I know sex sells, but I sure wish books came with ratings comparable to movies. Unfortunately, if movies actually showed what books often describe, there would be a lot more X-Rated and NC-17 flicks. On my Goodreads and Amazon reviews, I’ve started adding a “HEAT Advisory” if the book pushes the borders past an “R” rating, since TV-14 often tends to go too far IMO.
Basically, if the hero on the cover is shirtless, you can expect some level of heat. How much? You could check out the “Sensuality Ratings Guide” on All About Romance Novels linked here if you are sure the title is traditionally published. I searched for a couple indie titles I recently read and couldn’t find them there. RomCom has a nice “Heat Scale” here with additional info about graphic violence and alternate lifestyles included–and once again I could not find independent authors. I especially enjoyed “a romance rookie’s guide to heat levels” because it had nice graphics (how many red peppers on a scale of 1-5 does that book get?) and an example of a romance plot rewritten to give a gist of each of the 5 levels. There was no search function. According to RT Book Reviews (Romance Times), most romance novels fall into the “Hot” level. (Wonder how this statistic would look if sales were figured?)
I prefer clean reads, though there are lots of folks who are looking for the heat. One such blogger (who really wrote a good article about this topic here) lamented the confusion of erotica with pornography. If the graphic scene was depicted for the purpose of showing a growing relationship, it was erotica. Pornography (the link was to wikipedia for this) produced the scene for sexual arousal. Really? Personally, I don’t think intention and effect can be separated so clearly.
Twilight was a mega hit, and I always suspected part of the reason was because the romance contained tension without being explicit. Young Adult (YA) books and series are incredibly popular with all ages–could this part of the reason?
Regardless, if you’re looking for a CLEAN READ (caps indicate how I’ll now highlight that in my book reviews), you could also visit one of the numerous blogs devoted to the subject such as “Library of Clean Reads” “Good Clean Reads” and “Clean Teen Reads.” No time for that? Your best bet is the “Shirtless on the Cover” test.
As I look at images of romance covers I wonder if books with the shirt half on are a little less explicit. Hmm…maybe we can get the industry to go for a “Heat Level by Shirt” standard.
Kristin King is an author and publisher. Her top sellers are “Unsinkable Vampire” and “Cain’s Coven,” and her latest novel in the Begotten Bloods Series is Death Taint. Her imprint Three Kings Publishing can be found here. Three Kings is a Mom & Pop publisher of Christian writers (not necessarily Christian books).