Erotic Romance

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in April, 2009. Due to the passage of time, some information in the article may no longer be relevant. Please ensure you research your chosen genre thoroughly before submitting.

What is Erotic Romance? 

Raelene Gorlinksy, Managing Editor of Ellora’s Cave, points out that many submitting writers aren’t clear on what actually constitutes an Erotic Romance.

They often tend to one extreme or the other. They may go so overboard with the sex that what they are sending us is basically raunchy porn. Or they go the other way and seem to think that any story that even mentions sex would be considered erotic. We get submissions – which the submitter labels hot and erotic — where the extent of the sexual tension is that the hero and heroine are embarrassed when they notice the bulge in his trousers. (It’s always called the bulge.) And the only sex is in the final chapter, where the h/h finally fall into bed together and have a little non-explicit vanilla sex. 

The romance market has heated up in the last couple of years, with authors including blisteringly hot sex scenes, regardless of subgenre. Publishers are also more than willing to slap the erotic label on their books. In fact, it’s almost standard – but this makes the market more than a little confusing for the aspiring writer.

Erotic Romance and Erotica used to be the preserve of online publishers. But when sexually explicit novels and epublishing went through the roof together, the powerful print houses noted the strength of the demand. Now Berkley, Avon, Kensington and the others have erotic imprints, generally available in both print and in ebook format.

So how can Erotic Romance and Erotica be defined? The terms are often used interchangeably. And how do they differ from a book that’s hot or steamy or sensual?

In any romance, the author takes the reader along on every emotional step of the relationship journey. The HEA is obligatory. In a hot romance, we have all this, but the sexual action is pretty explicit as well. However, there will generally be only two or three sex scenes in the book and the writer will work up to it. In general, the vocabulary is relatively discreet and the sex isn’t kinky. In fact, the sex could be toned down without damaging the storyline.

In an Erotic Romance, a romantic relationship develops between characters and is expressed through sexual interaction. It might be kinky in any number of ways, but there’s an HEA (happily ever after). Angela Knight defined it this way:

Erotic romances are romances in which the focus of the story is on the growth of a loving relationship between at least two characters which ends in a permanent commitment between them. Sexual encounters play such an important role in the development of the romance that if the love scenes were removed, key plot events would be missing and the story would collapse. [my bold] 

The HEA is not an intrinsic part of Erotica, though it may be included. Erotica is more about the sexual journey of the characters and romance may, or may not develop.

As for Romantica, this is a term trademarked by Ellora’s Cave – note, by the way, Romance first, Erotica second.

Explicit Versus Crude

If you’re worried about language, then remember that explicit does not equal crude – and crude most definitely does not equal erotic. The writing of Emma Holly is a case in point. It’s lyrical, sensual and complex. Incredibly graphic, but not overburdened with those words.

If something squicks you out, do not write it! Your discomfort will show. Nothing turns a reader off faster. You need to be relaxed to write good sex. Drink a glass of wine, have fun and see if you can make yourself breathless!

The Good News

Being epublished –

  • If you’re prepared to work hard enough (say, four books a year, plus promotion) you can make a decent living.
  • You might get picked up by a big New York publisher. They’re still out there looking for erotic stories.
  • There’s a home somewhere for any length work, from short story to novella to novel.
  • Less stressful than print publication and you get to learn how to work with an editor.
  • No advances, but 35% to 40% of royalties and cheques usually come monthly.
  • You don’t need an agent.

Being print published –

  • Usually means an agent, either before the contract or after.
  • Opens up your work to a huge new world of readers that online publishing cannot reach.
  • Should make you more money. You’ll get an advance and hopefully, royalties.
  • Puts you with the ‘big girls’ and sets you on a career trajectory.

The Bad News

  • There’s an awful lot of truly abysmal stuff out there – shallow characters, banal plots, pedestriansex, clichés galore, poorly edited junk.
  • Readers are jaded. I’m thinking there’s a imit to the boundaries and we’re approaching it pretty fast. I’ve certainly reached mine.
  • Editors are jaded. Suz Gower, my Ellora’s Cave editor, refers to her ‘tingle meter’ with a sorrowful shake of the head. You’ll need to be pretty good to set it off!
  • You’ll make very little money in publishing unless you’re with one of the bigger houses like Ellora’s Cave.

Where is the market for Erotic Romance and Erotica now?

The newest subgenre in the field is homoerotic romance – that’s right, explicit male/ male romance written by straight women for other straight women. At the moment, it’s exclusively online, but it remains to be seen how long the print houses will wait and what action they will take. Fascinating! Torquere Press is a leader in Gay and Lesbian erotic fiction, although all erotic online publishers offer it to some degree.
The market is saturated, but there seems no end to readers’ desire for explicit romance, in both ebook and print. Paranormals give scope for all kind of sexual adventures, with dark, brooding vampires and shapeshifters remaining popular, or there’s BDSM for the ultimate in bossy heroes. But you could write in any subgenre and succeed, provided your story is good enough.Readers are still hungry for well-written Erotic Romance and Erotica. Which is the whole point, really. No amount of sex is a literary ‘get out of jail’ card for lazy writing.
Denise Rossetti started out writing erotic fantasies and paranormals for Ellora’s Cave. She has also written novellas for Avon Red and Berkley. The first of her erotic fantasy series (the Four-Sided Pentacle) for Berkley, The Flame and the Shadow, was released last year. The second, Thief of Light, will be available in November 2009.
Update: Book three in this series, The Lone Warrior was released May 2011 and has garnered a number of awards. Book four, The Dark Rose, will be released on 11 September this year.
In the Phoenix Rising series, the award winning Guilty as Sin was released in 2011.

Visit Denise at for excerpts, a newsletter and a blog.

Leave a comment


  1. Carol, aka Venetia Green

     /  June 20, 2012

    great article, Denise! Very inspiring and informative. I completely agree that there is a LOT of abysmal stuff out there in Erotica World, including a surprising amount of boring sex!
    I’ve got just a couple of questions for you …
    I typed the address for publishing comparisions in with no success. Do you know if the address has changed?
    Any idea about the interest in/demand for historical romantica?
    Keep it up! (what a dreadful pun …)

  2. Hi Carol!
    Glad to hear the article was useful, but it was written some time ago. I think erecsite has moved here –

    No idea about historicals because I don’t write them, but there seem to be plenty of them around. In any case, write the book of your heart. It’ll be much better than the book you thought would sell. Good luck!

    • Carol H

       /  June 26, 2012

      Thank you so much, Denise. It looks like a really valuable website/blog. You know, I’d never even considered writing erotic romance until I heard you talk at the last RWA conference. But just today my contract with Ellora’s Cave came through!!! (It was for their Blush line, but I’ve now written 2 ‘romantica’ novellas that I hope will find a home there too.)Looking forward to hearing you speak again in August.

      • Sorry, Carol. Only just chased this up! Huge congratulations on your contract! There’s nothing in the word to compare with the feeling! And whatever it was I said – *blinks* – I’m delighted to have contributed in any way at all. Just fabulous. May you sell squillions!
        Come and say gday at the GC conference. Would love to chat with you!

  3. Sorry, Carol, I’ve only just chased this up. Many congratulations on your new EC contract! That’s fabulous news! Enjoy the feeling, there’s nothing quite like it!
    And if anything I said – *blinks* – made even the smallest difference, then I’m delighted beyond measure to be able to contribute. Please come and say hello at the GC conference. I’d love to catch up!

  4. Sometimes WordPress gives me the serious irrits. I just typed one comment, had it swallowed and so typed another. Ack! And now it’s regurgitated it again. A pox on all its houses!

  1. Erotic Romance by Denise Rossetti at Romance Writers Australia

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