romance where an author self-censors the sex scenes and releases both versions at the same time. One of the drawbacks of writing erotic romance is that readers are discreet and they don’t like to leave reviews as much as readers who read non-erotic romance. So my only indication is how the book sells.

I also have had several reviews over the years where a handful of select readers have left reviews of my books that said there was too much sex. Or that something bothered them about the sex scenes. This always confused me because I’m a gay man and I know how gay men have sex, I know how they think about sex, and I know how they react to sex. They aren’t that much different than straight men. Because this isn’t a lecture on how gay men think about sex, you’ll just have to take my word for this. I also don’t feel like handing out free advice today from my own personal experiences. You can read about them in my books if you’re interested. Almost every sex scene I’ve ever written was based on some kind of a personal experience I’ve had in the past.

Ultimately, my goal in releasing two versions of COAD was to give readers a choice. This way those who think I write too much sex, and have said this openly, would now have a choice. That choice is important to me. I want readers to have choices like this…but without compromising what I know is real. In other words, I’m not going to pander to a small group who doesn’t want to read about what gay sex is really like. It is what it is, and what you saw on Oprah and Sex in the City about gay men is about as accurate as those women’s magazines where the perfect working mom keeps a perfect house and never has a moment of stress. But I don’t mind removing the sex so I don’t offend that group who prefers not to read about what’s real.

In any event, it turns out the unabridged erotic version of COAD is selling much better than the non-erotic abridged version. And that’s not concentrated on any one web site in particular. It’s across the board, from Amazon to Smashwords to ARe. Which means this will most likely be the last time I ever release two versions of one book at the same time. The next installment in the Chase of a Lifetime series will not be self-published on Amazon. And it will be the full uncensored erotic romance. I pitched the series to Ravenous Romance and they bought it. I’ll post more about it in the future. I’m about halfway through it right now and I’m not sure which direction it’s going. I can give you this small hint: Len Mayfield is forced to contact his family in Connecticut after many years of not wanting to deal with them at all. And Jim Darling finally finds out what his in-laws are like.

I will be taking a short break from self-publishing for a while to concentrate on books I’ve been contracted to do with ravenous romance. But this is by no means the end of the line for me. As difficult as self-publishing can be, I’ve enjoyed my experiences so far and I will do more in the future. I prefer working with a publisher. I like the collaboration and I love working with Holly and my editors at ravenous romance. It gives me more time to concentrate on the book, and not the technical or business issues that involve publishing a book. Tony and I have been planning a trip to Maine for a long time and something keeps happening to stop us. But I do plan on going soon, and I’m making a point to stop in at the ravenous romance offices in MA to see Holly. I’ll post photos when I do.