Myriad Definitions of “Sweet Romance” and/or “Clean Romance”Kristin Holt | Photograph of a couple, kissing out of doors. (purchased stock photo).

Have you heard the conflicting and myriad definitions of “Sweet Romance” and/or “Clean Romance”?

I’m stunned at the wide variety and significant differences among opinions.

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Myriad Definitions of “Sweet Romance” and/or “Clean Romance”

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I’ve come across reviews criticizing a book advertised as “sweet” for being too graphic and / or containing coarse language. On the flip side, reviews scattered across the Internet chastise writers whose books don’t contain enough of these elements. To them, ‘sweet’ has nothing to do with absence of certain content. These examples illustrate the ongoing and long-standing myriad definitions of “Sweet Romance” and/or “Clean Romance.” In addition, varying opinions show dissatisfaction with the lack of a standard novel ranting system for sensuality (and perhaps language, violence, and more).

In the absence of a standardized book rating system, readers and authors use the next best thing–their own measuring stick.

No wonder readers are often disappointed.

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Kristin Holt | "Sweet Romance ... touches the heart and leaves you breathless like a gentle kiss." Quote by an anonymous reader. Styled by Author Kristin Holt.

“Sweet Romance” definition, by an anonymous reader.

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I contribute to the problem

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My tagline is repetitive: “Sweet Romances Appropriate for All Audiences.” Shouldn’t it read: “Romances Appropriate for All Audiences?” I think I’ll change that word choice immediately (on 8/10/19). Or as soon as I can update another sample of “myriad.” As in all of them.

How is anyone supposed to know what “Sweet” means when riding tandem with “Romance,” if bombarded with conflicting information?

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Labels Carry Judgments

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I wish we had a non-judgmental label. Consider how the label of “clean” romance rubs many readers (and writers) the wrong way. While combing the internet, I came across this posted statement: ‘While I respect people’s different religious and moral opinions, I strongly object to censorship and calling a book a “clean” read, which implies that more sensual stories are “unclean” and “dirty”.’ I understand where this reader is coming from.

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Answers Vary

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Kristin Holt | Sweet Romance? "Opinions differ, and that's okay. What do you think? What elements belong in a Sweet Romance, and what elements don't?"

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I polled readers who attended a Facebook party. I asked them what they thought of “Sweet Romance”, “Clean Romance”, and what each one meant. I also asked how they prefer a “sweet romance” to be labeled or otherwise named. Their answers are intermingled with others in the numbered list, below.

Note from Kristin:
(More than one dozen definitions/opinions –some of which I agree with, others I do not. I suspect you’ll agree with some and disagree with others, hence the industry’s dilemma)

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Kristin Holt | Myriad Definitions of "Sweet Romance" and/or "Clean Romance". What do you think? What is Sweet Romance? What is Clean Romance?

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Readers, writers, publishers, and well-informed adults have defined Sweet and/or Clean romance as:

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1. Sweet romances emphasize emotional intimacy and may contain sexual tension (G to PG heat levels).

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2. In order to make room for “sweet romance” among the many romance categories on their site, Amazon created a new category: Clean & Wholesome.

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3. Sweet romances show no explicit sexual details, contain no sexual scenes, and do not contain pre- or extra-marital sex.

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4. However, hero and heroine may have a [sexual] history—either involving each other or someone else altogether. But during the story they are chaste. Most couples will share a single kiss, or a little more. It’s possible to see sexual tension while retaining characters’ purity.

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5. Sweet Romance is slow and it simmers and it’s not expressed so blatantly. The hero and heroine may not ever make the declaration until the end, but you feel it as you read, you know the love is growing.

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6. Sweet romance is an uncomplicated story about one person finding another. They do have conflict and obstacles however it does not change how each character the hero and heroine feel about each other.

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7. Well-written Sweet Romances contain major setbacks, characters who struggle. Sweet romance can be angsty (good emotional conflict). After all, happily-ever-after is infinitely sweeter when EARNED. However, there isn’t a lot of ugliness, such as cheating, breaking up, nasty fighting between hero and heroine. Progression of the relationship is a little more complicated than the darker romances.

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8. Do not confuse Sweet Romances with Christian Romance or Inspirational Romance. Sweet romances are not preachy; faith may intertwine with life, but religion is NOT a key element of the story, and characters do not have a faith crisis.

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.9. Sweet romances often contain strong themes along the lines of: ‘community is important’, ‘traditional values’, ‘faith and hope play a role in the story’.

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10. Offense language is not found in sweet romances, though they may contain some mild language.

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11. “Clean” Romance refers to the language content. If the language is “clean,” then no offensive or “dirty” language is included.

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12. Optimistic endings are a must with Sweet Romance.

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13. Sweet romances have ooey gooey characters that can’t stop thinking about romance.

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14. Sweet romance is young adult fiction, an immature attempt at romance, or a fiction that ignores a very integral part of life (sex, to be blatant).

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15. Proper Romance is an official label for “sweet romance” by one publishing company (and the Proper Romance titles are doing very well!).

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In a similar article, I include answers to the question, “what is a Sweet Romance?” (I don’t believe the FB party question mentioned anything about “clean”, or “language,” specifically.) Visit that related article here: Just How Romantic Can Sweet Romance Be?

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Kristin Holt | Just How Romantic Can Sweet Romance Be? Related to Myriad Definitions of "Sweet Romance" and/or "Clean Romance"

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Book Sites Develop Ratings

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In answer to the persistent problem, a handful of book review sites have created their own scale or rating system to notify readers “what kind” of book this is. A kissing book? A steamy read? Somewhere in between?

WHY do we still have this problem when it’s been SIX YEARS since publisher Simon & Shuster developed “chilli ratings” to “…educate readers about the sensuality level of their reads. One chilli represents a cosy read, five a sizzler.” The article continues: “The last thing we want to do is to disappoint – or offend – readers and heat ratings tell readers exactly what they’re getting, upfront when they buy a Destiny romance.”

That’s great, because different lines from big publishing houses are STANDARD in their levels of heat, language, and adult content (like terrible scary blow-up-the-world). Yet the article illustrates the big publisher’s marketing wisdom by further rating with a “Balls o’ Fire” rating.

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Kristin Holt Quote from Myriad Definitions of "Sweet Romance" and/or "Clean Romance": "It's all about educating the reader so purchases are well-informed. The better suited the story to the buyer, the more likely she'll love it. That translates to word-of-mouth advertising and dollars in the publisher's pocket."

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Others have put forth their own book rating systems. Examples include:

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Kristin Holt | Heat Levels in Romance, by RomanceClassBooks.com

Heat Levels in Romance, by RomanceClassBooks.com

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I wish we had a Standardized Novel Rating System (like video games and movies do)

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Writers and readers truly have myriad definitions of “Sweet Romance” and/or “Clean Romance.” Notice the disagreements, vast differences of opinion, and also the overlap and agreement. What will it take for us to eventually have a standardized novel rating system like video games and movies do?

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Maybe we could borrow this heat rating from Howlin’ Ray’s Nashville Hot Chicken!

Howlin' Ray's Nashville Hot Chicken How Hot scale

Howlin’ Ray’s Nashville Hot Chicken How Hot scale

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My Brand

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Kristin Holt USA Today Bestselling Author of Sweet Romances Appropriate for All Audiences, Victorian American West

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Until I noticed the repetition of “Sweet Romance Appropriate for All Audiences” that was my “brand” in a nutshell. Now, I opt simply for “Romance Appropriate for All Audiences.” Sounds a good deal like the definition of G-rated movies.

Really? A G-rated romance? I’ve heard readers (and writers!) scoff. They say kisses aren’t G-rated. I’m giggling because Disney evidently disagrees. Have they seen the kiss between Belle and her prince?

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Kristin Holt | Myriad Definitions of "Sweet Romance" and/or "Clean Romance". Belle and Prince Kiss, Disney-Style.

A Disney Kiss: Belle kisses her prince. Image: Pinterest.

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I say my kissing books have “Disney-like” kisses… and hugs, hand-holding, “sweet romance” where the intensity of the falling in love is in each character’s heart, emotions, dialogue, and actions (such as commitment, choices, etc.).

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Invitation

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Kristin Holt - Invitation, Myriad Definitions of Sweet Romance and-or Clean Romance

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Hmmmm. Interesting concepts to think about. What is a Sweet/Clean Romance, to you?

If not “Sweet Romance,” then what is better? If not “Clean Romance,” then what name removes judgment?

Does your favorite romance author provide an explanation of the sensuality level (and/or language, violence) in their titles?

Do you have an idea or three to add to our numbered list of myriad definitions of “Sweet Romance” and/or “Clean Romance”?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts and opinions.

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Updated August 2019
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