Erotica Has Been Mainstream for Years

 

I’ve been boggled recently by the number of authors who hold onto this stance that EL James somehow “invented,” made “mainstream,” or “legitimized” erotica. Erotica and the porn industry is a multi-BILLION dollar a year industry and has been for decades. You can’t get much more “mainstream” and “legitimate” when you are raking in that kind of sales every year.

The simple fact of the matter is, there were thousands of erotica writers already out in social media long before EL James came onto the scene, along with millions of erotic novels. James did not “pave the way” for erotica any more than Stephen King “paved the way” for horror or that Stephanie Meyer “paved the way” for vampires. People were already talking about erotic literature with their coworkers, erotic authors advertised their work on social media, there were already thousands of active forums and social media groups and websites devoted to talking about and advertising erotica, we were already discussing it in our book clubs, and we were already talking about it with friends. Erotica was already mainstream and a legitimate literature genre long before EL James. She may have become the poster child for the genre and made more money off of it than anyone else, but the genre was already very well established and doing very well long before her books were released. It is much the same way that while George Lucas and Gene Roddenbury may have made more money off of science fiction than many other sci-fi authors, the genre was alive and well long before they decided to join the ranks of HG Wells.

Erotica has had, and still has, a huge following, hundreds of millions of readers and thousands of authors all discussing the art form. All James’ books did was drawn in the very small minority of readers who had shied away from the genre. They picked up the book and began singing its praises. People who already read and appreciated the genre bought it to see what all the fuss was about, and most promptly tossed it to the side in favor of better writers because, again, they were already heavily into the genre and had been for years (multi-BILLION dollar industry, remember?). Despite the sales numbers, more people dislike the story than those who did like it, because again, there were more people already into the genre who were used to better written literature than there were “novice” readers who had just stumbled upon the genre. James’ success is certainly uncanny, but she certainly didn’t “legitimatize” the industry.

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There has been websites dedicated to erotic literature for decades now, and many of these authors have a very large following and a lot of success. Case in point – the above screen shot. This is a snippet of a list of the most read erotic stories on an adult website I used to write for. In case you can’t wrap your mind around the number of reads on that first story, it is 11,073,078. That’s over 11 MILLION reads on that story. The next one is over 8 MILLION reads. Just the first 11 stories (and that site hosts hundreds of thousands of stories and authors) on that site have more than 45 MILLION reads total. That’s pretty damn “mainstream” and “legitimate” for a genre which everyone seems to think didn’t appear until James’ got published, especially considering some of those stories came out years before 50 Shades.

Let’s also not forget Anne Rice’s Beauty Trilogy which was also a very successful BDSM publication which came out in the 80s, and also her book Exit to Eden. In addition, there are also the hundreds upon hundreds of Harlequin novels and authors which have been around for decades. These weren’t books being read in the privacy of people’s homes, they were being toted around on school campuses, to work, being talked about on social media and in book clubs. The billions and billions of people who already enjoyed the genre were already talking about it. James just got the other 20% of the population talking about it, too. While that is certainly something to be admired, it hardly makes her a “founding father” of the genre. While *you* i.e. the small number of readers who weren’t already into the genre may not have noticed what was going on in the literary world prior to 50 Shades, erotica was being written, it was being talked about it, and it was being advertised just as much as it has been since 50 Shades was released. People just didn’t notice it prior to James. It’s like saying murder and all the horrible things in the world weren’t happening before the days of social and broadcast media. Yes, it was. It’s just much more accessible now thanks to the media.

In summary, James has without a doubt become the poster child for erotica. However, there is a huge difference between being the poster child for a genre and actually being the first person who ever wrote in it. It is also a huge stretch to consider her the person who somehow broke down barriers on a genre that was already raking in over $4 BILLION dollars a year and which had several million erotic books already on Amazon’s virtual bookshelves. A poster child she may be, but erotica was already mainstream long before she came along, and it will continue to exist long after the next big craze hits.

The Publishing Bitch-Slap: Porn Novels Have Ruined the Literary Marketplace

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Consider this scenario:

5 young men wake up one morning and decide they want to form a band and record a record. They have never played a musical instrument or written any songs before, but since they have listened to music their entire lives they are pretty sure they can learn how to do it all.

They spend 4 weeks learning the basic chords and functions of their instruments and can play those chords well, but they have no idea how to string those chords together into music. They know nothing about harmony or melody, nothing about the recording business, nothing about laying down tracks or how to mix the different instruments into a single track.

Despite this, they buy some recording software and record an album, without the benefit of a professional recording studio or the behind-the-scenes professionals that help create a quality album, opting instead to do everything themselves or hire “friends” who know a little bit about the process. Two months later, the album is complete and they start selling it on every available outlet that will allow them to sell it as an indie title. How do you think the record would sound, as opposed to those albums recorded by musicians who have not only spent years mastering their art, but who had an entire team of professionals who knew how to create, mix, and produce a quality product?

Let’s take this a step further. Imagine now that this band starts sending this record out to every small radio station and blog it can find. Under normal circumstances, it would never get a single spin. It would end up in the trash bin because it did not come close to meeting industry standards.

But now imagine that this record and the band gather a fan base. Small at first, but word of mouth spreads. Soon it’s all anyone is talking about.  It’s all over social media. So many people are tweeting about it that more and more people rush out to buy the album just to see what everyone is talking about. It’s not that it is particularly good, but with so many people talking, the curiosity alone sustains it. Soon the band and their album are being covered by magazines and blogs, it’s went from small town basement radio stations to national radio stations. It’s hitting the charts, outranking bands that have been playing music for years.

THIS is what it feels like to be a veteran author in today’s market. I can think of no other way to describe it, when someone who just woke up one morning and decided they wanted to be a writer and two months later upload a poorly edited, literary train wreck to Amazon and then demand the same respect and success as those artists who have spent YEARS of their lives honing their craft, learning the business, and sitting at the feet of their mentors taking notes. They have allowed their work, a piece of their soul, to be ripped apart because, even though it hurts, they KNOW that only by listening to those with more experience than they, can they truly become a better writer.

After 3 DECADES spent writing, I still do not consider myself to be anywhere near the same league as the greats of my generation (Rice, Crichton, Cook), yet I see authors who have literally pushed our 6 novellas in as many months with questionable writing ability act as if they are some great smut Tolstoy. So when you wonder why authors who have spent years learning how to create solid plot lines and rich, well-rounded characters , those who agonize over each word put to paper, those who edit and rewrite mercilessly, those who painstakingly go over each and every word of the manuscript for plot holes, get all bent out of shape over the likes of FSOG, it is because we feel like we have been virtually bitch-slapped by the entire industry.

It’s like being a doctor, spending all that time in school learning the trade, and suddenly that knowledge no longer applies because anyone who took health class in elementary school can now be a doctor … or a lawyer … or a teacher. You get the idea. Just because the usual gates that normally would keep out those without the technical know-how came crashing down doesn’t mean everyone who had a notion to do something should go out and do it now that they can. Just because you sing in the shower doesn’t mean you should start booking concerts and performing in front of people.

In other words, just because anyone CAN be a writer now, doesn’t mean everyone IS a good writer. It takes lots of practice to get good at anything. So exactly why do people think the very first thing they slapped into a word document is worthy of publication?

Veteran authors’ disdain for FSOG and the inevitable pile of porn it has encouraged has nothing to do with envy of success, but everything to do with the level of professionalism we expect not only from ourselves, but from our fellow writers. We feel since we care so much about our readers and providing a well-written tale, everyone else should as well. So while the likes of FSOG may have been wildly successful, it bears repeating E. L. James’s lack of technical mastery is a fact that should have barred the manuscript from ever reaching an editor’s desk.