Advice from the Archives: Sexy, Sensual or Sweet?

By Kathleen Scheibling

Kathleen Scheibling @kscheibling

Today’s updated post from our archives was written by Kathleen Scheibling, the Executive Editor of Harlequin Dare, back in 2015. Read on for her great advice on writing romance at different heat levels and targeting the right Harlequin series for you.

Sex doesn’t matter. There, I said it.

I better clarify something before we move forward. Ok, ok, sex matters. But if you are thinking of writing for one of Harlequin’s series lines, sex shouldn’t be the first thing on your mind. (I assume some of you just stopped reading. Bye!) The first thing on your mind should be your story. What kind of a story is it? Is it set in a glamorous international location and features a stunning, feisty heroine and a bold and impetuous billionaire? Is it a suspense? Is it set in the Regency period? Does it feature a single mom who is moving back to her hometown to start over? Is your hero a werewolf? Let’s start here, shall we?

The first thing you can do to figure out what series is right for you is look at the covers. We’re pretty good at showing the type of story and setting the tone at your first look. Next, look at the Harlequin series guidelines  and read about what series may fit the kind of book you like to write. I’ve always said the best way to understand a series is to read it. And you can easily do that with Try Harlequin where we offer a free book from every line as an example of what we’re publishing.

Now let’s look at what we call the “level of sensuality” in your story. We have a big range of hot to wholesome in our series and there is truly something for everybody, whether you like graphic sex or want to shut the door on sex, or whether you do not want to address a sexual relationship at all.

Our passion lines are Dare, Presents, and Desire. In all of these books you could encounter a fairly descriptive sex scene, but even here there are differences. Dare publishes our hottest editorial—there are several explicit sex scenes in each book. The stories are very contemporary and are very much about the characters enjoying their sexual fantasies. Presents stories are very much about glamour—there is sex but the most important feature is the type of characters, with their Alpha males and feisty heroines. And Desire loves sexy scenes, too, but they tend to be more euphemistic and not so graphic. In each of these series—in ALL of our series—the sex scenes are not meant to be gratuitous, or crude, or be the main focus of the story. Sex scenes are meant to show the developing emotional relationship between the hero and heroine, and descriptions of the emotional and mental sensations of a coupling are far more important than the ol’ boom boom. But you do get boom boom, too, in these lines. Because that’s why you are reading these books!

Our other series feature a range in heat levels—sexy, sensual or a bit tamer. These are: Intrigue, Romantic Suspense, Medicals, Harlequin Romance, Historical and Special Edition. There’s not as much graphic sex here. But there can be a fantastic amount of sexual tension played out in highly sensual scenes. Sometimes there’s lots of detailed lead-up to a closed-door scene (emotions between characters, clothing, mood), and your imagination can work from there! Just because you don’t have sex scenes in your book, it doesn’t mean there can’t be tension and passion!


Finally, there are wholesome romances that do not feature any sex at all. These romances have all of the wonderful emotional connection of our other books but do not address a sexual relationship in the story. There is no sex outside of marriage, and no description of a sexual act. The Heartwarming and the Love Inspired lines are in this group.

One thing to keep in mind is that none of Harlequin’s series publishes erotica. To be very clear, erotica is written to explore the sexual journey of a character. It is about the sex. It is not romance. Erotic romance, well, that’s different. That’s about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual exploration. We do publish erotic romance through Carina Press, and you can check out their guidelines here.

Sexy romance—yes, we publish it. These stories develop a romantic relationship between the hero and heroine, intensified emotionally by a strong sexual connection which is described in several love scenes. If you edited the book to take out those sex scenes, the romance would still be readable and make sense. But those sex scenes add something extra for readers who love to hear all the details!

When it comes down to writing for Harlequin series, it’s not about the sex. It’s about the story. Harlequin series books are romances, and should always focus on the emotional connection between the characters over everything else, whether there is sex is your book or not.

Now, go forth and…write!