Photo by Jonathan Cohen
I'm a fairly new writer. My background is business and technology. Fiction is my first love, but some aspects take me out of my comfort zone. In fact, I didn't want to tell friends or family about my writing journey, unsure where it might lead.
I've gotten over that.
Now that I've come out of my writing closet, the question I'm asked most often is; “Does your book have any sex?"
Um, no. It's a thriller.
People nod politely and offer their two cents. “More people will buy it if there’s sex.”
Perhaps they're right.
Many thrillers do include bedroom scenes. One of my long-time favorite authors, Stephen White, often kept the bedroom door closed, but still alluded to his main character as a sexual being. White ended his 20-book series in 2013 with a great 250-word scene. It’s quite apparent what’s happening in the bed without many descriptive words beyond ‘breasts.’
We all color the story with our own perspective. Ten people reading the same book will each take away something different. When I asked five readers if Stephen White’s character ever had on-the-page sex, everyone had a different answer, ranging from; “Never!” to, “Oh, yes, he had sex all the time. Remember, when he left his wife?”
(For the record, White’s character did not leave his wife.)
Some readers want more details before a scene fades-to-black. The euphemism, on its own, indicates shades of gray.
Which leads me to my next rant. At what point does on-the-page-sex make, or break, a book?
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY sold 100 million copies. My stepdaughter recommended the book, with the disclaimer, “I want you to read this book. But we can never talk about it.”
I read the first book with a train-wreck fascination. E.L. James’ controversial trilogy was all about the details. Her characters did not leave much for reader imagination. I didn’t read either of the next two books, figuring my sexual education was complete. But I will raise the question, would the book have had such overwhelming sales without the sex?
Books allow us, as readers, a little voyeuristic peek inside someone’s head. Many think of series characters with the fondness of an old friend. To be allowed inside a friend’s head, with access to their thoughts and feelings is the singular beauty of fiction.
Researching this article, I referenced Forbes The World's Top-Earning Authors, (recall my background in business?) and created a table to look at the trend (see below). Surprisingly—or not—E.L. James pushed James Patterson out of his number one position in 2013. It should be noted that Ms James did not have a book released in 2013, while Mr. Patterson released fourteen.
The authors (above) in red are more generous with details before their fade-to-black scenes. The shift to the left seems to indicate that readers do want more detail from their characters. In 2010, only one (red) author placed in the top five. Last year clocked three out of five.