Thursday, April 8, 2010

Survey says…

by Cara McKenna

The What Erotica Readers Want survey results are in! Huge thanks to everyone who took part—I received about sixty responses and can now boast a better insight into what our readers dig.

Don't forget, a random commenter will win a $20 gift card (my fellow Naughty Authors are exempt, but they should feel free to comment). Comment by 9pm EST for your chance to win!

For anyone who hasn't taken the survey, you can still take it HERE to qualify for the contest, though your feedback won't be counted in this post, obviously.

Please bear in mind that I found the survey participants via this blog, author friends' word of mouth, my website, and my Twitter network, so by nature these folks are not a fair representation of everyone out there—more like a focus group of erotica fans who patronize mainstream erotica publishers (i.e., Ellora's Cave or Loose Id).

Anyhow, on to the results! Percentages have been rounded to the nearest integer.

Gender. Our respondents worked out to be 88% women, 9% men and 3% transgender [one female-to-male, one unspecified].

Age. The largest group fell in the 30–39 age range, making up 36% of the pool. The next largest groups were 40–49 (26%) and 20–29 (22%). Only 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 of respondents said they read roughly one erotic story a week. That said, 16% of our participants read 15 erotic stories or more per month—you insatiable perverts! Bless you.

Formats, sources and vendors. Nearly everyone polled reads at least some digital erotica, with only 9% of those polled 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 directly from publishers' sites. Some other sources of note are libraries, fan fiction sites, erotic blogs and websites, book swaps, and one respondent writes their own—that's one way to ensure you like the subject matter!

I'm proud to report that none of our anonymous respondents claimed to get their erotica from pirate or torrent sites. Big, sloppy, appreciative kisses from us starving authors to all of you!

Length. Readers seem to enjoy erotica of all lengths, though novels and novellas were the most popular lengths (46% and 35%, respectively). 13% liked short story length best, and 6% preferred super-short stories that can be read in a half hour or less (i.e., EC's Naughty Nooners or short fan fiction / blog posts).

Character gender mix. For this section and the next the survey asked readers to rate a bunch of different options using five different choices: My favorite!, Like it, No opinion, Not my thing, and Can't stand it. Basically, a spectrum of love to hate.

The majority of our readers were women and perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of respondents want a man co-starring in their story. He can be one-half of a hetero couple, part of a men-only couple or ménage, or one of a few men involved in one-woman-multiple-men ménage. Based on these data, authors seem guaranteed a large, eager audience if there's a dude involved, whereas nearly two-thirds of readers polled are indifferent to or turned off by women-only erotica. Even more would take a pass on one-man-multiple-women ménage.

Survey-takers were invited to write in "other" options as well, and I got several requests for transgender characters—and not only from the trans-identified respondents. Can anyone say "untapped market"?

What we're into reading. Ah, the meat of the survey—get your gravy ready! I'm going to break these data into three sections: safe themes, super-popular themes, and least-popular themes. Again, readers rated the various story elements and themes using a five-choice spectrum of love to hate.

You may notice that the percentages in the least-popular theme section are much lower than the ones in the popular section. Overall, our open-minded respondents liked more things than they hated and as you will see, the majority of pollees don't collectively hate any one thing I included in the "What are you into?" section, though these were the items with the highest percentage of negative responses.

Now personally, I feel authors should write for themselves first and foremost if they want the passion to really leap off the page for their readers…even if this poll says such a story is more likely to alienate readers. However, if anyone is looking to write for their targeted audience above themselves, here are some basic guidelines…

You're probably safe writing the following:

  • A historical setting (though contemporary was far more popular)
  • Full-on BDSM (D/s, bondage, leather fetish, etc.)
  • A male Dom / alpha-type hero
  • A sci-fi / futuristic setting
  • A 10+ year age difference, either gender
  • Virginity loss
  • Anal play (includes rimming, pegging, etc.)
  • Voyeurism or exhibitionism
  • "Cheating" with permission / cuckolding
  • Consensual rape role-play (tough one—12% love it, 13% hate it)
  • Sex as rite / ritual / power source
  • A plus-sized protagonist
  • Interracial lovers
  • Kinky piercings and body modification
  • Orgies (5 or more participants)
  • Food play
  • Larger-than-average wangs (size kinda matters, but not that much)

If you really want to thrill readers, take notes:
  • 96% like or love light bondage (as opposed to hardcore BDSM)
  • 95% like or love a contemporary setting
  • 89% like or love oral sex performed on a man
  • 87% like or love male-on-male action
  • 83% like or love oral sex performed on a woman
  • 82% like or love humor
  • 81% like or love a suspense plot
  • 79% like or love paranormal stories
  • 77% like or love a happily-ever-after ending
  • 77% like or love sex toys
  • 77% like or love ménage (3–4 participants)
  • 73% like or love spanking
  • 71% like or 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

Some "other, please specify" likes:
  • Transgender characters
  • Begging
  • Empowered and passionate disabled characters
  • Age play (extreme, I assume)
  • Incest role-play
  • General open sexual communication (GGG characters)

The verboten topics. Separate from what people are into, I asked what topics erotica readers do not like mentioned, even in passing—subjects that inspire them to toss a book across the room or at the very least kill their buzz. Here are those topics, along with the percentage of respondents who say they wreck the mood:
  • 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

*I failed to mention tobacco at the outset but added it early on in the survey's circulation after a pollee suggested it, so this percentage may have a ±5% margin of error.

A couple of "other, please specify" responses:
  • Extreme kink, including bestiality (not allowed by mainstream publishers)
  • On-stage rape or abuse (as opposed to in a character's past)
  • Racial stereotyping or slurs (good one—agreed!)

How we judge our books. I was surprised to find we do judge them by their covers! I assumed a majority digital readership would go for the "a nice cover is merely a bonus" option (19%), but nearly 60% of respondents said a nice cover is reasonably important, though they also care about the theme or blurb. 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 blogs and fan-fic sites.

So, plea to erotica publishers—shell out for good designers! Readers definitely care.

And those are the results! I winced over a few of the data, since I'm guilty of showcasing some unpopular elements myself—fem-Domme, rape role-play, a few ambiguous-ever-afters, sex for conception, a bit of recreational drug use, cuckholding… But as I'm still learning as a new writer, if I want to be happy I can only write for myself, and pray that maybe a few readers may share my kinks and deign to toss me a couple bucks for my labor.

A huge thanks to everyone who participated! Don't forget to leave a comment by 9pm EST tonight for a chance to win that gift card! If you have any technical trouble commenting, feel free to e-mail me at with your comment and I can post it for you. I'll announce the winner around 9:30pm tonight. Good luck, everybody!


Laurann Dohner said...

That's a lot of awesome survey results. LOL. Tobacco wasn't in the survey I took but good to know NOT to write it in my books. (I'm so guilty of it...LOL)

Michelle Polaris said...

You did a fantastic job with the survey, Cara. I'll just have to agree to disagree with the folks who don't like Femme Dom. Really, ladies, it does not mean wimpy guys I promise you. LOL.

Wynter Daniels said...

Wow - what great info. And more than a couple surprises. Thanks for doing this!

Cara McKenna said...

Laurann—I'm guilty of letting my characters smoke too. I try to limit it to the more nefarious characters as opposed to "good" protagonists, but I've also let main characters smoke if they're really stressed out, to show characterization. I've also written quite a few heroes who are recovered smokers. In any case, I definitely strive not to glamorize it.

Oddly, I've never smoked myself…I watched my dad struggle with the habit until he finally quit at age fifty, as well as many friends' attempts, and there's nothing sexy about nicotine addiction, that's for sure.

Sherry said...

I really enjoyed taking the survey and I have to say a few of the results are not what I thought they would be. My survey didn't have the smoking question on it. I don't smoke but it doesn't bother me if the hero smokes as long as he's not a chain smoker. The role-playing rape doesn't bother me but it's hard to forget if the main character raped someone in the past and sometimes it's really hard for me to read a book where the heroine was raped. One book that comes to mind is Christine Feehan's last Drake sister book Hidden Currents. When a friend told me that in it Elle was raped I couldn't make myself read it for a couple of months when I did I really enjoyed the book.

Cari Quinn said...

What a great survey! So informative for both readers and writers. I used to have my characters smoke occasionally back when I used to smoke occasionally. Now that I don't, neither do they, LOL.

Terry Odell said...

Enjoyed the survey and the results are interesting. And props for the detailed analysis.

Valerie Douglas aka V.J. Devereaux said...

It definitely also proves that a book sometimes is judged by it's cover! (and I have to admit, a few covers have turned me off and one or two covers intrigued me enough to ignore a blurb that didn't really do it for me)

Cara McKenna said...

V.J., I think I'm pretty forgiving of a bad cover, largely because I know what a crap-shoot they can be. If I'm searching for stories on EC, for example, I browse by theme then scan the reader comments and pretty much ignore the covers. Plus, my iPod ereader app doesn't display the covers, so it's pretty moot. Then again, maybe I only think I'm immune to power of visuals…

Armenia said...

Cara, really impressed with the results. You did a great job and I have to admit I'm one of the shallow readers that go ga-ga over covers. It takes heart-stopping blurbs and intriguing hot excerpts to get me pass some animated covers. LOL, some of the warnings Samhain puts on the back of the books are so enticing I can't help but want to read more. It certainly helps.

Cari Quinn said...

Actually, Cara, your comment reminds me of my experience in the EC store just a couple days ago. There was a Quickie I really wanted to read - sounded hot, fun blurb, nice cover. Then I read the reader comments and decided not to buy. A couple hours later, I changed my mind and bought it. And guess what? I loved it! Had I just listened to the comments, I wouldn't have tried it, and actually, I enjoyed it more than some books I've seen more highly rated. So I learned a valuable lesson...I'll still pay attention to reader feedback, but different strokes for different folks. (Here, that saying's doubly true! LOL)

Cara McKenna said...

Armenia—I do have to agree with you about some of the weird CGI'd covers out there. There are definitely some freaky ones and I suppose they could potentially oog me out enough to wreck my mood as I'm browsing.

Nina Pierce said...

Wow, what an thorough poll. A lot of excellent information here. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all those readers who took time to respond.

Mindy said...

Great survey Cara,
It is an eye opener about what us readers look for in a book. The main thing I look for in a book is still how well the book is written. Nothing turns me away from a potential TBR author more quickly than a poorly written book.
Mindy :)

Savannah Stuart said...

Very cool results! Thanks for posting this :) Some of the percentages surprised me!

Mistress Kay said...

Great survey. I took it. I was surprised that none of those elements really bothered me in a story.

Cara McKenna said...

My goodness, where is the deluge of commenters I'd been expecting for this contest?

On the bright side, this must mean more people are willing to share their opinions than are simply looking to score some free dildos. Still, I'm surprised!

Stephanie Adkins said...

Thanks for doing this survey, Cara! I had alot of fun taking it. Oh, and I'm with Michelle. I love Femme Dom too. *wink* One of these days I plan on writing a story about it.

frykitty said...

Very well-done survey!

I am surprised by the femme-Dom dislike, but then not everyone has read Joey W. Hill. Try "Natural Law" if you're on the fence.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Good to know I managed to get 3 of the verboten topics into my next release! Should sell great.

KC Burn said...

Those are some very interesting results - some of which I was not really expecting. I STRONGLY agree with you on the cover art issue - I've got one book that I LOVE, but I have to look away when I scroll past the cover - it's got those weird pose-ables and it totally gives me the creeps. If I think about it too much, it makes me feel like I'm reading erotica about the Burger King! Eeeewwwww!

lindseye said...

I do know that had I taken this survey 3 years ago my answers would have been different. The more exposure I have to erotic literature the less sensitive I am overall. Passages I read in the past and reread more recently do not seem as outrageous as they did. I also search out hotter than hot and appreciate writers willing to push my boundaries.

Cara McKenna said...

Commenting on behalf of drpuma, who had some technical troubles.

Cara McKenna said...

drpuma says:

I loved reading about what other people enjoy, and a lot of the results were surprising! Although, it's tempting to try and sway authors to write about the things that I'm interested in. But still, in erotica as in life, it's always more exciting to have my boundaries pushed a little bit...

Dalton Diaz said...

Wow. Seriously, Cara, have you thought about submitting this to Redlines and Deadlines?

Cara McKenna said...

I hadn't, Dalton—I assumed R&D was invitation-only.

Jina Bacarr said...

I agree, Cara, about submitting this to other venues. It's terrific! Have your tried