Heat levels, those little licks of flame beneath a book's title or the ratings on a 1 to 4 or 1 to 5 scale--do they drive sales or not?
My publisher says the higher the heat the higher the sales...in general. For me, this doesn't seem to be the case.
I have eleven books published between my two pen names (five are anthologies) with heat levels ranging from sweet (no sex, not even behind closed doors) to one with exhibitionist ménage sex. Guess which book has sold the least number of copies despite good reviews? Yep, the ménage. But conversely, the sweet romance hasn't sold the most. My best sellers thus far have been the ones in the mid-range, regardless of which pen name I've used. They have also been the most contemporary in feel, even though one is a paranormal / urban fantasy'ish tale.
Perhaps it's because I am more comfortable writing at those medium heat levels. They do say if an author is uncomfortable with the sex scenes she writes, she will transfer that discomfort to the readers. Perhaps it's because the absence of really graphic, shocking sex requires a heavier emphasis on romanticism, and maybe I'm better at those wispy euphemisms than I am at wielding the "c", "p" and "f" words.
As a reader, I know my tastes lean more toward vanilla than chunky monkey or rocky road. I'd probably enjoy reading (and writing) ménage more if I could get over my puritanical belief that "nice girls don't." The only ménage scene I've written is steeped in dubious consent or dub-con. Oddly enough I can tolerate dub-con more readily than ménage. Dub-con gets me over the nice girl speed bump and gives me permission to explore dark corners I might have otherwise avoided. Dub-con is probably why I also like vampire stories (though I've not published any yet.) Interestingly, there are many who won't touch dub-con but will embrace ménage. Both command high heat levels and both have their fans and detractors.
What else drives heat besides ménage though? My publisher, Evernight, defines its highest heat level as "Erotic content. Graphic sex and adult language. Hardcore content. Will offend mainstream readers," emphasis mine. Makes sense but when mainstream readers are devouring Fifty Shades of Grey and begging for more, the mainstream just cranked the thermostat up several degrees. I mean when you see Fifty Shades magazine "for those who live the lifestyle" sitting right next to Better Homes and Gardens in your mainstream grocery store, what else can a writer whip out (no pun intended) to shock the mainstream?
Don't answer that!
About the Author:Lila Shaw is the pen name for a writer of works of erotica and erotic romance. Her erotic writings typically involve strong-willed women with feminist tendencies, and are often playful, sarcastic and even silly. She believes if you can’t occasionally laugh at the physical aspects of love, you’re taking life far too seriously…unless the condom breaks, then you have every right to fret.She lives in the Pacific NW with her very funny husband she calls “the Silverback” and their two sons. She works full time as an operations / finance manager while her home remains a venue of domestic idleness other than the revving iMac in her office.