A Writer’s Crisis: Do I Write Erotica or NOT?

There came a time earlier in my writing career when I was submitting manuscripts happily and wantonly. Absolutely smitten with my cover letter, so proud of particular paragraphs in my novel and just completely ready to take the romance publishing world by storm. Well, maybe not by storm — but I was completely ready to whip up a mild breeze and ruffle someone’s metaphorical panties with my novel.

I researched publishers. I adhered to submission guidelines. I crafted my emails and combined my documents just how they asked. 

And then I stumbled upon the part of the submission process that quietly and simply requested what line my novel fit into.

Like, you know, contemporary romance. Or erotica. Or erotic romance. Or maybe mainstream romance? Ember Leigh, they whispered through the submission guidelines section of their respective websites. What do you really write??

I had no idea. I had spent years of my life believing myself a romance author as a sufficient categorization, yet clearly I was missing all sorts of shades and depth to my author identity. As I delved deeper into the world of lines, themes, imprints and more for a variety of publishers, I came to the horrifying realization that I had no idea what I was writing.

I called my best friend, breathless and agitated. “Do I write erotica?!” In addition to being my best friend, she’s also my reader and a published BDSM Romance author. She, of all people, should know. After all, sometimes the author doesn’t know best. Or even what they’re writing.

“Maybe?” She pressed me for more information about the options. And when all were given, we mutually decided that I wrote all of them.

Great. Publishers were going to love it, I could tell. Hi, I’m here to offer you a novel that fits into every category. Don’t ask me how I’ve done it. Oh, you rejected it without reading it? Well fine.

I spent an embarrassingly large amount of time investigating the fine lines between erotica, erotic romance, contemporary romance and more. Some publishers wanted authors to categorize work based on their own lines that didn’t always sound like “Erotica” or “Mainstream Romance” but instead would employ their own heat levels coupled with brief taglines for each category that sometimes just didn’t add up to what my novel was.

I made a helpful list during the investigation process. It looked something like this:

WHAT EMBER DOESN’T WRITE: Ancient times. Aliens. Butts (except that characters have them). Groups. Spankings. Horses and stuff. Elves. Vampires. Gay. 

WHAT EMBER DOES WRITE: Heterosexual romance.

Heterosexual Romance

This will make thrilling cover art.

Editor’s Note: The ‘horses and stuff’ entry refers to shape-shifting. 

Okay! Progress, right? So, why couldn’t I find the ‘heteromance’ as an option anywhere?

I launched an intense and somewhat desperate field study. I bought up a zillion books, of all different makes and models of romance. Erotica, short stories, erotic romance, contemporary romance. I even bought early 90’s Harlequin romances, just for fun. And then I made another list:

WHAT EMBER THOUGHT ABOUT EROTICA: Moist panties. Touching yourself in that spot. Good adjective use. Usually novellas. Bottom line — attention is on the sex.

WHAT EMBER THOUGHT ABOUT CONTEMPORARY: Love stories. Lots of teasing. Delayed gratification. Usually excellent storytelling. Bottom line —  focus is on the story.

WHAT EMBER THOUGHT ABOUT EROTIC ROMANCE: Moist panties. Delayed gratification mixed with super erotic scenes. Usually great storytelling. Bottom line — This is what I write!!! DING DING DING DING!!!

What a relief.

Not only did this make subsequent submissions much easier, but it made creating my banners a hell of a lot easier.

At least it beats the following banner tagline:

EMBER LEIGH — Erotic Erotica Romance Mainstream Contemporary Maybe? Author.

Tell Ember all about it...