Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All About Pleasure: Covering Fifty Shades of Grey


I tried, I really did.  Because I have no intention of reading Fifty Shades of Grey just because it's all the rage—although I could see myself leafing through an abandoned copy I find at a bed and breakfast in a decade or so--I decided I could not in good conscience make public pronouncements about the book.  Not that this has stopped others from asking me why my work has not gotten me as rich as E.L. James.  To which I always truthfully say that I’m glad the books have brought to light the appetite of millions of readers for erotica, and that I hope all erotica writers will benefit.

Recently, however, I’ve read some excellent posts on Fifty Shades including Remittance Girl’s “Why Fifty Shades of Grey Matters.”  It occurred to me then that the Fifty Shades phenomenon affects us whether we’ve read the book or not.  Obviously this media frenzy has less to do with the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey than with the fact that the huge sales provide clear evidence of the existence of female sexual desire in a special place below the belt—by which I mean our wallets.  Not that this should be news.  Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden was the scandalous best-selling sex book of my youth (I read my sister’s copy from cover to cover once and favorite scenes countless times after that, for sociological reasons, of course), even though Friday had been assured by a male publishing professional that women don’t have sexual fantasies.  Apparently that’s a lesson the industry needs to learn over and over again.

Recently I read an expose that claimed not all of the entries in Friday’s book were fantasies reported by “ordinary” women.  Shockingly Friday commissioned them from professional erotica writers!  Of course, just because a piece is well written doesn’t disqualify it from being a genuine female sexual fantasy.  Yet there still seems to be the assumption, confirmed rather than challenged by Fifty Shades, that sex and eloquence do not mix.  I really do hope that the book’s success will pave the way for publishers to nurture and promote other erotic novels—perhaps some even written by experienced erotica writers--but I do worry that the emphasize will be on stories that resemble Fifty Shades in every aspect.  This would hardly be a step forward.

But I like to focus on the positive, and there is indeed one area where Fifty Shades seems to have brought about positive change for erotica.  I’m talking about the covers of the series.  The sinuous, silky gray tie, the glittery half-mask, the shiny handcuffs.  These images are arty, they’re classy, they’re different from the usual embracing couple with the woman’s ample bust spilling out of her corset, the man’s six-pack bulging, both of their manes rippling in the wind.  It’s not that I have anything against a well-toned male torso or generous mammaries.  It’s just that I like the idea there are different ways to present erotica in word and image.  A recent CNN article attempting yet again to account for Fifty Shades’ popularity mentions the appeal of the classy cover. 

Perhaps this explanation spoke to me, because I’m in the process of approving a new cover for the ebook version of my novel, Amorous Woman.  I write for love rather than money, but the fact that the few remaining new copies of the paperback version are selling for $92 on Amazon US and over £1500 on Amazon UK has been compelling news to my publisher.  (Used copies are still cheap—perhaps my curious readers have too good of an imagination as to the logistics of a “one-handed read.”) 

Here is what the original paperback cover looked like:


The image has nothing to do with the book.  My protagonist is a Caucasian American, and there is no other character resembling this woman in the book, but I appreciated the general feel of being seduced by Asian culture, which is at the heart of the story.  I came to be fond of this cover for its warm, golden glow, the willowy torso, the oddly modest bra and panty set.  Truth be told, I would have preferred a cover that would allow readers to take the book on their subway commute, but maybe it was only a matter of waiting until Fifty Shades made erotica okay to consume in public.  

In the case of my ebook, I had much more input.  This is the result:


 The texture of fine Japanese paper, the understated marriage of the sensibilities of east and west, the nod to the classical origins of the story in the courtesan’s summer kimono, all are totally true to the spirit of the story.  In our fine-tuning discussions, my publisher, who is new to erotica, asked me if it was explicitly sensual enough.  Fortunately, I was able to use the Fifty Shades covers as an example of how suggestion can be as seductive as the classic half-naked couple caught in the throes of ecstasy.  After all, money talks.

It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of E.L. James’ books will be for erotica writers.  For now, I’ll appreciate the international dialogue it has inspired and the window of opportunity to celebrate the potential of erotic writing to surprise us, connect us, and enrich our minds and spirits.  That's my official stance.  If you want to know what I really think, invite me out for coffee....

Donna George Storey has 150 publications to her credit, most recently a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor.  If you’re interested in a copy of her novel, Amorous Woman, to read, not scalp, several more copies are available brand new for the bargain price of $12 including shipping here

6 comments:

  1. Great post. I have also held off on reading Fifty Shades, but am delighted with focus it brings to erotic writing. I also agree, I am often embarrassed to be toting around a romance novel because the covers are so cheesy. Love your new cover!

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  2. Such a good point, well made. I can't help but cringe at the covers of most erotic fiction… but you're completely right: Fifty Shades does have good covers, understated and seductive by suggestion.

    Meanwhile I can still be angry about THIS:

    "Yet there still seems to be the assumption, confirmed rather than challenged by Fifty Shades, that sex and eloquence do not mix."

    C'est la vie. The fight goes on.

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  3. Wonderful cover, Donna! It truly captures the feeling of what is one of my long-time favorite erotic titles.

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  4. Thank you, everyone! And yes, Harper, the fight does go on, but it'll keep us sharp :-).

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  5. Consider yourself invited for coffee! My treat.

    I love the new cover, very appropriate to the book, and I wish you the best with the relaunch. Your beautiful book should do well.

    I'm still working on my thoughts on Fifty Shades. I haven't read it, but I don't think you can be in erotica and not be impacted by it in some sense. Like you, I hope for a positive impact. Maybe a more broad acceptance that erotica can be more generally acceptable, and allow people to explore an important part of themselves.

    Anyway, let me know when you want to get that coffee. :-)

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