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February 27th, 2008

11:40 AM

The Great Porn/Erotica Divide

Embarrassed woman

Let me begin by clarifying to the usual oversensitive suspects at Literotica - whom I know are reading this blog despite their public declarations to the contrary - that this is not an attack on their sensibilities, moral, past lives, lifestyles, choices, lingerie, diet, or anything even remotely related to their selves. Got that?

Now, in the past I've been criticized for even playfully calling a body of work "smut" even if that body of work has anal sex, werewolf sex, threesomes, foursomes, whatever, because the author and her fans would love to believe that such a work is art. I am personally of the school of thought that pornography can be an art form too if done well and there is really no shame in admitting that you like a story because it has plenty of hot sex scenes.

But that's me. I'd be interested to see how the reaction of the romance community will be now that we have authors of outright smut, romance optional, branching into publication. There is Phaze, of course, which is pretty much synonymous with published Literotica authors since we have cases like  published Literotica authors at Phaze editing the upcoming works of Literotica contributors, with the cover arts naturally done by a fellow Literotica contributor who is also writing and working for Phaze. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but I do at the same time hear whispers, let's just say, of how there are authors out there who refuse to submit anything to Phaze due to the prominence of the Literotica folks writing and playing behind the scenes at Phaze.

Again, let me point out to the cabal who are no doubt ready at this moment to send me poison emails or furious comments that I am not slamming Phaze in any way. I'm just being the messenger here, pointing out what I've heard and been told directly via personal correspondences. I won't even mention Phaze specifically were not for the fact that the publishing house is where the Literotica authors seem to be most concentrated at. If Ellora's Cave is the publishing house instead of Phaze, I'd mention Ellora's Cave then.

Anyway, it does seem to me that there is a section of the erotic romance community that - fairly or unfairly, depending on how you look at it - feels uncomfortable especially about how open the authors who dip their toes in Literotica are about flaunting their usually unorthodox sexual lifestyles in public functions meant for the entire erotic romance author community. I know, it does feel odd at times how authors who write about threesomes and more can get uncomfortable dealing with a bunch of people who are very open about practicing the things these authors write about. But I can understand how some authors feel that it is a disservice to the genre as a whole to have their works tarred by the "smut" brush after they've worked so hard clarifying the differences between pornography and erotic romance. There are also authors who feel that the emphasis on erotic mechanics in the story - and in the lifestyles of the authors who flaunt that they are indeed living out the things they write about - will only give people the wrong impression that erotic romance is all about sex with no effort made to include story and characterization. 

It seems to me that the same principle behind the "traditional" romance and erotic romance divide is also at work here in what could have been a growing divide between authors who feel that they write erotic romance rather than smut and authors who are very open about their involvement in what other people would deem "smut" in a negative manner. For example, the former will balk at the idea of holding book signing sessions in sex stores while the latter would embrace the opportunity and call up all their friends to show up in leather gear to make the event more lively. The former cringe at the idea of incest, rape, daddy/daughter fantasies, and more while the latter will go, "What's the big deal? We are writing about sex here, are we not?"

Once upon a time, there were "traditional romance" authors who were not happy with interviews of romance authors where they were hyped to live out and believe in the things they write about (such as Barbara Cartland's infamous interviews where she would talk about love as if love in real life is comparable to that in her stories, usually accompanied with photos of her dressed up like an elderly woman in a ballerina costume meant for a much younger woman). This is because those interviews inevitably drive home the stereotype that romance readers and authors really believe in the unrealistic romance fantasies in romance novels and as a result we are all sexually-deprived and reality-challenged housewives. I suspect that a similar reasoning is driving the current divide between the two groups in the online erotic fiction landscape.

I'm not judging both groups here, since I'm a bit on the fence myself as I am partial to my smut but I can also understand why authors don't want their works to be associated with a word that comes with all kinds of stigma no matter how high the sexual content in their stories is. I don't believe this is a clear-cut simple case of erotic romance authors being hypocritical about the nature of their works. But it will be interesting to follow further developments, if any, should the more defiantly unconventional erotic fiction authors become more prominent in number and mingle with the rest of the population. That will happen, make no mistake, since the folks at the Literotica Author Hangout are slowly branching out into Ellora's Cave, Harlequin, and more. A culture clash is inevitable, but I wonder whether the result will be a compromise and reconciliation of differences, with a more "open" attitude towards the current topics deemed taboo in erotic romance. After all, anal sex and threesomes were considered taboo in romance just ten years or so ago, no?

17 user comments.

Posted by Katrina Strauss:

I've noted this division myself. I expect the traditional romance crowd to shun my brand of erotic romance because guess what, they aren't my target audience anyway. I have been disheartened and dismayed, however, to see lines drawn within the erotic romance community with certain topics automatically relegated to the 'erotica' category even if the story also cleary contains romance elements. I find it interesting that certain erotic romance authors seem to have drawn that line conveniently at their work. Oh well, erotic romance was considered an oxymoron not too long ago. As the genre continues to evolve, we authors who partake will suffer adolescent rebellion, growing pangs, and a testing of boundaries. And you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way, because it makes people think. Oh my god, romance that makes people think? There's another unthinkable oxymoron that was unheard of just a few short years ago. ;)
March 1st, 2008 @ 7:48 AM

Posted by Shirley:

All romance is smut, LOL! It's just that the purple prosy stuff has sort of fallen to the shallow end. Ask anyone who *doesn't* read romance as a genre whole, that's exactly what they'll say. It's smut, it's pulp, it isn't art or literature, it's fantasies built by women for women. Heck, if you dig a little further, and not by any means deep, you'll find a descent chunk of society feels romance novels are bad for women because it can/does give them a skewed idea of love and life and relationships.

I don't have to agree, I'm only pointing out the obvious. As for erotica/porn/erotic romance, I asked a favorite author of mine what she thought. She said she didn't care how it was labeled by others cause everyone has an opinion. In her opinion, though, she wrote some other genre with erotic romance elements. What she meant by that, when I asked further, was she wasn't writing the story for the romance, but for the characters/story first. But when you have two, or more, hot people hanging in close company, fighting off demons or what ever baddy/conflict, she said she wanted to 'see' them be intimate. If love blossoms, fantastic, but if not, well that's okay too.
March 1st, 2008 @ 4:50 AM

Posted by Mrs G:

Can we please not turn this into a repeat of the Phaze versus Mrs Giggles drama? I believe my blog entry is clear enough on what it is saying or implying and if you think this is another rant deliberately created to stick it to Phaze, take the bitching to the Phaze author loop please.

I never said that the folks at Literotica are in any way lacking in moral or talent. In fact, I find it odd that most of the implications that I find them lacking in some way come from accusations from the folks at Literotica who automatically assume that any mention of them must be a negative one despite 10,000 words clearly written to the contrary. Projecting their own insecurities on me? Too used to the idea that they are some kind of persecuted minority? Who knows.

Danny dearest, darling, please don't undo the really professional and diplomatic attempts by Ms Lively to portray Phaze in a positive light. In other words, please reread my entry, if you haven't already, before you decide to embarrass your company like this.
February 28th, 2008 @ 8:49 AM

Posted by sallahdog:

hey, I have no problems with folks who wrote at literotica, writing somewhere else...frankly some of literoticas stories are better written than some of the dreck I have paid for labeled "erotica"...

I have read literoticas stories, but never visited their forums. I guess I just figured most of the stories on lit are actually fantasies, NOT based in reality.... If so, well done lit writers! You are far more flexible than this aging chick... heh...

I guess I didn't get what the big deal was last time, and I still don't. No one forces people to write for phaze, and as long as they are getting paid and are happy writing for them, thats all good...

There are companies I wouldn't want to work for because of their particular corporate culture, but it doesn't make them bad employers or that others wouldn't want to work for them... live and let live...
February 28th, 2008 @ 3:43 AM

Posted by Eden Bradley:

(oh dear-once more-this is the last, I promise)
I understand you used Phaze as an example to make a point, but if you're going to do so, you might want to check your facts more carefully.
February 28th, 2008 @ 3:27 AM

Posted by Eden Bradley:

(I went on too long and my post was cut in half)
Now, I am one of those people who openly discusses my lifestyle experience. I do it to qualify my work in fetish fiction. I might even show up at a signing at a sex store in leather gear-but I would never write about "incest, rape, daddy/daughter fantasies" or any other non-consensual behavior. I just think you ought to be a bit more careful about how you lump people together and label them, because this is when you piss people off. I understand you're just speaking your mind, but in doing so you also make accusations, and you have to take some responsibility for that. There's going to be backlash, because those of us within the lifestyle don't appreciate those kinds of horrible misconceptions being perpetuated. Are some people within the lifestyle into those things? Sure. There are sub-sets in any given group. But you do make it sound as though everyone is, which is simply untrue.
Perhaps it's a matter of phrasing. Perhaps you don't mean to imply that 'everyone' at Phaze came from the Literotica site or that 'everyone' into the BDSM/fetish lifestyle wears leather to readings at sex shops and practices non-consensual behavior, but unfortunately, that's how this post reads.
I feel I must also address this alleged rumor that some people won't submit to Phaze because of the alleged preponderance of Literotica writers there:
I also happen to run a writer's forum with over 2700 members. I am on a large number of online discussion loops, erotica and erotic romance publisher loops, and have never once heard anyone say that. So, if you've happened to hear that bandied about by a few folks, then it must be a very few, indeed. But there is always a rumor mill going, and there are always people who love nothing more than smearing a bit of dirt around the Internet because they have nothing better to do. We should all keep in mind that doesn't make it true.
I understand you used Phaze as an example to make a point, but if yo
February 28th, 2008 @ 3:26 AM

Posted by Eden Bradley:

An interesting conversation, and you make some valid points. There is, of course, some split among erotica/erotic romance authors as to how to label our work. I write both erotica and erotic romance, and there is definitely a difference. I also lovingly call my work 'smut'. It's partly tongue-in-cheek and partly true at the core, IMO-it's all a matter of definitions. Getting every author/publisher/reader to agree on those exact definitions is impossible, so we all have to just flounder along and do the best we can. Personally, I don't let those labels bother me-call me whatever you want-except for a pornographer, because porn does not have any story or character growth, and that's what all of my work is about. But again, I can really only speak for myself. That's MY definition.
Re: Phaze and Literotica: I am published with Bantam, Berkley, Harlequin Spice and Magic Carpet Books. I am also a Phaze author. I have never been to the Literotica site, nor have most of the authors or staff at Phaze, as already mentioned by Phaze's publisher and owner, so it really is unfair to state that in such an authoritative manner. But even if it were true, so what? One of the things I love about Phaze is that they'll let their authors push the envelope a bit. Believe me, when you publish with the big New York publishers, there are very strict rules to play by, and you must 'earn' the right to push those boundaries by consistently writing good books and developing trust with your editor.
I have a rather insane writing schedule, but I still like to write a story each year for Phaze because I have more freedom when I write for them, and frankly, because the people who run the company, and the other authors there, are such a wonderful group of folks.
Now, I am one of those people who openly discusses my lifestyle experience. I do it to qualify my work in fetish fiction. I might even show up at a signing at a sex store in leather gear-but I would never write about "incest, rape, daddy
February 28th, 2008 @ 3:20 AM

Posted by Karen Scott:

I am beginning to question your motives for againing singuling out Phaze to show us in a bad light, while blatantly ignoring the dozens and dozens of other erotic romance publishers that publish similar books. Please do us, your readers, and yourself a favor and cease painting Phaze Books as some supposed spin-off of some other erotic group out there in the world. It does everyone involved an injustice and is simply not true. Thank you.

Just when I think everyone is going to be boringly reasonable, I get this blog fodder. Yay!
February 28th, 2008 @ 2:47 AM

Posted by Daniel J. Reitz, Sr.:

As owner of Mundania Press and Phaze Books, I can assure you that neither I, nor Phaze Books, has any connection with Literotica, now or in the past. At no time does this group enter into our picture. To be honest, prior to your labeling Phaze as connected to it, or part of it, or derived from it, I have never even heard of this group. It has never been discussed on Phaze forums and lists, and has no influence over us at all.

Whether Phaze Books has a few authors, or artists, or whomever that contributed to Literotica in the past, I really don't care. We have hundreds of authors and I can guarantee that if some did contribute over there, it was an extremely low number. And as I stated, that group has nothing to do with my company. To state otherwise is false.

Phaze Books offers a wide variety of erotic stories, and not all are to everyone's taste--which is why we have the wide variety. Obviously we are catering to the tastes of a lot of people as sales prove out and that's why we are in the business.

I am beginning to question your motives for againing singuling out Phaze to show us in a bad light, while blatantly ignoring the dozens and dozens of other erotic romance publishers that publish similar books. Please do us, your readers, and yourself a favor and cease painting Phaze Books as some supposed spin-off of some other erotic group out there in the world. It does everyone involved an injustice and is simply not true. Thank you.

Daniel J. Reitz, Sr.
February 28th, 2008 @ 2:20 AM

Posted by Kathryn Lively, Phaze Publisher:

Hello, thanks for the comments. The Phaze site is in a perpetual state of modification. I have actually discussed a labeling system with some of my authors. I am more than happy to expedite that task if it helps people. I don't know if anybody's noticed, but there have been changes made to help steer people where they want to go. I split the straight erotica categories into mainstream and dark, better categorized the GLBT section and better tagged the interracial section. Currently I am working on the making the book excerpt situation easier for customers, since that was one point delivered after a survey I held months ago. I do listen.

And please, any customer with a concern is more than welcome to contact me personally with any issues. I take emails daily from customers needing assistance. :)
February 27th, 2008 @ 9:34 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

Perhaps I should clarify further about Phaze. I personally have no problems with what an author does behind closed doors since all I care about is the book the author puts out. It doesn't bother me that that there are many Literotica contributors that get published and/or work there. I don't think many of their customers care either, although I do hear that some of their customers wish that the works on sale are more clearly differentiated between outright erotica and romantic erotica because - from what they tell me - not all the books on sale have a traditional romance style happy ending and they wish they have been notified of this before they bought the book in question. That's the most "serious" complain I've heard about Phaze from the people that perhaps matter the most to them, their customers.

Some authors told me that they would never submit to Phaze ever due to the potential stigma of being called an author of smut/pornography. It's all about perception. Literotica is definitely a repository of free smutty stories catering to all kinds of sexual fantasies as well as a gathering point for people to discuss such matters in their real life as well as in their stories. It's all about perception here. With many of the current crop of erotic romance authors already so worked up over the definition of smut versus erotica, it is inevitable that they will want to distance themselves from authors who are very open about writing what they consider genuine smut that their works are often unfairly (in their opinion) labeled as. That's why I used the phrase "culture clash" - the folks at online sex stories/lifestyle sites like Literotica think, write, and live life in ways that may not go down well with the rest of the population in the current online erotic fiction landscape.
February 27th, 2008 @ 9:20 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

About Carol Lynne, I do see the appeal of her stories. She creates these cozy little towns where everyone is gay and happy. Unrealistic as these towns with their macho gay men may be, they no doubt appeal greatly for fans of slash. Many works of slash fiction are unrealistic anyway, what with the sheer number of "OMG, we're all gay!" characters found in a town or a family. My objection to these stories is that Carol Lynne is just churning them out in their first draft versions. She can tell a story, but her technique as a writer is seriously lacking.

About porn versus plot, I think authors can't have it both ways. Ellora's Cave is an erotic publisher, so of course the marketing angle emphasizes sex. There is no reason why a story that completely pushes the envelope can't have a good story. Which is to say, I don't think sex and plot are mutually exclusive - it is possible to have a steamy and ultra-sexy story that also tells a good story. If an author is uncomfortable with the idea that her sexy stories may be perceived as smut, then maybe it's better to write for... say, Cerridwen Press instead of Ellora's Cave? Of course, sales will probably be much lower, but we can't have everything, can we? :P
February 27th, 2008 @ 6:25 PM

Posted by December Quinn/Stacia Kane:

The word "smut" in itself doesn't bother me. I've jokingly referred to my work as smut and porn on occasion.

Lately, though, I've wondered if that isn't a bad idea, simply because it does frustrate me when so much emphasis is placed on sex scenes and so little care given to plot, character, and writing ability. I don't claim to be the best writer in the world or at EC or anywhere, but I do make a real effort, and it can be hurtful when that effort is ignored in favor of "Who's got the most far-out, kinky excerpts to put up". We've all read stuff that sells well that we consider badly written, on a purely technical level if nothing else. Somebody's buying it, and enjoying it, and I wonder if that's where the "It's not smut/porn, it's erotic romance!" comes from.

Which is a lot of words to basically say, Perhaps when we try so hard to differentiate, what we're really trying to do is put an emphasis on quality rather than content. And I wonder if, rather than reclaiming the words smut/porn, I'm not simply encouraging people to ignore technical merit and just see the sex.
February 27th, 2008 @ 5:49 PM

Posted by L.E. Bryce:

Okay, I'm being stupid--and tired. I didn't read far enough. Yes, I understand now. (I can't edit or delete my post, so I'm sorry if I come across as a dimwit. I really do have at least average intelligence ;) ).

I don't have any problems with the term "smut." I even use it jokingly sometimes in my blog, because I know there are people who read for that content.

I've seen some reviewers grade a work down because there aren't enough sex scenes--whether or not they fit into the context of the story. My personal rule about smut is that if it doesn't disrupt the flow of the plot or character consistency, then it's okay with me. Then again, I'm fairly m/m vanilla when it comes to writing erotica.
February 27th, 2008 @ 5:09 PM

Posted by L.E. Bryce:

Smut must be okay, since Carol Lynne is ARe's Best Author of the Year. I'm guessing the honor is based on sales; I haven't read any of her stuff.

Just curious: if a Phaze author doesn't have any Literotica connections, do people look down on them because they publish with a house that has a lot of Literotica authors?

Why would authors refuse to send works to a publisher (whether EC or LI or Phaze) just because there are Literotica people there? For the record, I've never written anything for that site, or visited but once, so I don't really understand the fuss. Is it because these authors are afraid to (possibly) be labeled pulp or smut? The former I do understand. I had a publisher try to slap horrid cover art on a manuscript, change the title to something godawful, publish without edits--and tell me it was just pulp when I complained. That bothered me. But that the book had a lot of sex, that didn't bother me at all.

All but one of my books are with Phaze because they take place within a shared universe, and Phaze has first refusal rights. They haven't said no so far.

If you want me to send you something for review, let me know what you want from my backlist.
February 27th, 2008 @ 4:57 PM

Posted by Jill Noelle Noble:

>>A culture clash is inevitable, but I wonder whether the result will be a compromise and reconciliation of differences, with a more "open" attitude towards the current topics deemed taboo in erotic romance.<<

I certainly hope so. I firmly believe there are a lot more women out there who are living much kinkier sex lives than some might imagine...and if they aren't living it, they are fantasizing about it. But we shall see what we shall see. ;-)

February 27th, 2008 @ 2:38 PM

Posted by veinglory:

I'm all for considering work porn and/or smut and/or literature and/or romance and/or and other thing that might apply. Sex isn't a bad thing, ergo sex writing isn;t a bad thing, in my world :)

And although I am not a literotic writer I did spend a lot of time on the Desdmona forums leanring some *cough* interesting things about sex option/practises/kinks etc. Why not? :)
February 27th, 2008 @ 12:48 PM