article contributed by author Cara McKenna
I recently invited people to take a What Erotica Readers Want survey. The nearly seventy participants came via my erotic authors’ group blog, my website and Twitter, so the pool is more a focus group of erotica fans who patronize mainstream publishers such as Ellora’s Cave than a true representation of all people everywhere.
Percentages have been rounded to the nearest integer.
Gender. Respondents were 88% women, 9% men and 3% transgender.
Age. The largest group fell in the 30–39 range, making up 36% of the pool. The next largest groups were 40–49 (26%) and 20–29 (22%). 14% of respondents were 50–64 and only 2% were 19 or younger. We had no responses from readers 65 or older.
Voracity. The largest group reads roughly one erotic story per week. That said, 16% of our participants read 15 erotic stories or more per month—you insatiable perverts, you!
Formats and vendors. Nearly everyone polled reads digital erotica, with only 9% reading print exclusively. Most read a mix of the two, and 16% read digital only. The vast majority of readers get their erotica from traditional bookstores, online bookstores and direct from publishers' sites. Other sources of note are libraries, fan fiction sites, and erotic blogs and websites. None of our anonymous respondents claimed to get their erotica from pirate sites. Big, sloppy kisses from all us starving authors!
Length. Participants enjoy erotica of all lengths, though novels and novellas were most popular (46% and 35% respectively). 13% preferred short-story length and 6% preferred super-short (i.e., EC's Naughty Nooners or fan fiction / blog posts).
Character gender mix. The majority of our repondents were women and unsurprisingly, most want a man in their story. He can be one-half of a hetero couple or an m/m couple, or part of an f/m/m+ menage. Nearly two-thirds of pollees are indifferent to or turned-off by women-only erotica. Even more would pass on m/f/f menage.
What we're into reading. The meat of the survey—get your gravy! I’ve broken these data into three sections: safe themes, super-popular themes, and least-popular themes. Readers rated a bunch of items using five options: love, like, no opinion, dislike, and hate. That said, this is just for fun and I don’t encourage authors to chase trends—write what you love.
You're probably safe writing:
• Historical settings
• Full-on BDSM (D/s, bondage, etc.)
• Male Dom / alpha hero
• Sci-fi / futuristic settings
• 10+ year age difference, either gender
• Virginity loss
• Anal play
• Voyeurism or exhibitionism
• "Cheating" with permission / cuckolding
• Consensual rape role-play (contentious—12% love it, 13% hate it)
• Sex as rite / ritual
• Plus-sized protagonist
• Interracial lovers
• Kinky piercings / body modification
• Orgies (5+ participants)
• Food play
• Larger-than-average wangs (size kinda matters)
If you really want to thrill readers, take notes:
• 96% like or love light bondage
• 95% like / love contemporary settings
• 89% like / love oral sex performed on a man
• 87% like / love male-on-male action
• 83% like / love oral sex performed on a woman
• 82% like / love humor
• 81% like / love a suspense plot
• 79% like / love paranormal stories
• 77% like / love a happily-ever-after ending
• 77% like / love sex toys
• 77% like / love menage (3–4 participants)
• 73% like / love spanking
• 71% like / love outdoor sex
If you're aiming to alienate:
• 39% dislike or hate a sexually Dominant female character
• 35% dislike or hate female-on-female action
Verboten topics. I also asked what topics readers don’t like mentioned, even in passing. Here they are, along with the percentage who say they kill their buzz:
• 71% Sexually transmitted diseases / infections
• 54% Abortion
• 46% Religion / morality
• 44% Recreational drug use (excluding alcohol)
• 33% Serious illness or death
• 27% Politics
• 25% Rape or sexual abuse in protagonist's past
• 23% Children or parenthood
• 23% Infertility or erectile dysfunction
• 21% Tobacco use
• 19% Conception or pregnancy
• 6% Birth control
How we judge our books. I was surprised to find we do judge them by their covers! Nearly 60% of respondents said a nice cover is reasonably important, though they also care about the theme or blurb. 19% say a nice cover is merely a bonus, 14% say the cover is the most important thing when choosing a book, and only 12% said they choose books totally regardless of their covers. 8% chose the non-applicable option, reading their erotica in a cover-less form such as fan-fic sites.
Thanks again to everyone who participated.
Cara McKenna writes erotica for Ellora’s Cave. You can visit her at www.caramckenna.com. For a more detailed analysis of the survey results, visit http://naughtyauthorchicks.blogspot.com/2010/04/survey-says.html.