ETA: Since some people seem to be landing here by searching for Mills & Boon’s 12 Shades of Surrender, there’s now information on their site. It doesn’t make clear that these are all (I believe) previously e-published Spice Brief novellas. (Whether these short stories will in any way satisfy fans of the epic 50 Shades is an open question, but the two I have read, by Anne Calhoun and Portia Da Costa, were pretty good if not my favorite work by those authors).
I’m working on a post about books I’ve been reading/listening to lately (I know, right?) but it seems I have another rant in me first.
Like many people, I hoped that the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey would inspire some different romance/erotic romance/erotica covers. The cover of the first book, particularly, is great: the silver tie is elegant and understated; both it and the gray tones relate to the contents of the book; it’s sexily suggestive without being in your face. I’m not as enamored of the other covers in the series, and I had to laugh when I saw a big display of Freed (the handcuffs cover) right beside the mysteries in my local bookstore. How many mystery readers accidentally picked that one up?
But dear publishers, when I wished those covers would inspire you, I did not mean “please have every single future erotic romance cover feature a man’s accessory, neutral tones and a simple font.” W.T.F. I thought you creative types had imagination?I’ve already mentioned the new cover Sylvia Day’s Bared to You got when a publisher picked it up (cufflinks; book two? monogrammed keychain).
Bet you can guess which is which.
Portia da Costa (an author whose work I have really enjoyed) recently posted some of the new covers her erotica and erotic romance re-issues are getting. Here’s In Too Deep (a book that starts as erotica and ends more romantic, with a shy librarian; I liked it a lot and it’s a favorite of Wendy the Super Librarian).
Not a man’s accessory, true, but check the giant “If you liked 50” badge. Then there’s her Harlequin/Mills & Boon Spice Brief, “Chance of a Lifetime” (which I also enjoyed), being repurposed for a Mills & Boon series called “12 Shades of Surrender.” To which series I can only say “gag me.” I couldn’t find anything about the series on Mills & Boon’s appallingly confusing website except this tweet.
Look, publishers and authors want to make money. It’s not surprising that they hope to capitalize on the E.L. James bandwagon. There’s no point in ranting about that, really, although the omnipresence of book-promotional tweets hashtagged #50Shades is driving me nuts. And if the rising tide of James’ success lifts the boats of good writers like da Costa who haven’t been big best-sellers, that’s great. They deserve it.
Here’s what I do want to rant about:
- What I liked about the original Fifty Shades cover was not just that it was less embarrassing/more subtle (though that too), but that it was unique. The gazillion covers that copy-cat it are mostly nice enough in themselves, but they just replicate the biggest problem with mantitty/clinch covers, in the end: they imply that romance and erotic fiction are bags of chips, cheap, disposable, interchangeable, formulaic. And that’s not going to draw new readers. Or if it is, I’m sad about that.
- Like a lot of people, I’m sick of the uninformed media coverage that assumes E.L. James’ books emerged ex nihilo (how extra ironic), as if she invented erotica/erotic romance. And to me, these copy-covers sort of replicate that inaccurate narrative. Lora Leigh is a best-seller in her own right, however inexplicable that fact may be to me. I have a yellowing 1994 copy of da Costa’s The Tutor that tells me she was writing erotica long before Twific existed. I’m sure these writers won’t cavil if 50-esque covers bring them sales, but I don’t like to think of new readers possibly grabbing these books and thinking of long-time writers in the genre as copycats. It seems unfair.
- Not all “dirty books” are the same. And not all erotica and erotic romance readers are, either. Selling every single erotic story as a 50 readalike, which is what seems to be happening right now, is ridiculous. A lot of these books–like a ton of romance in general–share some basic DNA (dominant alpha hero). But I think a lot of 50 readers (like me) would run screaming from the barbed penises of Lora Leigh’s Breeds series, for instance. A 50 fan new to the genre may try a 50-branded book that doesn’t work for her at all, be turned off, and never come back. The overkill can backfire.
- Not all erotica/erotic romance readers liked 50 Shades. And even those who did are really, really tired of this promotional juggernaut. Right now I refuse to read any book with a sepia-toned cover featuring a man’s accessory, or any book in any way associated with the word “shades,” a number, or a color. Cover, hashtag, series name, whatever. It just goes on my ugh list. And authors and publishers, when the dust from E.L. James’ flukey, inexplicable giant hit settles, you are not going to have ten million new forever readers, though you may have some. Your customer base is going to be mostly the people who were reading you before. You’re embarrassing me right now. Don’t turn me off altogether.