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THE SCARLET LIBRARY
The Scarlet Library ( https://thescarletlibrary.com/ ) is a new website mapping the landscape of Romantic Fiction. We want to make it easier to find the types of love and erotic stories you want while avoiding the ones you don’t.
I started the website because I was frustrated searching for the very specific types of romances I wanted to read…and after joining a few romance novel groups I realized I wasn’t alone. Every day I see posts asking for hyper specific recommendations. EG Regency romances with kink, or that feature a rake but where all sex is off page.
So we set up a database that allows you to tag and filter books based on your preferences and what other people know about the novel.
Novels can be tagged by eras, tropes, kinks, character types, you name it. When you register you set up preferences that are used to sort the catalogue for you, so that the novels with all the things you like best show up first…and the ones with content you find objectionable don’t show up at all. That’s right, if BDSM isn’t your yum that’s ok. You can completely block it from your search results.
You can filter to historical novels with gay male protagonists. You can filter to Victorian novels that don’t include rakes. Time travel romances with female protagonists. Enemies to lovers with a Vampire for a partner. Steampunk books set in China. Accounts are free, and so is having your novel added if you’re an author.
Meet Shaunty McMillin, the creator of The Scarlet Library!
I'm a romance novel fan from Utah who got frustrated with the existing ways to search for romantic fiction. So I got some of my developer friends to help me out and we made a database of romance novels where users can tag and search/filter by things like eras, tropes, even by whether or not the love interest or protagonist are vampires.
Interview with Shaunty McMillin:
Q: How did you come up with the site?
A: I’ve been a long time reader of romance and erotica. The thing I’ve always found most frustrating is that you can’t be sure how far a romance will go, or what types of kinks you’re going to find in an erotic novel until you’re at least halfway through the book.
During quarantine I was reading Jenny Trouts read along blog of 50 Shades of Grey to my husband (the woman has an absolute gift). We started talking about why 50 Shades got so popular despite the amount of BDSM romance that has better writing and is a better representation of what BDSM is.
It really boiled down to not being able to read what you can’t find and women wanting to feel safe while exploring sexuality.
When a fluffy erotica suddenly starts in on a hardcore kink that isn’t someone’s thing 15 chapters in…well, that’s not exactly “safe”. But authors should be able to write that without being punished with negative reviews, because there are other readers out there who will be into it.
Which got me thinking about the best way to get the right books to the right readers. If people could tag books based on content, and then set preferences to see the type of books they like first, and block out the ones they don’t…well, that would make it a lot easier to find the stuff they actually like.
Q: How is the site organized?
A: With the understanding that Love and Sexuality are the most personal things humans experience, and that everybody deserves to see and be seen in love.
For registered users every single list of books on the site is organized by their personal preferences. If they want to see regency BDSM great. They mark that as a preference and we boost it to the top of every search they run.
Maybe they can’t stand the “Baby Makes Three” trope. Certain things like rape, or fertility struggles might be incredibly difficult for them to read. Perhaps they just don’t love certain kinks. They can block those books from ever showing up by using the restricted section on their Membership page. Then they won’t show up in searches and if someone ever links them directly to a book that features those things we’ll warn them before they land on the page.
Because it’s ok to want to escape every once in a while. We all go through times where books are the only vacation we can have, and readers deserve to know a little more about the destination before they get there….without spoilers.
Q: How do you avoid spoilers on the site?
A: Users have to click to open areas that are likely to contain spoilers on the site, and we include warning text on the clickable areas. All of our warning text outside of those areas is kept very generic so that users essentially have to look for spoilers. This allows us to organize the books by what you prefer to read without ruining any major plot points about specific books.
Q: What do your letter ratings mean?
A: The intent of our letter ratings is to let readers know how far any sexual activity goes in the book. The ratings start at “Sweet” which only features chaste kisses/holding hands and go all the way to “XXX” which includes the darker kinks explicitly on the page. We’ve written up all the details in this blog post.
Q: How does the catalogue on the site work?
A: The catalogue is designed to be reminiscent of the old school card catalogues that libraries used before the nineties. Every book shows as a little card with some basic information about the book. They’re organized based on the preferences that the user has, and the user has the ability to filter out the books that they don’t want on a search by search basis.
One of the key things was making it as easy as possible for users to find the books they actually want to read. That made breaking the tags out into categories incredibly important. Because no one wants to try to read a list of 500 checkboxes!
Forgive us, this next part gets a little dry, but we can honestly nerd out about it for HOURS!
You can search by specific terms(EG Dracula) just like you can in any other book search engine, but our filters are where it gets fancy. Selecting the tag type they want gives users an extensive list of options to filter by on the fly.
Results are then sorted by a combination of relevancy to search terms and the preferences that the user has set.
Protip: If you want to search for a phrase like the title or an author name, put it in quotes. That will enforce exact matches
Q: What about shelves? How do those differ?
A: Shelves are a browsing experience, like what you would get if you were walking through a bookstore. We’ve organized the shelves based on user interest, and books are automatically added to each shelf they have the tags for before being sorted based on individual user preferences.
Shelves are also one way that we’re able to boost representation in romance. We noticed a pretty disturbing trend when using more traditional book search engines…indie authors, PoC and LGBT books are often off in another corner, and you just don’t see them if you don’t go looking for them specifically…and sometimes not even then. Multiple search engines returned a collection of novels with less than 50% black protagonists in the first 100 results when users searched for Black Romance.
That didn’t make much sense to us, so we created an array of shelves for minority communities shelves in prominent places AND made sure that the books on those shelves would show up in every other place too. Because all sorts of people get Happily Ever Afters and it’s really important that people see both themselves and people who don’t look like them as worthy of a Happy Ending!
Q: What about Paranormal Shelves, and especially *ahem* Vampires?
A: Oh, of course! We’ve been hard at work stocking those shelves for the readers in here! We have shelves for Vampires(obviously) but also for tropes like “fated mates” and “breaking up to save the partner” and even characters that are “Vampire Hunters” just waiting for you guys to browse. We’re excited to hear about other tropes and characters that you might find interesting, or any authors we might be missing! If they’re published we’re happy to add them!
Thanks for all the great info and taking the time to chat with us!