February 25th, 2005

An article just came out in the RWR, the trade magazine for Romance Writer’s of America. The article was written by my agent, Ethan Ellenberg. In it, he discusses the need for subtle ratings on romance books. He makes a very strong case for this by talking about readers as our (writer’s) customers. You don’t want to lose them by offending them.

One of my critique partners, Julia Templeton and I got to talking about ratings/genre tags on the spine of books. We noted that Bravas aren’t carried in grocery stores, Target, Walmart, etc. because the label on the spine says/used to say, ‘Erotic Romance’. These same book outlets regularly shelve Harlequin Blaze and two of my favorite authors, Emma Holly and Angela Knight. Now for those of you who’ve never read either one of these fabulous authors, they write hot enough to singe your eyebrows off. Personally, I’m glad these various outlets carry their stuff. I guess I’m just shocked that a ‘label’ can make that big of a difference. And make no mistake, it does. Ethan’s article points out that Walmart makes up 10% of ALL sales. That’s a huge market to lose out on.

Which brings me back to ratings. Ethan suggests we do this quietly, so that buyers can decide what works best for their stores. I agree, but admit I’m conflicted. Part of me understands the need to ‘warn’ a potential buyer like the movies do. Another part worries this will be one more way for buyers/sellers to discriminate against a particular genre. I’d hate to see that happen to all the Inspirational writers out there. 😉 Just kidding. (wg)

What do you all think? Should we rate books like movies?

19 comments to “Ratings”

  1. No not particularly but I did love his rating’s system LOL Not only does Wal Mart not carry Brava mine doesn’t even carry chick lit. Actually, except for a huge section of black authors and some religious stuff, mine doesn’t even carry trade paperback.

  2. I hardly ever shop at Wal-mart, except for the occasional run in to buy cheap books. I thought once upon a time they were even thinking about not carrying the Blaze books. I know my SuperTarget, where I do most of my shopping, has a huge selection of trades, almost as big as the paperback section. Lots of mainstream literary titles, as well as chicklit. I just wish they would have pubs like Brava, I’d buy even more if I could pick them up while I was grocery shopping (I impulse buy a lot).

    Now ratings might actually be rather interesting, no clue how that would work though. And who would make sure they’re accurate?

  3. I don’t like the idea of rating books. I think it would be too difficult. Rating movies and games are one thing; there aren’t that many of them. But there are SO many books published, and who would decide what book got what kind of rating? There are different levels of heat within the same lines and publishers, so sticking ALL EC books or all Bravas with the same rating would be unfair. Which means that each book would have to be judged on an individual basis. So who is responsible for that? The publisher?

    This may all be explained the in RWR–I haven’t gotten it yet. And I may be totally missing the point. Now I’m dying to get my RWR! *g*

  4. Ratings would be weird, I think. I noticed that most of Alison’s SG-5 series was listed in the erotica section of RT, but then at least one made it into Contemporary. What’s up with that? I think that’s confusing. I’m really interested to see where BAD BOYS AHOY! ends up. Historical? Regency? Erotica? Now add sensuality ratings to it and you’ve got a mish mash of cross referencing. I do, however, think even publisher imprints can be confusing. JINGLE BELL ROCK for instance. Lori’s story was far tamer than Alison’s. So now that I’ve not helped the issue at all, I’ll run along. 😀

  5. Wal-Mart will not carry a book if they consider the cover or back blurb to be too racey either. There was a discussion in one of my local RWA meetings, it’s been six months at least since the discussion, but it was about Wal-Mart refusing to carry a book until the cover was redesigned. Talk about a lot of money.

    Very interesting post Jordan. Thanks!

  6. It’s interesting to me that our local Wal Mart doesn’t carry Brava or violent video games (what they consider violent) or Playboy, but they do sell guns and bullets…

    Movies, television and music rate themselves from within their industries because they were threatened with or feared outside labeling. PMRC anyone? As a consumer, I’d like to know what I’m buying, but I don’t know if anyone (outside the publishing industry) cares enough about books to force self regulation.

  7. Ethan’s thoughts were for the industry to rate the books subtly themselves before any ‘group’ could step in and do so.

  8. I hate wally world LOL I know a chick lit author they refused to carry her non-racy cover (no skin….just a bra strap) but they carry bras…..guns….even the censored eminem cd
    Personally I don’t think any retailer should have enough power over a publisher to get a cover changed.

  9. I haven’t read the article, so I’m not sure what it covered, but I can see both sides on this. Ratings could be useful for some readers. People who enjoy tamer romances could get the ones they want, as could readers who prefer a bit more steam.

    However, would ratings cover only the sex scenes or other subject matter? Stories with mild love scenes might also include adult topics such as abuse, adultery, and so on. How would they be rated?

    Sorry if the article already answered this question, but as a reader, it’s the first thing that came to mind.


  10. I hear you, Cece. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    Alyssa, I believe it was just meant to deal with the level of sexual activity in a book. You’ve brought up a lot of good questions though. Not sure if they’d address those potential problems.

  11. I’m not going to go there with the gun issue, because it’s a political type thing; but I work at Wal-Mart and Anderson Merchandising is Wal-Mart’s book and magazine buyer. Wal-Mart’s image is banked upon being “wholesome” and “family friendly”, and even though they sell Blaze’s, I’m thinking that blatantly erotic books propped up on the bookshelves where any kid can pick it up is too much for them. But sensuality ratings and cover catagories are firstly for booksellers, and then for consumers. So until booksellers decide on stocking their shelves in any manner they choose, authors don’t really have a say in the matter.

  12. I think rating the books might make the judging of “spicy” books worse, unfortunately. (which are my fave books, btw, they’re what I write and they’re what I read)

  13. Evangeline,
    I agree. I think it is out of the author’s hands, considering how little control they have of everything else in the industry.

  14. Jill,
    That’s my concern too. I worry that it’ll be an easy way to discriminate against specific genres. And goodness knows I don’t want to give up reading my spicier books. (wg)

  15. I’m in the UK so bear in mind my view has no relation to the practicalities of dealing with certain retailers.

    What?!?! Why should books be ‘rated’? Isn’t it clear from the back blurb what a book’s about?

  16. Kate,
    I’m not sure you can tell by a backcover blurb, unless the words ‘sex toys’ are in it. 😉

  17. Wal-Mart has also refused to carry many Blazes with questionable titles. Erotic Invitation was one they didn’t carry.

  18. Interesting post, Jordan, thanks. I had actually thought the Brava line was selling quite well, Walmart notwithstanding. (Not that I really know.)

    As a reader, I’m not interested in such a rating. I haven’t read the article though.

  19. Alison,
    I knew that titles played a big part in whether or not Walmart carried a book.

    I didn’t mean to give you the impression that Bravas don’t sell well. I was simply talking about them not being stocked with a retailer that makes up 10% of all book sales.