Thursday, July 30, 2009

Donning The Black For Black Lace

Word came down this month that Virgin Books (part of the Random House family these days) was putting their erotica imprint, Black Lace, on hold next year. Meaning what titles are slated for the latter half of 2009 could very well be the end of the line.

Some of you are probably wondering 1) why some of us are truly bereft to hear this news and 2) why you should bloody well care. Well, I'm here to tell you.

This may come as a surprise to any newbie romance readers out there, but erotica and erotic romance used to be very un-mainstream. I was reviewing for The Romance Reader when Kensington literally revolutionized the market by launching the Brava line. Whoa doggie. You would think it was the end of western civilization. You wouldn't believe the crap that was getting posted on message boards and e-mail loops. There was no place in the romance genre for this....this...smut! It's nothing more!

No, I'm not making this up. People were saying this about the Brava line. Oh my, how times have changed!

It was through my affiliation with TRR that I discovered "the hot stuff." It started with Seductive by Thea Devine (Devine Crack Hos: the book with the pearls). From there I reviewed Beyond Seduction by Emma Holly. This was the second "mainstream" historical romance title that Holly wrote for Berkley. I loved it. To which one of my long-time buds on one of my e-mail loops said:
"Oh Wendy! You have to try her Black Lace books."
Black Lace? Really? Off I go to check them out....

I read Cooking Up A Storm and Pandora's Box was officially opened. I was sold. Hook, line, sinker.....addicted. There was no going back.

I'll be honest. As much as I love romance, I tend to get pissed off with The Code. The Code is as follows:
Too Stupid To Live Virginal Twat = Heroine

Female Character Who Actually Enjoys Sex Before Meeting "The One" = Skanky, Slut Villainess.
Being in my early 20s, not that far removed from college, The Code really pissed me off. I know. Sex is better when it's with someone you lurve....blah, blah, blah. I'm going to blunt. If you're having sex with someone you aren't hopelessly in love with, it doesn't mean it's automatically going to be terrible. Don't ask me how I know this, I just do. Let's leave it at that.

I didn't get this clap-trap in Black Lace novels. Black Lace novels made it OK for the female characters who were traditionally vilified in romance novels to be the heroine of their own stories. They could be who they wanted to be, do whatever they wanted to do, and with whomever they wished and....they weren't punished for it.

Hear that? That would be Wendy's little feminist heart singing The Hallelujah Chorus.

Now I'm not suggesting that Black Lace novels were all good (::snort:: hardly) and I'm not suggesting that all romance novels follow The Code. Like most of my reading life, it was my dumb luck to hit a string of irritatingly bad books one after another. Black Lace came along at a time in my life when I needed validation. I got it, for which I am eternally grateful.

So where did it all go wrong? The market changed, and Black Lace didn't change with it. Kensington Brava opened a window into making "hotter" romances more mainstream. Then Ellora's Cave kicked open the door, poured some gasoline on the floor and lit a match. Who woulda thunk it? Readers like erotica and they're more than willing to read it electronically? Golly gee.

Once the digital revolution in terms of erotica and erotic romance launched, Black Lace should have hit the ground running by offering up their titles electronically. They also should have worked on their distribution. You know how many Black Lace titles I've purchased in traditional brick and mortar bookstores?


I can never find what I'm looking for there. In the old days, a few well-worn titles with spine creases (grrrr!) would be buried in the Sexuality/Self-Help (tee hee) section. I didn't start seeing Emma Holly's Black Lace titles in stores until their third or fourth reprinting (by which point I had ordered all my copies online), and only after she started swimming the more mainstream waters of paranormal romance.

So even though the revolution had arrived, I was still ordering my Black Lace online. This isn't a big deal for me, but it's still a small percentage of readers who order their books online. A huge market wasn't being tapped by making the titles more readily available in traditional outlets.

As for learning about what new titles were available? Forget about it. To this day it still requires a fair amount of Internet sleuthing, and for years I relied heavily on the recommendations of my smut-minded online buds until I built up a core of authors I knew I could rely on.

But while the possible demise of Black Lace isn't unexpected, that doesn't make it any less sad. It's hard to understand now, what with erotic romance being so darn....respectable, but Black Lace was literally ground zero. It was the safe place where women could go to read erotica that was written by other women, catering to female fantasies. It was breathtaking. It was groundbreaking. And now we're hearing the first few faint notes of a funeral dirge.

And if my broken heart isn't enough, that is why you should care.


Kati said...

Ah Wendy. You are a champ! Thank you for this.

Like you, a bunch of years ago I started wishing for more heat in my romance. And fewer euphamisms (can we just call a clit a clit and not a "love button"?!?!). I started searching around for hotter romances, and landed on the Black Lace website. I ordered Emma Holly's Menage. And was captivated. That was followed by Cooking Up A Storm, Velvet Glove, and The Top of Her Game. Each book was delicious and hot. I moved on to what is, in my opinion, Portia da Costa's masterwork: The Tutor and many, many other titles. I have no fewer that 10 Black Lace books on my keeper shelves.

The demise of Black Lace is truly a sad, sad day for erotica. I, for one, will join you in broken heartedness.

Portia Da Costa said...

Ah, I'm nodding my head here re. the issues of promotion, distribution and digital availability. Sigh... We'd still be thriving, I'm sure, if just a little bit more thought and investment had been put into getting the books to the readers.

I've written for Black Lace since 1994 and it's going to be weird not writing for the line any more. It's been a huge part of my writing identity.

Portia Da Costa said...

p.s Kati...

Thanks for your kind words about The Tutor. I had hoped there'd be a reprint next year, for those who'd not had a chance to read it yet.

Kati said...

Portia - I paid about $20 for my copy, but it's my favorite of your books and worth every penny! ;o)

Liza said...

So I feel like I've totally miss out, as I've never heard of the Black Lace line. I do enjoy reading hotter romances and will be checking out the Black Lace website as soon as I get off work.

MB (Leah) said...

I only started reading romance in the last few years and I quickly got into erotic romance. Another blogger reader got me to read a BL book and I was hooked immediately.

I think the writing quality of most BL authors is by and far much better than the general erotic romance/ erotica authors out there.

And you are right, there is a nice let go in these books in that the heroine can just be a normal, sexual being without the whore label put on her.

I still have a few to read and there's plenty of back list for me, but still, I feel bad for those authors, who are some of my favorites at the moment.

You are right, BL should have jumped on the digital bandwagon as soon as erotic romance started blasting off in ebook format.

Too sad this.

Portia Da Costa said...

Hi Liza

The Black Lace web site is woefully out of date, alas. A lot of the recent titles aren't listed, nor is all the backlist.

Portia Da Costa said...

Some titles were issued as ebooks, but it was very hit and miss. Not all titles and not in all the more common formats.

Sigh... makes me want to weep, really. :(

Wendy said...

Liza: Black Lace is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the titles definitely have an "erotic romance" feel - while others are straight-up erotica. Your best bets? Start with Emma Holly or Portia Da Costa. You'll get a happily ever after - albeit sometimes a "non-traditional" one.

In the Holly pantheon, I really liked Cooking Up A Storm and In The Flesh. Wasn't wild about Velvet Glove - and I still have Menage and Top Of Her Game in the TBR (a ton of reader LOVE Menage). Her work has been reprinted several times, so you should have no problem finding copies.

Of Portia's work - I love The Tutor, but it's OP and kinda hard to find. However you should have no problems finding In Too Deep, which came out just last year.

Tumperkin said...

I know. I'm gutted. Like you say, they weren't all great but there were some very fine writers writing for BL. Where to go for well written smut now?

Wendy said...

::headdesk:: Liza: Another BL title worth looking up is Taking Care Of Business by Megan Hart & Lauren Dane. It came out a few months back and I have a review somewhere on the blog. A fun, beach read.

Rosie said...

What!!!??? Say it ain't so.

Also, what Tumperkin said.

Lil Sis said...

I might cry. :( So sad. And I always wanted to write for them - I got some great story ideas. :)

Sigh - I guess I'll need to find a new dealer in smut. :(

Justine Elyot said...

Oh what a brilliant post - encapsulates exactly why I love(d) Black Lace and your point about The Code made me squeal with agreement.

Thanks so much for this. It doesn't fix the hole the end of BL left, but it's cheering to know that there are like minds mourning along with me.

Liza said...

Thanks for the book suggestions Wendy. I'm adding them to my TBB list right now.

Wendy said...

Rosie & Lil' Sis: Sad, but true. They haven't officially "killed" the line yet - but putting it "on hold" for all of 2010 doesn't exactly give one much reason to hope.

Justine: Ooooh, you're in the Liaisons and Misbehavior anthologies! I just ordered those this week, along with pre-ordering Portia's new book. I'm in the States and had to wait. ::sulk::

Liza: You're welcome.

Taja said...

What a great post, Wendy! You said it all.

Justine Elyot said...

Yes, that's me, Wendy :). I hope you enjoy the anthologies - and I KNOW you'll enjoy Kiss It Better!

sula said...

great post wendy. i love the BL books that I own and would have more of them if I could find them easily. Sad news.