Romance 102: Sexy, Sensual or Sweet?

Kathleen Scheibling @kscheibling

Kathleen Scheibling @kscheibling

Senior Editor Kathleen Scheibling has 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. (Especially as the Senior Editor of Blaze, our sexiest line.) Ok, ok, sex matters. But if you are thinking of writing for one of Harlequin’s seventeen 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 are publishing.

So by now you’ve figured werewolves only appear in Nocturne, billionaire heroes may only appear in Presents and Desire, and there are cowboys in a lot of places. Grr, this is difficult. Ok, now let’s look at what we call the “level of sensuality” in your story. Because 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 sexiest series are Blaze, Presents, Nocturne and Desire. In all of these books you could encounter a fairly descriptive sex scene, but even here there are differences. Blaze publishes our hottest editorial – there are several sexy scenes in each book and some of
them are quite graphic. The stories are very contemporary and are very much about the characters enjoying their sexuality. Nocturne, too, can have very sexy scenes but it’s the only place in these hot lines where you are writing paranormal characters (shapeshifters, vampires, etc.) Presents stories are very much about glamour –there is sex but the most important feature is the type of character, 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 four lines. Because that’s why you are reading these books!

The series that feature a slightly tamer heat level are Kimani, Romantic Suspense, Historicals and Superromance. There’s not as much graphic sex here. But there can be a fantastic amount of sexual tension played out in highly sensual scenes, which may have more detailed description of the events leading up to the act (emotions between characters, description of clothing, mood) rather than the actual “deed” itself.

Just because you don’t have sex scenes in your book doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of tension and passion! We have several series where mostly the lead up leads to a closed door – and your imagination can get to work here. Intrigue, Special Edition, American Romance, Harlequin Romance and Medicals are part of this group.

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 thermometer_final_revsexual relationship in the story. There is no sex outside of marriage, and no description of a sexual act. Heartwarming and the Love Inspired lines are in this group, though the LI lines also feature a Christian worldview and Christian values.

One thing to keep in mind is that none of Harlequin’s seventeen 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 romances, well, that’s different. These stories are about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual exploration. We also don’t publish this in our Harlequin series, but we do through Carina Press. You can see details of what they publish at Carina Press, and  you can chat with the Carina editors today at 1 p.m. for a Twitter discussion all about what they’re looking for. Follow the hashtag #sytycwcarina to join in.)

Sexy romance – yes, these we publish. 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! (See Blaze, Presents, Desire, Nocturne)

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!

Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #sytycw, and follow @HarlequinSYTYCW.