Judging Erotica and Romance

I was going to write about something other than books today, really I was. But when I reviewed Colette Gale’s Unmasqued: An Erotic Novel of the Phantom of the Opera today, I just couldn’t help writing about the topic.

After I posted my review here, I did my usual thing of going to post a shortened version on Amazon. And I saw that the book, which I absolutely loved, had received a remarkably wide array of ratings. I read through all of the reviews, and saw a pattern to the majority of the reviews by people who hated the book. In some cases I could see that the book just wasn’t their thing, and that’s certainly something I can respect. However, most of the complaints came down to one of two things: either they hated the fact that the book veered too much from the original structure and plot of the Phantom of the Opera (a criticism that’s going to be leveled at any re-imagining, sadly, no matter how good it is, so I tend to automatically discard that one), or they were shocked, shocked, that the book had so much sex in it.

Okay folks, here’s a clue: it wasn’t labeled as a romance, it was labeled as erotica. Even an erotic romance still has a ton of sex in it, it just has romance too. One review read basically as, “oh my god it was pornographic!” This is someone who wasn’t reviewing the book: they were rating the book reflexively based on the fact that they apparently didn’t understand what “erotica” meant when they picked up the book, or didn’t bother to notice that it was erotica. If that happened to me, I wouldn’t trash the book for the fact that I didn’t bother to read the blurb, genre, or sub-title before reading the book. To me, that’s a rather rotten thing to do to the author for a mistake on the reader’s part. That would be like trashing a horror novel for being horrific, just because I thought I was picking up a book of literary fiction.

Romance and erotica have a reputation as being poorly written; I addressed this to some extent when I reviewed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance. Yes, some of it is poorly written; I think that tends to be the case when any genre is really just getting started, simply because there aren’t as many writers writing in that genre and there’s less for editors to choose from. However, that’s been changing. As romance and erotica become more mainstream and accepted, more authors are joining in and the quality has been going up. Colette Gale, for example, is the pen name of an author of historical novels; she isn’t an amateur.

If you want to make sure you find good erotica and romance, just read the reviews out there. Check out the blogroll on the reviews blog—a good handful of the reviewers on there review some romance or erotica, and a few of the sites are dedicated to those genres. This is one case, however, where I don’t recommend reading the Amazon reviews. You really need to read reviews by people who actually knew what “erotica” meant before they picked up the books.

Posted in Writing

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