I got a bad review. The first, but definitely not the last. Most readers and even a couple of professional reviewers (USAToday for instance) liked my novel St. Bart’s. This reader did not. Even those with more tempered enthusiasm in the past had good things to say about the book. Not this woman. One out of five stars. I can’t remember if it was on Amazon or Goodreads.
It’s not as if I wasn’t expecting criticism. I’m a first time novelist—it’s a given. You brace yourself for it. It comes with the territory. All criticism is a chance to grow…blah, blah, blah. Past critiques I could understand. The hero’s motivation was unclear. The sentence structure tortured. All fixed with a good hearty edit. And I agreed with them, the readers and reviewers who pointed out my shortcomings. I vowed to do better in the future. And I have. I am. I am three-quarters of the way through book four and even I can see how far I’ve come. Practice makes…well imperfect…until a good hearty edit, but you take my point.
It was the criticism itself, not the fact of the criticism that gave me pause. The woman, and it was a woman, said it was soft core porn. I billed the book as erotica, what was she expecting? But there’s the rub. What do we expect from romance or erotica or soft/hard core porn? The goal posts have moved. Not nearly as much as some would believe. Those who say EL James somehow invented an entire industry. That would not be me. I was raised on Harlequin. They usually involved doctors and nurses, usually in far off places, a relatively chaste kiss and that was that…off to the wedding. But then there was Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins and Rosemary Rogers. Bodice ripping and throbbing this and sweaty that. An eye-opener for someone raised on early Harlequin. As for Ms. James, not to disparage her books (I haven’t time or inclination), before her came Shayla Black and Lora Leigh and Lorelei James. They were the pioneers when it came to the current wave of BDSM/soft-core porn stories. I would argue they do a much better job of having you care about the characters and not just thumb ahead to the steamy bits. (Tougher on an e-reader because you can’t bend down the edges of the pages.)
That brings me to the point. (Yes, I hear you wondering when I would get there. I applaud your patience.)
Romance, erotica, porn is a moving target. There was a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who famously described pornography as that which brings a blush to a young woman’s cheek. The definition holds up today. Think about young women with their selfies and sexting. Would my novel bring a blush to their cheeks? No. Not a chance. But then again, like art, erotica is in the eye of the beholder. Or the author. Or the reviewer.