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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Coming out of the Romance Writer Closet



I, Erin Knightley, have been harboring a deep, dark secret. It’s been going on for about two years now, ever since I finished my first draft of my first novel and discovered that I had unwittingly committed a romance writing sin.
When I began meeting and interacting with industry people, I naively told them about what made my work a little different from the norm. It was then that I learned that what I did in my story was a Big No No.
It started with my very first pitch appointment at Spring Fling in 2010. The agent and I were getting along famously, until she asked a pointed question. At that moment, I revealed the deep, dark secret (DDS). With eyes wide, she shook her head. “Oh no, you are never going to sell to the Big Six as it is. You’ll have to change that if you hope to get a contract.”
Never mind that she had never actually read the book—this one thing was enough to be a deal breaker with her. Fear took root within me, and though I wasn’t quite willing to change the DDS, I also no longer wanted to reveal it.  I held it close to my chest, the embarrassing truth about my manuscript that was so wrong. But, of course, on occasion it came up, and I’d confess my romance writing sin, cringing all the while. I had New York Times Bestselling authors, respected friends and published writers, and even a small number of agents tell me I wouldn’t sell because of it. And they didn’t beat around the bush, either. Each time, it was a definitive response, almost always accompanied by that sad or knowing head shake.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I did have some wonderful writing friends who where very supportive (many of whom are my fellow Lady Scribes!).  But that was just it: they were friends. I couldn’t help but wonder deep inside if they were just being supportive of me, as a friend. I began to get a little paranoid about the whole thing. When submitting to agents, I didn’t even mention it, crossing my fingers that they wouldn’t ask.
When I finaled in the Golden Heart last year, I was thrilled, but I also felt it was only because it was based on the first 50 pages, and the judges therefore didn’t have time to know about the DDS. I felt like a fraud as friends and colleagues congratulated me, feeling deep inside that I wouldn’t have passed muster if the truth of my story was known.
Then, as you know, I found an agent who loved the story, and miraculously, she found a publisher (a Big Six pub, Miss Agent from Spring Fling!) who felt the same way. I was vindicated! There were at least two big players in the game who believed in me, and saw it within themselves to look past the DDS. For almost 8 months, I reveled in the feel that everything would be okay, that the DDS really didn’t matter and that readers would accept me and my work regardless.
And then a funny thing happened. As the book went out for reviews, and the release date got closer and closer, all those old insecurities began to rise up all over again. Would the romance community reject me once they discovered my DDS? Would readers turn up their noses, and reviewers revolt against me? Would they throw my book across the room in frustration, or announce to the world at large that I was no romance writer?
Amazingly, little was said about it as the reviews began to trickle in. In fact, I was blessed to have many lovely reviews, each managing to chip away at those insecurities. Even so, I felt as though I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Well guess what – this week it did.
After almost 2 years of dreading it, a reviewer finally called me out.  My DDS was at last laid bare, scorned for all to see. But here is the amazing thing. Instead of the reaction I thought I would have, oddly enough it somehow set me free.  By having my fear realized, I suddenly saw that it didn’t matter that some people would look down on me and my writing. No matter what you write, no matter who you are, there will always be those who don’t like your work. Just like there will be those who will. There will even be those who love it, and that makes this whole crazy career choice so very worth it. I’m proud of my book. I’m proud that it is a little different, and that it may even lift a few eyebrows.
So here’s the truth: Hi, my name is Erin Knightley, and I wrote a mainstream romance novel without any sex in it.
There, I said it. Actually, I wrote two of them, and I may even write more.
I write the books that I want to read, and the truth is, though I adore romance novels with every fiber of my being, I generally skip the sex scenes.  I’m in no way offended that they are there, and more power to those who enjoy reading and writing them, but it’s simply not my thing. My favorite part of a romance is that breathless feeling of falling in love. Of discovering butterflies-in-the-stomach-inducing chemistry that makes you desperate to read the couple’s journey. I love the sizzle. I want to melt at the first kiss and have my heart ripped out at the dark moment. And more than anything I want them to have a sigh-worthy happily ever after.  Those are the things I strive to capture. 
So there you have it; my Deep Dark Secret revealed. On a side note, I hope this will be an inspiration to those who were told they wrote a story that would never get published. Never say never!
Now, I’m curious: will this change the way you think about me as a romance writer? Do you think sex is an integral part of a mainstream romance novel?
You know what? I’m feeling a bit sprightly :-) I’ll give away a copy of MORE THAN A STRANGER to one lucky commenter. Comment by 9PM EST tomorrow (July 4th) to enter! 

72 comments:

  1. By the end of that post, I was dreading to find out what the DDS was and when I did, I was pleasantly surprised. It's refreshing, and I love that your book's a little different; It makes me repect you more, in fact! I think sex can further cement a relationship but it's not necessary to see it when we can already tell and feel that the characters are deeply in love. Congratulations on the debut, Erin!

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    1. Thanks so much, Afsaneh! And on a side note, I was snickering a bit as I was writing this, wondering what evil thing people would be imagining I did :-)

      Thanks so much for joining me here today!

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  2. I was (still am) proud of you for sticking to your guns and writing the story the way *you* wanted to. It's hard not to give in when agents and editors are telling you to go a different way.

    I would like to see more mainstream romances without the sex--speaking as an inspy writer it would be great to eventually be able to "cross" and do both kinds.

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    1. I'm so lucky to have found an agent and editor who truly believed in me. I had no pressure whatsoever from either one of them to change things. With talent such as yours, Lily (I loved Captain of her Heart!!), I can't imagine you'll have any trouble transitioning to mainstream if you choose :)

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  3. Whew! Because there are no sex scenes in my works in progress either. Lots of kissing and (hopefully) some sizzle, but no explicit sex.

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    1. JanetLee, unpubbed authors like you are the reason I wrote this blog - I wanted you to know that no matter what others say, there are no hard and fast rules in publishing. As Virginia Kantra says, there is only works or doesn't work. Write the book of your heart, write it well, and you may find others believe in it as well.
      Best of luck!

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  4. Erin,
    I hear lots of people say they skip the sex scenes in books. I'm very happy to recommend your book to them. I'm also currently reading it and I think it's fantastic! I think any time you write a book a certain way because that is what's expected you lose authenticity. I'm very proud of you for writing what you felt in your heart was right for you. Congratulations! :)

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    1. Thank you, Samantha! There are so many different types of people out there with different preferences - I never understood why we couldn't have books that speak to all of them. The support of you and the other Lady Scribes, as well as the rest of my crit group, has always been unwavering - unlike my faith in myself sometimes! I'm so lucky to have you all :)

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  5. I think it's great! I write stories both ways (with sex and without) and like you, I always wondered if a shoe would drop. But, you know what, it never does LOL Keep on writing what you enjoy. Nothing else matters :-)

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    1. I didn't realize you wrote both ways, Sandra! (and LOLing here about how that sounded ;) ) Thanks for the encouragement, and back at your, babe!

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  6. Erin,
    I have to admit, I skip the sex scenes many times. I don't mind that they are there, and if they are not to graphic, I won't skip them, but I don't to know every little detail of the behind the curtain scene, if you know what I mean.

    I'm currently reading your book, and I'm loving it. I have felt the breathless rush of first attraction. Great job!

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    1. LOL - that's what I call the nuts and bolts kind of scene, Julie! Opening the hood and examining the engine, so to speak ;) Interestingly enough, I once had a writer accuse me of lying when I admitted that I skip the sex scenes. I was taken aback - not sure why it was so hard to believe. Different strokes for different folks - isn't that what makes the world go round?
      Thanks for the kind words, sweetie :)

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    2. I skip ahead if there is no emotion in the scene. I think that's often the case with "nuts and bolts" scenes. It feels like a recitation of actions. I feel the same way about action scenes. If it's all about what the person is doing, I skip ahead.

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    3. Actually, back in the day, I used to skip just about everything that wasn't dialogue, lol! It taught me to try to keep the story snappy and moving at all times - no matter *what* the scene is!

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  7. Erin, I think this type of writing is making a come back. Have you read any of Candice Hern's early work you would find no sex scenes. I remember reading those types of books when in high school. All you need is a good story which you have. With a good story anything is possible. Great job Erin.

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    1. You've hit the nail on the head, Melody. With a good story *anything* is possible. Excellent comment!

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    2. Aw, thanks you two :) And Melody, I actually didn't know that about Candice Hern - I've only read her new work. I'm glad to see that all different choices of heat levels are now being offered up.

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    3. Oh my gosh, my first romance was by her and it was called A Garden Folly and it was about a duke pretending to be a gardener. Really cute book.

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  8. Hooray for you, Erin! I love your book! And having been aware of your "DDS" for a while, I too have been excited to see how well your book has done. Your book has sizzle and humor and joy and the thrill of finding true love. What more could a reader want? :)

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer! And I'll be watching your debut as well. I found it wonderful that a line that wasn't strictly inspy was publishing your books. I love that they were tapping into all different styles of works! Best of luck to both of us, I think :)

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  9. I'm proud of you, Erin. What you write is authentic and lovely, and captures exactly what your characters are feeling, which leaves the reader feeling the same. :D

    Honestly, I am so happy that romance novels span all sorts of heat levels while still maintaining that breathlessness of attraction and falling in love.

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    1. Why thank you, Marquita :) I hope that my story will make others less likely to give the old 'no sex, no sale' line.

      And in other news - I CAN'T WAIT FROM TWICE TEMPTED TO HIT SHELVES!

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    2. There should be no such thing as "you can't do that in a romance or else..."

      And thanks; I'm super excited and nervous! :D

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  10. I happened to like the Traditional Regencies that had no sex in them. The story is what the story and I'm happy either way. After the first sex scene or two, depending on the writer, I skip the rest in most of the Historicals these days.

    Don't worry about the others. Write your own stories. We'll buy them.

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    1. I find it interesting that some people look down on the old trads these days. The pendulum swung well away from them, but I hope we are in a more balanced place now, where multiple styles can be offered and respected.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. I like all kinds of heat levels, but I happen to skip the sex scenes more often then not. Like you, Erin, I'm more attracted by the building heat, the spark, the sizzle. My favorite scenes had witty, snapping dialogue and you're work is always full of that! When I knew that More Than a Stranger was out on review, all I could think was "If they can't look past the no sex thing to the sweet, funny, intelligent writing, then they are all fools." XOXO!

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    1. LOL - I should print that saying out and hang it in my office :-) Thanks for such sweet words and your unwavering support - all of you guys have just been wonderful!

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  12. I don't write explicit sex either, Erin, and I skip most of those scenes when I'm reading...unless they're very well written, or I'm doing a crit for someone.

    More Than a Stranger is in my TBR stack. I'm embarrassed that I haven't read it yet, but your post today has nudged me to push it to the top of the stack. I'm totally intrigued by your DDS.

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    1. Lord knows that no one has less time to read than a writer, LJ! I hope that you'll enjoy it when you get to it :-)

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  13. I write all over the spectrum of heat levels, I suppose you could say, in my books. It varies based on the plot, the characters, and what feels right. It cracks me up when I hear from readers who thought on of my tamer books was way too graphic, or when they're disappointed that it isn't explicit enough. But it also just serves to prove the point that there is no one-size-fits-all answer that is going to work for every reader. There just isn't. I hope all aspiring authors will take a page from your book and go with their gut--but do whatever it is so well that they don't have to convince someone it will work.

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    1. A very good point!! And I love that you write whatever you feel is right for that couple's story instead of boxing yourself in with s prescribed heat level. It's what makes your a novels flow so organically, I think :-)

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  14. I already knew your secret, and I'm still looking forward to reading your book (starting today--it just got here). As a reader, I like love scenes; as a writer, I actually enjoy writing them.

    BUT... I have read kisses that are hotter than some sex scenes. I don't *need* sex if I have the tension. Really, it's all in the tension.

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    1. Another saying I should print for my office! "It's all in the tension." So true! I'll be interested to hear what you think of the novel. Hopefully it will still push those tension buttons for you!

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  15. Erin, I just picked up a copy of your book yesterday, and I'm looking forward to reading it, sex scenes or no. I can't count the number of times I was told to give up on the "impossible dream" of being published, and here I am about to see my third book in print! NO ONE should tell another writer they'll never get published for ANY reason. Write the book YOU want to write, the book that is "the book of your heart."

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    1. You know, I think that's a good lesson for us all to remember: never, ever tell another writer that the book of her heart or her dream isn't going to make it. We may think we are helping them somehow, but really it's just stifling them and causing unnecessary doubts. Publishing is hard- period. Even writing the 'correct' (whatever the heck that is!) thing, there are still no guarantees.
      And, way to go, you! Three books under your belt is just plain awesome!

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    2. Thanks, Erin, all three have been "books of my heart!" :)

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  16. The Bard hit the nail on the head for all writers when he wrote "To thine own self be true" and I believe real success in life comes from doing just that, so BRAVO!!! A great story is a great story is a great story and that's what you've written:)
    Also, I totally agree with Ashlyn, there are definitely some kisses that are hotter than any sex scene, heck, I've had real life kisses that were better than the main event;)
    Great post, thanks for the encouragement and the laughs!

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    1. I'm going to have a very full wall, what with all the great sayings I need to print out!

      And truly? It's the kisses I remember best :) There is something truly special about the incredible anticipation of a first (or even 10,00th!) kiss. I can remember almost every detail of my first kiss with my hubby. And lord knows he should remember it just as well- it was his very first!

      Thanks for coming by to join me, Kara!

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  17. I read your book after hearing you read an excerpt at Lady Jane's Salon, and I'm so glad I did! Your book ROCKS, in part because I didn't have to slog through an interminable sex scene. The story flowed so beautifully exactly as written--I wouldn't change a thing about it. They're called Romance novels--not Sex novels--and yours was deliciously romantic! Congrats to you, your agent and your editor for standing fast. I can't WAIT til your next book comes out!

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    1. Thanks so much Pattie - what a lovely thing to say! I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and that you came out to join us at Lady Jane's :-)

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  18. Ah, sex scenes in romance novels... if they're well-written and fit into the fabric of the story, I'm OK with them, but all too often they are distracting or just plain silly. Now that I know your DDS, I'm even more excited to read your book, because now I know I won't have to read about freaky shattering sunbeams of sated bliss. Three cheers for you!

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    1. *snort* LOL - shattering sunbeams of sated bliss. We do get creative with our wording, don't we? :) I have to admit, I had no idea so many readers could take it or leave it, depending on the story. It gives wonderful credence to the school of thought that a good book speaks louder than the exact elements of that book.

      Thanks so much for stopping by - and for the laugh!

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    2. Well, popular (mis)conceptions of the romance genre notwithstanding (i.e. 'mommy porn'--oh, how I hate that term), I suspect that most readers of romance are in it for the love story, the whole arc, rather than one specific side-effect of love. When we as a community of readers (or of women) or as a society focus on the sex or allow others to do so, we do ourselves a real disservice. Romance (love) and sex are not the same thing. Anyway, SO thrilled that you've focused on my favorite part (the falling in love)!! Cheers--

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  19. My Lady: I was holding my breath until you revealed your DDS, I was worried for a moment. I love romance novels for the sweet taste of romance, with sex scenes or without them. I'm looking forward to read your books.

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    1. Lol- sorry to worry you, Grettel :-) The sweet taste of romance is the perfect way to put it. Thanks so much for dropping by to say hello today!

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  20. Congratulations on your debut. Your publisher gave you a nice cover. I was worried that your DDS was a cheating hero. That's usually a dealbreaker for me. A chaste novel - no problem.

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    1. Pardon me while I just burst into this conversation... Yes, that is the least romantic thing ever, isn't it? I hate it when I get started on a book, all ready to fall in love with the characters, and the hero turns out to be someone I can't possibly fall in love with while holding on to my self-respect. Blech! Anyway... interruption over... :)

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    2. Oh heavens, there is NOTHING that can make me get behind a cheating hero or heroine! It's just hard wired in me - no matter how epic the writing (or movie, for that fact), it's just never okay for me.
      Glad to hear chaste is okay by you, Kim!

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  21. Thanks for holding out and stick to your DDS. I enjoy books without sex.

    andreadotinfingerATgmaildotcom

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    1. It's so reassuring to see responses like this. I should have known all this time that most readers just like a good book, but those early experiences really impacted the way I felt about my decision. Silly me!

      Thanks so much for stopping by today, Andrea :-)

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  22. Nice post. I think authors should write what they like to write about. The book sounds good.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  23. I love and curious with this cover and synopsis. Wish you could be next great HR author. :D

    lady_milano3 at yahoo dot com

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  24. Your book sounds really good. I have added it to my TBR list.
    As to having stories with sex in them, it depends on the story. It has to matter to the development of the characters and the story.
    JWIsley(at)aol(dot)com

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    1. I agree that it depends on the story - and the author! I think the author's comfort level can't help but be apparent. Hopefully her skill will be, as well!

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  25. Erin,
    I admire you for having the courage to stick to your guns to tell your story your way to do justice to your characters.

    When I first started reading I skipped the love scenes cause they still made me uncomfortable. Like Olivia and many others what appealed to me was the story, the journey the hero and heroine took on their way to true love and happy ever after.

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    1. Thanks, Lisa :-) I was lucky to have my agent and editor be such big supporters - I don't know how well said guns would have been stuck to if I had been pressured to change, lol. I'm thrilled that it all worked out, though! Lord knows if I had been made to write a sex scene, it would have been dreadful!

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  26. Erin -

    Kudos to you for keeping true to yourself!

    I fell in love with historical romance in 1964 when I read my first "romance" book and it was Don Quixote by Cervnates in my Junior Year of High School in 1964. It was part of our "required reading" curriculum and I fell in love with the genre and have included historical romance in my reading ever since!

    There was no hipped up sex scenes included and until this day Cervantes is still considered the icon to aim for in historical romance.

    Congratulations for staying true to yourself and offering us books where characters development and the story itself are the most important element of the book!

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    1. I hate to admit it, but I've never read Don Quixote! I really should remedy that ASAP. I often thing about the romance of Jane Austen, and how she never had much more than a grazed hand!

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  27. Honestly, it depends on the story itself. Sometimes, sex is not necessary. It is nice to know that it doesn't have it in the book, first, though. That way when I'm looking for a sweet read, I've got my book! :-D

    Karin
    AquarianDancer

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    1. Interestingly enough, I somehow don't consider my writing to be sweet. I know, it doesn't seem to make sense. I feel like the writing is more... full-bodied than that. All of the intensity of emotions and feelings, but just no consummation. I do know what you mean though. I think it's a great idea to have a heat scale on romance novels for readers can be prepared, or know what they are getting in to and match it to their mood.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  28. Hi Erin! I actually feel the same way--I often skip the sex scenes because it's the emotions behind it that I love. Kudos to you for sticking to your guns! And bigger congrats for finding others who love your story as much as you do. :)

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  29. I'm just like you. I skip the sex scenes if it's more than a couple paragraphs. Heaven forbid the scene goes on for pages! yuck!!

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    1. Lol- my hubby used to always know when I came upon a sex scene, because I would turn page after page until it was over. Of course, that was before the Kindle came around!

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  30. Erin,

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing this book and not giving up! When my friends and I started writing a few years ago, we started looking for books similar to what we wanted to write - romance novels that either did not have (and were not Inspirationals)or were not heavy on the sex scenes. We couldn't find any and the published authors we spoke to said the current market was looking for and geared toward "sexy" "passionate" "lustful" books. Like you said, we have nothing against these scenes, but we found that more than a few novels focused more on the act (when it wasn't relevant to the plot) than the romance.

    When I saw the reviews for this book the sole reason I wanted it was BECAUSE of your DDS :) Read MORE THAN A STRANGER and can't wait for the next!!

    PS

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    1. That's exactly what I was told (although that was 2yrs ago). I hope you and your friends decide to write the books of your hearts- you never know where it might lead!
      I truly hope you enjoy the read! I'd love to hear what you think when you do- feel free to email me at Erin@erinknightley.com :-)

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  31. And the winner is... Jeanne M! Email me your address to Erin@erinknightley.com and I'll get your personalized copy off to you ASAP :)

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  32. Erin, your blog gives me hope because I feel exactly the way you do about the sex scenes. I don't mind them being in there, but I usually skip over them. My books aren't sweet, either, and it's good to know that it just doesn't matter. That proves the theory that you should write what you love to read. Thanks for writing this blog. It gives me hope.

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  33. I have also written a "sweet" regency romance, and my hope is that it will appeal to all the Jane Austen fans who would never read a mainstream romance. You've broken new ground, so thank you :-)

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  34. Congrats on your DDS.. some of the stuff I've read rather has me scratching my head as in I need to get a copy of KamaSutra to figure out the 'description'... the readers' imagination of what is going on behind a closed door is a lot more fun! [But then for those people w/o any kind of imagination...I suppose they do need a little direction]... I read everything.. but I'll admit that if the scene goes on and on and on... I start skipping...

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  35. Thanks to Lady Scribes and Erin Knightly! I received More Than a Stranger and just finished Chapter 1!

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