Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Romance Heat Level Ratings: Sweet, Spicy and Hot!

Oh, my!

It used to be that you knew what you were getting when you purchased a book. Now days, there are so many genres and cross-genres that it’s hard to know.

I remember the first time I read a romantic suspense and the antagonist turned out to be a monster. No, I’m not talking about his personality. I mean, a monster. Come on! I don’t want fantasy in my romantic suspense unless I know about it. Color me annoyed.

Blurbs don’t always tell us what we need to know. Yeah, sure, we need a general idea about characters and what the book is about. But more importantly, a romance reader wants to know what they will be getting as far as heat level. Heat level is the term used to describe the sensuality level of the book.

The problem is, there are no industry standards, publishers have their own rating system, and books are not labeled with those ratings. Romance readers are hesitant, even horrified, to select books because they are not sure what they are getting. That’s why, if they find an author they like, they consume all of their books because they know the author writes the type of books they prefer.

Here are Turquoise Morning Press’s heat  levels, which are very good general descriptions (mind you, these levels are posted for authors submitting and not necessarily for the readers to see):  1

Sweet. A sweet romance focuses on the romantic relationship between the couple. No intimate scenes or sexual situations are described in the book. The book closes the door on any love scene. We may know the main characters have sex but we don’t read about it. Sexual tension is important and can be at a high level.

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.

Erotic Romance. An erotic romance story pushes past the boundaries of traditional romance. Sexual situations not found in traditional sweet-sensual-sizzle romance can be found in erotic romance. The sex is hot and plentiful, the language is graphic and real, and the multiple love/sex scenes throughout are explicitly described. The plot must stay within the confines of a romantic story of two people, with the sex often the driver of the story. Happily-ever-after (HEA) ending is a must.

Erotica: An erotica story goes beyond erotic romance to explore sexuality at a higher and diverse level. There may, or may not, be a romance or romantic elements – this is consensual sex, or sexual activity, for the sake of sex and sexual pleasure/gratification. Stories can still be sensual, sexy, intimate and satisfying, while moving beyond traditional intimacy and sexual boundaries. The stories are no holds barred on most sexual situations and may contain elements that are offensive to some. Ménage, multiple partners, BDSM, taboo fantasies are acceptable. The sex is plentiful, sporadic, intentional, chaotic, random, implied, controlled, denied, or maybe not even there at all. Illegal acts are never included in our erotica stories. HEA is not required, nor expected.

Screech! But wait a minute. What about books touted as a clean romance? Sweet romance? Inspirational romance? Christian romance? What are the differences between them? Well, actually, all of these would fall into the first category of sweet above, but they are all just a little different:

Clean Romance can contain sex scenes between married couples only. It can also contain, what can be considered, offensive language.

Inspirational Romance contains a triad relationship between the hero, heroine and God. It does not contain offensive language.

Sweet Romance consists of the progressive, anticipation-building, emotional relationship between the hero and heroine as the story progresses and stops at the bedroom door. It may contain kissing or not. It does not contain offensive language.

Christian Romance is much the same as sweet romance but must contain an element of faith in Jesus Christ woven throughout the plot. (Don’t quote me, but I think Shadow Mountain Publishing is calling this Proper Romance.)

Great, but are heat levels noted on books? Most publishers state this information on their websites. But what about sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.? Uh, no, not always. Usually only the blurb or jacket cover information is uploaded to these sites. Which brings us to the discussion of why not? Good question. Seems to me there should be ratings listed for books just like there are movies. Maybe one day. Until then, good luck and choose carefully.

Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense…and Dogs!
Fly into a good book at:

Image credit: mkoudis / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. You make some great points here. I'd love it if Amazon would put some sort of system in place, especially since I mostly read romances. It would help to know what kind of book I'm getting myself into, although a good deal of the time the cover is a pretty major indicator :)

  2. Love the idea of the movie rating system for books. When I first joined RWA and people asked me about my heat level, I said PG-13, not having a clue. Your post is very informative. Thanks and have a great day!

  3. Interesting post. I do wish Amazon or ARe or even publishers would chart these. Sometimes I get way too much sex, and sometimes not enough. Where would you put books from Victoria Dahl or Harlequin Blaze on this chart?


I love hearing from you! Thanks for commenting.