Tips & Tricks

5-Alarm Heat for Romance

Romance works have long been on the forefront of changes in the writing world. The readership is one of the largest by genre, and that hunger functions in books as porn has for the evolution in film.

Romance books are a spectrum of heat from sweet and clean to 5-alarm and spicy. There isn’t a single guide that agrees on what those stages are, but they range from 3 to 5 distinct types. The one thing they all have in common is a happily-eve-after or a happy-for-now ending. That is the defining characteristic of romance.

According to Harlequin (The worlds biggest romance publisher) and their subpress Carina, they’ve nailed these heat levels down to 3 4 main categories. I say four because they don’t exactly list erotica as a romance heat, but they do give their 2¢ on the topic.

Wholesome/Clean—Heat 1

The lowest heat level as far as physical contact goes, wholesome/clean/sweet romances focus on the heartwarming journey and the growing emotional emotional connection between the leading characters.

When you think of this low burn romance think of Hallmark channel level of connection. They are the cozy mysteries of the romance world. No cussing. No violence. There are no sexual acts done or even hinted at.

You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping are three movie examples that are fairly common reruns by this point if you’re not familiar with the Hallmark channel.

Sexy Romance—Heat 2 and 3

Sexy romances come in two flavors—mild and medium.

Mild books give a tease before taking things behind closed doors.

Medium books are written with a tenderness to the sexual acts—no lewd or gruff language.

Either way, these books still contain a focus on the emotional connection while giving the stories a deeper connection through the physical, and they don’t tangle with alternative sexual lifestyles.

If you’re wanting more information on the physical aspect of attraction, check out this post:

Erotica Romance / Blazing Hot—Heat 4 and 5

Steaming hot romances and erotica romances are to the book world as a lumper and a splitter are in the biology and history classification world (Splitters try to find ways to go as narrow as possible and Lumpers just want broad definitions—Here’s the wiki on it if you’re that curious).

These are books that show the development of the relationship through emotion and physical acts. In both classifications, sex is part of the plot but not the entire plot, and without it, the books wouldn’t be as fun, but they stand well on their own. Erotica Romance and Blazing Hot books may also tackle subjects like BDSM, Threesome, and other less conventional sex ideals.


While some people prefer to leave erotica off the romance list—and you’ll see why in a minute—I think erotica is the physical connection we’re cheering for. We know there’s emotion to good, stable relations, but we want to see the hunger of desire that sweeps us off our feet and gives us daydreams that make us blush.

Erotica has been relegated to terms like “reader porn” as a way to make it feel dirty and unworthy of being romance. I write erotica, and I have no problem calling it reader porn, and not because it’s dirty but because it’s a pretty good description of what a reader will get—taken on a journey of physical desires without the regrets and weird after morning interactions.

In terms of content, the plot focuses on the physical and sexual journey of the main character(s), and without it, there isn’t much of a story.

The downside of erotica over erotica romance/blazing hot is it’s a pain to market the works on platforms like Amazon. That alone may be the driving factor of how erotica romance and blazing hot have become shelf mates.

No matter how hot you like to write, there’s always an audience ready for a good story. Give it to them, and they’ll read everything you put out as quickly as they can find it.

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This post was edited with ProWritingAid.

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