How much sex is too much?
Don’t get excited. I’m talking about fiction.
I’ve been thrown for a loop lately, wondering how much I’m limiting my reading audience because there are love scenes in my latest release, A MONTH FROM MIAMI. This morning, a local shopkeeper made a comment about whether or not my book will sell as it seems a bit R-rated. Yes, I guess it is. And it’s right there on the shelf near a Nora Roberts title. So if your guests are okay with buying Nora, then they’ll be okay buying Barbara. I think.
But would I want my book in the hands of a 13-year-old? Probably not. Would today’s average 13-year-old be shocked by the love scenes in A MONTH FROM MIAMI? Probably not.
I wish I could explain to the average reader why those love scenes are there. The best explanation is that’s what seemed right for those characters in this particular story. Europeans think Americans are very uptight about sex, and maybe we are. I’m writing a sequel to A MONTH FROM MIAMI, and so far, it doesn’t have the same degree of heat, although it is sensuous and there are love scenes. The characters aren’t the same and neither is their relationship. Duplicating what Rick and Kaylee experience wouldn’t be right. Ray and Haylee are different people. (Yes, the heroines’ names rhyme. And there might be a third book in the series with a heroine named Bailey.)
I thought about some of my favorite or past favorite authors and why I liked their books. They all managed to combine a good story with well-written love scenes. Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Karen Robards. Nora Roberts. Tami Hoag’s romantic suspense. And they’ve all done surprisingly well with that format. I wonder if they ever worried about limiting their audience or whether their books fell into the hands of youngsters who maybe shouldn’t be reading them.
The local public library has three copies of A MONTH FROM MIAMI. There is a humorous warning label on the back of my book, so it isn’t like a potential reader should be surprised by the content. It is, after all, a romance. Maybe the warning label will keep potential readers away. Nora and Karen and Tami’s books don’t carry warning labels, so if you’re not familiar with their work, you might not know what you’re getting into.
Romance = love story + happy ending.
I don’t read erotic romance nor do I write it. Yet that’s the hot seller for e-book publishers. Why? Because women are embarrassed to buy it in a book store and embarrassed to be seen reading it. Download it, though, and no one knows what you’re reading. I would never want anyone to be embarrassed should they be seen reading one of my books.
In my head I can hear my mother’s voice, which holds a certain degree of contempt, saying “Well, I guess sex sells” to let me know how disappointed she is that this book isn’t as squeaky clean as the first two I published. Oh, but if she only knew how much it hurt to cut all the good stuff out of those so they could be published as “wholesome fiction for the library market.” It’s like stripping away a little of your soul. Not that they aren’t good books, but in my opinion, the original manuscripts were better and more realistic. Certainly sexier. And frankly, more believable. Unattached adults of a certain age in contemporary society do sometimes engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. It happens. No one should be shocked by it. And if readers don’t want to read about it, I expect they won’t buy my book. And that’s something I cannot control, so I’m not going to worry about it. It is what it is.
Sex doesn’t necessarily sell. But a good book always will.
You have been warned.