What's in a category? That which we call an "Erotic Romance" by any other name, would smell as sweet.

Over at BookRiot's Video stream, Wallace is talking about the terms "Erotic Romance" and "Erotica" and the difference between them.  It's fun watching Wallace as she's getting into romance novels and dealing with a newborn (her kiddo is turning one!). I've really been enjoying her videos about her exploration of the genre.

So, today, when I saw the tag-line "Wallace talks about the difference between erotica and romantic erotica (there is a difference, and it’s significant)" I was super excited.  I just released my debut novel, and to my mind, I'm straddling the two categories.  I'm never sure what to list it as, what to tell book bloggers, where to put my categorization on Amazon, blah blah author problems blah. Maybe this YouTube video will solve all my problems!  I'm a law librarian, people, I like a solid categorization methodology.

Well, I'm sad to report that this video did not solve all my problems, but it did give me another thing to think about when making those decisions.  Not to spoil the video for you (you should watch it anyway, Wallace is adorable and interesting), but she said she found the dividing line had to do with the amount of plot. Is there more to the plot than the sexy-times? Erotic romance. Is it pretty much just straight bangin'? Erotica.

I remember reading Anais Nin as a teenager, and in her introduction to one of her books (Little Birds? Delta of Venus?) she talked about writing erotica for a private collector who constantly told her and the other authors sending him work to spend less time on plot, and get straight to the action. She felt like that left the sex scenes empty of content and meaning - you can't build a relateable or significant sex scene without building a plot to hang it on.

I agree with Nin, so my dividing line has always been a solid Happily Ever After. If there is one, erotic romance. If not? Erotica.  For example, I think that a lot of Megan Hart's work straddles erotica, literary fiction, and erotic romance.  A HEA is the dividing line, for me, for what category the book belongs in.  If the couple featured is together at the end, it's erotic romance. But, generally, almost all of Megan's stuff is marketed as erotica, maybe because she's not consistent about the characters staying together at the end.

I hesitate to put Bad Penny in the erotic romance category because although she does have a HEA at the end, the book is about a combination of that and her getting over an earlier relationship.  It's based on Penny's development and emotional growth more than on her relationship with Mike. Which is a plot element. So I'm not even following my own rules, here.  *sigh!*

Another factor I hadn't considered when writing, but which comes up on a lot of review blogs is: who is having sex? If the heroine only has sex with the hero, then they consider it romance. If they have sex with multiple partners (certainly if the heroine does), it's erotica. That dividing line makes sense to me, to some extent. However, I feel like that's more of a personal preference than a bright line between categories. Of course, I read a good bit of menage (and my next book is a menage story), so of course I'd think that.

I think my issue with that as a dividing line comes from my introduction to erotica, and still one of my favorite examples of it (and a huge influence on my first book): Exit to Eden by Anne Rice.  Bearing no resemblance to the horrible Rosie O'Donnell/Dan Ackroyd vehicle based on it, it's a really fascinating novel about the sexual life of a dominatrix, who is going off the rails and trying to figure out why. Is it because she's falling in love?  Both of the main characters have a lot of sex with a lot of different people throughout the book, sometimes in flashbacks, sometimes in real time.  It was absolutely a romance, to my mind, because the love story is the central support of the plot.  If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to do so - it's a little dated, a little old-school, but I love it. Because: dominatrix.

Anyway. That's it for me, for non-fiction, for the day.