Thursday, October 15, 2009


Erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave ( put on its first annual Romanticon last weekend in Ohio near the publisher’s headquarters. This is one of my publishers; I have several paranormal erotic romances out from them, plus a contemporary elf romance from their non-erotic division, Cerridwen Press. The con was cozy and relaxing, with (from what I heard) about 150 people attending. Only about half were authors, meaning the other half were fans of our books. Cool! The vast majority were women. I saw only a few men other than the seven or eight cover models who posed for pictures and performed roles such as announcing raffle ticket winners at the big group events.

I’ve never attended (or even heard of) a convention strictly for one publisher before. It turned out to be a delightful experience. The very nice program book, in trade paperback format, included detailed summaries of the panels and pages with spaces for each author’s name, so people could collect signatures in a systematic way. I signed more autographs than I ever have at one time, thanks to that feature. We had a huge book fair Sunday afternoon. I got to stay for most of it (having to leave for the airport about fifteen minutes before the end) and sold four or five books. The Friday night event was a “psychedelic soiree,” a casual meal of hot dogs, hamburgers, etc., with music from the 1960s and early 1970s—my generation’s sound. The music was way too loud, but I’m always on the losing side on that issue. Sigh. The tie-dyed theme carried throughout the weekend but was especially prominent on this evening. I enjoyed seeing people’s fringed miniskirts and other hippie attire. I wore a caftan.

The Saturday night dinner included recognition and awards, some serious, most of them fun and frivolous, such as “most erotic use of e-mail in a story” and “hottest home improvement.” One nice feature was the presentation of “Rising Star” trophies to all the authors who had new releases this year. As far as I’ve experienced, Ellora’s Cave treats its authors well. The personal touch is one of the advantages of writing for a small press, whether E or print.

Panels and presentations discussed business and genre-related topics for writers. I thought the most interesting and useful features was the set of reader focus session, in which readers gave feedback on what they like and dislike in various subgenres of romance. The 50- to 60-minute time slots didn’t really leave enough room to talk as much as people wanted. Under the moderation of the managing editor, these sessions were lively and a rousing success. To me, the most interesting and useful was the discussion on taboos in romance. What situations and character types turn readers off? What words are or are not sexy?

Naturally, people didn’t all agree about language. Whether certain words are exciting or repellent depends so much on individual background and age. We did agree that some terms might work in context for a man to use in conversation, but the heroine wouldn’t use those same words. I brought up a gripe I have with my editor sometimes, the request to use the “graphic” (i.e., formerly known as unprintable) words in place of non-four-letter terms that are actually more specific. Many times, I think it’s more descriptive and even more exciting to specify what portion of the male organ (for instance) is being referenced than simply to use the generic “graphic” term for that organ. Especially when the same word gets used over and over again in a scene. The moderator agreed that variety is important, too. To me, “graphic” means lots of details and very explicit description of sensations and emotions. To the publisher, “graphic” means these elements PLUS a generous use of the words (or a certain two or three of them) you didn’t used to be able to say on television.

It was also fascinating to hear what readers and authors thought about behavior that would make characters ineligible to be heroes or heroines. For example, how close can two people be related and still have a romantic bond? Most people thought a stepparent and stepchild couple would be acceptable in some circumstances. Opinion was divided on first cousins, but nobody seemed to mind the idea of such a pairing in historical fiction, since those marriages were more common in earlier centuries than now (in this country, anyway). Any transgression in the category of harming children or cruelty to animals, everyone agreed, made a character irredeemable. Rape (no matter how far in the past) also barred a man from becoming a romantic hero. (That’s quite a difference from a few decades ago, when a relationship could begin with rape if the author could convince the reader of extenuating circumstances. No romance publisher would allow that plot device nowadays.) A murderer, however, could be redeemed, depending on the circumstances, his motive, and his emotional and moral growth since the act. A woman who’d worked as a prostitute could be a heroine, again depending on her reasons for taking up that career. Interestingly, Marion Zimmer Bradley redeems a rapist in TWO TO CONQUER. The story ranges over many years of his life, beginning in youth. We get to know him first as a character with good qualities and see the events that turn him into a hardened, selfish man driven by ambition. In redeeming him, of course, MZB has the advantage of telepathy. A woman with laran (psychic power) invades his mind to force him to see the rape through the eyes of his victim. Genuine remorse ensues.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. As a blogging book reviewer, I have noticed Ellora's Cave/Cerridwen Press really does go the extra mile to engage readers and learn what they really want, instead of just relying on sales numbers. I think holding their own convention was a smart move, considering that most Romance readers consider Erotica outside the genre. (I do too, for the record.) And I think it will grow in popularity for that very reason. Even though I don't read anything hotter than Sensual (with rare exceptions), I'm all for anything which stretches the boundaries.

  2. "I think holding their own convention was a smart move, considering that most Romance readers consider Erotica outside the genre."

    Keep in mind that there's a difference between erotica (simply) and erotic romance. Erotica focuses on a character's "sexual journey" of self-discovery and doesn't require any permanent commitment between the characters. Erotic romance must have the same focus on falling in love and attaining a "happily ever after" as any other romance, the only difference being the heat level.

    In this area of fiction, I write only romance, not pure erotica. In addition to my erotic romances with EC, I have a non-erotic elf romance from Cerridwen Press, their other division, and several paranormal romances from Amber Quill Press.

    Of course, with the very explicit material that's now allowed by some mass market publishers, it's getting more difficult to tell the difference between very "hot" sensual romance and true erotic romance.