Most sensual or heat ratings in the book industry are based on two main criteria: frequency of love scenes and how graphic and intense they are. Obviously, having more sex scenes in proportion to the length of the work earns a hotter rating. Using direct anatomical references is hotter than euphemism, while slang is spicier yet. The amount of descriptive detail and the duration of each scene also come into play. Are there toys? Props? Bondage and/or S&M? Any special kinks or costumes? More than two lovers at the same time? All of this adds to the heat of a work.
Many publishers differentiate their sensual levels by separating each one into a different line or imprint. Other publishers and even booksellers and distributors create their own system of rating. For instance, Liquid Silver Books uses the levels Sterling, Liquid, and Molten. In this system, Sterling is the sweetest, least hard-core of the group when it comes to the sex scenes. Liquid is obviously somewhere in the middle, and Molten should have you dabbing the sweat from your brow. Cobblestone Press likewise has three levels: Sensual Romance, Erotic Romance, and Erotica. These levels are more like definitions of these terms as used in the industry. Each turns up the heat a little more, with erotic romances containing more explicit descriptions and language, and erotica crossing the line so that sex dominates, even over the romance. With erotica, the story doesn’t necessarily even have to be a romance. Other companies focus only on a single heat level, like Changeling Press, which only publishes, “Over-the-top hot!”
So how does an author decide how hot to go? How does the heat level affect the characters and plot, and what are the pros and cons to a spicier novel? Well, I’ve asked some talented romance writers to answer some of those very questions. Following up on a previous post I did, Some Like It Hot: Erotic Levels In Fiction, I threw out the open-ended topic of erotic levels in fiction. Check out my post next Saturday (8/13/11) to read what guest authors Caitlyn Willows and Cassandra Carr have to say about the subject and be sure to scross down and check out the comment by author Kayelle Allen.