I received a question from a writer of women’s fiction asking if she needed to tell agents up front, in the query, that she has a few explicit sex scenes in her book. She had a couple of concerns: one was what was the line between “hot” and “explicit,” and the other was that her readers/critique partners said she needed to be up front about this.
I don’t think so. I don’t think you need to tell readers in your query letter or cover copy that your book might have explicit sex, violence, or anything else. Unlike movies, books aren’t yet rated (although give it time), and do you really want an agent judging your book by what might be rather than what it is? Like readers, agents have different tolerances for different things. I represent erotic romance, so clearly my tolerance and what I might deem “hot” versus “explicit” is probably very different from the agent who not only doesn’t represent erotic romance, but focuses her list primarily to the Christian market.
I don’t think you should ever feel that you need to warn readers (whether they are book buyers, agents, or editors) about your book. Let the book speak for itself. Write a strong query that entices, intrigues, and grabs our attention and then let us judge the book on its merits, not on our own fears or preconceived notions.
But I’m curious how readers feel about this. Have you ever picked up a book only to become upset because it was too explicit for your tastes? Did you wish you had been warned? And if you had, then do you support a rating system for books much like the movies?