Romance, Where Art Thou?

by | November 13, 2020 | General | 2 comments

Recently I lunched with a blog writer friend who lives nearby. He has now decided he wants to write a book and he had a lot of questions about the publishing business. I tried my best to talk him out of it, but he’s nothing if not persistent. He is apparently including romance in his story, and hit me with a good question: what is the difference between erotica and erotic romance?

Talk about being momentarily stumped! I replied that erotic romance has to have some kind of emotional involvement or connection between the characters, whereas erotica is basically two people jumping from one hot encounter to another.

That may be oversimplifying it, but I think it was the correct response. When I reviewed romance books online, I noticed that a fair amount of them fell into the erotica category. The authors used thin plots as an excuse to bring two people together for the sole purpose of having sex. Nothing else seemed to matter. No character development, no atmosphere, no emotional bonding, no physical descriptions aside from male endowments, and sometimes not even names. Many of these stories were like an adult version of “The Love Boat”—just make up any excuse to bring the man and woman together to…well…you know!

I’m not saying that each hot encounter you include in an erotic romance needs to have all of these elements. I’ll admit that on a couple of occasions, I’ve used the nightclub or party hook-up device to get two people between the sheets. Each time, I tried to justify it, especially if it seemed to go against the character’s grain. I don’t like to include erotic scenes just for the hell of it, and all of mine happen for a reason, as a natural progression in the story or relationship.

Another good friend self-publishes on Kindle Direct. After years of going the traditional publishing route, he decided he wanted to call the shots himself, without being told what he could or could not write. He sells a lot of books, thanks to a large following he’s built up over 40 years, and he tries to follow whatever the current trend is. No disrespect to my friend, but he basically writes porn with a plot, and most of the time, not much plot at that. When I politely pointed this out once, he showed me his latest sales figures. I kept my opinions to myself after that.

My lunch friend said he was confused by the difference between happily-ever-after and happy-for-now endings. I explained that happy-for-now meant that the characters might not be together until eternity, but that their exit was more than “Thanks, I’ll call you the next time I’m in town!” Happily-ever-after is just what it implies, with more of a sense of finality. I also cautioned him that if he used that type of ending, it might be difficult to write a sequel with the same characters.

On a personal note, I’ve only used happily-ever-after a couple of times, when I felt I’d gone as far as I could with the characters, and there was nothing left for them to do. Most of my endings are more ambiguous, leaving a trail of bread crumbs for the reader to follow into the next adventure.

In closing out our meeting, he asked for my advice if he wanted to pursue his project. The best things I could come up with were for him to be comfortable with what he was writing (in other words, don’t publish something that he or his family would be embarrassed by later). The other was that if he did write blistering hot sex scenes, carefully consider if he wanted to publish under his own name.

Did I miss anything?

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author. His books range from romantic mystery/thriller to contemporary erotic romance. He is also a freelance photographer. When he isn't pursuing those two careers he can often be found in The Florida Keys, indulging his passion for parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada.


  1. Larry archer

    Just because you don’t like erotic porn doesn’t mean that there is no market for it. I don’t like spinach but I’d never tell anyone to not eat it. Personally, I don’t like romantic erotica as it means you have to read the whole story to get to the last chapter when someone finally gets laid. But I realize that a lot of people like to read it.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    I have always objected to this definition of erotica. This is a misconception that many people hold (especially, it turns out, romance authors – who treat erotica author as if they had the plague!)
    “Porn with a plot” or “pure smut” is only one sub-genre of erotica. It’s fun to write, and it’s popular. However, my definition of erotica is “fiction that centers on the experience of desire”. That’s a lot broader, and in fact closer to what you’ll find if you read some of the classic Cleis or Mammoth Book of Best Erotica stories. (Or, explore the ERWA Treasure Chest…) Erotic romance focuses on a relationship, by definition. Erotica can also include relationships, but always with desire in the mix.
    You can write erotica that has no physical sex at all. (I have.) imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and it’s what goes on in your head that is the sexiest of all.

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Hot Chilli Erotica


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