Monday, May 20, 2013

Answering the question: Do you want to play hide the salami? or WHERE IS THE ROOSTER?!?!!?


So... my husband and I were discussing this issue last weekend (in reference to my book and a somewhat perfect-drama-storm inducing blog post that was made by another author). My husband and I have different theories about the questions I ask below. To give you some background, we are both scientists and majored in math; we have a tendency to approach issues with a "let's gather some data about that before I form an opinion" attitude.

Therefore, I would LOVE your opinion!! (hopefully you all agree with me- but I will try not to bias you)

I've been asked by a few readers (via email) and also read a few reviews that make reference to the fact that Neanderthal Seeks Human does not have any explicit sex scenes- or, as one reviewer stated: "I would have given it five stars if the cock count was not a big fat ZERO" (LOL! Loved this review!!)

The question I am most often asked in emails is whether the future books in the Knitting in the City series (or any spin off Janie and Quinn stories) will have full frontal/money shot scenes (of course, people ask the question different ways, but I think that is the gist of it).

As a disclaimer, I have received quite a few emails and reviews from people praising my book for not containing explicit sex scenes. However, most (if not all) of these readers describe themselves as not usually reading romance. 

Which makes me ask the following questions, specifically for romance genre readers/audience:
  1. Are detailed sex scenes what most romance readers expect nowadays? ("most readers" being defined as greater than 50% of romance readers)
  2. Is a (romance) book considered at an immediate deficit by some readers (and, if so, what percentage do you estimate of readers/the romance audience feel this way) if there are no explicit sex scenes? 
  3. Are there readers who will only read (romance) books if there is explicit sex? If so, what percentage do you estimate?
  4. This last question you likely will be unable to answer unless you've read my book: Would my book have been 'better' if it contained one or two explicit sex scenes? (Better defined as greater than 50% of romance readers would have rated it higher- if not already rated at 5 stars- or enjoyed it more if there had been explicit sex).
Now, to be fair, I will answer the reader question: Why no explicit sex scenes in Neanderthal Seeks Human? Why was everything behind closed doors? WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST COCKS?!?! (j/k on the last one)

Richard the rooster says,  "Cock-a-doodle-doo"

I didn't include explicit sex scenes in Neanderthal Seeks Human for a few reasons; I will list them chronologically (date-order in which they occurred) as follows:
  • At first I intended to write sex scenes (money shots and everything) and actually started one. As I started writing it I thought to myself, "This reads like a police report." (E.g.: The perpetrator moved his right hand to her left breast and proceeded to complete a wax on, wax off movement)
  • I decided to hold off writing the scenes until after the rest of the book was finished
  • The more I tried to write the scenes the worse they got. I realized that I, ladies and gentlemen, FAIL at writing sex scenes.
  • When I asked my friend Karen's opinion she said she felt like the book was already very long (400 pages) and that if the story could exist without the scenes, why was I anxious about adding material that wasn't necessary to the story? ...good point I thought.
  • My conclusions: there is an art form to writing sex scenes (like any other type of scene); I suck at writing sex scenes and I need to practice; I will only include explicit sex scenes in a book if it is essential to the story, regardless of the genre
I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Sincerely, Penny


  1. I loved NSH, I rated it 5 stars. Was I disappointed that there were no sex scenes? Yes, a little. I am some what new to this genre and find that while I like a few sex scenes in my romance novels I am of the less is more when it comes to this. There are some authors that I think feel obligated (I blame the horrible 50 Shades of Grey for this) and include way too graphic details because they feel their book needs the "money shot" or lots of shots.

    As for book #2, would I like to see more sex? Probably-not going to lie. But I also think it will be just as great as NSH if it stays PG.

    So basically Penny, my advice to you is: rock on, with or with out cock! All though please, no more salami photos!

    1. You don't like my salami!!??! ;-) LOL!

      First, thank you for your response!
      Second, NSH: I was just talking to someone (who is awesome) about this issue. She made an excellent point- if you're going to build up sexual tension then there needs to be payoff for the reader. This makes SO MUCH SENSE!! So, yes, there will be salami, er, roosters... eh, there will be more detail in book #2

      Thanks again for your comment; great feedback!!

  2. Sorry no, vegetarian here. : )

    I think that's why I was disappointed-there was so much sexual tension build up between Janie and Quinn that I felt like something was missing. So if it's a similar pattern (knitting pun) with Elizabeth, then yes, I'd probably like to see a little more sex in book #2. However, I can't stress enough that you should only put it in (again with the puns!) if it feels natural to you. I much rather read "they had sex and it was awesome" or something than a sex scene that feels forced.

    Anyways good luck with the writing process!

    1. More great feedback; I'll be sure to run the scene by a few people first to make sure its not robotic. Although... robot love... hmmm. ;-)

  3. Personally I'm across the board on genres...from Tess Gerritsen & John Sandford to J.R. Ward & Lora Leigh (scorch the Kindle from the inside out), as well as Janet Evanovich & Jennifer Crusie (you remind me a little of Crusie). I loved NSH but agree with those who experienced a little bit of disappointment when Ida took over and all we got was the tease (the couch, the floor, the dresser, the wall) but no deets! *Sigh* However, if you don't "tingle & blush" when you're writing it, it probably won't translate to the readers. Practice!!! LOL. It would be awesome for #2 to be a "meatier" in the salami department.

    1. LOL! Thanks for responding. This is great info. I'm going to copy and paste over some responses I've received from authors on the subject. I think authors and readers are actually quite close in their assessments/beliefs.

      And I will practice! I promise :-)

  4. I received this email from @KatyRegnery (on twitter) and thought it added to the discussion. She is an author and her first book will be released in October.

    "1. What you wrote in "NSH" is commonly called "closed door" sex. The door is closed as the action gets underway, described in vague and tasteful terms, and the action starts in real-time again when the characters are post-coital or later. Most publishers offer "closed door" books as part of their line because not everyone wants throbbing genitals.

    2. If you can't commit, your readers will know. And it's awkward.

    3. I don't think it's humanly possible that I could have read your book faster. I started it at 9:30pm. I finished it the next day at 4:30pm. That's 19 hours, which included 7 hours of sleep, 2 hours on a train and 3 hours walking around New York City. I read your book in 7 hours. So...can I confidently tell you that I would have enjoyed it more with the graphic sex scenes (which - side note - I do enjoy now and then) included? Well, I don't see how I possibly could have read it faster. I'm thinking it was just right the way you handled it.

    4. You have to balance the wants of your audience with what you as a writer want to do. EL James is writing lots and lots of sexy/erotic scenes. If that's what readers want they know where to find it.

    5. In my first three books, I have one book with no sex and two with "closed door." They're all small-town contemporary romance. The paranormal that my publisher just contracted is a whole different ball of wax. (Hmmm. Wax. Now, there's an idea!) I have written two extended sex scenes (more than 2 pages) and two quick ones. But, these characters are darker and edgier than the contemporaries and they require el sexo...

    Which brings me to my final point.

    6. Every book is different. "NSH" works beautifully without graphic description. If you keep your tone as light in successive books, I'd stick with the vague/tasteful descriptions. But, the reality is that you're the only one in their heads, and if the occasion demands more, I am sure you'll rise to the challenge.

    GOOD LUCK!!"

    @KatyRegnery on Twitter

  5. I received this facebook post from author Emma Elliot (face book: Seems she was/is my boat as well.

    "This is such a great post, Penny, and something, as an author myself, I've spent a lot of time contemplating. I stumbled across that drama post you mentioned last night, and it renewed my pondering. Like NSH, my first novel lacks an explicit sex scene, and I'd say the reactions were about 60/40, based on the reviews. Some enjoyed the fact that there was no sex, but more often than not there was a line at the end of great reviews saying, "My only complaint is WHERE'S THE SEX?" lol. So in writing the sequel, I've given my best effort in writing a sex scene. BUT, I only did so on several conditions, similar to yours. 1) I told myself I would only keep it after the rough draft if I felt I had done the sex justice in writing and wasn't grimacing/giggling while reading back over it. I also had five different people give me their opinion on it (one of whom was male), and they assured me my efforts were worthy ones. 2) I just cannot do explicit. I can write a sex scene, but I gloss over the nitty gritty details. I tried to portray the intimacy of the act, because my approach was far too clinical when I attempted to write the graphic details. Plus, I just wasn't comfortable with it. And 3) I only wrote a sex scene that furthered the plot and the relationship between the two characters. I don't write erotica, I write romance, and I personally do not write gratuitous sex. There's a reason for the sex scene in my story.

    I'll be interested to see how it's received.

    Is sex essential to a romance novel? I think readers tend to expect it, even at times demand it, when they pick up a book labeled such. Sex is a natural progression in relationships in real life, and in fiction readers want to see that in all it romanticized glory. But I would argue that graphic detail isn't necessary. Regardless, it should depend on the author's comfort level. If I were to write an explicit sex scene, I think it would come across as stilted and awkward

    -Author Emma Elliot (facebook:

  6. Comment from one of my fantastic readers (Lori) on facebook; I thought it might be helpful for authors to have this perspective:

    "I wanted to answer your question. You can feel free to put on your blog if you want. As a READER, I do not select a book to read based on sexual content. I read your book because I have to admit the cover caught my eye and the synopsis did as well. I prefer comical reading/romance/contemporary. If I am looking for erotica, I type that into the search box (hey--i'm 45, we all need a boost!). I read 50 Shades, but quite honestly, they screwed so much I had to start skimming pages because it became t boring to me and on my nerves. I dont know any freakin' body who has sex that much---sheesh!!!

    I feel some authors may write sex scenes to appease their readers. I also feel that they are not comfortable writing them either. Seriously? Who calls male and female sex organs "heat, mound, rod, her/his sex, manhood"??!!!!! Thats an instant eye roll from me.

    I can tell you that I enjoyed your made me laugh, I enjoyed the story---without the waxing on and off stuff.

    Take care and keep tying!!!!"

    -Lori on facebook

  7. I really don't mind if there is or isn't a sexy scene in the book, as long as there is love. To be honest, it didn't bother me at all in Neanderthal seeks human, as much as I am bothered by sexy scenes that really don't feel right in other books. As you said, it's a really difficult thing to write, and more often than not, not necessary to making the story better!

    I'd say keep on doing what you have been doing, it works for you and you wrote a wonderful book!


    1. Hi Chi-Chi,
      It is difficult but I am determined to improve :-)
      Elizabeth's story- which is next- should and will have more "detail" in the scenes (but only in service to the story). As I write the rest of the knitting in the city series I will only include as much detail as the story warrants/requires. Your feedback is helpful! (and makes a lot of sense)

      Sincerely, Penny

  8. Oh and by the way, I am more and more put off by backcovers that promise me lots of sexy time, because it feels like the cheap way to attract readers, without having to focus on whatever actually makes the book special!


    1. I also feel this way. I think, for NSH, I could have added a bit more and it would have enhanced the story. But! better that I left it out than just to write it to attract readership.

  9. Since she was written in the first person, I think it would have been out of character for Janie to describe her encounters with Sir McHotpants in graphic detail. And if she had, it would have been IN character for that description to be somewhat clinical and awkward. I like salami with my romances, but I didn't miss it in your story.

    P.S. Charlotte Stein writes erotica, she usually writes in the first person, some of her characters could be HFA, and her stories are very hot. But the sex is the point of her work. Completely different animal (definitely rooster).

    1. Hey Faye,
      With Janie, with how she over thinks everything, I wondered how to accomplish a sex scene from her POV and also ensure the reader understood how indescribable of an experience it was for her, how she actually allowed herself to shut of her brain (or, rather, that she had no choice). Good feedback.

      Thanks for the tip on Charlotte Stein. I can use all the research I can get ;-)

      Maybe for one of our knitting patterns we can make Janie a sexy knit sleeping mask...?

      Sincerely, Penny

  10. I loved the way you wrote their sexual "encounters". I actually thought they were quite hot and steamy the way they were - and Ive read erotica stuff so its not because I'm 'unaccustomed' to sex in my reading material, lol. The chemistry between the two was very electric ( for lack of a better word...). It was completely in keeping with her character to describe the sex the way she did - would have been weird if she suddenly got all "cock-driven" in her descriptors. I think there is a glut of hardcore sex-driven books on the romance market right now, especially with the current trend of New Adult romance where most authors seem to be competing to see who can write the mostest sex into a book as possible. Its kind of tiresome really. Theres also a trend now for "funny" sex-filled romance books which (in my opinion) are nasty, crass and have so many vagina jokes that I feel sorry for vaginas in general. Your book was funny without being icky nasty and it had me cracking up most of the way.

    1. " many vagina jokes that I feel sorry for vaginas in general." LOL!

      I see your point. I actually wrote a... well, I guess you could call it a love scene for book#2 Friends Without Benefits and am going back and forth on whether to include it. It's not a "throbbing member" type of scene and I think it enhances the story in a way that is more than just frosting or window dressing...

      More marination in the issue is needed! Thank you for your thoughtful response. Gives me much to think over.