Hot fiction for and by women
By MARTA SALIJDETROIT FREE PRESS
Nice girls do. Oh yeah, baby, they do.
Write erotica, that is. And the steamy, sexy stories they write are finding a big audience, one that has gotten the attention of some of the biggest romance publishers.
Berkley, Harlequin, Avon and Kensington recently launched romance lines that are more sexually explicit and adventurous than anything they've done before. Other big publishers, like St. Martin's and Pocket, are planning books that would've combusted their catalogs a year ago.
And the small publishing houses that began the trend in hotter and sexier romances — Ellora's Cave and Red Sage — are seeing their sales of an average title grow by 10 percent in six months.
If you still believe that romance fiction is limited to endless pastel paperback covers with cursive titles and swooning virgins, prepare to have your world rocked. There's never been a better time to be a reader with a dirty mind.
Or a writer with one.
Tamara Denby, who writes under the name Tawny Taylor, is such a writer.
"When people look at me, they're stunned I write it," Denby says. "I'm your typical, middle-aged, suburban mother-looking-type person."
In 2001, the 40-year-old married mother of seven decided to try to write "category" romance, shorter books by Silhouette or Harlequin that come out in batches monthly. But she couldn't nail the specific requirements of each series.
She was still writing "sweet" romances — so chaste they seldom feature a kiss until the last page — when she came across Ellora's Cave, then a little-known online publisher of erotica that wasn't yet recognized by the Romance Writers of America. RWA is the main organization for romance writers, with 9,500 members.
Denby read Christine Warren's "Fantasy Fix," a sort of bawdy "Waiting to Exhale" with vampires and bondage.
"And I thought, 'I can do this,' " she says.
And how: She has written or contributed to 15 books for Ellora's Cave since, along with a couple for Echelon Press and a couple of more mainstream romances under the name Sydney Laine Allan.
The work ethic runs deep among romance writers.
Take Jodi Lozon, who writes under the name Jodi Lynn Copeland.
The 31-year-old mother, who started writing erotic romance in 2002, has published eight books. She sets herself a goal of 10,000 words or two chapters a week. "If you're really in the mindset, you don't really notice," she said. She even typed around her newborn when she insisted on taking all her naps in Lonzon's lap.
The first erotic romance is probably painted on a cave wall somewhere. Talking about sex is nothin' new. But frank and lusty sex scenes are new when it comes to mainstream romance fiction. Even a few years ago, the contemporary romances that included premarital sex between the hero and heroine were heavier on the tension than the actual act.
Enter a gifted erotica writer and single mom, Tina Engler, who couldn't get a New York publisher to take her explicit stories. Engler turned to the Web and the promise of e-books.
The result was Ellora's Cave, the imprint she founded in 2000. She published her own stories as Jaid Black, and soon began to publish other writers. She added paperback versions in 2003.
In the first quarter of 2006, Ellora's Cave sold more than 67,000 e-books and more than 13,000 paperbacks, says Susan Edwards, vice president of media relations.
Even a small part of the romance pie can be big: Romance fiction accounted for $1.2 billion in sales in 2004, the last year for which the RWA has figures. Nearly 40 percent of all fiction sold is romance.
Roberta Brown, a Florida-based book agent who represents many erotic fiction writers, says publishers have long put out "lustful romps" for men. So why not for women? Especially today's modern, empowered women?
"Erotica reflects the freshness of today," Brown says. "The books are very bold, very sexually explicit and very empowering."
But not just any old episodic sex story will do, Brown says. The erotic romance that sells is a strongly plotted relationship story in which the progression of the relationship depends on each sex scene.
Laura Bradford is Lozon's agent, and she remembers when she first saw the Ellora's Cave paperbacks in a bookstore a few years ago. The cover art seemed amateurish to her, so she didn't expect the writing would be much better.
But Bradford knew that romances were getting spicier, so she picked out one paranormal erotic romance, one historical and one contemporary to read.
"It seemed so fresh, so new," she says.
And that might explain why every publisher seems to be starting erotic romance lines or, at the least, publishing more erotic titles.
Berkley, a division of the Penguin Group, was the first big publisher out of the gates with its Heat line, which debuted in mid-2005. Heat publishes about one title a month and is experimenting with different subgenres of erotic romance, she says. What executive editor Cindy Hwang has found is that the authors who write erotic romances — stories that have some kind of long-term relationship or happy ending — develop the greatest reader loyalty.
Independent publisher Kensington debuted its Aphrodisia line in January, releasing three books a month. Harlequin debuted its Spice imprint in May, releasing a title or two a month. And in June, Avon, a division of HarperCollins, launched Red, which plans six titles in 2006.
Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, is repackaging 30 novellas from Ellora's Cave into 10 anthologies, beginning in November.
Not to be outdone, in December Ellora's Cave also will debut a new line, Exotika. The books will have the same sexuality of other Ellora's Cave titles, but without requiring a happy, romantic ending.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Hot fiction for and by women