When I responded that I wrote romance, one of the ladies said with disdain, “That kind of stuff is too hot for me.”
“What kind of stuff?” I asked.
“If you write anything like what she [my relative] reads, well that is just wild stuff.”
Turns out my relative reads erotica.
Of course I defended the genre by saying romance is about love. A discussion ensued where I tried to show the difference between romance and erotica. I described romance as being driven by the love between the main characters, while erotica is driven more by the sexual content whether or not there is a love story. Furthermore, the sexual content in erotica is generally more explicit than in romance. But after a few minutes of discussion and a few blatant examples, I realized the lines between romance and erotica were sometimes so blurred it was difficult to distinguish.
Why? The romance genre is a spectrum when it comes to the sexual content. On one end of the spectrum lies the inspirational romance based on faith, where there is no mention of sex or even male/female contact besides holding hands. In those, even among married characters, sex can only be implied. On the other end of the spectrum is the spicy romance that contains so many explicit sex scenes that they can be categorized as erotica. Between the extremes there are the sweet romances, the mild romance with just an implication of sexual activity and the more spicy romances with one more sex scenes between the characters in love. Even then it can vary from sweet and romantic, to hot and spicy, to outright erotic.
So how can a reader tell whether a romance is sweet or spicy? I guess they can read the summary at the back of the book. But that often times tell the story line without indication for the spice level. They can use the author as a guide. If the author is Leanne Banks they can expect something a lot spicier than if it was Debbie Macomber. But some authors write both sweet and sensual romances. A third way to distinguish is by the imprint. We can expect Harlequin Blaze and Kensington Brava to be spicy hot, while traditional Regencies and Harlequin’s Silhouette would be more on the mild side. But with the increase in self-published books, using the imprint as a guide may not be so helpful.
Well, some groups have provided a spice ranking on their blog reviews so one can tell how explicit the books are. “All About Romance” rates books as Kisses, subtle, warm, hot or burning. Their descriptions are posted on their website www.likesbooks.com. My favorite ranking system, mainly for its metaphor, is the chili pepper ranking by “notyourordinarybookbanter” Their rankings include the chili green pepper, chili red pepper, chili pepper on fire and chili pepper roasted.
While these rankings don’t give the intimate details of the book or storyline, they do give a good indication of the sexual content of the book. For example, my novel, “A Marriage of Convenience” was given a “warm” ranking which aptly indicated the level of sensuality. The unfortunate thing about these rankings is that you cannot find them on the books when you purchase them in the bookstore and they are only available when those particular blogs post a review of the books. Maybe in the future Amazon will do a similar sensuality ranking or publishers would put those rankings on books.
But until that is done, to determine the spice level of romance readers will just have to depend on the resources they have at their disposal: the blogs, the quick scan of the books, author stereotypes, or recommendations from friends.