Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Erotica Cover Watch: Young Studs, ed Cecilia Tan

with 10 comments

Erotica Cover Watch: Young Studs, ed. Cecilia Tan, pub. Ravenous Romance

Tan-MFAnthology_290Tan_youngstuds

Okay, so we’re in a recession and you can only afford to buy one of these two books. I know, life sucks. But which one will you go for? Think carefully! Money’s tight, remember. And this is a tough call. On the one hand, you’ve got …

Oh, so you all just bought Young Studs and a copy for your friend. I see.

But here’s a thing: there was no need to choose. I fooled ya! MILF Fantasies and Young Studs are the exact same book – well, on the inside at least. Now, this isn’t a publisher trying to trick you into buying the same thing twice; this is a publisher responding to its readers.

Cecilia Tan, editor of the anthology, got in touch with Erotica Cover Watch to tell about this ‘victory for the female gaze’. When MILF Fantasies was first released as an ebook early in 2009, it barely sold. Cecilia was informed it was one of Ravenous Romance’s worst selling anthologies. Then the book was repackaged, the pretty woman on the cover vanished and along came three young dudes baring their rock hard abs – result! Within days, the book shot into RR’s top ten.

Ravenous Romance are primarily an erotic romance publisher. As we know, there’s beefcake aplenty on romance covers because, in catering explicitly to women, the genre doesn’t have to worry about deterring male consumers. But RR are also publishing straight erotica such as Young Studs (contributors include names familiar to anyone who reads smut: Rachel Kramer Bussel, Elizabeth Coldwell, Andrea Dale, Sage Vivant) and, because these are ebooks, again the publisher needn’t fret about passing guys going all weird at the sight of another guy with his kit off. As Cecilia wrote: ‘What [RR] have found is that the ebook audience is so overwhelmingly female that the “normal” rules of erotica publishing (you know the ones, the ones that say a woman has to be on the cover) Do Not Apply.

I think this is progress. Sure, we want to see men and couples on covers that exist in spaces other than those reserved for women. We want men to be sexualised in the way women are sexualised. We want het erotica for men and women to be represented by men and women on the covers. It’s called equality. And if ebooks can nudge erotica publishing in that direction, I’m happy.

I’m currently working with Alison Tyler and Pretty Things Press and had my first epublication a couple of weeks ago. Yay me! One of the great joys has been discussing covers with Alison who’s more than happy to experiment with a range of styles. And I can promise you, in anthologies to come, there will be smokin’ hot guys on our e-covers!

BWE2010What’s particularly interesting in the redesign of Tan’s book is the title change and shift in emphasis from the woman who is fantasising to what she’s fantasising about. Erotica, still lingering in the wake of being a male-aimed genre, frequently focuses on women. It’s preference is not just for women on its covers but also for the female voice; the female revelation and confession; the authentic female experience. Erotica (like porno) often wants evidence of women having a good time and could be accused of prioritising that rather than actually offering them a good time.

It’s well known that lots of women are hot for M/M but in, for example, Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica series, the writers’ call for submissions state:

The desired orientation within the main sexual element of the stories is primarily heterosexual, yet bisexuality and lesbian encounters are also encouraged. The primary focus of sexual activity must be on the female experience; female pleasure is the main element.

MILF Fantasies seems to be following in that tradition as do numerous other erotica books with titles such as Dirty Girls, Kinky Girls, Hot Women’s Erotica, Ultimate Curves etc. Women aren’t just looked at on the covers; they’re looked at in the titles and the text. And what women are looking at (in their heads, in their fantasies) is downplayed or discounted.

Hot_Dads__The_DI_49d62b151af1d As MILF to Young Studs illustrates, the content of a book can stay the same but how it’s marketed and who it’s aimed at can differ greatly. And Ravenous Romance are boldly targeting their erotica at women – and the strategy is clearly successful.

Look what’s riding high in their charts right now: The DILF Anthology.

I mean, no one would dream of designing a book like that to market to straight men, would they?

Kristina
xx

Instant gratification: go here to download Cecilia Tan’s The MILF Anthology Young Studs.

Written by Kristina Lloyd

July 30, 2009 at 7:04 am

10 Responses

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  1. Great post. I really do dislike MILF concept. Of course women would much rather these stories were positioned as their desire for Hot Studs rather than the concept that they should be lucky enough to fall into the fuckable category even when they are no longer virginal. And doesn’t the whole MILF thing feel like the exception. Like, most mothers bleurrrgh – however *she’s* a MILF. But, anyway….

    That part of the guidelines for Best Women’s Erotica has always annoyed me. For the last antho I sent some m/m and it was rejected. Course I don’t know if it was rejected just for that reason but it would be interesting to know if ‘Best *Women’s* Erotica’ acknowledges that women love m/m – especially with that paragraph seeming to say they don’t and it’s a book about women getting off rather than a book about getting women off.

    Possibly relatedly Best Women’s editor Violet Blue recently wrote what seems to be a rather misguided piece about why women don’t like porn. And there’s a brilliant dissection of it here which I can’t recommend strongly enough

    http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/why_dont_men_read_more_romance_novels/

    mathildemadden

    July 30, 2009 at 8:47 am

  2. Nom! Lovely cover. And yes, I’d buy one for my buddy too!!

    Sarah

    July 30, 2009 at 8:47 am

  3. Personally I think the MILF term is derogatory and would never use it. As someone involved in marketing I struggle to believe that a book titled ‘MILF fantasies’ would ever have sold, given that they know the target market is largely female.

    If it helps to disprove the ‘women aren’t visually-stimulated theory’ then it’s a useful piece of psychology!

    PF

    July 30, 2009 at 11:17 am

  4. Perhaps I should have said this in the piece but Cecilia Tan did make it clear to me she didn’t choose the title, MILF Fantasies.

    Because, yeah, I think a lot of people would agree it’s pretty offensive.

    kristinalloyd

    July 30, 2009 at 11:41 am

  5. Lovely, lovely cover. I am agog at the pretty boys.

    I think that this is an interesting look not just at the ‘images’ used on covers, but as you’re all talking about, the ‘mental projection.’ One of the main differences (to me) between MILF Fantasies and Young Studs, is that the first is unattainable. It’s clearly labeled as such — ‘fantasies’ — and even the fuzzed-out bodies of the boys are out of reach (*squint* Is that a muscular chest back there? I don’t know. I can’t really see around her hair.). Whereas the other book promises me that the young studs are there, they’re at the ready, they’re just waiting for me to arrive. (Hypothetically, of course. *cough*).

    Also, I already know I’m a MILF with fantasies (well, I’m not a MILF, since I don’t have kids, but I am -almost- a cougar, which should count, right?), so I don’t need to see a hot older woman fantasizing when I already have that in the mirror.

    Truly, I’m turned on by hot photos of either and both genders. But I’m even more turned on (and prompted to buy) when a cover ‘speaks’ to me. Ideally when it says, “Yes, you can have this. Oh, yes.”

    Best, s.

    SG

    July 30, 2009 at 12:05 pm

  6. Victory, victory, victory! Vidi, veni! And thanks for the great link to pandagon too.

    Now send forth the studs…

    Olivia Knight

    July 30, 2009 at 3:22 pm

  7. I’m also not a huge fan of ‘Milf’ or even ‘cougar’. After all, what are older guys called who date younger women? Successful? Powerful? No, once again they get off easy and it’s the woman who gets the handle – trophy wife.

    I will admit I was pleased when I asked a young studly I worked with if I was a MILF and he said yes. I asked why and he replied, ‘All that smudgy eye makeup.’hoho.
    Hurrah for smudgy eye make up!

    Madeline Moore

    August 3, 2009 at 3:48 am

  8. I look at the cover on my left and think: Oh. It’s a book with fantasies for male readers about fucking hot thirty-something women. I’d assume it was Penthouse forum-style stuff, perhaps of interest if you’re a straight male with a horny housewife fantasy, but so completely focused on the male as actor, female as subject, why bother reading it if you’re female?

    Cover on the right, I’d think: Might be straight erotica that I’d find arousing. Or it might be gay erotica – also compelling, since the focus would still be on the male form. Which is good, because cocks are beautiful and tits are boring.

    Maybe the writers of this blog can rework their campaign, and convince erotica publishers that every hetero and bi woman has a gay man within her just waiting to get out. Because the notion that the defining characteristic of female heterosexuality is lust for men is obviously ridiculous. Apparently, the defining characteristics of hetero female sexuality are actually narcissism and lust for the female form. Yet neither staring at the mirror nor girl-watching have ever made me wet. Obviously I need professional help. I wonder if fundie therapists that specialize in attempting to cure gay men of their “terrible and unnatural desires” would have better success curing me of my disturbingly similar terrible and unnatural desires? I so want to be a normal heterosexual woman: attracted to large piles of money, pretty shoes, security, and other women’s boobs.

    vitmaria

    August 6, 2009 at 5:03 am

  9. Thanks for posting this – it really does a fabulous job of encapsulating the concept of the female gaze and how marketing people so often miss the point.

    Ms Naughty

    August 6, 2009 at 10:54 am

  10. [...] This is a cool post on women/desire and the male gaze. [...]


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