Before "Fifty Shades of Grey"

Everyone loves smut, says Patty Marks of Ellora's Cave, who turned kinky fiction into millions before E.L. James

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published July 14, 2012 11:00PM (EDT)
Patty Marks
Patty Marks

It might seem that women reading super-smutty romance novels is a new phenomenon, thanks to deafening buzz around the series whose name cannot be spoken. (Fine, “Fifty Shades of Grey." There! I said it.)

But to Patty Marks, CEO of Ellora’s Cave, “the world’s first publisher of erotic romance,” none of this is new. Since long before “mommy porn” entered the popular vernacular, she’s watched women flock to dirty fiction including themes of everything from vampires (and this was pre-"Twilight”) to, yes, BDSM. The company was founded 12 years ago -- by her daughter, Tina Engler, a struggling single mom at the time -- before the e-book boom; at first, they had to email PDFs or mail CDs of the stories direct to customers.

Since then, it's grown into a multimillion-dollar business. A visit to the publishing house’s website reveals a rainbow’s array of genres reminiscent of what you would find on a porn site: “multicultural/interracial,” “older woman, younger man,” “time travel” and “paranormal,” for example. These stories all feature typical romantic novel tropes -- the protagonist and her love interest always end up “happily ever after” or at least “happy for now” (“HEA” and “HFN" in industry lingo) -- but they also feature hardcore sex. And ...

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Tracy Clark-Flory

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