The lines between “mainstream” and “sensual” seem to be blurring these days, as more “mainstream” books include steamy scenes that just get racier as time passes. When I write, I have to decide how far to take the steamy scenes, if I don’t just close the bedroom door. But I’m never averse to stepping up the heat level if a publisher wants, or adjusting it down or taking it out entirely. When trying to sign on with an agent, is there some way to say, “I’ll be glad to tailor these scenes to suit the market” without sounding wishy-washy? And do you have to do that when you pitch the book?
Whether you’re writing steamy bedroom scenes, gory murder scenes, bloody battle scenes, or fantastical fantasy, I think you always need to do two things. The first is push your own limits and boundaries. Don’t get sucked in to what you think the market wants, editors will want, or agents want. One of the biggest mistakes I see authors make all the time is toning down their own writing because they think that’s what the market dictates. Take a look at some of the bestselling authors out there. One of the things they all have in common is that at the time their first work was published or they started to hit it big they were pushing the boundaries of what was seen as the norm for that time. To succeed you have to be different, and different means thinking outside of the box. Don’t be afraid to do that.
The second thing authors need to always consider is writing the book that works. If you feel a certain scene warrants hot sex or a really gruesome murder, then write it that way. If you feel that it is a tamer sex scene or the murder is off the page, go ahead and do that too. We can tell almost instantly when an author is no longer writing the book she feels should be written. It shows. If an agent really loves everything about your book, but feels the sex is too steamy or the fight too gory, she can easily ask you to tone that down. And trust me, we all assume that anyone submitting their work to us is open to revisions and changes. If not, it’s probably not going to be a good fit, so there’s no need to tell us you’re open to making changes. Write the book as you feel it should be and the rest should follow.