The Romance of Chastisement

The Romance of Chastisement

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spanking Erotica vs. Spanking Romance

October marks the 2nd anniversary of my foray into publishing and I’d like to take a step back and share a few things that I have discovered about it. For a number of years, 1999-2012, I wrote “spanking stories.” I put them up on several sites that shared those kinds of things: Our Castle, BDSMLibrary, USENET, and a few others. You can probably still find my old Geocities site using the wayback machine, and I left some samples up at LSF that are still there. Then, late in 2012 I discovered KDP and started to publish stuff I’d written in years past.
These were mostly short stories. I think the spanking story is well suited to the short story format, but novelettes (15,000 words) and novellas (25,000-40,000 words) can work as well. With novels it’s harder, because at that length you need something else to sustain the story. This is where the spanking romance comes in.

If you arrived from Mars yesterday, you might think the whole spanking/BDSM romance book thing was launched by 50SOG, but you’d be dead wrong. The spanking romance has actually been around for quite some time. Blushing Books and others were publishing these types of books twenty years ago.

So what exactly is a “spanking romance?” The answer is easy. It’s a romantic novel, just like the Harlequin romances your Aunt Betty reads, only -- there is explicit sex AND there is spanking (along with other kinks). The spanking incidents usually occur between the hero and the heroine in the context of a romantic relationship that is either forming or has formed. But spanking scenes can also occur in the context of the heroine falling into the evil clutches of the villain (common in Regency and in Medieval romances). So why does the hunky alpha guy spank the heroine? It’s usually because she disobeys him and puts herself in some sort of peril. But it can also be because she has done something injurious to him or someone else or is disobedient at a critical time. When a romance is well constructed, these scenes flow naturally from the plot, and the reader expects that the heroine, at this point in the story, surely deserves or needs a good spanking. That’s when it works best.
These books tend to be novel length. However a short novel, anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 words, works pretty well. This length is necessary to fully develop a plot that mixes some external conflict and the growth of the relationship with the steamier elements. That’s because the main thrust of the novel is the romantic relationship. The novel can be “about” something else -- a perilous journey, a rebellion in the highlands, the deed to the ranch or a mystery that must be solved, but in parallel with that is the attraction and coming together of the hero and heroine. The endings are all HEA (happily ever after) or at least HFN (happy for now). This is de rigueur in romance.

 Almost exclusively, the POV is that of the heroine. It’s all about how she feels, what she does, what she thinks. It’s her journey so she tells the story, usually from a third person POV. Sometimes the hero is a cipher, and the story can include the heroine’s efforts to figure him out. Mysterious alpha male figures have always intrigued female readers.

And that’s who reads spanking romances. It’s the women. I figure it to be an 85-90%  female readership.   Certainly, with a few exceptions, the authors are all female.
Not so with Spanking Erotica. First, as to length, spanking erotica tends to be shorter. The reason is that it isn’t necessary to build characterization and relationships nearly as deeply, and the plots can be thinner. The story centers on the spanking – the reason for it and the actual execution of it. Here, I think the readership is divided about 65-35, men to women. (I’m leaving out readership relating to the F/M orientation. For F/M it’s nearly all male). Many authors are male and a male POV is frequently employed. In fact, it’s fairly common in spanking erotica to see a 1st person male POV, something you’d never see in a “spanking romance.” That’s because women, the primary readers, don’t care what’s going through the guy’s head. They want to vicariously experience what the heroine feels. It’s who they identify with.

But still, there are many female readers of straight spanking erotica. As evidence I would point out that on the largest spanking story board in the world, LSF, the authorship and readership are fairly evenly divided between the sexes. (There has to be a caveat here, and that is that on a site like LSF, a great many spanking stories are not “erotica.” They are about home and school themes that may involve minors. By definition, this can’t even be published as “erotica,” because it would violate acceptable content guidelines of most booksellers.)

What I just described is the most general case. Now, I write a lot of spanking erotica and I LIKE clever plots and fleshed out characters.  In fact, my emphasis on plot and characterization is the thing that distinguishes my spanking erotica from most others. You can be the judge of that, but my aim is to tell a story. The spanking happens because of the story, not the other way around.
This is the tension an author experiences in crafting stories in this genre. Authors don’t have it in spanking romance, at least to the same degree. In erotica, the question for me is: how much external story should you have? How many spanking and/or sex scenes? Do you risk boring your readers if the story takes over and shoves the spanking into the background? In a “spanking romance” this is less of a concern because it’s mostly about the relationship and the conflict anyway.

The first time I attempted a novel, it was pure spanking erotica, no romantic sub plot. (Secret Spanking Cult on Amazon; Atonement elsewhere). But it is a real story with a real plot, not just a collection of unrelated scenes like you’d find in a Will Henry book. It is, in fact, a mystery in the old hard-boiled PI genre about an invention, a missing daughter and a strange cult. Still, one reviewer said the novel was just an excuse to string together a bunch of spanking and sex scenes using multiple implements, characters, etc. Well, yeah. It’s spanking erotica, not Sam Spade with the occasional spanking of some dame. Same with The Menace from Mongo. It’s a space opera, only on Mongo various forms of flagellation are commonly used as punishment, both by good guys and bad guys. In just about every chapter there will be some sort of spanking scene.

Not so in my spanking romances. Not in every chapter. That’s because there is more story to advance and more characterization and relationship development. However, I do think that in my romances there is plenty of sex and spanking. (In Pendragon’s Lash there are something like 15 spanking scenes. The Princess and the Outlaw is comparable.) In these works I’m almost straddling the line between spanking erotica and spanking romance, but that’s where I come from, the erotic short story tradition, not the romance tradition. LaForge, personally my favorite work, starts as erotica and segues into a romance.

What all of this means is that the markets are different. Spanking romances are marketed to the romance reader crowd, i.e., women, through channels like Blushing Books, who really specializes in the genre. The covers of these books tend to have traditional romance-type covers with couples embracing and/or backgrounds that inform of the setting – castles for medieval, sailing ships for pirates, horses and cowboys for Westerns, just like traditional romance novels. You wouldn’t know that the book contains any spanking sub text unless you read the “blurb,” i.e., the product description. Women in the market for romances can stumble across these books in a general search for romance or maybe erotic romance (an Amazon subcategory) and maybe turn out to like them.

Men, on the other hand, favor plain spanking erotica. Here, the titles and the covers are designed to leave no doubt as to what is inside, like my Spanking Times Seven, or Have Paddle Will Travel. Amazon is, of course, the biggest retailer, but Apple and Barnes and Noble also sell spanking erotica (for now). Men don’t seem to be attracted to the romance side of things, probably because the books look just like Aunt Betty’s Harlequin romances, and because the story gets in the way of the action. I’ve also noticed that in romances the actual spanking scenes are not described in as much detail as in a piece of spanking erotica. I’ve seen spanking romances that only give a scene a short paragraph and then it’s over. Since in spanking erotica the spanking itself is the main point, the scenes are more fully described. I’m generalizing, of course. In some romances the scenes may go for a page or two, but mostly in the ones I’ve read they are short. However, the authors make up for that in describing the sex scenes that follow. In a weird twist you’ll often find that spanking romances include long and detailed sex scenes, the action vividly (but tastefully – no “throbbing boners”) described. In spanking erotica, the actual sex scenes can be somewhat muted.

Which market is larger, diehard spankophiles looking for hot stuff to push their buttons or romance enthusiasts who like a bit of kink? I’m convinced it’s romance, far and away. Romance, even with a strong spanking subtext is far more popular than straight spanking erotica.  I base this non-scientific conclusion on a sampling of sales ranks for typical offerings in both genres. Very consistently romance outperforms straight erotica over the long haul. Many new releases, both erotica and romance, often start out strong, but I think romance has more legs.

The reason may be very simple. Men are more visually oriented, so pictures and videos are their preferred form of entertainment. It’s just the way we are wired. Women respond more to the written word which stimulates imagination. I strongly suspect the male buyer pool for written word spanking erotica is not all that large, whereas women are more apt to buy lots of books.

The take away is this – if you want to be, as the Beatles say, a “paperback writer,” write romance. Otherwise, be a video producer.

Well, that’s not my forte so I’ll continue to write both. As it is, many of my books that I released as “erotica” were actually romances, and if I had it to do all over again, I would have gone through someone like my current publisher, Stormy Night, for many of them.

The romances, other than the three mentioned above are:
The entire Romance of Spanking series of books, Tumalo Bend 1895, The Ladies of Heatherton Hall, Catherine’s Surrender and surprisingly, The Spanking Games. I could probably also count Menace from Mongo because of the Flash/Dale romantic involvement.


Leigh Smith said...

I never gave much thought to the difference between romance and erotica. I think your theories may be correct.

I visited your site years before I blogged or started writing and always enjoyed the stories.

Cara Bristol said...

Excellent analysis, Rollin. Romance novels have always been a mainstay product for women. I think it's paired up with clothes, shoes, and chocolate.

I did not realize so many men read (and wrote) spanking erotica.

Tara Finnegan said...

That all makes a lot of sense, Rollin. Really interesting post, thank you.

Tony said...

I guess I will be the first male to comment about this post. Heck, I may be the only male to comment. Why? Because men mostly want to read spanking action. The story is not all that important. There doesn't even have to be a story as long as the spanking and sex is described in detail. My first passion with spanking books were the Will Henry books. I read them all and some of the books I read many times over. Rollin, I visit your site at least once a week to see what you have been working on. You caught my attention when you wrote a Sorority initiation padding story. That is my hot button and you have a sure sale to me of any book thats main topic is sorority pledges getting paddled. I agree with everything you posted comparing erotica vs romance. I will skip over the romance and go straight to the action. I think that is a guy for you.

Rollin said...

Tony, you make my case. I'll add one other thing. In spanking erotica, the story line frequently focuses on a guy who has spanking/sexual adventures with several women, a pure male fantasy. It would never happen in a romance. I try to get around that by writing multiple relationships into the romance.

Leigh, Cara, and Tara --thank you all for weighing in. Leigh, I hope you continue to enjoy the stories. Cara, yes, in the old days it was men who wrote spanking erotica exclusively. Back then it was called smut.Tara, stop by any time.

Enzo said...

Greetings -
Excellent analysis Rollin.
That was a great summary of the different styles of writing and the different audiences reading the spanking related stories. I would have to agree with all of it based on my experience.


Misha Horne said...

Hi, Rollin! :) I really enjoyed the romance/erotica comparison.

I write M/M spanking fiction that definitely straddles erotica and romance. I usually end up categorizing the shorter stuff as erotica and the longer stuff as romance, since it has more story mixed in with the smut. ;)

For what it's worth, while I have no idea what my reader demographic is, probably 95% of the readers who contact me are male. Not sure if it means more guys are reading M/M spanking, or they just reach out more, (or something else) but it's been a surprise.

Rollin said...

On Face book, Misha, I've discovered that women do read M/M erotica, so you may have a market there too. Yes, the longer the story, the more involved the plot and characters become and it veers away from being a quick button-pushing hit to more of a real story.Before I ever started writing I came across a book called "The Sign of the Scorpion." It was marketed as porn but what I found was a real mystery with sexual encounters woven in seamlessly. And that impressed me so much that I adopted that as a goal for all my writing.