Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Art of Pornography

If you've paid attention to the book market at all recently then you should know that erotica, erotic romance, romantica (whatever you wish to call it) is the hottest (yes, I know that's a pun) genre going. As an agent I feel very lucky to represent a number of amazing writers in this area. The stories are wonderfully written, passionate, exciting, and yes, they are hot. So here's my beef. Over the past few months I've heard this genre and these books repeatedly referred to as pornography, and I have to tell you, this really peaves me off.

I'm sure most of my authors, many who have been writing for years, have been dealing with this for a lot longer than I have, but I feel I need to say something and explain something. My first step in understanding where this is coming from (although I think I already have a pretty good idea) and having solid facts to back up my argument is to go to the dictionary.

pornography
1. Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.
2. The presentation or production of this material.
3. Lurid or sensational material


erotica
Literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire.


And therein lies my problem. Pornography is simply described as writing whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal, whereas erotica is literature or art intended to cause desire. Even the words used in the definitions make erotica sound lovely, sophisticated, and acceptable, while pornography sounds dirty and cheap. As an agent I like to think that what my authors are writing is lovely and sophisticated. They work hard to create strong stories, passionate characters, and to develop a readership who wants to come back for more. Pornographers, on the other hand (and this is my interpretation of the definition), aren't as concerned about plot or characterization. Their primary purpose is to titillate and sensationalize.

So, what I have determined (like I needed a study to figure this out) is that those who refer to this wonderful new genre as pornography are clearly offended by the work these terrific authors and artists are doing. By describing these books as pornography they make them sound dirty and sinful and are (in my mind) making an attempt to cheapen the work these authors have done.

Offended or not, I think that as writers, artists, authors, and publishing professionals we need to give everyone the respect they deserve for the hard work they do and the hard road they've climbed to get where they are. I don't agree with calling romance novels (of which erotica is considered a sub-genre) trash, and I don't agree with calling erotica pornography. Ironically, the genres that receive the most criticism and snobbery are those that are the most successful. Hmmm, could this be the cause?

Say what you will about someone else's book or the genre in which someone else writes, but the truth is that we are all in this business of publishing together, and whether or not we like what someone else has done we all should like the fact that there are still readers and book buyers out there.

Variety is the spice of life. If you don't like something, don't read it. But don't criticize what you don't know.

—Jessica

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Romance writing covers a full spectrum, from squeaky clean to steamy. Nobody is forcing Jane (or John) Bookbuyer to read erotica, or even romance, but s/he should have the right to choose, without censorship. Is romance fiction crap? Who is the Supreme Judge of Crap? The buyers have spoken, which is why the romance genre dominates the market--and isn't it interesting that the two poles (inspirational and erotica) are the fastest-growing segents?

Gina Black said...

Bravo!!

Cindy Procter-King said...

Another great post, Jessica. And I heartily agree with you, considering I just sold an erotic romance novella to Red Sage. To be honest, it hadn't occurred to me that others might lable the novella pornographic. It's hot sex, and a lot of it, between a man and a woman in a developing romance. If someone has a problem with that, they can (and should) vote with their wallets and buy they want to read. But don't belittle those who do write hot.

Kate Douglas said...

Obviously, this is a topic pretty close to my heart--and wallet. I don't write porn. I don't read porn, either, though I have, and can honestly say there is no comparison between pornography and my stories, which are most definitely very hot. In my mind, the difference lies in the emotional investment I strive to give my readers. If I can make my readers care about the characters in my stories to the extent they feel the emotions and are moved by the plot, the graphic sexual nature of the story merely takes that emotional investment to an even higher level. As Jessica says, it's not easy -- I have to weigh each word I use very carefully in the more explicit scenes, but in the end, I think it's worth it to have a story capable of wringing everything out of my readers. I want them to feel everything my characters are experiencing -- graphic sexuality in a story has a way of stripping away everything and leaving only the rawest of emotions. It may be edgy, but it's effective.

Jade Lee said...

I have thought a great deal about this question. Here is my definition: PORN is sex without emotional content. Pictures, great bump and grind writing but without emotional depth. EROTICA, especially romantic erotic writing like I write, is sex with emotional content. The writing gives the love, the feelings, the depth that those who want story--not porn--require.

susan lyons said...

I'm not sure about erotica, not having read much of it, but erotic romance, for me, is definitely about the characters and the emotions.

I've written sexy romance and I've written erotic romance and to me there are two differences.

First, in erotic romance the bedroom door is open longer and wider, and the view is more intimate and explicit (both physically AND emotionally).

Second, in erotic romance, the sexual relationship is often more key to the character development and plot. For example, in the book I'm writing know (the 4th in a series for Aphrodisia), my heroine has body image issues. She loves sex but she only feels confident and uninhibited when the lights are off. The hero's challenge will be to bring her "into the light" -- so that she can love her own body and be proud of it both during sex with the lights on, and in the everyday world she moves in. He's not going to do this with a lot of psychobabble, but through showing her, in love-making, how beautiful she really is. So the sex scenes are key to her character development, as well as the growing trust and love between heroine and hero.

Yes, erotic romance is definitely about story, and emotion!

Lena Austin said...

Thank you, Jessica. Your client Kate Douglas sent me here specifically to read this blog, and I'm glad I did.

I write hot because I believe it is more true to life. I remember that first flush of love or lust and how we couldn't keep our hands off each other. I like remembering that feeling, and I share it.

Vivi Anna said...

Here here Jessica. Well said! And I, being a erotic/romance author myself, herald you for it!!

Michele Lee said...

1. I have mentioned a beef I have with romance. It's less with the books, definitley not with the authors, and almost entirely that my aunt and grandmother (who helped raise me) read nothing but romance. I like a little more substance. I like a book to make me think. So it seems to me that their devotion to anything with "Romance" on the label is somewhat shallow. But then, of course I've also undercut myself by writing romance shorts, and adding heavy doses of romnce to my works. Oh, and I love writing erotica, and explicit erotica.

2. >>PORN is sex without emotional content. Pictures, great bump and grind writing but without emotional depth.
Fun is an emotion :)