Either I'm a sexual deviant, or they're wrong
March 2, 2015 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Did Amazon Sink the Queen of Online Erotica? - Phoebe Reilly, Vulture
"Engler is an underappreciated pioneer, a self-proclaimed feminist in furry-cat slippers. To put her crowning achievement demurely, she challenged the book-publishing industry's denial of women's appetite for sexually explicit books. She wrote tawdry, lowbrow novels, and published hundreds of others, that freed romance from its lame euphemisms well before Fifty Shades of Grey, and she did so in a digital format long before the Kindle and the iPad allowed e-books to flourish.

"To put it less demurely: There were readers out there, lots of them, who didn't want to read about thick manroots. They wanted hard cocks. So that's what Ellora's Cave gave them. Easily and often."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (52 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
RomantiCon, an annual convention held in Ohio for employees and fans of Ellora’s that features vendors hawking sex products, stripteases by male dancers who double as Ellora’s cover models, and much-needed workshops on feasible sex positions—too often Engler has given edit notes explaining that a woman cannot be bent over a horse unless her partner is very tall or the horse is very short.

Or a stepladder is involved?

The back and forth accusations about royalties and accounting was not as interesting to me as the story it started with, about how large the market for super raunchy ebooks aimed at women turned out to be.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:35 AM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah I agree.

Bella Andre, a Stanford grad and former musician, got her feet wet writing novellas for Ellora’s Cave before turning to self-publishing. “They were the forefront of digital romance,” she says of the company. “I just could never write dirty enough for the audience.”

That definitely says something about what the audience wants versus what the publishers think they want, and by extension what society thinks women want in terms of their "romance" reading.
posted by billiebee at 6:39 AM on March 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


Years back I worked at a barnes and noble selling and trouble shooting their e-readers and holy hell you would not believe some of the raunchy shit little old ladies had in their libraries. Often times I would come across them while trouble shooting and they would get embarrassed and turn bright red; I did my best to assure them that I did not judge them and furthermore it was super common. That usually put them more at ease.

Certainly has to be more interesting than thumbing through historical romances novels for the tiny bits full of mountains of euphemisms for genitals. My favorite was always "slick heat" That just sounds like an oil spill on fire!
posted by Ferreous at 7:11 AM on March 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


I wonder if eventually Amazon will have to untangle its own e-publishing/bookselling/e-reader manufacturer business. The Gazelle Project makes sense as a business practice for them, but is there really no existing regulation that would protect small publishers?
posted by gladly at 7:30 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


My grandma had a huge collection of romance novels at her house in upstate New York. Once while visiting, I skimmed one of the ones she had on her end table and it was surprisingly explicit. To each their own and all, but I'm still not comfortable thinking that my grandma has holed up in her rural farmhouse with a massive porn collection for the past 30 years.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 7:32 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


got her feet wet

ಠಠ
posted by Trochanter at 7:35 AM on March 2, 2015 [12 favorites]


I don't know if it's fair to say that all romance books are equivalent to porn; for starters. the characters usually only have hot hot sex with somebody they are in a committed relationship to. Rather than, say, the pizza delivery boy/girl.
posted by The River Ivel at 7:37 AM on March 2, 2015


So two comments about "little old ladies" and "grandma" and surprise that they liked the good stuff? This kind of proves the point about what women - especially of a certain age - are supposed to be into... I very much hope if I'm still around when I'm old that I'll be eschewing the knitting patterns and gardening magazines in favour of reading about throbbing pens and heaving beasts
posted by billiebee at 7:39 AM on March 2, 2015 [32 favorites]


Hey, hey, hey, billiebee. It is perfectly reasonable to enjoy knitting patterns and hot filthy porn.

Sometimes at the same time. If my multiple tabs on my laptop at home tell me anything.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:46 AM on March 2, 2015 [42 favorites]


I very much hope if I'm still around when I'm old that I'll be eschewing the knitting patterns and gardening magazines in favour of reading about throbbing pens and heaving beasts

We could do both! We'll start a club where we spend the morning crocheting and watching Murder, She Wrote and then have a book discussion group about the best hardcore erotica we've read recently in the afternoons. We'll call it the Filthy Upstart Crochet and Knitting Old Female Fellowship (FUCK OFF).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:47 AM on March 2, 2015 [112 favorites]


MetaFilter: knitting patterns and hot filthy porn
posted by billiebee at 7:48 AM on March 2, 2015 [12 favorites]


I very much hope if I'm still around when I'm old that I'll be eschewing the knitting patterns and gardening magazines in favour of reading about throbbing pens and heaving beasts

It's good that you can be so forthright about your farm-related carnal desires, billibee.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:49 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


[A couple comments removed; if your primary motivation for commenting in a thread is to declare publicly how much absolutely you dislike someone whose likability hasn't been the topic of conversation, please just close the tab and go on to something else and let people get on with the actual discussion.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:51 AM on March 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


It was a Friends reference Johnny Wallflower, from the time Rachel decided to write an erotic novel. My cultural references are nothing if not current :)
posted by billiebee at 7:54 AM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


for starters. the characters usually only have hot hot sex with somebody they are in a committed relationship to

That's...not necessarily true and especially so in erotica (not erotic romance, which has a different set of rules), which as a genre of its own sort of began (electronically - as in widely distributed, I realize it's existed for as long as people and the written word) at Ellora's Cave.

I do not think Amazon is solely responsible for the current issues at EC, but certainly EC was very nearly the only game in town in terms of usability before Amazon figured out they were leaving money on the table.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:59 AM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't know if it's fair to say that all romance books are equivalent to porn; for starters. the characters usually only have hot hot sex with somebody they are in a committed relationship to. Rather than, say, the pizza delivery boy/girl.

Eh, I think that's misreading porn. Pornographic fiction runs across a really wide spectrum of situations/depth of plot/character development/etc. In as far as there is a clear category of "porn fiction as porn fiction," I would say that it was stories where the plot climax and the sexual climax were congruent. You can have the porniest porn story that ever porned with two characters in the most monogamous relationship ever.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:03 AM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


> I don't know if it's fair to say that all romance books are equivalent to porn; for starters. the characters usually only have hot hot sex with somebody they are in a committed relationship to. Rather than, say, the pizza delivery boy/girl.

Erm, except that in traditional romance novels, those "committed relationships" frequently begin nonconsensually. Arranged marriages, kidnapping by the sea captain, whatever.
posted by desuetude at 8:04 AM on March 2, 2015


... [erotica] as a genre of its own sort of began (electronically - as in widely distributed, I realize it's existed for as long as people and the written word) at Ellora's Cave.

Usenet would like to have a word with you.
posted by PMdixon at 8:08 AM on March 2, 2015 [14 favorites]


Admittedly I live in a technically sophisticated area but from where I'm sitting it seems pretty clear that AO3 has done a lot more damage to the paid raunchy erotica market than Amazon ever could.

Much like the rest of porn, the market has been flooded with talented amateurs.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:09 AM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


And smutty fanfic has an advantage, even beyond being free--it contains known characters that the readers already care about.
posted by LindsayIrene at 8:13 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


AO3 has done a lot more damage to the paid raunchy erotica market than Amazon ever could

It goes both ways: I know a number of talented fic writers who are going the other direction, and making good money writing by-the-numbers erotica for sale through Amazon. Including the stuff that really startles people, like Bigfoot and dinosaur porn.

Rule 34, folks.
posted by suelac at 8:13 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't know if it's fair to say that all romance books are equivalent to porn; for starters. the characters usually only have hot hot sex with somebody they are in a committed relationship to.

Certainly "porn" is enough of a big tent that it can include both romance novels and Pizza Sex Party MXVIV. The hackneyed boy/girl pizza-delivery-dude is just one particularly visible subgenre of porn, which happens to be (and derives its visibility because it is) aimed at heterosexual men.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:17 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Erm, except that in traditional romance novels, those "committed relationships" frequently begin nonconsensually. Arranged marriages, kidnapping by the sea captain, whatever.

That's not really true anymore, nor has it been for a while. Though the response of "how can women like such smut!" explains why it was ever true.
posted by jeather at 8:20 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


The hackneyed boy/girl pizza-delivery-dude is just one particularly visible subgenre of porn, which happens to be (and derives its visibility because it is) aimed at heterosexual men.

My husband and I used to live in an apartment complex upstairs from a couple of waitresses at Hooters who we'd sometimes see in the parking lot. One evening, he and I were sitting around watching TV when we heard a knock at the door. It was one of these women, just off her shift at work, who had forgotten her house keys and needed to borrow our phone and somewhere to sit while she waited for her roommate.

This seemed SO EXACTLY like the set-up to a porno that it felt super surreal as we all sat around in the living room sipping tepid soda and watching Gilmore Girls.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:26 AM on March 2, 2015 [32 favorites]


MetaFilter: knitting patterns and hot filthy porn
WHY DO YOU THINK I'M HERE

This article is bizarre. I had read the original Dear Author stuff, and it seemed that a lot of people who are respected in the industry -- or who at least present themselves professionally and thoughtfully -- came up with some serious questions about the whole EC situation. So I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would agree to an article like this, which is pretty much unflattering in every way.

I am a reasonably intellectual woman under the age of 40 with an English background; I read pretty standard lit most of the time. At least I did before I started spending ridiculous amounts of money on sweet, sweet ebooks. I can get through three a day sometimes. And that's not counting the paperbacks I can pick up for a buck at St. Vinnie's. Once I finally gave in and admitted that i not only like romance but don't mind Regencies one bit, I was dead in the water.

I've had a stressful few years, and the unbelievable stash of comfort food for my brain has carried me through it. In Kindle purchases alone -- not counting Kobo, Smashwords, iBooks, OverDrive (you can get ebooks from your library, you know), Stanza or paperback copies -- it looks like I bought 98 romance/erotica ebooks in 2014.

So... you know. Ding.

Many of them WERE from Ellora's Cave or one of their imprints. I'd be sad to see something happen to them. But there are a ton of smaller e-publishers out there now who have established themselves in a way that manages to respect both their readers and their writers, and I wouldn't hesitate to avoid EC if they screwed people over.
posted by St. Hubbins at 8:26 AM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


Speaking as a small publisher (of knitting books! See? MeFi really IS all knitting patterns and porn!) whose royalty system scaled horribly as our backlist grew and yet who nets FAR LESS MONEY than EC, I have no sympathy for her at all. Spend less money on boy toys and more on accountants, you twit. We gross about 250k a year and we have TWO accountants.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:33 AM on March 2, 2015 [23 favorites]


It goes both ways: I know a number of talented fic writers who are going the other direction, and making good money writing by-the-numbers erotica for sale through Amazon. Including the stuff that really startles people, like Bigfoot and dinosaur porn.

Rule 34, folks.


Hmm, that implies that there are people out there who have a fetish for paying for porn. And there probably are.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:39 AM on March 2, 2015


AO3 has done a lot more damage to the paid raunchy erotica market than Amazon ever could

I don't know that they've done *that* much damage to the paid market. There's a large base of romance/erotica readers who don't read fan fiction, don't read website fiction (it doesn't behave like e-reader text and so is a PITA to stop and start), like paying (a little) for most content, and are often very loyal readers of specific authors or genres. Review blogs are a big thing in romance/etc and there's little to no discussion of fic in all the ones I've traversed. I'm not saying there's not a part of the Venn diagram that includes AO3 and Wattpad and stuff like that, but the other side of the diagram is not small.

A lot of people are put off by fan fiction. I know a lot of people are very into it, but the other side of the market is in no danger of dying off (except that we may be slightly older, so maybe literally we will).

Most of my favorite authors right now are writing intermittently for a big imprint but selling an entirely separate line of work via self-pubbing on Amazon (and doing a better job in terms of art design, layout, editing, proofreading etc than EC and also sometimes the big imprints, some of whom seem to still be scanning instead of digitally manufacturing their e-files). I think EC probably dinosaured to their current position as much as anything else - Amazon's Automated Middleman Machine is easier to deal with than a human publisher.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:39 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm another person who read the original DA posts and followed the subsequent fallout. I'm not EC's audience but I know enough about independent publishing (through my day job) that I really find it difficult to believe that Amazon is the big bogeyman. Does not compute. Also, don't piss off influential bloggers.

(I work in knitting and I read Trad Regencies rather than EC stuff - how MeFi am I?!)
posted by kariebookish at 8:42 AM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


(I work in knitting and I read Trad Regencies rather than EC stuff - how MeFi am I?!)

You are 17 Mefi.
posted by jeather at 8:59 AM on March 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


As far as I can tell, she sank (or is sinking) herself. She ran the business tremendously unprofessionally and ripped off her authors.
posted by tavella at 9:00 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Erm, except that in traditional romance novels, those "committed relationships" frequently begin nonconsensually. Arranged marriages, kidnapping by the sea captain, whatever.

A lot of that I think has to do with the weight of expectations that women are expected to bear in every aspect of their lives, even sex - where they are expected to either be vaguely displeased, or to be goddesses of giving to their male partner. (Not that ladies can't have sex with ladies, but that there seem to be less hangups about it.) And so I think these noncons really blossomed as a reaction to, "No, I don't want to do your motherfucking dishes, and no, I don't want to blow you and be uber creative while you just vaguely give me two minutes of boring missionary sex and talk about how you 'don't like going down there.'"

I mean I always think that's part of the appeal of the historical romances as well - placed in Regency or Scotland or Viking times, they're pretty much all "Guy who doesn't need his wife to do his housework takes a wife." And so the ladies get wooed and then their romance or the marriage or even kids are like, the end, but without the soulcrushing domestic chores attached.
posted by corb at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


No shit, kariebookish. It's super easy to blame Amazon, not so easy to take responsibility for your own dumb business decisions.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:04 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


the characters usually only have hot hot sex with somebody they are in a committed relationship to. Rather than, say, the pizza delivery boy/girl.

You underestimate just how committed I am to the people who supply me with pizza.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:20 AM on March 2, 2015 [31 favorites]


I don't know that they've done *that* much damage to the paid market. There's a large base of romance/erotica readers who don't read fan fiction, don't read website fiction (it doesn't behave like e-reader text and so is a PITA to stop and start), like paying (a little) for most content, and are often very loyal readers of specific authors or genres.

You can download anything hosted on the AO3 in pretty much any ebook format you like these days, though--.pdf, .epub, .mobi, another one I'm forgetting at the moment. Not saying that those romance/erotica readers necessarily know this if they weren't already looking at fandom, but I know a lot of women who load long fics onto their eReaders so they can read them on the bus.
posted by sciatrix at 9:38 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've only read maybe two or three fanfics seriously, but when I did I just read them in a browser. I read everything on my iPhone.
posted by St. Hubbins at 10:15 AM on March 2, 2015


I have Fifty Shades on hold at the library, but not for me. An 84 year old friend of mine needs me to pick it up for her. And so it goes.
posted by Oyéah at 10:23 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's knitting and porn, all the way down.
posted by chavenet at 10:30 AM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


desuetude: "Erm, except that in traditional romance novels, those "committed relationships" frequently begin nonconsensually. Arranged marriages, kidnapping by the sea captain, whatever."

There's a reason this is popular in HISTORICALS and not contemporaries. In contemporaries it's like, "GAH, this guy's a creepy rapist" but in historicals you can sort-of rationalize away the creepy parts and be like, "He's a dashing pirate/secret Duke who MUST kidnap this woman in order to get his inheritance ..." Like the whole point of historicals is that you can enjoy fantasies of men overpowering reluctant women with their sexiness (a popular fantasy, which many fantasists would NOT like to experience in reality), while keeping it safely in the past and in a setting where it was more socially condoned so the male lead isn't automatically horrible.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:31 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Bigfoot and dinosaur porn

My box currently has on it a softcore Bigfoot-and-blondes porn, recorded quite some time ago, from one of the sleazy channels. I saw it in the listing and my curiosity overwhelmed my rational understanding that there was simply no chance of it aligning with my proclivities.

I've not deleted it, nor have I watched it, but I wonder now if I should watch it simply to discover whether I've been missing out on my true fetish.
posted by hrwj at 10:49 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Curious Case of Ellora's Cave, the Dear Author post.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:58 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


My box currently has on it a softcore Bigfoot-and-blondes porn,

Oh man, an awesome addition to a Big Bang Theory boxed set would be extended segments from "Serial Apeist".
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2015


Growing up, my best friend's mom had a "Reading Room" full to the brim with bodice rippers, and I'll never forget sitting in that room with my friend reading our sci-fi books, and taking years to come to the conclusion that her Mom was a total romance novel/softcore porn junkie.

That being said, a different friend's wife got into this a couple of years ago. Pre 50 shades. She used to work in small market publishing, going nowhere. Saw them last month and she told me that she's pocketed five figures a month a couple of times. "And they're garbage. I sit up late at night with a big glass of wine, and churn out absolute dreck for an hour or three, edit for maybe another hour or so and bam. It's all first draft stuff. And they keep coming back for more. I wish I had done this years ago."

Sure, she has a nice MA in English with tons of writing experience, but her stuff strikes a chord somehow. She quit that publishing job and gets to do the "Work from home and help raise my family on the cheap." thing that's becoming ridiculously popular these days.
posted by Sphinx at 2:09 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Given what publishing jobs pay these days it's hardly surprising dreck-lit pays more.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:47 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know a lot of women who load long fics onto their eReaders so they can read them on the bus.

The accused stood mute and the judge ordered a plea of nolo contendere into the record. This whole thing is fascinating to me because it never occurs to me to buy smutty ebooks when there's such a pornucopia available on AO3.
posted by immlass at 3:04 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Romance editor here. Take away the lulzy overview -- cocks! men in speedos! and Engler's interesting personal appearance! -- and what we have here is a person who started a business, made a lot of money, then managed to run it into the ground and victimize a lot of people along the way. The suit against Dear Author is disgusting, and because Ohio is a non-SLAPP state, the defendent is on the hook for thousands of dollars in legal fees even if she prevails, as most watchers believe she will. Meanwhile, authors, editors and cover artists wait in vain for their money, and Engler continues to publish books with covers that break Amazon's mainstream guidelines, meaning books get heavily filtered in search results and are almost unfindable. Bad customer service on Ellora's Cave's own site means that readers' e-libraries have been lost, meaning their books are lost, giving them no incentive to continue buying from the site. Engler suffers, but her authors suffer as much or more, all the while knowing that if the publisher goes into bankruptcy their work will be considered an asset and they won't be able to get the rights back. The whole thing is gross from top to bottom. Courtney Milan and Dierdre Saoirse Moen are doing a great job following the court case, and Milan in particular does a good job of translating legalese into plain English. The twitter hashtag #notchilled is also a good way to follow the issues.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:22 PM on March 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


Hmm, that implies that there are people out there who have a fetish for paying for porn. And there probably are.

Wait, so that means I could make money writing fetish stories about people who have a fetish for paying for porn.

Let me talk to my agent...
posted by happyroach at 4:05 PM on March 2, 2015


This seemed SO EXACTLY like the set-up to a porno that it felt super surreal as we all sat around in the living room sipping tepid soda and watching Gilmore Girls.

Years ago we had to stay in a hotel for a few days while our landlord was fumigating the house. One weekday night I went down to get something from my car at 2 AM, and as I was getting into the elevator I was joined by two model-pretty young ladies who were apparently coming in from a night on the town. One was wearing a skintight rubber dress, the other was wearing a tuxedo but with her face made up to perfection. They both seemed very shy and giggly, like I'd caught them when they were up to some sort of mischief. When they stepped out on their floor I had the rather wistful feeling that they were taking the porn movie with them.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:39 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


it never occurs to me to buy smutty ebooks when there's such a pornucopia available on AO3.

I have a new favorite word.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:21 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Are you sure about that?
posted by asperity at 9:18 PM on March 2, 2015


Usenet would like to have a word with you.

I used to post to assm back in the day (yay pseudonyms), but I never tried to make money at what I posted, which is a significant difference.

That said, EC was not the first. It was, for a time, the biggest in that field, though.

People like Tina Engler helped prove there was a market. Sadly, Amazon lost theirs. :)

(Thanks for the visits, folks. I don't MeFi much, but I do appreciate the links to my posts.)
posted by deirdresm at 9:43 PM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


> Like the whole point of historicals is that you can enjoy fantasies of men overpowering reluctant women with their sexiness (a popular fantasy, which many fantasists would NOT like to experience in reality), while keeping it safely in the past and in a setting where it was more socially condoned so the male lead isn't automatically horrible.

Ah, yes, I should have said that I was thinking of historical romances specifically.

Anyway, my point was that romance novel tropes and porn tropes are often coming from the exact same types of sexual fantasies, just with different window-dressing.
posted by desuetude at 7:58 AM on March 3, 2015


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