Readers: How Much Sex in Your Story?
By Liz Everly
Very few people in my real life know that I write sexy romances, labeled as “erotic romance.” But a few trusted souls know—one of whom told me she was shocked when she read SAFFRON NIGHTS and CRAVINGS because the books have a lot of story in them. She expected more sex, less story. Hmmm. Look at my covers…is that what they say to a potential reader? No story, lots of sex?
As a writer, I’d have to say I’d get bored quickly if all I wrote was sex scene after sex scene with not much story. I mean, there IS a place for that—just not for me. And as a reader, I usually don’t read the ten-page sex scenes. (Okay, maybe the first few, but then…I just skim.)
It’s very hard on writers of genre fiction these days to accurately label ourselves. First, I think it’s in our nature to actively resist labeling. Grin. But second, the lines between contemporary romance, steamy romance, and erotic romance are often blurred. A publisher will call your book by whatever their own formula tells them to do—or whatever the hottest sub-genre is. Sylvia Day is one of my favorite erotic romance writers and she gives a great definition of the sub-genres here. http://www.sylviaday.com/extras/erotic-romance/
Going by her definition, I’m writing something between erotic romance and steamy romance. Because while a good bit of development happens while my characters are having sex, a lot happens when they are not—and the stories could be tweaked for “closed door” sex scenes and you’d still have a sexy-food-suspense story. But as they are now, yes, they are “erotic romance.”
For example, in CRAVINGS Sasha is an ex-dominatrix (professional). She was taken off the street as a young woman and taught how to be one. Now, she’s uncertain how to have regular sex and to be with a man, let alone how to have a relationship. So, Sanj shows her the way. Part of this is through the sex. As a writer, I could have chosen to finagle the sex out of it. It just depends on where the writer places the focus. How she or he feels the story MOST benefits.
My friend’s remark sent my head spinning. Because here’s the thing: another reader reviewed SAFFRON NIGHTS and said it was porn. Okay—can you see my head spinning all the way around now? I think readers have to take some responsibility in this paradigm. (Like maybe learn what porn is before you write a review saying something is porn when it is not? Just because there’s graphic sex in a story doesn’t mean it’s porn. ) Make no mistake, writers are here to entertain and to please readers. We don’t want you to pick up our book and be turned off because it’s not what you expect. We want to exceed expectations, if anything. What can we do to help meet those expectations? Are the covers leading you down the right or wrong path? How about the publishers—are they labeling books so that you see clearly what you’re purchasing in terms of heat level? How much sex is too much?