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  • Kathryn R. Biel

What are Medium Spice Books?

Heat meter from green to red, with the arrow pointing to yellow in the middle

A few months back, I started using the term "medium spice" to define my books. This is mainly because I found myself on TikTok, specifically the book side of it (known as BookTok), trying to promote my books. The audience there is largely supporters of the more racy reads (proudly known as SmutTok), and I saw more than a few videos with readers expressing their distaste with fade-to-black and closed-door romances, dismissing them as "clean."

DISCLAIMER #1: I don't like the term "clean" because it implies that sex is dirty, but for the sake of this blog post, I will be using this term. That's another blog post for another day.

Now, over the years, I've been friends with a lot of authors who do write clean romance. When they recommend my books to their readers, their readers are often less-than-thrilled at my innuendos, touching, out-of-wedlock relations, and colorful language. Clean readers have definite expectations that include: no intimate scenes, no sexual language or situations, no out-of-wedlock relationships, no cursing or cussing, little to no alcohol use, and will usually end with a chaste kiss. The couple is not getting to first or second base, let alone hitting a home run. If these books were movies, they'd be rated G. Possibly PG if the plot deals with a more adult subject. Think what you see on the Hallmark Channel.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the high heat, graphic, explicit romances. Pretty much anything goes. And it usually does. I think we all know those books when we see them. These are the NC-17 and X-rated books if the MPAA guidelines are applied.

Like with most things, the ends of the spectrum are usually very vocal about their likes and dislikes. So when you write in between the two, it's often hard to make your voice heard. This has been a difficult avenue to navigate, as it's hard to market books to your target audience when you can't find them. But I know they're out there. They just don't have a voice, a label, or a name.

Enter medium spice.

What's a medium spice book? Think PG-13 to R-rated content. The couple is going to have intimate relations. You see the lead-up to it. There is kissing, touching, and perhaps discussion of body parts tightening or changing in anticipation. The kissing scenes are detailed, and you are in the moment with the couple (who may or may not be married). Basically, you are with them for first and second base. Generally speaking, at this point, the book will employ the 80s soap opera maneuver with a fade-to-commercial break (known as a fade-to-black in the book world), and when the scene resumes the deed is done. This is also known as a closed-door scene because the couple has sex behind closed doors and the reader is not in the room for it.

Occasionally, medium spice books will have an open-door love scene (as I do in Take a Chance on Me). This is usually included because it is vital to the plot. While more explicit (obviously), and earning the book a definite R-rating, these love scenes are generally shorter in length, ranging around 500-1,000 words, whereas a love scene in a higher steam book usually starts at 2,000 words on the shorter side (and there are multiple scenes like this in the higher steam books). Take a Chance on Me is my only book to date with an open-door love scene because it was vital to the reader to be in the room with Gloria and Grayson to know that he took care of her properly as part of her healing. This scene is about 950 words long in a 95,000-word book, so it only accounts for about 1% of the entire book. Certainly not enough to satisfy someone looking for a steamy read, but more than enough to offend someone looking for a clean one.

DISCLAIMER #2: This is a judgment-free zone. We don't yuck on others' yums here. If you like clean reads, great. If you like alien reverse harems, great. You read what makes you happy and helps you escape. There's a book out there for every reader and a reader for every book.

Think of medium spice books as you would chicken wings. You're not going to need a glass of milk or a roll of antacids following, but your taste buds were stimulated a bit. Be prepared for a little content, but don't be disappointed that there's not that much content.

To all of those looking for a medium spice book (perfect for your beach reading), make sure to check me out and use the #mediumspice, #mediumspicebooks, and #mediumspicetok hashtags if you're sharing on social media!


USA Today Bestselling Author Kathryn R. Biel writes medium-spice romantic comedy, contemporary romance, and women's fiction. Her next book, XOXO, releases August 1, 2022. Click here for more details.

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