Yes, men read erotic fiction, too. We’re the untapped market, so to speak. To the point, Ellora’s Cave is testing the waters with a line of “erotica for men” and have put a call out to the erotica-reading men of the world: what are our fantasies? It’s a step in the right direction, for sure, but it begs the question, “What is erotica for men?” The following are my thoughts (and some of Jake Marlow’s — a fellow male writer); there are very few stats to back any of this up, so keep that in mind.
What it isn’t
Let’s start here, because it’s easier that way. I’m a little tired of this notion that men don’t care about characters, or their histories and motivations. Or realistic plot. We don’t want to read about sex out of context — or rather, we wouldn’t buy a book that was just sex scenes out of context.
We want story, just like women. These are erotic stories. “Erotica for men” isn’t thinly veiled excuses for sex — not the most compelling of them. It’s not pornography in written form; not Busty Coeds Blow Your Mind With Words, Vol. 7.
It’s also not quite “romance with a higher heat level.” I wouldn’t necessarily apply many of the rules that govern romance — happily ever after endings, total fidelity amongst the protagonists, heroic tropes of the main characters — to male erotica. This isn’t to say they aren’t welcome things; I’m just saying they aren’t in the manual of men’s erotic requirements.
So what is in that manual?
Now we get into a bit of subjectivity, but if I had to venture to guess two things that most guy are looking for in erotica (and let me insert here that we’re talking about the special kind of guy who buys it, not reads it for free), I’d say visualization and more frequent sex.
Guys are visual creatures. Yes, erotica is written fiction. No, we’re not looking for graphic novels or picture books (well, I’m not; they’re out there, I’m sure). But good writing should be doing more than chronicle the actions of the main characters. It needs to paint a picture (show versus tell and all that). Give us the relevant details so we can live and breath the fictional world: what do the characters look like, show us their body language, show us enough about the scene that we can immerse ourselves. We want that a visceral experience.
This is even more critical when it comes to those sex scenes. We’re not looking for porn in written form — OK, scratch that because it’s not true. We’re not looking to buy porn in written form (that’s what free sites are for). Plot and characterization are important; tension build-up, development of relationships — they’re all elements that make good erotica. But for men, when we get to the pay-off, we want a pay-off. Not some poetry. Not a scene-cut like the R-rated version of an NR softcore film. It needs to be there, and we need to live it.
Furthermore, sex scenes should not be shied away from. It’s what many guys are looking for in their stories. This isn’t to say that they’re “fast forwarding to the good stuff,” but they do expect the good stuff to be in there, and be there often (definition of “often” may vary). I usually feel bad when it takes me too long to get to something spicy in my own work, although it does happen (I’m 10k into a summer-themed story that’s just now getting to its first real sex scene). And if not a full-on scene, something to tease the reader with.
What I’m not saying is sex that doesn’t make sense. See the first point above (Busty Coeds, Words, Vol. 7, remember?).
Batman and Spider-man
Here’s my analogy for the two types of male leads we like.
Peter Parker (Spider-man) is the guy that I relate to (and I don’t think I’m alone). He’s not really an alpha. He isn’t a star athlete or a war hero. He’s kind of a nerd, a do-gooder. Doesn’t want to disappoint his sweet aunt. Doesn’t get all the girls. Is even a little awkward (just a little). And doesn’t live and breath confidence. He has a “regular” job (although photojournalism is pretty sweet). In short, we can see ourselves in this guy. Even the origin of powers is something we can relate to, a product of circumstance, something completely external (spider bite); he happened into his great story, but when he does, he seizes the opportunity, as any good hero should. He’s one of the guys we look for in erotica. A lot of what I’ve read is completely devoid of this protagonist. We get alphas that we can’t fathom existing in reality, let alone maybe being us. We want more Peters.
But that’s not to say we don’t sometimes look for the alpha, either. Bruce Wayne (Batman) is a guy I can admire in fiction. Sure, he exhibits a lot of alpha traits. He’s rich. Good looking. Fit. Has his own empire. The super powers are an outward extension of his own hard work and innovation. And most importantly, he kicks a lot of ass. Guys like this sort of guy — Don Draper, James Bond — and while they don’t satisfy the relatable thing in our hearts, they certainly occupy the desire to escape. And when you’re reading erotic fiction, there is some part of us wanting to escape. What sets Batman apart from most male erotic romance protagonists is how he’s written. We’re not looking for a guy who makes women turn into mush by his very gaze — Batman isn’t written from the female protagonist’s perspective as her ideal. He’s written for us, first. The swooning stuff is just a welcome side effect.
With a few exceptions, I think that women and men share more fantasies than most realize. If you get nothing out of this post, it should be this nugget: it’s not the story that’s different, it’s the way the story is told.
There are some specific themes that may fall more into the XY column. Wife watching (and more extreme, cheating wife/cuckold stories). Madonna/whore dichotomies. Older woman/younger man. Threesomes and girl-girl (OK, this is for all, but seems “guyish” enough to mention it).
Point is, while there are a few specific fantasies between the two genders, the fine line is drawn with a loosely held pencil rather than anything bold and differentiating. It’s the way those fantasies are written that set us apart.
I’m pretty interested in what Ellora’s Cave will come up with. I think the “male niche” is one of the fastest growing ones out there. Guys are looking for things to read and it appears that the market is reacting to it. I just hope that something in all the words above can help guide those looking to fill it. Just remember, this is me speaking for me, not males in general.
Agree, disagree? Leave a comment or e-mail me. I’ll be happy to discuss. Now’s your chance to speak!
Edit: I have no idea why the comments are closed. I’m looking into this. For now, though, I’ve created a Goodreads group on this topic. Head over there if you’re interested in “erotica for men.”