Erotica vs. Romance

Spanking Erotica and Spanking Romance

October marks the anniversary of my foray into publishing and I’d like to take a step back and share a few things that I have discovered about it. For a number of years I wrote “spanking stories.” I put them up on several sites that shared those kinds of things: Our Castle, BDSMLibrary, USENET, and a few others. You can probably still find my old Geocities site using the wayback machine, and I left some samples up at LSF that are still there.

These were mostly short stories. I think the spanking story is well suited to the short story format, but novelettes (15,000 words) and novellas (25,000-30,000 words) can work as well. With novels it’s harder, because at that length you need something else to sustain the story. This is where the spanking romance comes in.

If you arrived from Mars yesterday, you might think the whole spanking/BDSM romance book thing was launched by 50SOG, but you’d be dead wrong. The spanking romance has actually been around for quite some time. Pink Flamingo, Blushing Books and others were publishing these types of books twenty years ago or more.

So what exactly is a “spanking romance?” The answer is easy. It’s a romantic novel, just like the Harlequin romances your Aunt Betty reads, only — there is explicit sex AND there is spanking. The spanking incidents usually occur between the hero and the heroine in the context of a romantic relationship that is either forming or has formed. But spanking scenes can also occur in the context of the heroine falling into the evil clutches of the villain (common in Regency and in Medieval romances). So why does the hunky alpha guy spank the heroine? It’s usually because she disobeys him and puts herself in some sort of peril. But it can also be because she has done something injurious to him or someone else or is disobedient at a critical time, just like the now famous Jamie-Claire scene in Outlander. When a romance is well constructed, these scenes flow naturally from the plot, and the reader expects that the heroine, at this point in the story, surely deserves or needs a good spanking. That’s when it works best.

These books tend to be novel length, albeit a short novel, anywhere from 40,000 to 75,000 words. This length is necessary to fully develop a plot that mixes some external conflict and the growth of the relationship with the steamier elements. That’s because the main thrust of the novel is the romantic relationship. The novel can be “about” something else — a perilous journey, a rebellion in the highlands, the deed to the ranch or a mystery that must be solved, but in parallel with that is the attraction and coming together of the hero and heroine.

Almost exclusively, the POV is that of the heroine. It’s all about how she feels, what she does, what she thinks. It’s her journey so she tells the story, usually from a third person POV. Sometimes the hero is a cipher, and the story can include the heroine’s efforts to figure him out. Mysterious alpha male figures have always intrigued female readers.

And that’s who reads spanking romances. It’s the women. I figure it to be 85-90% a female readership.   Certainly, with a few exceptions, the authors are all female.

Not so with Spanking Erotica. First, as to length, spanking erotica tends to be shorter. The short story of 3500-7500 words is the preferred form, but novelettes and novellas can work too. The reason is that it isn’t necessary to build characterization and relationships nearly as much, and the plots can be thinner. The story centers on the spanking – the reason for it and the actual execution of it. Here, I think the readership is divided about 65-35, men to women. (I’m leaving out readership relating to the F/M orientation. For F/M it’s nearly all male). Many authors are male and a male POV is frequently employed. In fact, it’s fairly common in spanking erotica to see a 1st person male POV, something you’d never see in a “spanking romance.” That’s because women, the primary readers, don’t care what’s going through the guy’s head. They want to vicariously experience what the heroine feels. It’s who they identify with.

But still, there are many female readers of straight spanking erotica. As evidence I would point out that on the largest spanking story board in the world, LSF, the authorship and readership are fairly evenly divided between the sexes. (There has to be a caveat here, and that is that on a site like LSF, a great many spanking stories are not “erotica.” They are about home and school themes that may involve minors. By definition, this can’t even be published as “erotica,” because it would violate acceptable content guidelines of most booksellers.)

What I just described is the most general case. Now, I write a lot of spanking erotica and I LIKE clever plots and fleshed out characters. In fact, my emphasis on plot and characterization is the thing that distinguishes my spanking erotica from most others. You can be the judge of that, but my aim is to tell a story. The spanking happens because of the story, not the other way around.

This is the tension an author experiences in crafting stories in this genre. Authors don’t have it in spanking romance, at least to the same degree. In erotica, how much external story should you have? How many spanking and/or sex scenes? Do you risk boring your readers if the story takes over and shoves the spanking into the background? In a “spanking romance” this is less of a concern because it’s mostly about the relationship and the conflict anyway.

The first time I attempted a novel, it was pure spanking erotica, no romantic sub plot. ( Secret Spanking Cult on Amazon; Atonement elsewhere). But it is a real story with a real plot, not just a collection of unrelated scenes like you’d find in a Will Henry novel. It is, in fact, a mystery in the old hard-boiled PI genre about an invention, a missing daughter and a strange cult. Still, one reviewer said the novel was just an excuse to string together a bunch of spanking and sex scenes using multiple implements, characters, etc. Well, yeah. It’s spanking erotica, not Sam Spade with the occasional spanking of some dame. Same with The Menace from Mongo. It’s a space opera, only on Mongo various forms of flagellation are commonly used as punishment, both by good guys and bad guys. In just about every chapter there will be some sort of spanking scene.

Not so in my spanking romances. Not in every chapter. That’s because there is more story to advance and more characterization and relationship building. However, I do think that in my romances there is plenty of sex and spanking. (In Pendragon’s Lash there are something like 15 spanking scenes. The Princess and the Rogue and The Colonel’s Woman are comparable.) In these works I’m almost straddling the line between spanking erotica and spanking romance, but that’s where I come from, the erotic short story tradition, not the romance tradition. LaForge, personally my favorite work, starts as erotica and segues into a romance. The Colonel’s Woman, which held the #2 best seller spot for nearly a month in June has a plethora of spanking scenes, and not all of them involve the main characters. In fact there are scenes with the villains and judicial-type scenes similar to something you might find in a Paul Little novel from the sixties.

What all of this means is that the markets are different. Spanking romances are marketed to the romance reader crowd, i.e., women, through channels like Blushing Books and Stormy Night Publications, who really specialize in the genre. The covers of these books tend to have traditional romance-type covers with couples embracing and/or backgrounds that inform of the setting – castles for medieval, sailing ships for pirates, just like traditional romance novels. You wouldn’t know that the book contains any spanking sub text unless you read the blurb, the product description. Women in the market for romances can stumble across these books in a general search for romance or maybe erotic romance (an Amazon subcategory) and maybe turn out to like them.

Men, on the other hand, are attracted more toward plain spanking erotica. Here, the titles and the covers are designed to leave no doubt as to what is inside, like my Spanking Times Seven, or Have Paddle Will Travel. Amazon is, of course, the biggest retailer, but Apple and Barnes and Noble also sell spanking erotica (for now). Men don’t seem to be attracted to the romance side of things because the books look just like Aunt Betty’s Harlequin romances, and because the story gets in the way of the action. I’ve also noticed that in romances the actual spanking scenes are not described in as much detail as in a piece of spanking erotica. I’ve seen spanking romances that only give a scene a short paragraph and it’s over. Since in spanking erotica the spanking itself is the main point, the scenes are more fully described. I’m generalizing, of course. In some romances the scenes may go for a page or two, but mostly in the ones I’ve read they are short. The typical reader looking for action will be disappointed. However, the authors make up for that in describing the sex scenes that follow. In a weird twist you’ll often find that spanking romances include long and detailed sex scenes, the action vividly (but tastefully – no “throbbing boners”) described. In spanking erotica, the actual sex scenes can be somewhat muted.

Which market is larger, diehard spankophiles looking for hot stuff to push their buttons or romance enthusiasts who like a bit of kink? I’m convinced it’s romance, far and away. Romance, even with a strong spanking subtext is far more popular than straight spanking erotica. I base this non-scientific conclusion on a sampling of sales ranks for typical offerings in both genres. Very consistently romance outperforms straight erotica. The reason may be very simple. Men are more visual, so pictures and videos are their preferred form of entertainment. It’s just the way we are wired. Women are more turned on by the written word that stimulates imagination. The male buyer pool for written word spanking erotica is not all that large, while women are more enthusiastic about buying books.

The take away is this – if you want to be, as the Beatles say, a “paperback writer,” write romance. Otherwise, be a video producer.

2 responses to “Erotica vs. Romance

  1. Hi Rollin. Thanks for this post. I write F/m Erotica and find my audience to be predominantly (no pun intended) male. I concur that women make up the lion’s share of romance readers and writers, but don’t you think there is untapped potential with erotica geared towards men?

    Like

    • Betina, there are male readers, but men are primarily visual in nature and most gravitate to video and photography. I find my F/M fan base is small but very enthusiastic due to the lack of good F/M video production.

      Like

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