What the heck is a clean read anyway?

I thought I knew what a clean read was and, realizing that the majority of cozy mysteries are clean reads, I ‘cleaned’ up my latest release. No swearing and no sex is to be found in Never Trust a Skinny Cupcake Baker. That’s what a clean read is, right? Um, I guess not. I had arranged two blog tours with tour companies who promote clean reads and they both backed out of the tours when they saw this cover:

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My husband designed the cover – based on my ideas – and I was freaking proud of him. (See? I can use clean language.) It looks super cool – mysterious (is that blood dripping from a cupcake?) and a bit sexy. Apparently, that’s the problem. It’s too sexy. Huh? It’s a drawing of a pole dancer not a naked person. Guess I don’t have a clue what ‘clean’ means after all.

I googled ‘clean read’ to figure out where I’m going wrong because I’m definitely going wrong somewhere if two blog tour operators refuse to work with me. I discovered there is no one definition of ‘clean read’, although most agree with the following parameters: no sexually explicit scenes, no graphically violent descriptions, and no streams of profanity.

Let’s start with the easy stuff first: violence and profanity or, rather, the lack there of.

No streams of profanity. Having sisters who are strictly anti-swearing, I’ve taken this to mean no naughty words whatsoever. It makes writing sometimes difficult. I’m always trying to come up with ways for characters to swear without using dirty words. This leads me to write strange sayings like ‘Holy Cows of India’. But I’m down with it. At least for my cozy mysteries. My other books could be a lesson on how to use profanity. That’s me – a potty mouth.

No graphically violent descriptions. Normally, I don’t have any issue with this one. Although I was a military police officer and have seen my share of blood and gore, I don’t find it necessary. In fact, I’ve even written some complaints to magazines like Newsweek for putting bloody pictures on the cover. But this one worries me for my next book. The next book in the Death by Cupcake series contains a bloody scene and it’s the first chapter in the book. After hemming and hawing about what to do – should I just delete the scene? – I’ve decided to include a warning in the description to make sure I don’t offend anyone.

Sexually explicit scenes. Ah ha! The heart of the issue. Here’s the problem: who defines what is sexually explicit? To me sexually explicit means anything that’s more than fade to black and by fade to black I mean kissing can get hot and including touching in the naughty areas but when the underwear starts to come off, the scene fades. And there can definitely be references to the actual act of sex, in my humble opinion.

But where do others draw the line? Because that’s the issue, isn’t it? Personally, I don’t care if a book I’m reading is clean. I’ll read anything from a sweet read (although if kissing is deemed as ‘hot’ I’m probably going to find the book too tame) to erotica and everything in between. Once again, my solution is to include a disclaimer after the synopsis of the book.

Pff… it’s hard work trying not to offend people.

What does everyone else think is a clean read? I’d love to hear your thoughts because – as you can see – I’m a bit dazed and confused over the issue.

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