Can’t tell Regency from Steampunk? Sigh from sizzle?

Romantic fiction is now widely available in multiple publishing formats regardless of sub-genre, but these are three key ones:

Series (‘category’) romance – shorter (<85K) books issued under a common imprint/series name that are usually numbered sequentially and released at regular intervals with a pre-determined number of releases. Most commonly published in mass-market paperback, but also in graphic novel formats in the Asian marketplaces. These tend to be sold ‘where women are’ and so are common in the big super-stores. Series romance also thrives on mail-order subscription programs and online sales.

Single-title (mainstream) – longer romances released individually and not as part of a numbered series. Single-title romances may be released in hard-cover, trade paperback, or mass-market paperback sizes. Novels with ‘romantic elements’ (longer romances with a strong romantic sub-plot rather than with the love story as a central element) are included in this format.

Novella – generally <40K (although different publishers/distributors vary their wordcount) romantic novellas are tightly focussed on the central romantic relationship and their length generally precludes secondary storylines.

Romance vs romantic vs love story

  • A ‘romance’ is a book where the romance itself is the main plot and the romance resolves happily or optimistically.
  • A ‘romantic’ novel has romance as an integral part of the plot but other areas of focus as well
  • A ‘love story’ revolves around a romantic relationship but need not end happily.

Sweet vs Sexy vs Erotic vs Erotica

A ‘sweet’ romance doesn’t usually contain explicit sex scenes. Referred to alternately as ‘tender’ and ‘wholesome’ this range of books spans the spectrum from the very chaste, faith-based ‘inspirational’ stories to those stories which reflect contemporary attitudes toward sex but which stop at the bedroom door…just.

A sexy romance may be highly sensual and descriptive but is not intensely explicit. The sexual activity in these stories supports the characters’ emotional journey.

As the name suggests, Erotic Romance comprises explicit, highly descriptive and erotic stories within most of the romance sub-genres. The development of the romance toward a stable relationship/commitment between characters should still be central to the plot but the sexual relationship is much more fundamental to that end.

Erotica is a stand-alone genre and stories may or may not contain romantic elements.

Romance Sub-genres (alphabetical)

There are many types of romances. Sub-genres include the following, but new types are evolving all the time, and some books combine two or more sub-genres. These are in alphabetical order:

  • Contemporary (post 1950s)
  • ChickLit (includes other types of relationships other than romantic, eg friends, family, colleagues)
  • Erotic romance
  • Fantasy and futuristic (SF/F)
  • Historical (eg: Regency, Ancient, WW2)
  • Inspirational (Faith-based)
  • Intrigue (danger, heroines in jeopardy)
  • Medical
  • New Adult (19-25 years)
  • Paranormal (vampires, shape-shifters, angels, faeries etc)
  • Romantic comedy
  • Romantic suspense (whodunit)
  • Steampunk
  • Sagas (epic historical novels)
  • Time travel/Time-slips
  • Thriller
  • Young Adult (13 – 18 years)