Archive for July 2009
Erotica Cover Watch: Young Studs, ed. Cecilia Tan, pub. Ravenous Romance
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!
What’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.
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?
Instant gratification: go here to download Cecilia Tan’s
The MILF Anthology Young Studs.
This is David Williams. He plays Australian Football or something. I’m sure that’s important to him. It’s rather less important to me right now, ’cause all I can think is how thighs like that are good things to have.
On Thursday – are you still listening to me? – Kristina will be looking at some exciting news from the world of e-books.
Here’s your Monday sweetness – Tyler Christopher. Have a great week!
Sex Fantasies by Women for Women, ed. Lisa Sussman, pub. Thorsons
Watched by Mathilde Madden
When Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden hit the shelves in 1973 it was breaking a lot of exciting (if obvious to us in our brave new liberated world) news to the world:
The fact that women masturbated and enjoyed sexual fantasy and the diverse nature of female sexual fantasy.
Nowadays, whilst female sexual fantasy, masturbation and orgasm are firm facts of our sexual landscape (and new frontiers like female ejaculation and G-spot orgasms are being conquered and claimed), volumes of female sexual fantasy crowd the shelves.
My Secret Garden has begat a hundred daughters. What are they here for? Who are they here for?
Surely they are aimed at women. I mean, could anything, any subject, be more about female desire than female sexual fantasy?
But take a look at this cover here. I don’t feel like this book is aimed at me.
Strange. I dug out a couple more.
Who are these books for? Are female sexual fantasies now like so much once authentic expressions of female desire now just another feminised sex product aimed at men?
Sometimes it seems like every time another stride is taken towards the liberation and acceptance of female desire, it gets gobbled up and made part of the male desire servicing machine as a pure commodity. These book covers make it look like in thirty five years female sex fantasy has transformed from a groundbreaking admission of women having sexual desire too into Hey guys, come look at these horny bitches. Or is that just me?
In fact this taps right into the issues we raised in an earlier post about the idea of books of sexual ‘confessions’ and the reasons why these books are always positioned as confessions made by women (and usually to men). Isn’t this endless commoditisation of female desire into a product for male consumption insulting and also really out of place in an industry that presents itself as egalitarian, welcoming of all kinds of sexual desire? (Which I think is the image erotica publishing likes to present.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, male fantasies seem to be far less of a thing. Maybe men don’t want to read other men’s fantasies. Scary. I found this ancient looking tome. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised about the cover. And I also found this (below left), which is a big favourite with us at Cover Watch, for the title alone.
In other book cover news, friend of Cover Watch, Alison Tyler, has a great post about the lack of man candy covers in her own prolific library. And she invites writers to pen some erotica inspired by images of men. I also hear the wonderful Charlotte Stein has just such a story in Black Lace’s Sexy Little Numbers so it’s well worth pre-ordering a copy of that if you haven’t yet.
And finally, Xcite books are running a poll about what readers want to see on book covers. You know we want you to go vote (bottom left).
I spent a lot of time last week thinking about getting shafted by a bunch of men in suits. If you missed it, Mathilde and I had a piece in The Guardian slamming the suspension of Black Lace and the loss of this imprint which, for 16 years, has provided an important forum for expressions of female sexuality.
We’re back cover watching this Thursday when Mathilde will be looking at books on sexual fantasy. You know the kind of thing: women reveal how they like to imagine, say, getting shafted by a bunch of men in suits, and on the cover …
Ah, it’s almost too easy, this stuff.
Wow, I know those guys are all buttoned up to the neck, but that picture is pushing a lot of my hot buttons.
He giveth with one hand, he taketh with the other – perhaps appropriate for the God of One-Handed Reads.
So there we were on Thursday, merrily celebrating Xcite putting a guy on a book cover thanks to us, and then BAM! On Friday, along came a press release stating that the UK’s main women’s erotica imprint, Black Lace, was to fold after 16 years.
OK, so the official line is the imprint, along with Nexus, has been put on hold with no new titles released in 2010. Authors haven’t yet heard anything but the mood is gloomy. It’s been a long, difficult weekend, particularly for debut authors whose books are scheduled to be released towards the end of 2009.
There’s a lot of bewilderment, sadness and anger. Comments on The Bookseller site include:
The loss of Black Lace and Nexus will leave a huge hole in what is left of literary, intelligent erotica and, I’m sure, must be devastating for Adam Nevill and all the authors currently writing for the imprints.
How stupid is Virgin Books, and in particular how strategically dumb is Mr. Sadler?
I think the marketing department may be screwing things up for them. No doubt this is a recession cost cutting thing. I love Black Lace. I want to see more.
Some Black Lace books are stunning in their intellectual exploration of sexuality and beauty of literary expression.
Between them Black Lace and Nexus have been responsible for most of the worthwhile literary erotica published over the last two decades […] It is a great shame that Random House seem incapable of appreciating the value of this […] The closure – and who believes they are merely suspended – of these two imprints is a foolish and cowardly decision.
Inevitably, there’s been a lot of chat, sympathy and speculation on Twitter (#blacklace) and elsewhere. Some have wondered whether the high number of reprints have damaged sales or if Black Lace has failed to keep pace with a growing and changing erotica market. Others have asked if the imprint’s move towards erotic romance a couple of years ago damaged brand identity and caused confusion and loss of reader confidence. Most longstanding Black Lace authors are only too aware of Virgin and Random House’s failure to invest in the line. Marketing was practically non-existent, the website rarely got updated, advances and flat fees were down and our fabulous editor, Adam Nevill, worked his nuts off trying to keep Black Lace and Nexus alive despite the loss of key members of his staff due to ‘reorganisation and cuts’ in 2008.
And so, in our current economic climate, the vulnerable go to the wall. Authors are hoping to hear something more concrete this week, and there’s understandable anger at the company’s ability to write a press release announcing the line’s suspension yet inability to inform its authors. We’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, get your orders in for Volume 1 of Best Women’s Erotica from Black Lace, due out next month (September in the States). The table of contents reads like a roll call of today’s top erotica writers, established and upcoming: Charlotte Stein, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Justine Elyot, Portia Da Costa, EllaRegina, Janine Ashbless, Shayla Kersten, Madelynne Ellis, Kay Jaybee, Kristina Wright, Delilah Devlin. My story, Rebecca, a filthy riff on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel, is the first piece in the collection. Get it while you can. It could be the last Black Lace anthology ever published. (Shame about the woman’s arse on the cover.)
Last night I dreamt he came on my face again …
We’re back! It’s beautiful! And we’re boasting! Find out why by scrolling down this man:
Remember when we started Erotica Cover Watch? We wanted to highlight how unfair it was that sexy books always featured sexy women on the covers and *never* sexy men. It was a crazy time on the blog with people zooming in from far and wide to join the debate. We got a lot of enthusiastic support (thank you!) and a lot of flak (yeah, sod off!). One of the frequent criticisms we heard was that you couldn’t put a guy on a cover because the world would end. OK, I’m paraphrasing a tad. What some of our critics said was that our efforts were pointless since publishers’ attitudes were never going to change. Were a publisher ‘to go radically against the grain,’ we were told, ‘they would just be committing commercial suicide’.
Back in September, we didn’t know if anyone with influence would take any notice of what we were saying. Of course, we hoped they would. I wrote: If one publishing co, having heard what we are saying, opts to put a bloke on the cover instead of a woman […] and they actually give consideration to women as consumers, I’d consider that a victory.
And so we have it! Our amazing victory! Yippee!
When we first stumbled across Sex and Satisfaction 2 on one of our regular patrols, we were so happy we did a little dance (the BICEPS boogie). But it wasn’t until we got in touch with Xcite’s editor, Miranda Forbes, that we realised the decision to put a guy on the cover was a result of our campaigning! Yes, lil ol’ us! We did it! And you lot – the people who’ve supported us by commenting, lurking, emailing, drooling, spreading the word or joining our Man Candy Mondays – you are all part of our success and you too must do the BICEPS boogie!
After we’d caught our breath, we put a few questions to Miranda about Xcite and the sexy, wet man in a low-slung towel and this is what she said:
Practically all erotica covers feature a sexy woman. What inspired you to put a hot guy on the cover of Sex and Satisfaction 2?
Well, I must confess that it’s a direct result of reading the Erotica Cover Watch blog! We do tend to go for female covers but you made us think again and hence the sexy hunk this time.
We’re thrilled! Thank you. What’s the response been like so far?
So far we have only got the reaction of the trade buyers but orders are good so it is looking promising.
On ECW, we’ve heard people argue publishers can’t put hot guys on erotica covers because people will assume the book’s aimed at gay men. Has this been a concern of yours?
Yes, I did get that feedback from one of the buyers who felt it looked like a book aimed at gay men. We will have to see what our readers feel. I do understand that many women prefer a man on the cover. We are quite unusual because we accept male writers writing using male names – since most of our readers enjoy heterosexual stories it seemed a shame to exclude men from writing them!
We’ve also been told booksellers would refuse to stock such books on the grounds the reading public don’t like men on their smut. Have any of your usual stockists turned the book down?
The first Sex and Satisfaction is Xcite’s bestselling title to date. Are you optimistic about the success of Sex and Satisfaction 2? Do you feel you’re taking a financial risk in putting a guy on a potential top-selling title?
Yes, Sex and Satisfaction is our bestselling title to date which goes to show our readers want sex AND satisfaction! It was a risk but we felt it was a good book to try the new cover format as we expected it to do well and it would get good exposure.
Can readers look forward to more Xcite books with sexy guys on the cover?
I really hope so. We will monitor the reaction and will use more men if we get a good response. We are also using couples more and Ultimate Curves features a lovely curvy girl since all the stories celebrate sexy larger ladies.
How did you choose the image? Did someone have to trawl through hundreds of photos of semi-naked men? If so, can we have their job please?
Sorry, not giving up that perk of my job – I also get to read sexy stories every day, it’s tough but someone has to do it! The hardest part is thinking up new titles so suggestions are welcome. Please email them to email@example.com – there’ll be a free goodie box for any we use.
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Sex and Satisfaction 2 has just been released and we’ve got a fabulous 25% discount for readers of Erotica Cover Watch. The anthology features stories from top smutters including Donna George Storey, Scarlet mag regular, Carmel Lockyer (aka Kay Sexton), Sommer Marsden, Dakota Rebel and soon-to-be Xcite novelist, Jeremy Edwards, whose story, Moistened by Mercer, can be downloaded for free right here!
If you support our campaign and would like to see more hot guys on erotica book covers we urge you to put your money where the muscle is and buy this book! To claim your 25% discount via Xcite’s store, simply add the code ECW25 to your order and £7.99 magically becomes £5.99! It’s easy-peasy. I know because I just tried it – and now (despatch within two hours!) I’m looking forward to owning my very first erotic fiction anthology with a guy on the cover. Jeesh, feels like we’re making history here!
* * *
Since we did this interview with Miranda, Xcite have released their second erotica cover featuring a super-sexy guy. Boy Fun is, as you may have guessed, m/m, so straight guys aren’t really part of its target audience, meaning this cover doesn’t challenge erotica’s sexist norms in quite the way Sex and Satisfaction 2 does. However, it is totally fucking hot so we think you need to see it! Plus, it’s great that an erotica imprint whose books are aimed primarily at women are embracing m/m. Erotic romance cottoned on to m/m’s hotness a long time ago. Hurrah, erotica is catching up!
Boy Fun is set for release in March 2010 and Xcite are still open to submissions of guy-on-guy action. Check out their guidelines here along with Xcite’s other current calls for subs.
And remember, Xcite are looking for title suggestions so drop them a line if you want to be in with a chance of winning a goodie box.
If you want Sex and Satisfaction 2 to be the first of many books featuring hot guys on the cover, please let the publishers know by buying yourself a copy. The code ECW25 will get you 25% off the cover price at Xcite. Then read it on the train, on the bus, on the tube; tell all your friends; link to this blog, and help us spread the word: women find men sexy! More please!