Monday, July 3, 2017

My editor made me do it (#editing #dirtystory #genre)

The Antidote cover

By Lisabet Sarai

I write erotica and erotic romance, in a wide range of sub-genres. The degree to which a particular story is “dirty” (i.e. sexually graphic or explicit) depends mostly on the genre and my intentions. Some of my stories (for instance, The Last Amanuensis) barely include any sex at all. That doesn’t mean they’re lacking in eroticism. It’s just that in some cases, it’s not necessary to push the sexual envelope in order to make my point.

Then there are tales like The Antidote in which the sex acts are the point. That story, about a future society where the government artificially suppresses people’s libido in the name of social order, includes (in less than 5K) exhibitionism, voyeurism, spanking, fellatio, cunnilingus, anal sex, rough fucking, group sex, lesbian sex... Well, you get the picture I think. So there’s a lot of sex, but not too much. I like to think there’s exactly the right amount for this particular tale.

Hence, overall, I don’t really have stories that I think should have been “dirtier”. The one possible exception is my BDSM ménage erotic romance The Ingredients of Bliss. I wrote that book to fit a call from my publisher, but the editing of the manuscript was a nightmare. I think I did more revisions to that novel than to all my other novels put together.

The main problem was that I kept straying away from the romance formula. I had my main character, Emily, and her two lovers, Etienne and Harry. Unfortunately, I found that Emily was also attracted to other characters, including the kick-ass policewoman Toni. She even got turned on by one of the villains. In romance-world, this is definitely a no-no. Though shalt not allow the main characters to have sex—or even think about sex—outside of the primary relationship.

So I really fought with my editor on this one. Or maybe I should say, I fought with myself at the editor’s instruction. The resulting book feels, to me, a bit strained and stiff. Certainly, it’s not one of my most popular, even though it has a dynamite plot and some amazing sex scenes, as well as some rare bits of humor.

I was thinking I’d post two excerpts here to make my point, one before editing and one after. However, I discovered that I deleted all the intermediate versions of the manuscript (all ten of them!) to recover some disk space. So you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that this book should have been dirtier.

And probably should have been self-published.

By the way, if you want to sample one of my dirtier stories, The Antidote is currently 50% off--only 99 cents--as part of Smashwords Summer Sale!


  1. I've always thought that in erotica, the story/plot has to ride on the sex, while Romance focuses on a relationship between two people who are destined for each other, heat less a factor. Erotic Romance is the same deal as Romance, just a hotter degree of sex between the principal characters.

    1. Different people do it differently, but I guess I'd agree with this distinction overall.

    2. I agree also, Daddy X. I think I've talked before about how I was surprised when I started to realize how erotic romance, despite being explicit, can deal in sex-shaming and slut-shaming tropes in a way that feels depressingly mainstream to me. (I'm not saying all erotic romance is like that, but I do think it's imported some common mainstream values that I wish it had left behind.)

  2. Sometimes I'm surprised that I get away with choosing stories for erotica anthologies that don't have much of the kind of sex that most folks would see as "dirty." i don't think any reviewer has said there wasn't enough sex, although reviews have become so scarce that I can't draw much of a conclusion from that. I was about to go into my own criteria for erotica stories, but maybe I'd better save that so I'll have something to write on my own post next Monday.

    1. Looking forward to your post, Sacchi.

      Last month for the ERWA blog I wrote about my top ten erotic stories. Several of them have no actual sex acts in them.

  3. That line about how the book should have been self published seems very true to me, Lisabet!

    I have had a few experiences of working with an editor who seemed not to have liked my original vision, to the point that they kept asking for radical, complicated, difficult changes. My end feeling in those cases has always been that I wished they'd been more honest and just said they didn't like the book, so I could either find someone who did or handle it myself. There's a difference between heavy edits to help an author realize a vision and heavy edits that attempt to force an author to shift their vision. I appreciate the first type, and I deplore the second.


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