Today we’re going to be talking about the differences between romance, erotic romance, and erotica. It’s difficult to make clear delineations between these because of differences in reader expectation, general industry standards, and retailer censorship and category rules that affect visibility.
Let’s start with the basic definitions of these genres.
What is the industry definition of romance?
According to the Romance Writers of America, a romance is a story that contains a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending, namely a happily ever after or a happy for now.
I should point out here that there is a difference between a love story and a romance. A love story has a central plot focused around the relationship, but there’s no requirement for the leads to be together at the end. A love story can include someone dying, a character deciding they’re happier to go solo, and any other endings that involve them not being in a romantic relationship with the other participant or participants of the relationship from the story. Those books by Nicholas Sparks? Those are love stories, not romances. Romeo and Juliet? That’s a tragedy, not a romance. A romance novel contains a very specific story and must contain BOTH portions of the definition, the main plot being a romance and ending with the happily ever after or happy for now, not just one.
What is the industry definition of erotic romance?
Erotic romance is defined by the Romance Writers of America as a story in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the love story, character growth, and relationship development, and could not be removed without damaging the storyline.
What is the industry definition of erotica?
According to Wikipedia, erotica is defined as any literary work that deals substantively with subject matter that is erotic, sexually stimulating, or sexually arousing.
As you might imagine, this definition is not particularly useful for authors because literally anything can be sexually arousing. This definition causes problems with categorization as well. As you’ll remember in my videos about the Amazon dungeon, Amazon reps have recently reiterated in author response emails that a single sex scene in a story can qualify it as erotica. There are literally thousands of classic and contemporary novels that have sexual scenes and manage to avoid the erotica label, so if that’s the concept Amazon is running with, they’ve got some serious work to do with all the books that should be in new categories.
Erotica in terms of novels is defined as any story where the sexual component is inherent to the plot. In most cases there will be some sort of sexual relationship between the leads that forms the main plot line, and that sexual relationship cannot be removed from the story and is, for all intents and purposes, the entire point of the story. I should also point out that erotica is not bound by the conventions of the romance genre. The characters do not have to get their happily ever after. While some stories might still provide that, it’s not a requirement to be erotica.
Now that we’ve got the definitions out of the way let’s talk about reader expectation.
What do readers expect from a romance novel?
Romance readers are expecting that happily ever after. If the leads don’t end up together at the end or if one of them dies, you’re not looking at a romance novel.
Though the definition of romance is very simple, these components often cause clashes with authors and retailers that want to be able to tap into the romance market without fulfilling the most basic tenants of the genre. For some reason some authors get quite irate about genres having conventions. If your book is really literary fiction or women’s fiction, it’s okay for it to be that. If you choose to market the book as a romance without following the genre conventions then you have to accept that some people are going to be upset and your reviews and sales might reflect that.
Erotic romance still has to follow the same genre conventions as romance, it’s just that those stories are going to have more explicit content.
Romance readers tend to be very protective of their genre because of the societal ridicule it receives, in addition to the barrage of authors trying to “revitalize” the genre by getting rid of the HEA. A romance novel is a particular form of escapism where people want to see the reward of a happy relationship at the end of all the struggle. If you’re going to mess with that because you want romance reader money without respecting the genre, you’d better believe you’re going to hear about it.
What do readers expect from erotica?
Erotica is here to arouse the reader. Some readers care about plot, some don’t, but they’re all coming to erotica because they want to feel that spicy tingle. Because the delineations can be a bit nebulous you might have some readers that are actually looking for erotic romance, and expecting erotica to follow the same genre conventions.
How should you categorize your book?
Firstly, check the genre conventions on what you’ve written. I’ve already gone over the industry definitions and reader expectations, so decide for yourself where your story fits best.
Once you’ve chosen between romance and erotica you’ll want to have a peek at the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) options for both: https://bisg.org/page/Fiction
There are over 40 categories for romance and only a handful for erotica to choose from off the BISAC list. While I’m not 100% certain on why this is, it could be because a lot more publishers are publishing romance than erotica, and BISAC is the standard for all publishers, not just Amazon. In any case, choose the categories that are as close to your book as possible.
Why do books get miscategorized?
There are two big reasons a book might be miscategorized on Amazon. 1) The author did it themselves, either on purpose, or because they’re not certain of the genre conventions, and 2) Amazon changed the categories.
#2 happened with my omegaverse erotic romance, Nicky and the Night Owls. It falls into the genre conventions of romance, but Amazon put it into erotica anyway. Sometimes authors have no control over this. Even after disputing my categories with Amazon and asking them to be changed to romance, which they agreed to do, the system put it back in erotica within 24 hours of that change taking place.
You might see romances categorized as erotica because of the above, but you might see erotica miscategorized as romance because authors are trying to avoid getting penalized. Even though romances can include significant explicit sexual content, they are treated quite differently from erotica. Now, you might hear this and wonder how authors would be penalized for writing erotica vs. romance. The biggest difference is that Amazon doesn’t let you advertise erotica, but it does let you advertise romance. There might also be limitations on algorithm recommendations with erotica. All that means is that it’s harder for erotica writers to get their books in front of eyeballs, which can mean it’s harder to make money. Authors don’t want to make less money because of puritanical rules so they might tweak things to their advantage.
I would venture a guess that if retailers didn’t punish authors by limiting ad capabilities or algorithm recommendations, then all of our books would be categorized much more effectively so that readers could find exactly what they’re looking for. Unfortunately, the author experience and the reader experience are going to be secondary to the profit potential for these companies.
That’s all for now. I hope this information was helpful. You can find all of my books and platforms below. If you have questions or suggestions for future episodes, please do let me know. And if you’d like early access to these videos you can join my Patreon where I share them as soon as they’re ready to roll. Thank you so much for reading and I’ll see you soon for another episode!
First Heat Series – m/f, 3rd person POV
First Heat: https://books2read.com/FirstHeat
First Heat: Second Chances: https://books2read.com/FHSC
First Heat: Tying The Knot: https://books2read.com/FirstHeatTTK
Heat Play Love – m/m/m, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/HeatPlayLove
Conference Confidential – m/f, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/ConferenceConfidential
2021 Omegaverse Collection – contains First Heat, First Heat: Second Chances, Heat Play Love, Conference Confidential, and 2 bonus shorts https://books2read.com/OV2021
Nicky and the Night Owls: Part One – polyamorous (m/f/nb/f/nb/m), multi 1st person POV https://books2read.com/NickyNightOwls
Nicky and the Night Owls: Part Two – polyamorous (m/f/nb/f/nb/m), multi 1st person POV – currently on preorder https://books2read.com/NickyNightOwls2
Knotty or Nice Christmas Anthology – (my story is based on Nicky and the Pack) – currently on preorder https://books2read.com/knotty-or-nice
Salacious Salvation – m/f, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/SalaciousSalvation
Playtime with Professor – m/f, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/PlaytimeWithProfessor
PARANORMAL Into The Depths – f/nb, 3rd person POV https://books2read.com/intothedepths
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