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Light of My Life, or Fire of My Loins?

by Stacey Donovan,
co-author of The Red Shoe Diaries book series

When you think of erotica what comes to mind? Porn? Poetry? Fifty Shades of Grey? If you chose Fifty Shades, read on, for that book is categorized as erotic romance, not erotica. This is a crucial distinction to make before a writer thinks of approaching the marketplace with a work of erotica, erotic romance, or any of the many shades that reign under the umbrella of romance.

In the ensuing years after Lolita was first published in 1955, it was alternately hailed as pornography, one of the finest American novels, a distinguished, even great book, a work of smut, a thing of timeless beauty, a classic example of postmodern literature, a disgusting book, and more. Was it a work of erotica when published? No. Erotic romance? No. It was published as a novel. Over the years, it's been called a fictional memoir, a romance novel, a tragicomedy, and more.

Where would Lolita fit in today's various romance categories? Ultimately, that would depend on the publisher, for romance subgenres currently abound, and within subgenres, subcategories proliferate.

For example, there are Historical, Military, Contemporary, Vampire, Futuristic, LGBT, Paranormal, Gothic, Time Travel, Romantic Suspense, Fantasy, New Adult, Category (or Series) Romances, and more. Within these genres, we might find Historical Medieval, Viking, or Regency subcategory titles, and Interracial, Humorous, Suspense Erotica, to mention only a sampling from each.

Some, but not all, booksellers place Erotica under the aegis of Romance, where we might find Urban, BDSM, Mystery, Romantic, and more subcategory titles.

Something your editor will tell you is that it is savvy to remember that a publisher looks to how a bookseller sells books; thus a work of erotica might be placed in the romance section of one bookshop whereas that same work might be shelved in the erotica section of another. It is unlikely that an erotic title featuring medical fetish will be placed in the medical section, or a traditional romance featuring a chef protagonist in the cookbooks section. And Lolita? Look in classic literature.

What else will your editor tell you? To become familiar with the marketplace long before you are ready to send out your manuscript. While a marriage of genres (a gothic BDSM new adult mystery, for example) does occasionally make a profitable love story for both publisher and bookseller, it would be prudent to know the boundaries and parameters of each book category, genre, and subcategory before attempting to combine them.

One last thought: romance novels do not necessarily have sex in them, but erotica does. And in this steamy publishing climate, it better be good.

Next article: Was It Good for You? How to Write Great Erotica