Sharon asks: >> …I occasionally will be reading a book by an author I really like, only to come across a love scene with some things that I’m not particularly comfortable with. In the past when this has happened I have reluctantly cut that author from my automatic TBR list…<snip> …if this is happening because of pressure from the publisher, I hate to "take it out on" the author by swearing off her books. Is there any way to express my views to the publisher if that’s where it’s coming from (not that they’d probably pay much attention)? Or do I just have to bite the bullet and skip over the parts I don’t care for?<<
First off, I understand where you’re coming from. In the wild and woolly early days of romance, we could do almost anything with our characters, and the sex in some books could be really raunchy, as long as it was politely encased in euphemisms. Or purple prose, as we so creatively call it now. The days of gratuitous rape, multiple partners, and purple prose fell out of favor as the competition for the topselling spots increased and authors found a wider audience with pure romance, sensuality, and stronger writing. Those are the books you read, Sharon, and the wenches like to write.
Now, it seems, the pendulum is swinging the other direction again. The business has always been cyclical, although the cycles develop in a slightly different sector each time. This time, erotica is
pushing the pendulum. As I understand it (and I’m known to be wrong, so anyone feel free to correct me), erotica developed “underground” in the e-book publishing world and quickly caught on. Big publishers took notice and began picking up the more popular authors, eventually developing entire lines of erotica. If people buy it, they’ll sell it. That’s what the free market is all about.
But because these erotica authors are doing so well, publishers and authors alike assume sexier books sell better. And looking at the bestseller lists, they can very well be right. I suspect it’s a fifty-fifty case of authors wanting to sell better and writing hotter, and publishers/editors encouraging authors who don’t normally write hot to try it. The carrot of bigger sales is hard to resist. I’ve known perfectly good authors who couldn’t sell a book in the current market until they agreed to write hotter scenes. They didn’t HAVE to write hotter scenes, but they like to eat, too, and if sex scenes put food on the table, they certainly know how to write them.
All of this becomes a snowball rolling downhill. Authors and editors read. A lot. We unconsciously absorb the faster pacing, the hotter scenes, the witty dialogue, all the things currently selling, and they can’t help but influence the ideas fermenting in the back of our minds. Imaginations are dangerous animals. Never underestimate them! If we’re writing a quirky scene that appeals to us and suddenly remember we’ve read something similar elsewhere, then we go out of our way to embellish that scene so it’s exclusively ours. So what may have been a relatively tame scene in one book suddenly becomes hot enough to scorch elsewhere. The collective unconscious almost guarantees that similar ideas will circulate throughout the literary community, morphing and growing and becoming something else as time goes on.
See, aren’t you sorry you asked? <G> I’ll try to refrain from comparing book publishing to the
entertainment industry, but we’re rapidly developing many of the same qualities. The book has to entertain a reading public who has already seen the Titannic sink and space aliens invade the White House. The constant demand for new and different and more violent and sexier drives the market.
In other words, you can blame publishers for part of what you dislike, but you also have to blame authors for trying to put food on the table, and other readers for buying the sexier books in such amounts that we have to meet their demand.
When this cycle first came into play, I continued reading authors who could give me a great story and great characters. If the sex bores me, I skim over it to the wonderful dialogue. But if I’m skimming more pages than I’m reading, I reluctantly set the book aside and do my research the next time that author has a book out. Eventually, a good author will figure out how to make the latest fad work for her, so I keep my confidence that author will eventually return to her roots. In the meantime, I’ll explore all the new avenues and authors springing up everywhere, along with many old favorites who are moving in wonderful new directions. Keep an eye on the wenches because we’ll tell you about our favorites, and chances are you’ll find lots of strong stories among the authors we introduce here.
Personally, I’d save my time and effort and not waste time writing the publishers, but I could be wrong. Has anyone else written to publishers complaining about all the things readers complain about, anything from bad copyediting, bad history, to bad sex? Have you received any response? Admittedly, I’ve had editors send letters questioning some of my research <G>, so they do read them. But has anyone felt their letter had any result?