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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hot, Erotic, Erotica, Romantica, Burning - What am I Writing?

Romance novels have "heat levels." In the industry, heat levels are important for marketing purposes. If you want to read something that is - forgive the lack of euphemisms - going to get you off, you probably don't want to read a "sweet" romance. If you want a cute little love story for your 14 year old daughter, then handing her "romantica" or a "burning" book could result in a call from CPS or, at least, a ranting screed from the daughter's best friend's mom, who wonders how her daughter now knows about rimming.

[Note: when I was 14, Forever, by Judy Blume was the scandalous book. I have three boys right now, the oldest more interested in Spore and Civilization than sex. Access to sex information and raising kids in the age of the Internet, though, is a topic beyond this post.]

The basic heat levels break down roughly as follows:

Sweet: sex takes place "off camera." Characters might hold hands, hug, or kiss, and the storyline might allude to more, but it's never described.

Warm: Light description of sex acts with careful euphemisms. "Throbbing member," "heaving bosoms," "the center of her warmth," "her womanhood tingled" - these are warmer romance qualities.

Hot: Specific descriptions of sex, with graphic detail. May or may not use the major words (c*nt, cl*t, co*k, f#ck) - for some reason, these words represent a line that writers have to walk carefully. Some sources I've read consider extremely graphic, detailed sex scenes without these words to be "hot" romance, while others say you can use these words and still get away with a "hot" rating, but might instead need to call the book an "erotic" romance.

SCORCHING: Kinky sex, threesomes, fetishes, pain, BDSM - no holds barred. May include incest, rape fantasies, etc. Everything legal - incest stories (NOT my cup of tea) involve adults. All characters are consenting.

For different takes on heat levels - as there's no single, cohesive definition - read these sites: Absolute Writer Water Cooler thread, All About Romance (more gradations of heat level), and a thread I started yesterday on Kindleboards, which helped me a great deal.

Of course, to be a romance it must end with a "happily ever after," so I'm not worried about classifying this as erotica, because I have a HEA, and because the characters do develop a strong emotional bond that is reflected through the character development and narrative arc.

My book, I think, is a "hot contemporary romance." I do use some of those starred words, but I don't have to; I could easily edit them out without changing the texture of the sex scenes. Perhaps that's my answer - if I can remove them, do they need to be there?


  1. Harper, this was my burning question for Quick Study: how to best label this to get it to the reader who would like it best?

    Some might call it erotic romance, some might call it porn, some might call it R-rated vanilla fluff. But it's got the happy ending for two committed partners, which, to me, makes it romance.

    I'm really curious to see some of your Body series. When might we expect an excerpt (that's a mouthful!). May 2011? How about a teaser chapter in April?

    I love this back and forth on our blogs :-P

  2. Oh, and I'm so with you there with Judy Blume's Forever. I rode my bike to Kmart to get a copy when I was twelve and the teenage cashiers were snickering at me.

    It was worth it.

  3. You can expect an excerpt soon, except you'll have to accept a slight delay as my eczema is exceptionally excruciating.

    Hah! Those three months of speech therapy from 4th grade when I moved from Lawn Guyland to northern Ohio came in handy finally.

    Anyhow - I'll post excerpts within the next week. I plan to roll out some sections until the book goes live the first week of May. I'm already working on book 2 in the series.