As you probably know from Dirty Dates week here on Lady Smut, my latest erotica anthology Dirty Dates: Erotic Fantasies for Couples was published last Tuesday, on my 40th birthday. While here we focused on the “dirty dates” part of the title, today I’m going to talk about the subtitle and why I believe that sexy stories, be they erotica or erotic romance or porn, are for everyone, not just women or couples.
But first, a word about that subtitle. As one Dirty Dates reviewer wrote, “Dirty Dates is labeled as erotic fantasies for couples but it works just as well if you are not part of a couple!” They are absolutely correct. While the stories in Dirty Dates do all feature couples, anyone who’s interested can appreciate them. I’ve edited many previous anthologies that had the words “for women” in their subtitle. Does that mean I truly believe that only women can will enjoy or “get” them? Of course not. That’s marketing, and that’s part of publishing a book: doing everything in one’s power to make sure as many people as possible read it. And let’s be honest: if the subtitle were “Erotic Fantasies About Couples,” it just wouldn’t have the same ring.
One of my missions as an erotica and erotic romance editor is to craft books that both newcomers to the genres and seasoned readers will appreciate. This is sometimes a challenge, because no matter what you write, you will never please all of the readers all of the time. Yet broadening the reach of your words is something I stress to my writing students all the time. If you are talking about a highly specific fetish or practice, define it, so those who may never have heard of it will understand. Or even if you’re talking about something that seems obvious, like, say, the erotic appeal of Brad Pitt, still, you should define it for that character, because my take on Brad Pitt’s sexiness may be very different from your character’s.
That’s not to say any particular sexual kink should be dumbed down, but that I want the words in my books to be accessible. In the case of Dirty Dates, I want single people and couples to find something that speaks to them in the stories. I decided to focus on couples because I’d already edited lots of other types of kinky books, and I think the introduction of a couple creates its own set of drama. You don’t necessarily have the meet cute or the when-will-they-hook-up-and-fall-in-love element, but you do have the ability to explore how the passing of time influences how each half of a couple perceives themselves, each other, and the relationship.
Just as romance isn’t only a genre “for” women, and plenty of men are reading and writing romance, I want Dirty Dates to appeal beyond its official target market. Do I think couples will get a lot out of reading from it together? Of course. But my aim in putting out a book of erotica about couples wasn’t to exclude anyone else.
Similarly, I just wrapped up my first anthology of 2016. The title? Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1. It’s my first time editing this long-running series, and as per its history, it was only open to women authors. But in no way do I think “women’s erotica” means “only women can read it.” In fact, I think men will both appreciate and gain insight into the minds of women by reading work geared toward women; and let’s please keep in mind that “women” is a gigantic category of people who cannot be boiled down to any single book or genre.
We have to be realistic about the fact that, according to Romance Writers of America (citing Nielsen Books & Consumer Tracker), 84% of romance novel buyers are women. I don’t know of any specific statistics regarding erotica. However, through my own mailing list and marketing efforts, I know I do have plenty of male readers, but I believe the majority are women. Both can coexist. But those kinds of numbers are why books get labeled “for women.” It’s a business decision, not one meant to dictate who’s reading.
Also, the idea that women can and should only target women with their writing, or that men’s points of views will only appeal to men, is limiting for everyone. I want to make it clear, in case it wasn’t, that I encourage new voices, whether they fall into what’s traditional or not. I’d love to see more men involved in erotica and erotic romance, in addition to the many talented ones already writing in the genres, giving their spin on male love and lust, not as a cash grab, but as a way of offering a different spin than what many of us may be used to.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with knowing your main audience and catering to them. But I always want to leave the door open for the audience I might not expect, and I hope, in turn, readers leave themselves open to enjoy stories they might not expect either. I’m not saying “ignore my book title,” but I am saying that the subtitle in this case is a suggestion, not a mandate.