Saturday, 11 December 2010

Sex Sells - Or Does It?

We're always told that sex sells. Sex attracts attention. It's certainly easier to get media coverage if you have some sexy element in your writing, and media coverage helps to sell books. But, taking the erotica market out of the equation and thinking solely of mainstream titles aimed at a general audience...

I'm thinking of all the books that have been sold on the basis of their sexual content, from Memoirs of a Round Heeled Woman to One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, and realising that although I know the titles and have a rough idea of the contents I haven't read them, and certainly haven't actually bought them.

In fact, the only book based on sex I have bought was written by a friend under a pseudonym, which was why I bought it. I may be wrong on this, but I think most people make their buying decisions based on good story telling - which may or may not include sex.

If anything, lots of sex scenes may put people off. I write fewer sex scenes in my books because I'm aware that quite a few people don't like to read sex scenes in novels. The number of people who have said they prefer my later books to my earlier ones because there's less sex in them has been one of the things about being a novelist that has surprised me.*

It's anecdotal but if you look at the best seller lists, there are an awful lot of characters who aren't having sex, or at least, not on the page. In fact, I'm struggling to think of a best selling author who does include a lot of sex in their books. Sexual tension, yes. Sex scenes, no.

So, I'm thinking that while sex attracts attention, it might not sell that well after all. Good news for those who don't want to write about sex despite all my blog posts this week.

* I told my friend Caroline I'd decided to cut back on the sex scenes in my novels when we were having a nice cup of tea at the very genteel Pump Rooms in Bath - where Jane Austen took tea - and just at the moment the trio stopped playing she said loudly, 'You can't give up sex, Sarah, you're far too good at it'. It took ages before I felt able to show my face there again.

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