*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.*
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.
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 :)