The success of Fifty Shades of Grey has cast a bright spotlight on the romance book industry. But the popularity is hardly news to Tina M. Engler, who founded thriving erotic romance publishing house Ellora’s Cave in 2000 and has been releasing books digitally long before the eBook boom. (Ellora’s Cave took in $12 million in 2012, according to alternative weekly newspaper Cleveland Scene.) In this Zola Q&A, Engler—also an author herself under the pen name Jaid Black—explains why there’s a lot more to the genre than ripped bodices and bulging biceps and shares a few of her favorite new authors.
Zola: For those out there who have never read a romance novel, what is the difference between traditional romance, erotic romance, and erotica?
Tina M. Engler: On one side of the spectrum there is traditional romance, which tends to focus on a burgeoning love relationship between one man and one woman. Sex, if depicted at all, is typically expressed in flowery metaphors and lacks descriptive detail. Erotica, at the other end of the spectrum, focuses solely on a burgeoning sexual relationship between one or more partners of various genders and sexual orientations. Love, if depicted at all, is glossed over as sort of an afterthought. Erotic romance is a fusion of these two genres; it focuses on both the developing love relationship between two (or more) partners as well as their sexual bond. Erotic romance is, at least in my opinion, truer to the total human experience than either traditional romance or erotica.
Zola: What are the characteristics of the romance industry that set it apart from other genres? What, exactly, makes it a billion-dollar industry?
TE: It makes for great escapism from life’s everyday troubles and worries by providing the reader with an HEA (Happily Ever After.) Real life can be trying enough without reading anxiety-provoking works during your leisure time!
Zola: What do you think of Fifty Shades of Grey and similar titles? How have such novels changed the landscape of the romance industry?
TE: I haven’t read this particular book so I’m not in a position to critique it. That said, erotic romance changed the landscape of both the romance and erotica genres long ago. The only thing Fifty Shades did was catch the media up to speed on what readers were already buying.
Zola: What makes a romance novel or erotic novel great? Is it the love scenes? The hero? Or something else entirely?
TE: For me it’s all of the above and then some. There should also be an engrossing plot, engaging primary and secondary characters, and a strong hero and heroine. There should be sexual tension galore, descriptive sex during and after the consummation scene, and a true emotional bond that develops between the primary characters.
Zola: How has the publishing world changed in the decade or so since you published your first book? How do you see it continuing to evolve? Is this vision you have friendlier to the romance genre and romance writers than perhaps it has been in the past?
TE: In the beginning I was constantly fighting an uphill battle to prove that erotic romance is legitimate literature, not just within the publishing industry as a whole but also within the romance industry itself. Eventually I quit trying to prove anything. I mean, it was ridiculous to argue about the legitimacy of what I wrote and published to a traditional romance author making 1/1000 of what I was making! It can only be art if you’re dead-ass broke while creating it? I disagree.
As to the industry becoming “friendlier,” I don’t see that happening until misogyny is dead. If women wrote 99% of mystery novels then mysteries would no longer carry the distinction of being “real literature.” Ditto that with sci-fi or any other genre. Unfortunately, the misogyny present in the publishing world can’t even be placed squarely at the feet of men; women make up the majority of all readers in all genres. And as long as women as powerful as Oprah continue to denigrate our literature as fluff, it will continue to be viewed by society at large as that very thing.
Zola: Is the future of the romance industry in eBooks—and therefore with self-publishers and indie publishers—or traditional publishing? What discrepancies exist between the titles available through digital bookstores and those in brick-and-mortar stores?
TE: The future is definitely in eBooks, and all publishing houses, big and small alike, are leaning towards that model more and more. In other words, I don’t think big publishers will die out unless they refuse to deal with the reality of the situation by insisting on clinging to the old ways. The downside to eBooks is that literally anybody can publish a book now and as a consequence consumers are starting to feel burned by inferior writing and sub-par and/or non-existent editing. The best way to combat that is to be a wise consumer: look to see who the publisher of Novel X is and the reputation of said publisher before buying.
In the early days of eBooks, the discrepancies between what you could find online and offline were huge. My company experienced rapid financial success because we literally had no offline (or online) competition. When it came to erotic romance, or what we trademarked Romantica®, there was Ellora’s Cave, Ellora’s Cave, and Ellora’s Cave! Nowadays the discrepancies still exist, but not to that extreme degree. EC is still far more sexually explicit and trailblazing than traditional publishers, and because we have always been an e-first house, we’re willing to take more risks with new ideas and sub-genres.
Zola: What are some romance industry trends and authors you think readers should look out for this year? What books are you most looking forward to in 2013?
TE: I think our Gen-Edge line is one to watch out for because we’re (A) expanding it and (B) it taps into a previously overlooked market: the 18-25 year-old demographic. (Think YA books with hot sex and characters at least 18 years of age!) As far as authors go, my money is on Laurann Dohner and Joanna Wylde this year. I’ve also hand-picked a few new authors that I see infinite potential for, such as Erin Simone and Persephone Jones. It’s going to be an exciting year for erotic romance readers!
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.