Check out the conference notes from Fiona Lowe who took a hugely popular workshop called:

Conflict: More Than a Misunderstanding









"Thank you so much for posting your talk on your website. I have never read anything so useful to people targeting M & B. I personally couldn’t get a handle on Modern Heat and what you’ve written makes it much clearer.  Thanks again – it is so generous of you to “share” like this."





"I was confused about whether I was Desire or Sexy.  After reading Ally's notes on Sexy vs Sweet - I've decided I'm Modern Heat!! Excited now I feel like I know where I'm going
with my WIP."





"I want to add my thanks too! 
Passed your notes on to someone else in our crit group and she agrees that Modern Heat suits her stories right down to the ground."






"Thanks so much for sharing these notes.  You've cleared up a lot for me - reading sweets and then sexys I couldn't
really pick a huge difference except for the sensuality levels, but now I GET IT! Thank you!"







To book Ally for appearances, author chats, tutorials, interviews or events please email her at


Read more about her at her PRESS RELEASE.





























































































































































































Sexy vs Sweet - The Ultimate Showdown!

What is the real difference between

Harlequin Romance, Modern Heat and Harlequin Presents?


(First seen at the Romance Writers of Australia conference, Gold Coast, 2006)






What’s the difference between the supposedly sexy books and the sweet ones?  Is the line in between all that defined?  What does "closing the bedroom door" really mean?  Is the difference merely alpha heroes vs gamma, or is it more about emotion vs docking procedures in sex scenes?  Or in the end does it all come down to voice?  Finally - the answer is here!


sexy vs sweet


What is the real difference?


(NB: I will be focussing on the lines edited out of Richmond as these are the ones I am most familiar with.  And I have also had help from the wonderful Trish Morey who writers for Harlequin Presents and Trish Wylie who writes for both Harlequin Romance and Mills and Boon Modern Heat.)


SEXY – this is what I will hereby call the Presents titles in North America, Modern in the UK and Sexy in Australia. These books are the top selling for Harlequin across the world.  And no other line is anything like them.


I believe the one fallacy out there that creates a stumbling block for new authors is that in the Sexy books, its all about the sex.  And though they can be very, for want of a better word, sexy ;) for this unique line, it is all about the fantasy.


To my mind they are in fact the most traditional form of romance with dominating Alpha heroes – often Greek or Italian, certainly hugely wealthy.  Heroines can range from sweet and innocent virgins to women very much on par with the men they fall in love with.  And extremely importantly the tone of these books are passionate and dramatic, with a deeper than a well love, and a heightened fantasy setting.



SWEET – these are from the Tender line in the UK which as of September 2006 is now simply called Romance in the UK and North America.  Here they are a mix of the Harlequin Romance and Silhouette Romance lines in North America and are called Sweet in Australia/NZ.


These books are considered ‘Traditional’ as they are more about the emotional journey of two people falling in love than the sexual journey.  But again that is a huge generalization that really only comes into play when you are looking at placing your book in a contest category.


The storylines in the Sweet books are as diverse as you have ideas in your head.  Heroes can be Alpha or Beta, heroines can have pink hair and tattoos, can be confined to a wheelchair, can be abused, can be CEOs richer than the hero, they can be pregnant with another man’s child, they can have three kids, they can be mid-divorce.  Setting can range from Outback Australia to the canyons of Wall Street and everywhere in between.


A friend of mine calls these books the poor man’s Chekhov, so rich and detailed are the conflicts and motivations to be found in many Sweet books.



MODERN HEAT - and then somewhere in between we have the all new Modern Heat.  They are Sexy Sensation in Australia and Promotional Presents in North America.


Some of these books I have read can be seen as sexy Sweets – with beta heroes, thoroughly modern heroines, modern day situations, but with heightened sensuality, more sexual awareness, don’t even think about closing the bedroom door!  his isn't a stretch when you consider authors like Nicola Marsh and Trish Wylie, and me! - all Sweet writers, are now writing for Modern Heat as well.


So if you do not write Alpha heroes, or fantasy settings, but still have a naturally sassy, sexy voice, this may be the home for you.


They are longer books than both the Sweet and Sexy lines at 60,000 words with more room for secondary characters and secondary plotlines, so long as they all refer back to the main plot which is the central love affair between your hero and heroine.



MEDICALS - Another line that leaves room for interpretation is the medicals line.


They can range from the delightful stories of family and warmth and laughter set in small coastal towns a la Marion Lennox to the rip-roaring hot and sexy as they come war zone adventures of Olivia Gates.



sexual vs sensual tension


Where is the line between?  Is is a big line or a small line?


I believe the main difference between the Sweet, the Sexy and the Modern Heat lines are the feel, the tone, and the voice.


It’s about walking a mile in the heroine’s shoes in a Sweet as opposed to the glamour and fireworks and fantasy of a Presents.  It’s about the heroine being the focus of Sweet books and the hero the focus of the Sexy books.




What does "closing the bedroom door" really mean?


Editors for the Sweet line say:


In the Sweet line they don’t want docking procedures.  “He put his hand there while his leg tucked around her yadda yadda yadda.”  In a Sweet book it is more about what the hero and heroine are feeling and thinking.  Are they ecstatic, are they terrified, are they relieved, are they still holding something back?


I once got in trouble for cutting a scene off too early!  My couple weren’t married, but my editor said she found herself screaming at the page because she wanted to know how it went.  She wanted to know the feelings and emotions and doubts and wonder that these two people experienced together.



Barbara Hannay had a sex scene between a heavily pregnant woman and the father of her baby’s brother.  Hot hot hot!  A BRIDE AT BIRRALEE


In any of the books, you cannot force the sex to fit a certain line.  You cannot write a sex scene in limbo.  It must have relevance and resonance.  It must create waves.  Is there no turning back?  Does she realise during that she loves him?  Does he feel guilty?  Is it sudden and unexpected?  Can you sense it coming from a chapter away?  And most importantly what do they both feel in the afterglow?  How does this change everything???



Liz Fielding wanted a sex scene in THE MARRIAGE MIRACLE so that readers could see that her wheelchair bound heroine could have a satisfying sex life with the gorgeous hero


In the Sexy books, don’t hold back on your sex scenes.  They are an integral part of the story, of the development of the romance.  Write a scene that pushes your buttons, that makes you fall further in love with the hero, that makes you grow or shrink or fear for the heroine.  That gives your characters the chance to have the best sex of their lives.  Or the biggest regret they’ve ever known.


There is a new subset with the Sexy range called Presents UNCUT.  These books are super sexy.  Also, the Modern Heat books are coming out as a subset of Sexy as well, and though the tone and voice is very different, they are still expected to have high sexual tension.  From page one.  From the moment the hero and heroine meet on the page.


In a Sweet book this can take time.  There can be an awareness that grows.  In Sexy and Modern Heat books, I would get the sexual tension on the page from the get-go.


SEXY = high stakes passion, high sexual awareness from page one

SWEET = flirty fun, sensual awareness, slow burning attraction

MODERN HEAT = teasing temptation, and extreme sexual attraction




Alpha vs Gamma heroes?  Everyday heroines vs damsels in distress?


Sweet has a focus on the heroine.  Walking a mile in her shoes.  I had a book I wanted to call THE BILLIONAIRE BACHELOR after a reality TV show in the book.  But I was told we would have to change it to refer back to the heroine so it became HOW TO MARRY A BILLIONAIRE so that the heroine was still the focus.


In Sexy books, it is all about the hero.  The heroine still must be empathetic, but the strength of the heroes is the primary reason why people buy those books.







All three brands are all about romance.  No matter the setting, the tone or the number of secondary characters, the focus must always remain on the hero and heroine.


If Sally is drowning herself in her vodka with her best friend in a Modern Heat, she’d better be doing so because of the hero.


If Sally is hiding out in a Villa in Lake Como in a Sexy, the Villa better be owned by the hero.


If Sally is singing her young daughter to sleep, it somehow has to make her think of what the hero is doing in that moment.




Is is about emotion vs docking procedures in sex scenes or is it more about voice?  How to know where your voice fits?


It can be about both, but somehow through all of the stories I have heard, when buying a new author, editorial always seems to choose them for voice above all things.  Story type, setting, sex scenes, all of these things can be edited, but your voice is your natural imprint on a book, your turn of phrase, your sense of humour, your world view, the way you use punctuation, and these things are much harder to change.  And come on , why would you want to?  Your voice is your unique fingerprint.  Love it.  Cherish it.  Find it a home where it can blossom.


The Sexy voice is often grounded in fantasy, heightened reality, glamorous, exotic, Alpha heroes, feisty heroines, high drama – think Dynasty.


In sweet novels the story could really happen to you.  It's about real-life romance, lovely heroines you want to be friends with, and gorgeous heroes you can imagine falling in love with, with a warm fuzzy take home, and a feeling that the romantic fantasy is only just out of your reach – think old Meg Ryan movies.


The Modern Heat voice is contemporary, sexy, funny, sassy, flirty, cheeky, can be heavier on pop culture references – think Sex in the City.





Pay close attention to the language used in back cover blurbs. These words are not chosen randomly. Compare the cover poses, colours, costumes, settings. Every picture tells an important story which also helps place each book into a certain line. Could you imagine either of these covers or blurbs being found on a book in the opposite line? Why not? What are the key markers? Which sort of story would you be more likely to write? Which sort of feeling do your books engender?



so where do you belong?


None of the above are hard and fast rules.  And anyway, aren't rules always made to be broken?  They are observations that this reader has made from reading widely, and from talking with other new authors who have broken through without falling through the cracks in between then lines as so many have before them.


My advice would be to find where your voice fits naturally – if you try to bend to fit a line, it’ll show.  You wouldn’t bend your voice to fit HarperCollins because you knew they published fantasy adventure stories and you wanted to be published there right?  No, you’d send your finished story to HarperCollins because you have a fantasy adventure which you think would suit their style.


So find where your voice fits and send your book away.  You have to be in it to win it!


Now don't forget to visit the supplemental notes section, the contrast and compare will give you a great look at the differences between the lines!




All articles copyright © Ally Blake, not to be reproduced without permission.











































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