Confessions of a Contemporary Romance Author

“After all, a writer is a professional exhibitionist. The reader is the voyeur he hopes to lure.” –Mark Budman, a writer

Imagine being a contemporary romance author in today’s market. Of course, some of you don’t have to because you’re right there with me. Maybe you’ve gotten some of the same comments on your work that I have. I have been told that the sex in Where the Heart Lies is “practically nonexistent” and that the story “verges on women’s fiction”. I have two completely different reactions to these comments.

To the first, I react with disbelief. Okay, that sex scene that I labored on for an entire day isn’t actually in there? The one I actually blushed at when my husband read it? In fact, the first time I heard that particular comment, I took it literally. Holy cow, could it be the publisher had left out five pages of my manuscript? But no, they’re there. Evidently what I think of as pretty risque is actually kind of commonplace by today’s standards. No, I don’t write erotica, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t write about sex, but sometimes a sex scene is needed to move the story along. (Plus, I always felt a little gypped if I read a romance without a “good part”, and I don’t want to gyp my readers.)

The second comment I took as a compliment, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant that way. Absolutely I write women’s fiction. I am a woman and I want to write about issues that concern women. I don’t believe all women want to read about is sex. (My apologies to the excellent erotica writers out there. What you write is an art form and has an audience when done well. I’ve read it. I don’t write it.) So what the hell is wrong with writing women’s fiction? Answer: nothing. If I write it well, it will attract the readers…right?

Once upon a time, the answer to that would probably have been yes. I’m not so sure these days. When you can walk in a bookstore and the first book you see is 50 Shades of Grey, well, you have to admit the times have changed. Women have undertaken a whole new revolution in what they want to read. Although I object to the use of the term “mommy porn”, I understand where it comes from. The current general acceptance of erotica is pushing romance authors to new extremes as far as their sex scenes go. A sex scene that once would have steamed up an editor’s glasses is now considered pretty tame stuff. And where one sex scene once would have been enough, it is now (ahem) inadequate.

What it comes down to is this. Publishers, editors and agents—pretty much everybody who is involved in making books—watch the market and what sells. Writers write. Some of us write what will sell by accident. Some of us write what will sell on purpose. And some of us write what’s in us to write and send it out to find its way with hope in our hearts. No matter what, without readers, well, we’re just exhibitionists that aren’t being watched.

6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Contemporary Romance Author

  1. Had to laugh along with you. Astonishingly enough, my first book was given the lowest “heat” rating available on the publisher’s site. Yet there I was, thinking that I’d just written the 2008 equivalent of “Shades of Grey.” (I didn’t set out to write such a sex-filled book, but the plot and characters required it.)

  2. Good discussion! I believe the amount of sex in a novel should be dictated by the story. In my women’s fiction novels, the specific sex acts aren’t relevant, so they aren’t dramatized. In the m/m erotic romance I’m working on, the characters are both 18, one is a virgin, and the other has had sex with his girlfriend but not with a man. The physical and emotional aspects of the sexual relationship are full of meaning, so they’re dramatized in detail. There’s no other way to tell the story.

    • Great article, Mark. Thanks for sharing it. I would only add that romance and women’s fiction are the two genres I consider most in danger here. If we all go either the way of 50 Shades or Twilight, women’s reading choices are going to narrow considerably.

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