Generally speaking, there are two kinds of erotic novels: the Big Sexy Novel and the Rough Sexy Novel. You can make a fortune on the first and little more than pocket money on the last. Big Sexy Novels are written by Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, Henry Sutton, Morton Cooper, Rona Jaffe, and many others. Six figure incomes are a starting place in the Big Sexy Novel field, with million dollar rewards if you achieve the position of a Robbins or a Susann. Rough Sexy Novels are written by, among hundreds of others, Marcus Van Heller, Ann Griffin, Tor Kung, Peggy Swenson, Marco Vassi, and Jesse Taylor. Their financial rewards average between $1,000 and $3,000 a book, and they do not even receive the fringe benefits of national fame accorded the BigSN writer—to say nothing of the subsidiary rights a RoughSN novelist rarely ever profits from.
What, you may well ask, differentiates between a Big Sexy Novel and a Rough Sexy Novel? Most importantly, language. In a sane world, we might expect the dirtier, more arousing book to make the biggest money. In a land of sexual hypocrisy, however, the opposite is true. The BigSN contains at least one sex scene in every chapter, but describes the bedroom action in a "refined" way that is acceptable to a broad spectrum of American book buyers who can, because the crudest language does not appear, pretend they have no interest in the prurient passages of the work and are reading it for other reasons when, of course, the prurient passages are at least half of what they want to get out of the book. The RoughSN, on the other hand, pulls no punches, describing the bedroom scenes at greater length and in greater detail than the BigSN, letting the reader see them from every conceivable angle and character viewpoint, and employing any word no matter how "filthy" its connotation or denotation. Furthermore, the tone of the RoughSN is very straightforward, honest, and blatantly arousing, while the tone of the BigSN is coy, flirting with style and "meaning" while actually delivering a great deal of thinly disguised erotica.
In most categories, clarity of prose is important and overwriting is taboo. Not so in the Big Sexy Novel. Here, the writer often uses the over-written scene to pretend toward "literary content" or merely to avoid using earthier language that could describe the scene better and more directly. For example, the BigSN might contain something like this:
As Rita swelled towards her peak, she felt like the sea, the great, all-encompassing sea, the churning of dark waves, so that she was a mindless mass moving, moving everywhere and all at once. And she cried out, but softer than the sea when it cries against the rocks, more like the soft cry of water on sand, rolling, breaking, foaming, rocking up and down in liquid ecstasy, pulling back to build up and rush in again, exploding, shuddering...
Or the Big Sexy Novel might contain this sort of passage:
It was like a storm for Glenda. He entered her like lightning striking into the dark heart of the sky, and she was filled with a momentary light that faded but, in fading, promised to return in even more brilliant display. And, with that bolt enfolded by her dark night, the rolling clouds came, moving together, parting and then mingling again; and the thunder was their breath as they rolled together, achieving, at last, that greater flash of lightning and the wet release of storm water.
If you think these examples are humorous, you would do well to read some of the financially and critically accepted Big Sexy Novels to be sobered. None of what I've written here would be particularly out of place in D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover or Henry Sutton's The Voyeur.
Of course, the strength of language permissible in the BigSN changes from year to year, and the potential BigSN author must read the latest works to know just how far he may go. Today, four-letter words appear on the average of two to four times on every page of the BigSN, and euphemisms for the parts of the body and the sex act are frequently supplemented by the vulgar tongue. But one thing that has never changed and will never change in the BigSN is the lack of the clinical descriptions of bodies and acts which are the life's blood of the Rough Sexy Novel. The BigSN reader is not interested in how the act is done so much as in the seduction leading to it: he wants to read about the lust more than the satisfaction, just as the suspense reader likes to anticipate more than witness the violent event around which a suspense novel is built.
Another appeal of the BigSN, aside from its artificial literary value, is its gossipy quality. Americans are great gossipers, especially about other people's sexual proclivities and adventures. Therefore, a BigSN will be written around one of five main plots:
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