Romance: Clean or Steam?

I’d been getting several more 1 and 2 star ratings on Dragon Blue in Goodreads, which was frustrating because they didn’t come along with any comments. How do I know what readers don’t like if they don’t tell me? But I finally got some comments on a 1 star review. It was basically saying they didn’t finish the book because there was casual sex in the first chapter.

Okay, so my first novel, The Time-Traveling Outlaw, had sex scenes, but the cover didn’t indicate that it would be very steamy. But Dragon Blue has man-chest on the cover, which to me seems like a clear signal that the steam level is going to be up there. So what I was trying to do with the opening chapter of DB was introduce my heroine, Miranda, as restless and unsatisfied, trying to overcome her boredom with casual sex with the customers from the diner she works at. Only the sex is never that great because there’s no real emotional attachment. This sets up her relationship with Corban, a real, loving relationship built on mutual respect and attraction. So that when they finally have sex later in the book, it should have more impact.

I have received other feedback that the central romance happened too quickly and easily. So there’s this central problem in a romance novel: how to deliver steamy scenes early in the book to set the tone without having the two central characters hop in bed together early on or showing them having casual sex with other people. Maybe it’s not a problem. Maybe even readers who want steam in their romances don’t care if they don’t get any up front. I guess one way of handling it is having the characters initially in love at the beginning, show some steam between them, then have them separated some way or fall out of love before falling back into love. That seems like a pretty narrow set of situations, though.

So now I’m a little worried. I just wrote the first chapter of Dragon Red yesterday, and it starts with a sex scene, between the hero and a sexy witch. He wants information and she wants his powerful…um, you know. I’d be interested to hear from readers how you gauge your expectations for the amount and explicitness of sex in the romances you want to read. I want to write sexy books, but I also want to make my readers happy. I try to warn in the blurb that there are going to be steamy sex scenes. Do readers only want sex between two characters only after they’ve fallen in love?

I know you can’t please everybody, but I don’t want to ignore feedback either. The overwhelming feedback on Dragon Blue is positive, and most people don’t seem to have a problem with the steam level. But if anyone out there thinks maybe future installments would be better if the scenes weren’t so explicit, be sure to chime in!

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