By Lisabet Sarai

Warning: rant alert.

I had planned this month to blog about
symbolism, allegory, allusions and archetypes, and how these can add
depth and substance to erotic writing. However, then I read a book
I’d agreed to review (without knowing anything about it), and found
myself so massively annoyed that I just had to vent.

I haven’t encountered such dreadful
writing in quite a while. Malapropisms (“intangibly bright eyes”,
“moved in perfect synchronicity”). Point of view that wanders
from one character’s head to another within a single sentence.
Stereotypically extreme descriptions of anatomy,with every cock
enormous and every breast and ass “large, round and firm”.
Typographical errors (“nearly identikit paths”) and grammar
gaffes (“grinded”) that suggest no editor ever came near the

The novel does offer a great deal, and
considerable variety, of sex. Some scenes definitely deserve the
label “gratuitous”, in the sense that they involve minor
characters and are completely irrelevant to the plot. Other scenes
are so extreme that they struck me as ridiculous. I suppose that if
one is looking for pure sexual fantasy, realism doesn’t matter, and
I’m sure there are readers who would buy this book for the sex alone.
The sex, though, is just as poorly written as the rest of the book, a
strange mixture of sterile physical descriptions and romance-tinted
purple prose. (I’m sorry, but I can’t read the word “manhood” in
a gang-bang orgy scene with a straight face.)

This novel was not, as you might
suspect, self-published. On the contrary, it comes from a well-known
publisher, a publisher that I would have expected to have higher
standards – or at least better editors.

Why am I so upset about this? It’s only
one book.

The crux of the problem is – it’s
not. I’d like to believe this particular novel is an anomaly, but
the last three books from this house that I’ve reviewed have
exhibited similar, though perhaps less extreme, problems.
Furthermore, I’ve encountered the same issues in recent books from
other high-profile erotic imprints.

This book is symptomatic of a
unfortunate trend in the erotica publishing world, namely, a willingness to
accept and release pretty much anything, as long as it includes
plenty of sex. Publishers are choosing quantity over quality.

In fact,
this might be considered a rational business decision, because they
have very little to lose.

Ebooks have radically altered the
economics of bringing books to market. Authors no longer receive
advances, so if a book doesn’t sell, the company doesn’t need to pay
the writer anything. There’s no risk involved in accepting practically every manuscript submitted. Meanwhile, production costs for ebooks are minimal.
The only expenses a publisher shoulders are the labor costs involved
in editing, formatting the manuscript and submitting it to sales
outlets. (It appears that some companies are deciding to skip the
editing process, in order to improve profits.)

In the days of print,
publishers had to bear the financial consequences of bad decisions
regarding who to publish. This tended to make them at least somewhat
selective. Now, from a publisher’s perspective, selectivity has
almost zero advantage. The more books they release, the more money
they make, especially since readers’ appetite for sexually-themed
ebooks appears to be insatiable.

What about reputation? That’s a good
question. Have these companies no shame? I’d be horribly embarrassed
to put my name on a product like the book in question.
Apparently such considerations doesn’t enter into the equation for
these companies, at least when balanced against cash.

Maybe I’m just an elitist snob. Perhaps
an author’s writing skill doesn’t matter at all. A survey of the
Amazon reviews for the book in question suggests there’s some truth to this
theory. The ratings are pretty much divided between five stars and
one star, but quite a few readers claim to have loved the novel. Why
should my opinions be any more valid than theirs?

Well – I am an author, an editor
and a reviewer, who has been involved in erotica publishing for more
than a decade. Although it’s commonly believed that anyone can write
an erotic story, I know that it takes serious effort and determined
practice to capture the elusive nature of desire. Perhaps it is true,
though, that almost anyone can write a story that includes sex, if
all that’s needed is the tab-A-in-tab-B nuts-and-bolts (or the
nuts-and-cunts, if you will). It may be that this is all that readers
want, after all – not insight, not joy, not surprise – just plain
old down-and-dirty sex that they can wank to.

I’ve got nothing against wanking. But
that’s not enough to satisfy me as a reader – or as an author.

Publishers used to act as gatekeepers.
Authors would lament that fact. We all complained about how our opus
languished in the slush pile, ignored or rejected by those who had
the power to turn us into best-sellers. The gates are wide open now;
the slush-pile gets simply shoveled out onto Amazon and iTunes.

This is bad news for those of us who do
care about quality writing. Our creations, the children of our souls,
drown in the vast sea of (often terrible) quasi-porn that is now
called erotica. It’s trivially easy to get published and nearly
impossible to get noticed.

I’m tempted to publicly take the
publishers to task here, to broadcast the fact that they’re putting
out shoddy products. Unfortunately, I suspect it would make no
difference. The only kind of protest I can make is resolving not to
submit my work to them. But of course they couldn’t care less. They
have hordes of eager wannabee writers sending in their stories,
dreaming of fame and fortune. They don’t need me.