Evan Marshall

The Literary Life

How Sexy Do You Like Your Fiction?

A guide to today's romances, from sweet to scorching.

Posted Jul 25, 2010

Romance novels have gone to extremes.

Romance novels have gone to extremes.

Welcome to our new blog, The Literary Life, a fun, inside look at trends in fiction and narrative nonfiction book publishing, with recommendations for your reading list. As literary agents, we make our living in the world of books and authors, so we'll be your guides to the new and the tried and true.

A trend we're seeing is that women's fiction is now taking sexiness to the extremes in both directions—ranging from super chaste to scorching hot. The good news is you have a lot of choices so you can dial up or dial down the sexiness in your fiction. Here we describe the new trend and give you ratings and recommendations.

Amish Romance
Rating: Super Chaste. These "bonnet rippers" (a play on "bodice rippers") are in a G-rated subcategory of Christian/Inspirational fiction (see also below). In the Amish Romance formula, you know exactly what you can expect to find, with no surprises: a safe, gentle read. The sexiness goes only as far as a few kisses—usually. Plots often center on an Amish man or woman who falls in love with someone outside the Amish community. These novels are so popular that we are starting to see Amish thrillers and Amish murder mysteries. Interestingly, Amish novels are becoming popular among the Amish themselves—the women, for the most part—who admit to reading the books "under the covers" because many Amish leaders condemn the books. Which proves that everything is relative.

Recommended Reads:
• Beverly Lewis, The Parting, the first book of her "Courtship of Nellie Fisher" series. Beverly pioneered the Amish Romance trend.
• Cindy Woodsmall, The Hope of Refuge, the first title of her "Ada's House" series.

Christian/Inspirational Fiction
Rating: Super Chaste. These novelists follow a strict set of rules: no explicit sex, only a kiss or two, a minimum of sensuality and sexual desire, and strictly limited intimate physical interaction between main characters. There is no premarital sex or graphic violence unless it's part of the struggle the protagonists face.

Recommended Reads:
• Karen Kingsbury, Take One, the first book in her "Above the Line" series.
• Francine Rivers, Redeeming Love.

Sweet Romance
Rating: Chaste. The classic category here is Harlequin Romances, the innocent type of romance, which in the words of the official Harlequin author guidelines "delivers 100% pure romance—but happily leaves the explicit detail on the cutting-room floor! Readers come to this series to experience the feel-good high of love blossoming!" In these romances, all sensuality derives from the building anticipation between the hero and heroine . . . culminating with a kiss. And that's as far as it goes.

Recommended Reads:
• Fiona Harper, The Bridesmaid's Secret.
• Melissa James, The Sheikh's Destiny.

Sensual Romance
Rating: Steamy. These novels deliver a sexually charged read. Some are quite explicit. The stories vary in their level of sensuality: Silhouette advises authors proposing to write for its Desire imprint: "Desire novels are sensual reads and a love scene or scenes are still needed. But there is no set number of pages that needs to be fulfilled. Rather, the level of sensuality must be appropriate to the storyline."

Recommended Reads:
• Brenda Jackson, Hot Westmoreland Nights.
• Kristin Hardy, The Boss's Proposal.

Erotic Romance
Rating: Red Hot. These stories are always quite explicit, sometimes bordering on erotica (see also below). Look for titles from Kensington Publishing's Brava and Berkley's Sensation imprints.

Recommended Reads:
• Erin McCarthy, Hot Finish.
• Mary Wine, Bedding the Enemy.

Rating: Burning Up. Erotica readers expecting stories along the subtly sensuous lines of Anaïs Nin's classic Little Birds are in for a big surprise. These books contain graphic sex—what we used to call porn. Look for titles from the Brava line at Kensington, and the Exotika line at Ellora's Cave.

Recommended Reads:
• Sydney Molare, I Want It Now.
• Talya Bosco, Lisa's Summer Cowboys.

Oh, one more thing. These authors are not clients. We'll let you know when they are.

Thank you for reading our new blog and for the opportunity to be in touch with you. Let us know your favorite sexy reads.

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