A certain series of books about a girl who desperately wants to become one with the leading vampire in her life is still all the rage. But as the Twilight phenomenon continues, with millions upon millions of copies in print around the world, teen vampire desire reflects just one facet of a readership hungry for a more supernatural slant to sexy stories. And those readers—mainly adult women—are continuing to fuel a robust market for paranormal-themed erotica and erotic romance.
Brenda Knight, associate publisher of Cleis Press's Viva Editions, thinks she knows why the paranormal has become so dominant across the category. “In the age of social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Craigslist, there's less fantasy. It's increasingly easy to find and be found,” she says. “However, you can't hook up with your demon-lover of choice via Twitter.”
The vampire, says Ellora's Cave publisher Raelene Gorlinski, is still a favorite for both online and print readers. The popular online publisher focuses on e-books and features an entire vampire-centered section, including releases like Ann Jacobs's Eternal Triangle and Amarinda Jones's Run the Gantlet. “You think, we can't take another vampire story,” says Gorlinski. “But they are still selling.”
It's true—vampires simply refuse to die. Cleis will enter the sexy vampire fray in October with The Sweetest Kiss: Ravishing Vampire Erotica, an anthology edited by D.L. King, which will compete with offerings from Berkley Heat (Joey Hill's Beloved Vampire, Aug.) and St. Martin's (Terence Taylor's Bite Marks, Sept.), among many others.
The demand for a blend of sex, romance and the paranormal continues to find eager readers with nearly every incarnation of the supernatural the authors invoke, not just vampires. Kensington's Aphrodisia line has had tremendous success with Kate Douglas's werewolf-themed series since its launch in 2006 (the latest, Wolf Tales VIII, came out last month). NAL launches a new series by Cathryn Fox in October with Instinctive: An Eternal Pleasure Novel, featuring a wide range of creatures. Editorial director Claire Zion describes the series as exploring a “troubled community of witches, lycans, shifters, demons and vampires.”
Vamps are in for some stiff competition from not just the usual demons and werewolves but erotic interpretations of fairy tales. In 2006, readers connected with a short story collection of grown-up fairy tales, Enchanted: Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women, from Harlequin Spice author Nancy Madore, and equally embraced her 2008 follow-up reinterpreting nursery rhymes, Enchanted Again: More Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women. In September, Madore brings her mythic flavor to paranormal favorites like fairies, werewolves and monsters in Enchanted Dreams: Erotic Tales of the Supernatural. The Avon Red imprint presents Cathy Yardley's Enslave: The Taming of the Beast in October, a follow-up to the author's 2008 titles Crave: The Seduction of Snow White and Ravish: The Awakening of Sleeping Beauty. Meanwhile, Cleis will offer Mitzi Szereto's take on the fairy tale—for—adults milieu with its own September release, InSleeping Beauty's Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales. “The vampire-driven and fairy tale—oriented erotica books both speak to wanting something out of the ordinary—completely out of this world,” says Cleis's Knight.
While the short story and novella may be languishing in other genres, erotica readers clearly have an affinity for the collection and anthology formats. The crossover with the romance audience is probably why readers gravitate toward these books, which can offer a diverse array of stories between the same covers. And Jane Litte, who co-runs the popular romance blog Dear Author, says, “Erotic romance, particularly when sex is the basis of the conflict, is hard to sustain in novel-length form.”
The paranormal is no stranger to these popular shorter formats. In addition to Aphrodisia's Wolf Tales series, Douglas has the popular Sexy Beast anthology line under her belt, with Sexy Beast VII due out next month, which includes the work of Anitra McLeod and Shelli Stevens. Chronicle Books has created lush packaging for its new anthology Bitten: Dark Erotic Stories (Sept.), edited by erotica superstar Susie Bright. Bright's anthology features new stories by predominantly YA author Francesca Lia Block and screenwriter Sera Gamble, who works on the TV cult favorite Supernatural, among others. And out of just 11 titles in 2009, Harlequin Spice has or will publish four anthologies or collections, including mostly fantasy ones like Madore's and What Happens in Vegas... After Dark (May).
“We plan to have two to three anthologies in our schedules for the foreseeable future,” says Susan Swinwood, senior editor for Spice. “Readers like the variety, and I believe they prefer not having to commit to a full-length novel when their free time is at a minimum.”
Finally, in its Ellora's Cave Presents line, Pocket Books will release several anthologies, including Trick or Treat, featuring work by N.J. Walters, Jan Springer, Charlene Teglia and Tawny Taylor (Oct.), and Prisoner of Love, with work by Jaid Black, Tawny Taylor and Michelle M. Pillow (Sept.).
“Paranormal erotica is still popular, which isn't surprising since the paranormal is so hot across all genres,” says Pocket Books senior editor Micki Nuding. But she acknowledges that overall erotica/erotic romance sales have stabilized. “We have seen a falling off of the genre following the boom and bust cycle that most trends show.”
Boom and Busts
The almost insatiable demand for erotica and erotic romance in recent years yielded a crescendo in the range of naughty offerings from major publishers, including the launch of several imprints like Kensington's Aphrodisia, Harlequin's Spice, Avon's Red and Pocket's Ellora's Cave Presents, the latter repackaging selected books first released by the online erotic e-book heavyweight. While readers still like it hot—particularly if it's paranormal—many editors agreed with Pocket's Nuding that the economy and too many sexy books have led to a right-sizing in the number of titles being published.
“Erotica and erotic romance is still a strong-selling category, but sales have leveled off in the past year since there's been an explosion of books published,” says Cindy Hwang, executive editor at Berkley.
Editorial director Audrey LaFehr at Kensington's Aphrodisia concurs. “The erotica category boomed a couple of years ago, and now it's settling down,” she says. “We're seeing some shakeout in terms of certain authors emerging as real stars and others just not catching on.”
This isn't an issue confined to the houses in New York. In early July, several news outlets reported that Britain's highest-profile erotica imprint, Black Lace, part of Virgin Books (which is owned by Random House), would add no new titles in 2010, despite a 16-year history and worldwide sales of more than four million books. The announcement led to a flurry of online discussion by angry fans. In America, Random House's One World line, part of Ballantine, has high hopes for next month's fiction debut of Baltimore radio celebrity and relationship expert LaDawn Black with Tease: Steamy Short Stories.
St. Martin's editor Rose Hilliard says, “I don't think the erotic romance audience is as big as most publishers thought it was four years ago. Back then, anything and everything erotic seemed to do well across the board. But the genre quickly became overpublished and hit a wall.”
Dear Author's Litte draws a distinction between pure erotica and erotic romance, which has largely emerged over the past decade and is the main focus of most erotica imprints at houses that also do a brisk romance business. “Erotica is the exploration of one's sexual identity, kind of a coming-of-age through sexual exploration,” she says. “Erotic romance is the use of sex to provide conflict and advance the plot. Most of the best erotic romance authors found their start in digital publishing and still publish there today.”
Because those digital publishers drive the growth of erotica and erotic romance online, its fans became early adapters of e-books, and that trend has only grown with the wider availability of devices like the Sony Reader and the Kindle. Even so, Gorlinski from Ellora's Cave says sales have been affected, but not by much. “Erotica and erotic romance e-book sales are not going up to previous levels, but we're not seeing the same drop as other parts of publishing. Many women still want the anonymity of being able to purchase this way,” says Gorlinski.
But she adds that the publisher's customer service reps are taking more and more calls from people who are curious about the best format to read e-books on: a Kindle, an iTouch or other device.
At Harlequin, Swinwood reports that the publisher has not seen a sales downturn for erotic books, but is deliberately keeping its list “small and selective.” She says, “The online component of erotica is as strong as ever, whether it be through sales of books via the Internet, or downloads of erotic e-books.”
Erotica and e-books are just a natural match, giving readers the privacy to indulge in books that have historically been illicit pleasures. Knight at Cleis points to a characterization by Pacific University in Oregon of the Kindle as a “plain brown wrapper” for erotica devotees. But more than a place to buy erotic works, the digital scene serves as an incubator for talent.
Take erotica superstar author Zane, whose popular Atria titles have more than 4.2 million copies in print and whose work has been adapted into Zane's Sex Chronicles on Cinemax. She credits the Internet with launching her career. “In my case, I started out writing short stories via the Internet and never would have written an actual book if I had not been encouraged to do so by the thousands of readers who e-mailed me with compliments and craving more of it,” Zane says.
The author recently started a social networking site, PlanetZane.net, so other erotica writers would have a place to show off their work and find each other. “Many of them will become published authors, if they are not already,” she says.
But digital versions of erotica aren't the only new thing between the sheets. Cleis and Viva Editions has just formed a new partnership with ReadHowYouWant to release a number of titles in large print, Braille and DAISY—a digital talking book format targeting people with disabilities—later this year. “We are extremely excited to be able to provide erotica books to the visually impaired for the first time,” says Knight.
No matter the format, the competitive and fluid state of the evolving erotica/erotic romance category in both print and e-books means that publishers must work even harder to stay in tune with what readers truly want.
Hwang at Berkley says the publisher's Heat line strives to keep the core desire of its readers in mind. “The book may feature an exploration of sex, but sex without emotion isn't something our readers respond to, and at the core, all our books feature strong romantic relationships—sometimes between more than two people.”
For a listing of titles mentioned in this article, go to www.publishersweekly.com/eroticabiblio.