Thursday, September 3, 2015

Everything You Wrote Before Now Was Boring As Fuck

by Giselle Renarde

When I started writing erotica in 2006, one of the most popular blog topics was something like: Erotica versus Smut. What's the Difference?

I remember lots of authors elevating their work--you know, saying their erotica wasn't smut, wasn't porn. Their work was superior because... I don't know... reasons. You think I can remember random blogs I read 9 years ago? I can barely remember what I did this morning.

What I do remember is writing these defiant posts (maybe in my head, maybe on the internet) about how I had NO trouble calling my work smut. I embraced the term. It's sex writing. It's fucking on paper. It's smut!

Man, was I talking out of my ass. I had no idea what smut was, back then. No clue. Yeah, I'd written stuff for Hustler Fantasies, but my pieces were tame. I know that now, because I've turned a corner.

Early in my career, I primarily wrote short stories for inclusion in erotic anthologies. Literary erotica. Brainy erotica. Boring erotica.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up, there, Giselle. Did you just call literary erotica BORING?

Yeah. Or no. I called MY literary erotica boring, but I say that contextually, and I'm going to explain.

There's a certain kind of piece you write when you're submitting your work to a collection of literary erotica. The latitude you can take is enormous. What qualifies as erotic is really up to you--and your editor, of course. You can write diverse fiction. Sex can be anything.  Except porny. Because we're better than that.

How could that much room to move possibly be boring?

Well, it really depends what your readership is after. Why are they reading this story you wrote?

If they paid $15.95 for an erotic anthology, yeah, they're probably looking for literary erotica. They know what to expect. They want you to tickle their brains.

But if they paid $2.99 (or $0.99 or got it free on Amazon) for your weird-ass boring piece of shit short story, trust me, you're going to hear about it.

I speak from experience.

When the calls for submissions dried up in the land of literary erotica, I learned pretty fast that the story you write for an anthology isn't the story you publish as a standalone piece of smut.

The reader is buying your $2.99 or $0.99 or FREE ebooks to get off. Not to tickle their grey matter. Not for their horizons to be expanded. Not for their perspectives to shift so they can look at life in a different way. They're buying this piece of smut to get turned on. That's it.

I didn't learn the true meaning of smut until Lexi Wood came into being. I remember being scandalized when "Daddy" erotica was popular. (It still is popular, but you can't call it that anymore or your book will be banned.)  Suddenly Lexi comes into my life, and she's writing about stepdaddies fucking their barely-legal stepdaughters, and I find out that's where the money is.  The money's in your stepdaughter's tight virgin hole.

She drags me into her world of pure smut and I realize why so many readers have called my work boring. I wasn't giving them what they were looking for. Now that Lexi's led me to water, I'm drinking in everything sweet, tangy and taboo.

...and, GOD, do I love it...

Case in point.


  1. I vowed around 2008 never to read one more iteration of the "porn vs. erotica" conversation (which is also on my personal list of "banned" interview questions, haha)... but I had a hunch this would go in a more idiosyncratic and interesting direction, and so I wisely stuck with you here and found that this was ultimately a different angle, one that's right in line with my own hobby horse, "our literary erotica is not generally visible to the audience that would properly appreciate it." (:v> I've said before that I think the low/free prices are detrimental in ways that go way beyond revenue issues, and I've also noted that the only JE books that have sold remotely well are the totally unpromoted fetish items that sell to people who (I infer) indiscriminately buy up any erotica about women peeing, regardless of author or quality. I'm pleased I can please them, with stories that it also pleased me to write, but I can't honestly think of them as fans of my writing, per se.

    What I specifically want to say now is that over the course of my ~10-year erotica career, I sensed an increasing gulf between what writers like me were trying to do and what the core audience was looking for and getting out of our stuff. In the 2006–2009 era, when Clean Sheets was still going strong and sort of, imo, setting the standard, I felt that the people reading, commenting, and posting reviews on Amazon and other sites were on more of a "literary erotica" wavelength than was true later on. Later on, we were still writing those kinds of stories, and the editors were still enthusiastic about them and Cleis was still publishing them and Erotica Revealed was still praising them... but when I looked at how they were being marketed to and received by the presumed audience, I felt that audience had shifted. That's one reason I stopped writing Amazon reviews. I would write about the author's distinctive voice and the elegance of the prose and the compellingly interesting characters, but I'd started to feel that I was no longer speaking the relevant language—that what people wanted to hear was more along the lines of "It's hawt! It has three firemen in it!" Even Publishers Weekly reviews of erotica anthos, it seems to me, say things more like "this could be good for spicing up the bedroom" than "this is beautiful erotic literature with fresh imagery and enchanting story lines." Anyway, this is all just my (jaded) impression, so apologies for any distortions in my analysis.

    1. Yeah, we're on the same jaded boat, Jeremy. I love your point about fetish getting gobbled up and nobody really caring who wrote it or even whether it's particularly "good" (what is "good"?).

      Sometimes I'll do little experiments like I'll write some niche fetish erotica and publish it under a made-up pen name. I'll do absolutely NO promotion, and it'll sell better than the books I work my ass off marketing.

  2. When I started writing erotica, I had high perceptions of my 'elevated' outlook on sex and literature. I wasn't going to write lowly porn, certainly! Sex-positive only. In my fist attempts, my characters wouldn't comply. They started allowing huge cocks shoved into narrow places of their own choice, spanking each other, doing bukakkes, bypassing any perceived high ideals. Fucking pervs. Can't trust 'em.

  3. I've never read any story by you, Giselle, that I thought was boring.

    But I do love it when you let your imagination run wild. Nanny State has to be one of the sexiest things I've ever read.

    As for me, I write the whole gamut (as you can see from my contribution to last fortnight's topic, which definitely was NOT literary!) None of it sells, so it doesn't matter. ;^) My last two releases were "The Last Amanuensis", which hardly has any sex, and "The Antidote", which offers a full-fledge, no-holes barred orgy.

    Go figure.

    1. My girlfriend's always coming up with clever titles for my books, and I acknowledge that they're clever, but unless they're packed with keywords I won't be using them. There are a lot of books out there and if readers can't find mine, they won't be buying them.

  4. This is depressing news, but it's what I've heard elsewhere as well. I would like to know where all the fans of literary erotica went? If they existed in 2006, and even hung in until 2009 or so, are they rereading a dwindling number of print anthologies? Or have they mostly moved on to erotic romance? I just can't understand why literary erotica from Giselle and Lisabet wouldn't sell.

    1. I've often wondered that, too, Jean! One can make the point that Clean Sheets never cost the reader anything... but Cleis and Mammoth and Susie Bright anthos did, and didn't that same Clean Sheets crowd buy those? Where did they go? Granted, some of them were just "us," the erotica writers and writers-to-be. For that matter, though, my sense in 2006–2009 was that more of us were actually reading each other's short stories, on Clean Sheets and other sites, and in anthos we might or might not have appeared in ourselves. Then it seemed people got too busy cranking out novels and novellas at the accelerated pace the e-book industry encouraged, and running around "promoting" with endless blog tours and social-networking posts. I'm generalizing, of course; but over the past five years I've often had the impression I was the only contributor who actually read at least some of the stories in a given antho.

      Maybe the answer, in part, lies in where a particular generation was at a particular time: maybe the core audience for literary erotica in the 2000s was freewheeling lit lovers in their twenties and early thirties, and maybe a lot of those people lost the erotica habit as they settled into long-term relationships, child rearing, and demanding careers. I guess a lot of ups and downs in cultural trends can be linked to demographic/generational considerations of that type.

  5. I plead guilty of not reading many of the stories in my contributor's copies, although I do get around to reading those of people I know. Maybe the fact that I do read every single story that's submitted for books I'm editing has had a jading effect.

    The generational thing surely plays a role. I've noticed, though, an increasing number of writers (though still a small number) who are turning to erotica in their more "mature" years. It would be nice if that trend extended to readers as well, but it's harder to know their ages. Not that I know the ages of all my writers, but some of them, when we've been in contact for a while, make a point of telling me about it.

  6. For whatever reason, I think many if not most readers aren't even aware that literary erotica exists. They get an impression that that erotica is all plot-what-plot junk, and can't be made to change their minds. The occasional reviews that say something along the lines of "Erotica is all trash, and I never read it, but this book is different! It's really good!" drive me crazy.

    1. That idea seems so prevalent! In my personal experience of people I meet at fetish events, people seem not to know that literary erotica is out there. They are so surprised when I introduce them to a few titles! It is depressing to me that literary erotica seems to have been buried under the flood. But I've also been to erotica readings and heard the same stuff--authors of erotica claiming that there's no such thing as literary erotica. I don't think there's no audience. I think we've all forgotten that it was hard to find our little corner.

  7. I thought I was the only one! Guys, my stories have appeared in over 100 print anthologies and I haven't read any of them. I check to see if my name was spelled right. That's it.

  8. Its not going to change for awhile, if ever it did. FOG has legitimized erotica in a way we might have dreamed of back when writing this stuff was dangerous. Now its mommy porn at best. Everything I've read here is depressingly true. But I don;t know. Maybe that's why RG seems to have gotten out of it. The loss of Mammoth was depressing for me, getting a story there was kind of a yearly goal for me andI really like the stories of mine that made the cut.

    People are still reading Anais Nin and Anne Roclare (Anne Rice), Good thing we're not trying to make a living at this though.


  9. I think the readers of literary erotica are still out there. Hey, *we're* all readers, right? However, our numbers have been swamped by the masses who are looking for something different--a thrilling happily ever after or graphic sex with no distractions like plot or characters.

    Even the so-called "literary" collections, though, have become a bit hackneyed. I stopped reading the most recent Best Bondage Erotica collection halfway through. I was just too bored to continue.

    Unfortunately the publishers who have tried to break out of the mold (e.g. Freaky Fountain, Burning Books) have floundered. I'm not sure how much of that was lack of business knowledge (you can't create a successful publishing company without it, no matter how well you know and love books) and how much was market, but I think at least some was the latter.

    And since when did the Mammoth series disappear? Certainly Maxim published a volume last year. Was there an announcement that I missed?

    1. Yes, alas, the word about the end of the Mammoth erotica series went around Facebook (from the horse's mouth) a couple of months ago.

      Even with good business knowledge, I think any new press would have a tough challenge reaching its audience. Obviously, without physical bookstore distribution, mainstream media connections, and an ad budget, there'd be no question of a reach comparable to Cleis and Mammoth; but even if the goal were just to sell e-books and POD to a small but robust population of literary-erotica fans who were plugged in to the online market, it might be very difficult to be at all visible through the glut. And the more the glut eclipses the literary erotica that's out there, the more the literary-erotica fans are likely to give up even trying to find what they want—which may be part of what's happened over the past few years.

    2. And I think another phenomenon that has perhaps muddied the waters for fans of literary erotica is the tendency of publishers with uneven quality control to present themselves as "high quality." Everyone wants to set themselves apart from the notorious plague of badly written erotica, and so what we have are some overconfident, underqualified publishing outfits who don't quite know how to curate their author roster or edit correctly but insist that they publish high-quality books. (I know I don't need to tell you this, Lisabet the Reviewer. (:v>) So perhaps some demanding and discriminating literary-erotica readers, having been burned a couple of times by books that were marketed as "quality" that turned out to be slapdash hackneyed mediocrita, have given up.


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