Erotica Cover Watch: Group Hug!
Erotica Cover Watch: Group Hug!
We launched Erotica Cover Watch on September 11th, a little over three months ago, and since then, My, haven’t we’ve grown? With the holidays approaching, we thought it timely to give ourselves a group hug (C’mere, you!) and take a look at our achievements so far. We also thought it appropriate to reward ourselves – and our supporters – with one or two early Christmas presents. (Eyes left!)
Our biggest surprise when we kicked off this campaign was the strength of the backlash. We simply hadn’t anticipated it. We thought people would mainly go, ‘Gosh, you’re right, how unfair,’ then Mat and I would run out of things to say (stop laughing) and we’d get back to writing our novels. Sure, we expected a few chumps to pop up and go, ‘But women are, like, more beautiful than men, innit?’ and ‘Wimmins is not visual because they have breasts and no eyeballs.’ And of course they did (sort of). Prior to starting the blog, we did our best to answer the usual arguments against men on erotica covers by writing But, but, but…
Nonetheless, the arguments and – ouch! – the vitriol came. People said stuff like, ‘This is just a bunch of haterade‘. We were described as militant, ungrateful, sexist and desperate. We were called ‘hard-headed feminists’ ‘do gooders’ and, um, ‘lesbians‘ (I still haven’t figured that one out). We were taken to task for not reading the books whose covers we were analysing. We were accused of ‘bathing in heated pools of hypocrisy’, ‘doing a hit job’ on fellow writers, giving feminism a bad name, hurting people’s feelings and wanting to do damage to erotica publishing.
Thankfully, there were many people prepared to engage with the issue, to support our cause and discuss the difficulties we faced. Some sent us private messages of support and we appreciated this as well. Ours is a small industry and it’s understandable some writers might not want their views aired in front of the editors who pick their fiction. While we’d all like to think editors make choices based only on the merit and suitability of the submitted pieces of work, we know the decision-making process isn’t so straightforward and that power moves in mysterious ways. But one thing is clear: Mat and I made no claim to be able to change erotica’s sexism overnight, so we were warmed and encouraged by early comments such as ‘I hope this blog generates some much needed conversation in the industry’ (Kristina Wright) and ‘It’s a great blog and a useful debate’ (Maxim Jakubowski). More recently, Craig Sorensen said, ‘I don’t have the answers, but I enjoy being part of the questioning.’
This has been Erotica Cover Watch’s great success: we have got people talking. We’ve raised awareness about a problem so deeply entrenched, many people hadn’t even noticed it. Plenty of people, however, had noticed it and were quick to support us. Olivia Knight became a tireless ally, offering many wonderful observations; Janine Ashbless was the first to put our BICEPS logo on her own blog; Helen E H Madden (no relation) was the first to blog about us; and Girl With a One Track Mind was soon on our side as well. The few names in our list of ‘Extra Muscle’ (see sidebar) grew and grew as people discovered our site and gave us a great big thumbs up. Everything counted, from quick comments saying ‘well done’ or ‘couldn’t agree more’ to high-profile names such as bloggers Ms Naughty and Figleaf or bestselling romance author, Robin Schone, writing intelligently about our aims and spreading the word.
Our Man Candy Mondays have proved popular too, with several people beefing up their blogs and starting the week in fine style. Wintersinger has been Mancandying with us from the off and hasn’t missed a single date.
So thank you all! When Mat and I were brainstorming ideas for ECW, we agreed we’d try to steer clear of images suggesting man-on-man action because we were keen to put out the visual message that sexy men needn’t equal gay desire (ah, we are so subliminal!). We wanted to convey that women found men hot too and we’d like some of it sent our way, thanks, to save us having to go sneaking among gay porn wearing moustaches and chaps. But fuck it! It’s Christmas. Take off your ‘taches! Women know gay is hot! (It’s much like straight men kink for lesbians – double of what pushes your buttons). So here, have another present:
But has anything happened apart from a lot of political chat and some nekkid men? Have we actually had any impact on the erotica industry? Well, yes, more than we dared hope. We’ve had major-league erotica editors stopping by and, while it’s frequently pointed out that freelance editors have no say in the covers of their books, we know that’s not quite the full picture, so we’re glad to have their ears. In-house editors do have more say than freelancers when it comes to covers and Adam Nevill, editor with our main publisher, Black Lace Books, said, ‘you can always suggest a good photographer of men and couples to me’.
So far, so small, but small is good; small is how change usually happens. Then along came the wonderfully named Bookkake, an indie publisher ‘dedicated to new and classic works of transgressive literature’. Bookkake publish books with stunning covers, and while the images are rendered subtle and oblique, the emphasis to date has been on women’s bodies. So we got in touch (are we sounding like the Mafia here?). Bookkake took our point, responded positively and enthusiastically, and said, ‘we’ll certainly try harder‘.
Score! I think it’s time for another present.
Xcite books and their newish range of titles aimed at women came under our scrutiny. Mat wrote: ‘Xcite books, how did you miss refreshing the clunkiest cliché of all? Every cover is a picture of a woman! When you went for that women’s erotica market did you never think of us poor straight women?‘
Well, score again! Because Miranda Forbes, editor at Xcite, recently dropped by to say ‘Great to read how people feel about our covers … Promise we’ll get some men’s bums on to some covers very soon‘.
So we have much to look forward to! And I’ll be first in the queue for one of those man-candy covers – oh, OK, joint first. All in all, setting up this blog has been fantastically encouraging and rewarding. Thanks to everyone who’s helped move this debate forward. Your support makes us feel guardedly optimistic – and that rocks!
Erotica Cover Watch is taking a semi-break for the holidays. We’ll still be bringing you regular Man Candy Mondays but we’re putting our feet up on the word front for a while. We’ll be back in the New Year when, among other things, we’ll be bringing you – ohmygollygosh – an interview with pioneering sex-positive feminist and erotica hero, Susie Bright. Until then, our very best wishes to you all and enjoy the holidays!