Following a link on Twitter this morning, I read a blog post in favor of a rating system for romances. This has come up before, when erotic romance was hitting the shelves and a major agent called for a rating system. The response was overwhelmingly negative, but I’m not surprised it’s come up again. Not only has erotic romance been embraced by NY, but it often seems as though the heat level has been jacked up across the board.
I’m not opposed to rating systems on principle. As the mother of fourteen and eight-year-old boys, I use the video game ratings several times a week at the rental store. No M for mature games. Period. T for teen games are evaluated on a case by case basis. The PotC game is teen due to the proliferation of rum. That’s okay. Other games, mild bad language. Okay. Yet another, teen due to sexual themes. Not so much, thanks. The same goes for movie ratings.
Not so very long ago, it wasn’t difficult to spot the very sexually explicit romances. They were generally print releases from epublishers and imprints from NY publishers, such as Brava, Aphrodisia and Berkley Heat, almost all trade paperback. Now, it’s a crapshoot. There have been several mass market paperbacks in the last year I’ve read, from publishers I don’t associate with erotic romance, that raised my eyebrows. The line between erotic romance and the merely smokin’ hot is a blurry one.
So why am I opposed to a rating system for romances?
First off, who’s going to bestow these ratings? Who decides what elevates a love scene from two flames to three? Does using anything besides “her portal of love” raise it a flame? How about if the heroine talks dirty rather than thinking of England? Who decides? An RWA committee?
Yeah, that was a joke. But who decides if two guys and a girl automatically make a five flame? Could it be any more subjective?
What about shelving? If they start sticking the non-trademarked equivalent of NC-17 on books, is that going to affect how the bookstores shelve them? Or if they even buy them? Being removed from the romance section is the kiss of death.
Now, imagine the romance section of your favorite brick and mortar bookstore. Ours is Borders. A group of women, heads kinked over to the right, scanning spines. What are they looking for? Authors. Maybe a title or something about that sliver of cover catches their attention and they’ll read the back cover copy. Sometimes, when doing market research, I’m scanning publishers, but I don’t choose my leisure reading by publisher.
Imagine if there was a little sticker on the spine with a rating. Do we want those readers scanning for the ratings? Do we want to tell a reader, before she’s even noted the author or the title, that it’s probably not the book for her? When you put books in boxes, you put the readers in those boxes, too.
I’m going to use Lauren Dane’s Undercover as an example. Futuristic/erotic romance/menage/BDSM. If I pretend I don’t already know and trust this author, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have picked it up if there was a sticker on the spine with five flames or a bonfire or a big red XXX or whatever they’d use, and that would have been a major loss to me as a reader. UNDERCOVER is smokin’ hot and it’s got the naughty words and the really naughty lovin’, but it is first and foremost a damn good book. I would have missed out if some arbitrary committee had put their stamp on it.
The imprint, the cover, sometimes the title, the back cover copy—there are enough clues already to give a general sense of whether or not the book is going to be that sexually explicit.
What about content other than sex? No Surrender isn’t sexually explicit, but the vocabulary these characters have? Not words you use in front of your mother unless you want to shit soap bubbles for a week. Should they have a rating?
Romance as a genre is so vast and diverse it defies labeling, and there’s simply no practical way to implement that kind of system even if it was a good idea.
What do you think? Would you like a rating on romances or no?