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Hunter Grayson flits from job to job, relationship to relationship, continent to continent until thetragic death of her parents brings her back to her childhood home.While trying to figure out how to move forward, she meets wild, fun Natalya Haven, who quickly becomes the sister she never had. But when Natalya moves in, their friendship unravels.
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Author Topic: Heat levels in Romance?  (Read 804 times)  

Online Lorri Moulton

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Heat levels in Romance?
« on: April 19, 2017, 03:20:45 PM »
According to Goodreads, there are only two categories between no sex (closed door) and erotic/explicit sex.
https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/4776761-romance-heat-level-ratings-sweet-spicy-and-hot

Sensual.  A sensual romance elevates the sensuality level of the story with at least one consummated love scene. The love/sex scene is an integral part of the story, and could contribute to the conflict, but is not explicitly described. Emotion, conflict, and sexual tension run high; they drive the story, rather than the race to have sex.

Sizzle.  A sizzle romance can be sensual, playful, sexy, edgy and/or graphic. Sex scenes are more frequent and detailed in description. The number of sexual encounters/love scenes (two or more) that occur within the story, as well as the length and depth of description, define this level of heat. The emphasis, however, is on telling the romantic story, not how often or plentiful the sex.

I think my books that are NOT closed door would be Sensual, but I'm not sure.  Isn't there a Sexy category...or something in between Sensual and Sizzle? 

« Last Edit: April 19, 2017, 04:10:33 PM by Lorri Moulton »

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Offline Atunah

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2017, 06:04:18 PM »
That is not according to goodreads, that is just some authors blog on goodreads. There are a whole lot of heat levels in between closed door and erotic romance. Pretty much most romance is in the middle somewhere.

The thing though is that romance is not defined by its level of heat, or how much sex there is. Lately there seems to be this  thing about romance and sex again in the WC. There are no categories for that in romance, it just is. There are cues to send out to readers about the level, but again, it is not the definition unless its erotic romance. Anything else, the much larger chunk of romance is not defined by it at all. Its part of the story, character and development. As a reader, I never had to go and put romance into any heat categories, ever. So I don't think about it.

Really, they are just, romance. Its not that complicated.  8)

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2017, 06:41:55 PM »
I'm going to disagree with Atunah on this one. While there are no official ratings as to heat in romance, a lot of readers and review sites have their own ratings systems, and it matters to a lot of readers. Atunah is broad-minded about heat levels, a lot of us are not. I see inquiries all the time from readers who are considering a given book along the lines of "is it clean?" "is is spicy?" A good many reader-reviewers include a heat rating in their reviews, most of them using a 1-5 system. Sites like Dear Author and All About Romance either set it out right along with their rating or mention it in the body of the review.

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2017, 06:49:42 PM »
Personally, I wish there was a definitive rating system in romance. Contemporary romance runs the gamut these days, making it very difficult for readers to determine how 'spicy' the book is, especially if the sneak peek doesn't give any indication. Readers who prefer 5-flame books could choose accordingly and so could readers who like books at the opposite end of the spectrum. Contemporary romance is such a huge category and I think sub-dividing it this way would benefit both readers and authors.

Offline Atunah

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2017, 06:51:55 PM »
Yeah, some review sites do try to put some ranges down, but even there its often iffy.

But in the store itself when shopping, there are other cues readers go by. Covers, blurb, reviews. That can be helpful overall. Yeah, I read pretty much anything, but if the reviews talk about how wonderfully "clean" a book is and that it doesn't have "filthy sex", then I usually back out of it quickly.  ;D. Not because I don't read romance with no sex in it, but because judgement is a turn off for me and I guess I expect a inspy.

But on the store, there really aren't any specific categories. As far as the review sites, I read all about romance all the time. But I actually never look at the heat level, just at the subgenres and the rating and then read the review. I totally forgot they put that there. And is it just me or are there less HR being reviewed lately.

I understand its important to some readers, but one has to go by cues only, at least on Amazon. Allromance ebooks did have a flame rating and they ran more on the hot side, but of course they are no more.

What is helpful for those needing specific ratings for romance is to go on goodreads and find those reviewers that give those heat ratings and then follow them, or friend them. Built up a nice selection of reviewers that like similar things.
Then one can pick out those specific romances with that heat level as needed.

Heck, I am looking for more non erotic stuff as it seems everything nowadays in the the erom category. Like normal level steam as I call it is suddenly harder to find. The trend has gone in both extremes. Lots more "clean" and lots more erotic. Kind of leaves me in the dark. Or just reading "older" stuff.

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Offline Sam B

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2017, 07:03:39 PM »
Yeah, I read pretty much anything, but if the reviews talk about how wonderfully "clean" a book is and that it doesn't have "filthy sex", then I usually back out of it quickly.  ;D. Not because I don't read romance with no sex in it, but because judgement is a turn off for me and I guess I expect a inspy.

Couldn't agree more. I don't care if it's a sweet romance or a strongly erotic one, I just don't feel like being judged for reading either.

I also wish there was a reliable system on GR about the level of heat, though, so you wouldn't get so many outlier reviews hating on the excess or lack of sex in any given book.

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2017, 07:05:22 PM »
Personally, I wish there was a definitive rating system in romance. Contemporary romance runs the gamut these days, making it very difficult for readers to determine how 'spicy' the book is, especially if the sneak peek doesn't give any indication. Readers who prefer 5-flame books could choose accordingly and so could readers who like books at the opposite end of the spectrum. Contemporary romance is such a huge category and I think sub-dividing it this way would benefit both readers and authors.
But who determines the level. What I might call luke warm, someone else might think of as lava hot.  ;D

I have read reviews on Mary Balogh books that call them full of filthy porn sex, I kid you not. Those books are barely warm. I think its probably easiest for 3 levels. Closed door, normal and erotic. The normal would be the largest and widest area. Pretty much 99 percent of romances I read fall in the middle area, what I call normal. Not erotic, not closed door. But how to you separate the steam in the middle. Maybe Cold brew, sencha, chinese green, Oolong, black.

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Online Lorri Moulton

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2017, 07:23:03 PM »
Since my romance is also a suspense, mystery and paranormal (yes, I know...is there an eclectic category?) I have been trying to find the right "level" to explain the romantic material.

It's not closed door, it's definitely not erotic...and that large mid-area is so undefined.

I guess I'd call it slightly steamy/ more sensual?  Is that 2.5 flames?  Someone else might laugh and say 1.5.  It would just be nice to know, so I could rate it accordingly.

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2017, 07:32:15 PM »
All I know is that people don't seem to mind if there is sex behind the closed door before marriage--which used to be a very firm line indeed. The big romance publishers used to separate out imprints of their category romances by heat level. No more?

Someday, someone expecting an Amish or evangelical virgin story will ding one of my books for immorality even though I'm discreet about mentioning that the sex-before-marriage happened. At least I point my characters toward prompt marriage, which in real life is getting to be less and less the standard--but that's probably not good enough for some readers.   
 

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2017, 09:31:43 AM »
I'm glad someone is mentioning the need for this. Just yesterday I was evaluating some of the top selling romances. It's clear to me that a reader has almost no idea what to expect in steam level until you buy. That middle ground has definitely disappeared quick. So much erom in the romance section and now I suspect the clean has it's own catagory as a result. But where's the old "normal" stuff. You know, where they finally get together for the first time 3/4 the way through the book. Used to be a standard. Now it's a jungle lol. Main reason I've walked away from the romance genre for awhile now. I like knowing what I'm getting, and there are so many other great books out there I don't have to research first.

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2017, 09:53:31 AM »
I'm glad someone is mentioning the need for this. Just yesterday I was evaluating some of the top selling romances. It's clear to me that a reader has almost no idea what to expect in steam level until you buy. That middle ground has definitely disappeared quick. So much erom in the romance section and now I suspect the clean has it's own catagory as a result. But where's the old "normal" stuff. You know, where they finally get together for the first time 3/4 the way through the book. Used to be a standard. Now it's a jungle lol. Main reason I've walked away from the romance genre for awhile now. I like knowing what I'm getting, and there are so many other great books out there I don't have to research first.

Exactly! :)

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2017, 02:08:12 PM »
That is not according to goodreads, that is just some authors blog on goodreads. There are a whole lot of heat levels in between closed door and erotic romance. Pretty much most romance is in the middle somewhere.

The thing though is that romance is not defined by its level of heat, or how much sex there is. Lately there seems to be this  thing about romance and sex again in the WC. There are no categories for that in romance, it just is. There are cues to send out to readers about the level, but again, it is not the definition unless its erotic romance. Anything else, the much larger chunk of romance is not defined by it at all. Its part of the story, character and development. As a reader, I never had to go and put romance into any heat categories, ever. So I don't think about it.

Really, they are just, romance. Its not that complicated.  8)
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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2017, 02:58:00 PM »
Like Atunah said, there's closed door which is mainly sweet, clean, classic (Jane Austen, etc.), YA or inspy romance. There's a giant middle area of warm-hot that's hard to define and the ratings are subjective and then there's erotic romance. That great middle area is hard to pull apart into a perfect rating chart because everyone's terms and what makes up warm- hot are different. Ten different people could write ten different rating systems, etc. For example, one of my books, Rayzor's One was reviewed on All About Romance and given the tag- warm- for sensuality level. I winced because I wouldn't personally rate it as only warm. Sensuality level is so subjective it becomes slippery, a hard thing to pin into hard definitions, even by reviewers, authors and publishers.

I really think that the majority of romance readers aren't bothered by this. They're usually reading in that giant middle area and expect open door sex scenes of varying heat levels. The best that authors and publishers can do for readers is to leave clues when you're about to purchase the book: You can read whole "lines" of books in category that as a reader you know will have exactly what you want, sweet through erotic. The cover and the blurb tell you alot too, as does the subgenre. I just read a book that had a "man chest" cover and was a sports romance. The blurb was dripping with sexual tension. I expected open door sex scenes. I wasn't disappointed.:) Now if the cover had an Amish heroine and a barn in the background, I'd expect sweet romance... 

I have two SFR series right now. On one I left a tongue in cheek "warning" that defines sensual situations that will be in the book. This is how I let readers know if that book is for them or not. In the second series the wording of the blurbs has curse words and sexual tension/sensuality references- readers can easily pick up these clues as to heat level. Also, they can read the reviews. This is how I see romance authors giving clues to readers as to the heat level of their book- cover, title, blurb, subgenre. I never see authors giving their own books a heat level rating, although I could be wrong. And if they are, maybe they're doing it on their website? It's just not something I normally see happening.

I was a reviewer for Dear Author. I don't remember us having a heat level rating...:) I think the most we did was, for instance, when I reviewed Brutal Game by Cara McKenna with another reviewer we might have tagged it as erotic romance just for search purposes. That's all.

To be truthful I think that heat level is something that is more worrisome for readers who DO NOT want open door sex in their romance, so a vetting process is super important for them. But there's lots of that type of romance out there for those readers to choose from and they know how to find it.

This can also go the other way, you know. I expect open door romance in all the books I read, I have zero interest in closed door. And yet, despite my knowledge level and my ability to pick up on clues, etc I was surprised with a closed door romance about a year and a half ago! My only excuse is that it was from a review request for Dear Author, I was lured in my a cracktastic blurb and the sexual tension was so terrific it didn't occur to me it was closed door, plus it was a Billionaire rom, which isn't typically closed door. I finished the book but didn't read anything else by the author, because I want my open door! Lol Anyway, it's possible to occasionally be surprised by the heat level of a romance, but really you can pick up on clues or read reviews and you'll know what you're getting.

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Offline Rosalind J

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2017, 03:44:14 PM »
What Atunah said. Most contemporary romance and a lot of romantic suspense is "in between." I don't like erom because I don't like books that are about sex, but I too want the door open, as do most romance readers. Yes I get some shocked and horrified one-star reviews about how disgusting I am, since I don't use manchest or the like, but most readers seem to look at the reviews and my steaminess warning and get warned off. Other readers skip "those" chapters. I'm fine either way. And one-star reviews about the kinky sex sell books. :)

Most romance readers these days are reading partly to get some nice sexyfeels, I think. Some books with closed door but great sexual tension can totally work as well, but if you want or are writing "clean" romance, you're stripping those out too. Seems a little weird to me as sex is part of romance, but there's definitely a group of ladies that hates sexyfeels in romance. For me, writing or reading, I want the sex to feel like an organic development in the romance and an expression of the couple's increasing intimacy and excitement. But I don't want a bazillion sex scenes. I want three to five really, really hot ones. I write without naming body parts or discussing fluids too much, and nobody ever says the kittycat word or the rooster word, but you can get the irons hot without those words or that specificity.

I love that there's a variety of heat levels so readers can find authors that write sex in the way they enjoy. I thank Fifty Shades of Grey for freeing up women of all ages (I have 80 year old readers who write to say they enjoy the steam) to admit that they like sex in books and enjoy getting turned on by it. Women have a lot of demands on them, have to fill a lot of roles. "Sexy vixen" can get lost somewhere between the drive home from work and putting the kids to bed. Guys watch porn on the computer--and if you think your husband doesn't, well . . . he probably does, or he watches something, or he's got his imagination working hard. Women seem to like sexual stimulation better in the form of a story and some kind of relationship.

I don't really telegraph sexiness with covers, because people tend to read my books for other reasons than the sex, and I'm trying to convey the overall mood and reading experience. I like to think of the sex as a bonus. And as I said, five-star reviews for lovely sexytimes and one-star reviews for disgusting kinkiness all work to alert the discerning reader.

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #14 on: April 20, 2017, 04:41:24 PM »
It's confusing, because I have one couple (fairytale story) who are both villains and in one scene they're either going to have sex, kill each other or maybe both.  Very warped sorceress and dark lord...but they never actually get to the deed itself, due to the many distractions around them.

Another couple (paranormal romance) have a much sweeter/sensual relationship, but they get together several times. 

And what about language?  Not only in the dialogue but during the deed, as well.  What are we calling all these body parts?  How specific is this going to get?  I think that's why it would be nice to give readers some idea of what to expect. 

If there are five flames, I guess I'm at a 2...maybe a 1.5, but I'll round up. :)
« Last Edit: April 20, 2017, 04:43:14 PM by Lorri Moulton »

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Offline Susannah Nix

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #15 on: April 20, 2017, 07:18:40 PM »
People have such wildly subjective opinions on what constitutes "heat" or how much sex is enough sex in a romance that I can't imagine how you'd devise a ratings systems that would be implemented consistently. Whenever I read reviews on Amazon, I'm always amused by how a single book can have people complaining about how raunchy it is at the same time other reviewers are complaining that it's not steamy enough. The only way to achieve any kind of objective litmus test would be to create specific rules, like the MPAA does, and at that point it all starts to feel a bit ridiculous.

Honestly, the simplest, most accurate system would probably just be to divide the page count of a book by the number of euphemisms for genitalia it contains.  ;)

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #16 on: April 20, 2017, 08:04:56 PM »
People have such wildly subjective opinions on what constitutes "heat" or how much sex is enough sex in a romance that I can't imagine how you'd devise a ratings systems that would be implemented consistently. Whenever I read reviews on Amazon, I'm always amused by how a single book can have people complaining about how raunchy it is at the same time other reviewers are complaining that it's not steamy enough. The only way to achieve any kind of objective litmus test would be to create specific rules, like the MPAA does, and at that point it all starts to feel a bit ridiculous.

Honestly, the simplest, most accurate system would probably just be to divide the page count of a book by the number of euphemisms for genitalia it contains.  ;)


LOL  And I have none, so maybe that's my answer. :)

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #17 on: April 20, 2017, 08:42:55 PM »
It's not just the subjective nature of 'heat levels' that creates confusion.  There's also inconsistency regarding genres and understanding the differences between erotica and erom. 

I'm too new to the author side of the line to really have any sort of authority behind my opinions, but as a long time reader, I've always judged by covers (and sometimes blurbs). So despite the regular pooh-poohing of man-chests on covers, I went with that myself to convey to readers that while my story is all romance, it's also sexy.  Similarly the blurb shows the story has a sexual nature also. So far I've had no complaints, but it's early days yet  :D


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Offline Rosalind J

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #18 on: April 20, 2017, 09:14:39 PM »

LOL  And I have none, so maybe that's my answer. :)
I have none either, and I'm very steamy. Vocabulary isn't the key element in steaminess.

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #19 on: April 20, 2017, 09:29:25 PM »
No matter what, some people will think your book has too much or too little sex.

The best way to advertise heat is with the cover and blurb, but plenty of manchest covers are actually quite tame and plenty of clothes couples are really going at it, so you can never be sure.

In general, I don't think readers care how much sex is in the box so long as it's all a part of the story/emotional arc. Though you will absolutely get too much/too kinky reviews no matter how much you advertise heat.

Offline Mari Oliver

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #20 on: April 20, 2017, 10:03:51 PM »
I have none either, and I'm very steamy. Vocabulary isn't the key element in steaminess.
So true. Shakespeare comes to mind. Poetic and steamy at times. :D

I like to use book covers as a guide to flame level and so far, it's worked for most romance sub-genres except for fantasy. I pretty much expect fantasy romance to be at a medium heat level in general. One thing I've noticed (and I'm still in my first year of publishing so perhaps more experienced authors may speak to this) but it seems like arranged marriage/mail-order brides/convenient marriages are hot with readers in historical romance and I wonder if sex is more accepted by readers when it's in the covenant of marriage. Just something interesting that I've noticed, but it could be nothing.

Offline BellaJames

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #21 on: April 20, 2017, 10:45:41 PM »
The thing is the way things are in the romance genre right now makes it a little more difficult for readers to find a book that suits them.
There are so many miscategorized books. Eroms in na romance. Erotica in contemporary romance. Naked ab covers that are quite mild. Covers with fully clothed couples that are more steamy.
I think many authors don't use their covers and blurbs effectively to tell readers what they are going to get inside the pages.

Although I am seeing more and more authors writing something in their description about how steamy their books are.

 As Rosalind said one book could be too kinky and steamy to one reader but too mild for another reader. I often disagree with some reviewers when they say 'oh this book is so steamy, the sex scenes are off the charts' because my top level of steaminess is different from theirs.

I read romance books because I like to read about two people having an emotional and intimate connection. I don't read clean romance because I think sex is a natural part of a relationship at some point and I want to read it on the page. I love a good build up with lots of chemistry and flirting, then intimate scenes. Sometimes I want it super steamy and graphic and sometimes I don't. However I don't buy romances for pure sexual feels, that's what erotica and porn is for.

I don't think anyone could make a satisfying heat level chart because there are different tastes and opinions. You might think your book is super steamy and some reader might think it is a little mild.

« Last Edit: April 27, 2017, 04:55:06 PM by BellaJames »

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #22 on: April 21, 2017, 05:40:45 AM »
Like a lot of others have mentioned, heat is subjective. What I find steamy you may not. Defining the stuff in the middle between sweet (I hate the term clean, because it just sounds judgy) and erom or erotica is incredibly difficult. And while covers should be a signal to readers, they aren't always. As a reader I'll read varying levels of heat within that middle category. I love Kristan Higgins, and I also love Maisey Yates (those were the first two that came to mind, so forgive me...I'm still working on my coffee this morning).

I had a reader review one of my books and leave a review in which she said she hadn't expected the level of heat in it, but it was really well written so she was going to read more of my books. That happens to be my book with the least amount of sex in it (you can probably figure it out by the cover *wink*). I have yet to have anyone leave a review or a comment anywhere about the heat level in my other books surprising them, so I guess I'm doing something right regarding marketing signals.

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Offline Laran Mithras

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Re: Heat levels in Romance?
« Reply #23 on: April 21, 2017, 06:24:46 AM »
No matter what, some people will think your book has too much or too little sex.

The best way to advertise heat is with the cover and blurb, but plenty of manchest covers are actually quite tame and plenty of clothes couples are really going at it, so you can never be sure.


Yup. Sometimes you have to wonder why some of these so clearly unhinged readers are even looking at a book with a bare man-chest when they think anything beyond hand-touching as the culmination of the build-up is "filthy, disgusting sex."