Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Too Smexy

*Note: This is not a commentary about the person who made the initial comment, rather a commentary about the concept in general as other things have come out recently, such as a push to have erotica removed from the top 100 lists at Amazon.*

/rant on

An interesting topic came up last week regarding the fact that Carina Press (and some other publishers) don't use "heat ratings" on their books. They have "erotica" as a sub-category, but not all books with steamy sex get labeled as erotica.

Badlands was used as an example. It's not erotica because the story isn't driven by the sex. In fact, there are a total of two sex scenes in the novella. One lasted a page and a half, the other was a page. Now, to be totally fair, it is true that I don't pussy-foot around sex scenes. The main character in this story isn't the type to put up with that. There is one stand-alone novel I have partway finished where that wouldn't be the case, but in general my heroines don't shy away from their sexuality. That doesn't make it erotica.

If a reader were to walk into a brick and mortar bookstore, there might be a section for erotica. (I'm not sure, since I normally buy my erotica digitally.) Everything else would be shelved in its genre category. And even there, the genres are much broader than those you'd find in an e-book store. Paranormal romance, steampunk romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, etc. are all shelved under romance. Other genre fiction gets shoved pretty much in either Mystery or Sci-fi/Fantasy (and Inspirational sometimes gets its own spot, but don't even get me started on the YA section.) So, when a book is in paper form, the reader is left to "guess" as far as violent or sexual content.

Most readers I know have certain expectations of some sub-genres. Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy isn't required to have sex, but I think most of us expect it. Conversely, sex is not expected in Inspirational Romance. Everything else is kind of a gray area, though I would suspect that Historical (I don't really read any, so I'm guessing) is more chaste than say Sci-Fi Romance. But even within those genres, I'm sure there are exceptions.

As kind of a mix between Historical and Sci-Fi, Steampunk falls into a really gray area. Readers of Historical will bring their own expectations, as will Sci-Fi fans. And, in all fairness, I would agree that when you set a steampunk in Victorian England with a prim and proper heroine, it would surprise me for there to be graphic sex. I wouldn't necessarily hate it if it fit the story, but it would surprise me.

Ever... is not that heroine, and the Badlands is certainly not Victorian England. In the very first scene, Ever is fighting half-naked. It gives a clear picture that the women of this world are not conservative with regard to their bodies (hell, sex is discussed on the very first page) and they are a violent lot--Ever more so than most. (And that is the scene that is listed most places as an excerpt, so anyone can read it.) The graphic sex shouldn't come as a shock. Really it shouldn't.

But regardless, in a brick and mortar bookstore (that miraculously carried novellas), Badlands would be shelved in either the Romance section or the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section (depending on who made the call). As would pretty much everything else I've ever written. The same with Cindy Spencer Pape or countless others.

Why do some readers expect more division than that out of their online sellers? And do we really want it? Badlands has two short but graphic sex scenes... and it has violence and blood. So let's say a conservative publisher gave it a heat level of 4. Some readers would look at that and say "Oh my God, that's got to be a lot of sex!" and would pass it up for a less scary three. Or conversely, someone could look at a liberally rated 2 and say, "Ugh, I just don't get a modern romance that doesn't have sex." when in reality it has sex, it just isn't graphic enough to warrant a higher number.

The numbers are as likely to do a disservice to all involved as they are to help. The only exception to that I've seen is when the cover art or blurb don't match what's in the book. I know of one F/F romance that has two naked women on the cover...it's a heat level 2 (of 4). Without the heat level, yeah, I'd expect a lot of sex there. Does Badlands cover or blurb scream sex? No, but the blurb mentions "growing attraction" and "desires", so it doesn't whisper of virgins either. Had there been sex every chapter, I could see the disconnect.

I guess the point of my little rant is just as you would in a brick and mortar store, check out what you're buying and don't expect the publisher to vet things for you. Read the blurb, read the excerpt. I want people to love Badlands, not be shocked into hating it, but I don't think Carina and other publishers who decide not to utilize heat levels are doing something wrong.

/rant off

And with regard to the latest Amazon nonsense, I think people need to get a grip and stop buying just because something makes a list. Decide if you want it first. Read the blurb. Look at the cover. And if the cover is too racy for your innocent eyes, you can scroll past it really fast. I promise, it won't scar you for life.

/rant off for real this time

In other news, because I can't get enough talking about sex in, I'm hitting a couple other places the rest of the week. Please join me at Cookies, Books, and Bikes tomorrow for "Do You Think It's Sexy?" And on Thursday, I'll be at Sex Marks the G-Spot with "It's Not My Kink...Except in Fiction." I hope you'll join me :)


  1. Shouldn't the top 100 list be just that - the top 100 best sellers, erotica included? This reminds me of the banned book controversy - somebody trying to limit access to reading material.

  2. Exactly, JD. Apparently there are people who go onto the lists and just buy (or the cheap reads list). I mean, I'm all for keeping kids from getting their hands on erotica, but if people are worried about that, then they need to keep their kids looking at the YA and childrens lists rather than the overall best sellers. It's ridiculous in the extreme.

  3. What gets me though is what about the YA titles that do deal with sex and the outcomes? Whilst it may not be literotica we all know that its a subject that needs to be addressed. If you want a quandry take this one, its legal to have sex in the UK at 16, however you can't buy porn until you're 18. SO technically whilst you can be having sex, you can't look down.

    I suspect its the puritan groups pushing for this, and lets face it, how many are pushing for the top shelve magazines to be removed from newsagents, when children can see them. Not many.

    As to the Victorian's you'd be surprised at how sexual they were. The image is all sweetness and light and long skirts but theres one hell of a lot of porn that survives from then, although alot is dressed up as purely anthropological interest. (The painted the women and dressed them up in funny costumes.)

  4. Well, I don't agree with censorship...and I firmly believe that people need to make decision for themselves not expect the world to vet reading material for them. You don't like it, don't read it.

    Sex is a part of life...in fact... it is the essence of life...people need to get over it.

  5. Personally I like the movie covers, forget a freaking heat rating. How bout just adding a block like movies "Some graphic sex scenes, use of the f-word and other course language." I do agree that books need something quick and easy for parental reference. I don't want to have to read an entire book to know if my teen should be reading it. I want to know it quick and easy. jmo. As for the top 100 list, they need to get over themselves. Excluding erotica from the selection is like excluding girls from the hockey team. Holy step backward. Lame.

  6. I love that you took this head on and didn't flinch. You made some valid points and as for the top 100 lists, they should be exactly that-best 100 in whatever genre. I agree with Diane...its almost like the banned book controversy. Stupid stuff I think. If its good, it should get the merit it deserves whatever the genre. Glad you're an advocate Sel. Let your voice be heard! :)

  7. Well said Seleste! I agree with Tammy's idea of a warning similar to movies. Simple and easy to understand.

    As I mentioned to you before, I just loved Badlands and enjoyed your treatment of the sex scenes. Looking forward to more!


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