Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sex Sells—Or Does It?

Sex sells. That’s what marketers always say. And it seems to be true for tight-fitting jeans and toothpaste. But it is true in crime fiction? In my experience—not necessarily.

Some of the best reviews I received for my novel, The Sex Club, started out with a disclaimer like this: “I didn’t think I would like this book, but . . .” The readers/reviewers went on to say that the title (and sometimes the cover) had originally turned them away, but that they’d read it because another reader raved about it. They ended up loving the story, but still, their initial aversion concerned me. So I asked members of Dorothly L (a mystery discussion forum) what they thought about the title. Many said they would never pick up the novel in a bookstore or library because of the title.

So then I wondered: How many bookstores and libraries had decided not to stock my novel because of the title? From the comments of a few, I believe there might be many. After realizing this painful reality, I started adding this footnote to all my communications about the novel: “Despite the title, the story isn’t X-rated.”

It is not a good sign when you have to explain or make excuses for your title.

On the other hand, many writers on the CrimeSpace and Facebook networking sites have posted great comments about The Sex Club’s cover and title. One writer posted, “Judging by the title, that’s a book I HAVE to read RIGHT NOW.” Many others have simply said, “Love the cover!”

During a discussion with writers about the word sex in a crime fiction title, the reaction was also mixed. One writer said, “If sex is in the title, isn’t that a lot of emphasis, leading the buyer to think the book might be in the wrong section of the bookstore?” A quick search of Amazon brought up only one other mystery title with the word sex —Sex and Murder (A Paul Turner Mystery). But at least that author was smart enough to get the word murder in the title too.

My conclusions: 1) If I had it to do all over again, I’d change the name, 2) Bookstores and libraries are critical to sales, and authors can’t afford to alienate them or their patrons, 3) Mystery readers prefer dead bodies to warm ones.

What's your reaction? Do you shy away from books with sex in the title? Do you mind a little sex in your mysteries or do prefer that the characters stay on task?

9 comments:

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

Lj,
I'm glad you shared this information. I was beginning to think of myself as an old prude for being turned off by the title. The cover was another matter. I found it intriguing enough to pick up the book and read the back cover - which totally sold me.

I read your book on a flight that wasn't quite long enough. When the plane landed, I had about twenty pages to go. I found I couldn't put the book down. So, instead of rushing off to baggage claim, I sat down at the gate and finished the book. Great story. I wait for the next one.

Gayle Carline said...

The title didn't put me off in the least. I read it last night (I'm a fast reader) and really enjoyed it!

Jean Henry Mead said...

It's an attention-grabbing cover as well as a good read. I can understand that acquisition librarians might not order the book because of the title, although I would think that junior high school teachers would jump at the chance to acquire it for their students.

L.J. Sellers said...

A mystery book club read the story and liked it so much they wanted me to discuss it with them via a conference call. Several of the women said they were embarrassed to ask for it at the bookstore or library. But then, at the end of the call, their last question was, "Do Kera and Jackson get to have sex in the next story?"

Romanuks said...

I am a little mixed when it comes to the title..I would of course read it, but since I live in a very Christian community..A Village where you are judged on everything you do and say, I would have to hide the book...
I do however enjoy a little romance AKA Sex when I am reading because I must admit, it pulles my heart and my soul in..I become one with the book..that is if it is a well written scene..
S

jacmax69 said...

I agree with sex sells. I was a little surprised of the title but loved the book. Just in life you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.

Marvin D. Wilson said...

As you know, I read Sex Club and liked it very much. And the title did not put me off at all. The cover was intriguing because although the title is SEX! the girl is reading a bible (at least I assume it's a bible - with the cross image on the cover - could be a prayer book or something, but you get what I mean), so overall it gave me the impression of a novel with some intrigue to it, not just a bunch of sensational porno drivel.

I don't mind some sex in a mystery. Heck, I put sex scenes in my spiritual novel, Owen Fiddler. Part of life.

Interesting post. thanks for sharing your experiences and observations about how Sex Club has been received. True that if you feel you have to "explain" the title in the advertisements in order to keep people from rejecting it, then perhaps the title isn't "working" like you want. But "embarrased" to ask for it at the bookstore? Gimme a break. Some people are soooooooooo prissy. But then if we want to be best-sellers we have to appeal to the masses, right?

Don't you just hate it when ya have to learn things the hard way?

Rebecca Benston said...

Personally, I like your title. I think it would compel me to pick the book up and read to see what it was all about. I don't necessarily look for sex in a book, but it doesn't turn me away either. I think it's just one of those things that you have to throw out there and see what happens.

Some people are easily offended, so nothing you do is going to make them happy. If it's not the sex that turns them off, it will be the violence. If not the violence, the lack of references to their favorite religion or whatever makes them feel comfortable with who they are as a person. There's no way that a writer can know. You just have to go with your gut and hope for the best.

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

Lj,
I was relating the content of you blog to Mark and he reminded me that we have a similar problem with Hacksaw. Many mystery readers see the title and assume it is a horror/thriller novel rather than mystery/suspense. So, titles do matter and we'll be much more anal about analyzing the next one.