A couple weeks ago, my neighbor gifted me with a basket of beautiful peppers. I’m not sure what kind of peppers they were, so I had no idea how hot/spicy they were. I began to experiment. One pepper across three quiches was too mild. Three peppers in one bowl of pasta was too hot. It turns out what was just right depended on my mood, what the peppers were paired with, and who else was enjoying the dish with me.
Rom-coms and romance novels in general are a lot like the goodies that came out of my kitchen these past few days. They have different levels of spice, and what I enjoy differs from what other people enjoy. What I enjoy also depends on the context, and depends on my mood. With dishes we have a rating of mild, medium, medium-hot, hot, and center-of-the-sun-hot. With movies we have a rating system (G, PG, PG-13, R). But what do we have when it comes to romance in books?
A convention is to describe romance books that have no bedroom / sex scenes as “sweet.” As in I wrote a “sweet rom-com.” But I take exception with this because it feels binary. Sweet or… not-sweet? Salty? And who says a book can only be sweet if it stops outside the bedroom? Wholesome is another word tossed around, but that feels even more judgey. No thanks. Closed-door romances? That’s great if something actually happens behind a closed-door. Ditto with fade-to-black. What if that doesn’t fit with your story because there were no closed-door / fade-to-black moments?
I’m not sure if there is a perfect way of describing content for novels yet, but I think it is important to try. Because when you want a spicy something good to eat, and it comes back mild that’s hardly fair. Same goes for needing mild and you get something spicier than you can handle.
I did adopt the industry standard “sweet” in hopes that people who knew to search for “sweet rom-coms” would find my story, but I’ve also seen authors adopt the movie rating system, and I think that works well. I would give my debut novel My Cosplay Escape a PG rating. My book feels like it would fit in with PG rom-coms like You’ve Got Mail or While You Were Sleeping. Parental Guidance is advised for the young adult crowd due to some mild language, thematic elements, and passionate kissing.
Is this a perfect solution? Nope. But I believing in awarding points for trying. How have you seen authors / reviews / publishers / readers address the question of spice / steam in novels? Did it work for you?