Ok I'm back -- sorry about that, got caught up with being at Nationals! So, I haven't had a ton of time to read lately and what I've been reading has been action/thrillers (*blush*) -- but, Beauty was one of my first sets of Erotica and blew my mind. I was in Beauty's shoes and responding in all kinds of ways to the scenes and I felt as if I were in a romance. I think the main romance that flipped my switch and made me decide to write erotica and romance was actually these set of books, and specifically The Captain character. The BDSM elements were there and not explicit in the way it can be today - a lot of it was relationships, historical elements that take away the modern toys and such. Some of it is mental. Let's look at a non erotica/romance version of Anne Rice's work -- Lasher. In her Vampire Lestat series, Rowan, the lead witch (it's been years it's blurry in my memory bear with) has a romance and gets married to a handsome, average, well-meaning guy (who I think has some latent power but is not as strong as her) -- Michael. Their romance develops, they get together, they're a solid couple. This is paranormal gothic romance whatnot, so it's not about their romance, but the whole time I was like, Michael is meh. Nice. I want her to be happy. But meh. Parallel to Michael, is Lasher. Lasher is a ghost who haunts the crap out of Rowan, her whole life. And her relationship with HIM -- someone she can't see, can't talk to, etc. -- is erotic and a relationship that is complex that I want her to actually have. Because he's a ghost and he came before Michael, I feel conflicted ... it never resolves cleanly for me, but there is a naughty forbidden helpless obsession shameful aspect to Lasher that pushes all my buttons in ways that Michael never could. Lasher is demanding, bossy, pushy, he exerts his claim on Rowan repeatedly and won't leave her alone -- just like a proper Alpha. Michael is a Beta, because Rowan is an Alpha. Back to Beauty -- it actually *does* have a central HEA from what I remember, but it's split into multiple books and will appear to be erotica for those who prefer *central paired character* for the majority of their romance. That's the tricky thing -- many people will dub your erotic romance erotica and emotionally disassociate from your main character if she / he has multiple lovers on the way to finding their HEA/HFN ending. (I think that's unfair, but that's life. I think a true work of "erotica" has no romance or very little whatsoever and ends with NO HEA/HFN, a la "Story of O." Something where people demonstrate no love or long term interest in loving each other, only desire and selfish exploration and fulfillment of that desire. But I feel a truly layered story will always include characters LIKE that -- the ones who just want sex / to serve their needs. But your hero/heroine is seeking more and ideally finds the character who truly loves them for who they are and understands/fulfills them sexually and emotionally.) What people want to see (from my experience) is that the people who end up together at the end are standing next to each other in chapter 1 and 2 and clearly meant to be together even if during Chapter 3 onward there are trials and tribulations -- those central characters (m/m, m/f, f/f, mfm, etc) -- are doing their dance from page 1. In fact, what is HEA/HFN and romance for any reader is *as unique to the reader* as it is to the author to write. The difficulty is in writing in a way that makes you happy and then *finding your reader.* This came up in the conference this year -- how writing smart is writing to please your reader but also writing to please you. It's a fine line. The former will make you money and may follow more of a formula/model. The latter will help you stay productive and keep churning out stuff that excites you at scale in a way you can monetize while also enjoying what you do so you don't dial it in. Because readers can always tell when you do. There's a blurry line here that we were talking about at our PI AGM this year -- we don't want to get into formulas and "there should be X many sex scenes, your HEA/HFN characters must meet and exchange words/romantic tension by the end of Chapter 1, etc." - writing is ambivalent, nuanced, and subjective. I had one guy author way back ask me explicitly as a female what I responded to in his works and when I told him "that M/M turns me on" he went off on a "let me insert mm into my works" kick. And it's not as simple as that. It has to make sense to the evolution to the characters, your story, who they are in life. As complex as your own life is and the things you have grown to like and love in a real relationship and in the bedroom, your characters will have had the same complex evolution over time and there is no rubric for painting that picture in a way that is guaranteed to win hearts/make sales. I'm sorry I have to bash that famous "mainstream mommy porn" title -- it had flaws but it also had characters that, stiffly as they were drawn, met a need in the reader. That's all it can take -- can your reader see themselves, or the one they want to make love to and own in their darkest deepest of hearts, in your characters? Also, times are changing. What was once erotica is now considered erotic romance. Within erotic romance, there are storylines that are considered too dark for some and for others are pushing all the right buttons for both *erotic* and *romance.* As an example, I do not like my heroines sweet and innocent. I also do not like my alphas incapable of having sense when they are ridden by testosterone. Other readers want both of those things and it's not a "romance" for them if they don't get that "hit." My personal "hit" needs my alpha to be a little cruel, highly intelligent, something like a DDlg. I don't need toys, whips, or chains, I need everything to be in the mind games. Check out some of our PI contest winners and finalists for examples! Hope this helps some ... don't worry about being impolitic.