There is a whole other language that goes along with the Romance publishing industry. What does it all mean?

The page below has three tables – one for the terms common to all genres, and one for the terms specific to the Romance Industry. Below the Romance Industry section, you’ll find the definition of the ‘heat levels’ used by RWA to indicate to readers the level of sensuality in a book. These heat levels are also used in the conditions for our various contests.

General Publishing Terms

AgentA person contracted by an author to conduct the business side of publication; usually paid about 15% after sale.
AMZAmazon, also ‘the zon’, the largest online retailer of e-books globally
AoCAuthor of Colour, a term that began in the USA to denote authors who are not white
ARCAdvanced Reader Copy, a standard way of formatting a manuscript, a draft often used for proofing and also for reviewers.
Beta ReadersSomeone an author trusts to read the first draft of a MS and give feedback on plot holes, character arcs, and other places that need extra work
Bum GlueAlso known as BICHOK – bum in chair, hands on keyboard – aka, sit down and write!
Character ArcThe growth that a particular character(s) goes through during the period of your story.
Crit PartnerCritique Partner; a person who assists with your writing. This can also be a group of people.
D2DDraft2Digital – a self-publishing support option for book publication and supply.
Deep POV Where the author is not obviously writing the story i.e. the story is coming completely from the character. You are completely in the character’s head. For example, instead of “her mother”, it’s “Mum” (or however the character would refer to her mother).
DNFDid Not Finish. Used by book reviewers to show they couldn’t finish the book.
EditorEmployed by book publishers to acquire books and work with authors on their publication.
Elevator PitchA very short synopsis of your story, that you could tell someone in the space of a ride in an elevator.
F2FFace to face. Also IRL (in real life)
ForumA message board/online discussion site where members can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.
GenreA category or grouping of literature. Genre fiction is popular fiction and can take any form (e.g. romance genre, mystery genre, crime genre).
GMCGoals, Motivation, Conflict; requirements of a good story; also a book by Debra Dixon.
GRGoodReads: A book review site
Hybrid authorAn author who is published by a publishing house for some works, and self publishes other works.
Indie authorAn author who self publishes their books – see Self Publishing
IRLIn real life
ISBNInternational Standard Book Number – a unique identifier given to a published book
LoglineThe ‘selling’ line of your story. It is often 1 sentence (< 25 words).
m/sManuscript; the typed pages of the story you are working on.
Mary SueA female character who is too perfect to be true
MCMain Character. Also Motorcycle – a romance trope.
MSWLmanuscript wish list, used on social media by agents and publishers
NANew Adult fiction (main characters in early 20s)
NanowrimoNational Novel Writing Month – where authors attempt to write 50,000 words in a month
NovelA written story that has a word count greater than 40 000 words. They are usually less than 120 000 words for published romance novels.
NovellaA written story that has a word count between 10 000 and 40 000 words. It has all the attributes of a novel (beginning, middle, end, character development, story arc, etc) but in a shorter form.
NSFWNot Safe for Work. Don’t open this file if your boss is watching 🙂
Own VoicesA book written by an author who shares a marginalisation with character, eg autistic author writing autistic character
PantserAn author who doesn’t plot and just writes ‘by the seat of their pants’
PinterestAnother social media platform, also used for collecting inspiration. Based on photographs, video, etc.
PitchA few moments of time ‘selling’ your novel; also, a short (<25 words) sentence that describes your novel.
PlotterAn author who plots out a book before they start writing. There is also the ‘plantser’ someone who does a vague plot then pantser writes
PODPrint on Demand: used by Amazon and indie publishers where books are printed as readers order them – ie: no stock is kept on hand.
POVPoint Of View; which character is telling the story.
QLQuery letter; a letter to an agent/editor which asks if they are interested in reading your manuscript; usually gives one paragraph description of your story and your writing credentials.
R&RRevise and Resubmit – when a publisher asks an author to revise their submission and resubmit it for further consideration
RSSReally Simple Syndication; allows for the continuous update of websites, blogs, news, or such internet sites that you may be interested in.
Self PublishingWhen an author publishes a story without the assistance of a publishing house. They may (and should) use services for editing, cover design, etc. but they maintain control of all facets of publication.
SeriesA collection of books that are connected. In genres like mystery, series tend to be connected by a single main character, eg a detective. In romance, series tend to be connected by a theme with new main characters in each book of the series, eg four brothers who all find love one at a time in their own book of the series
SFFScience Fiction and Fantasy.
Short StoryA written piece that is usually less than 10 000 words. It must contain a beginning, middle and end, and character development.
Single TitleA novel that is sold alone by a publisher, not as part of a series of connected novels
Slush PileThe set of manuscripts received by an agent or publisher from authors. Some publishers won’t accept manuscripts via the slush pile – an author must have an agent to submit to them. Check publisher websites for submission guidelines
SmashwordsA self-publishing support option for book publication and supply.
Social NetworkingInternet sites that promote friendship or communication (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs).
SynopsisA shortened form of your m/s which details character growth, major turning points, emotional growth and changes. Includes the ending of your story.
TBRTo Be Read pile – the pile of books someone owns but hasn’t read yet
Trad or Traditional PublishingThis refers to the traditional way an author was published; where a publishing house contracted the work from an author and paid for the production of the books (in print and/or ebook format). The publishing house then paid royalties to the author for book sales.
WIPWork In Progress – the novel an author is currently writing
YAYoung Adult fiction (main characters are teenagers)

Romance Specific Terms

BBBook Boyfriend!
Black MomentThe point of the story where all hope is lost, usually towards the end. In romance, it’s where you struggle to believe that these characters can ever work things out and live happily together.
Bodice RipperDerogatory term used to describe the romance genre. Comes from historical romances written in 1970s and 1980s
CategoryA book that belongs in a publisher’s series (the most relevant and well-known being the Mills & Boon romance, eg Dare, Medical, etc). Each book stands alone but is promoted as part of a series, with new titles available each month.
Closed DoorA romance novel with no sex on the page, ie it all happens behind closed doors. Some classify this as ‘sweet’ or ‘clean’, however others dispute the term ‘clean’ as it implies books with sex are ‘dirty’.
CRContemporary Romance (the most common sub-genre of romance)
Erotic RomanceSub-genre of romance where sex is crucial to character and emotional development. All stories must conclude with HEA or HFN.
EroticaThis is not romance. This is where sex is explored in writing, but a happy ending is not required.
First KissThe first kiss scene in your story, where the Hero and Heroine first kiss. It should be a highly emotional scene.
H/hHero/heroine: some writers don’t like this as it reduces the heroine to a little h and prefer to use ‘mf’
HEAHappy Ever After. The main characters end the story with the reader believing they will be together forever.
Heat LevelsRomance novels are often categorised by their heat level – from ‘closed door’ to ‘erotica’ and everything in between – see the third table on this page for the heat level definitions used by RWA
HFNHappy For Now; an ending of a story that leaves readers happy & satisfied. HFN means the characters may still need to do some work or take some time to figure out their HEA. Some make the distinction that HEA must include marriage and babies, while HFN is all other types, but this is quite othering of LGBTIQA+ characters.
HMBHarlequin Mills and Boon – the largest romance publisher globally
HRHistorical Romance – a sub-genre defined as any book written now but set before 1950.
InspyInspirational Romance. A sub-genre that includes religious or inspirational elements
LILove Interest – the other main character, eg the hero and his LI
MCMotorcycle Club Romance. A sub-genre of contemporary romance
meet-cuteThe moment the main characters first meet each other in a romance.
mfMale female pairing for the two main characters. Some writers prefer this to H/h because it is more equitable. It also allows for other types of pairings such as ff, mm, mmf, ffm, etc
PNRParanormal romance. A sub-genre of romance which includes elements such as ghosts, vampires, shifters, etc
RitaThe RWA (USA) annual award for best romance novel. It is named after RWA’s first president, Rita Clay Estrada.
Rom SusRomantic Suspense. A sub-genre that includes a suspense story arc, eg the heroine is threatened by a villian and the hero must help her survive (or gender flipped!)
Romance GenreA collection of stories where emotion and falling in love is explored. It requires a Happy Ever After (or Happy For Now) ending. It must leave the reader uplifted and happy.
RuBYRomantic Book of the Year – the RWAus award for best romance novel
RWARomance Writers of America (can also be Australia, so check which it is referring to!).
RWAusRomance Writers of Australia.
RWNZRomance Writers of New Zealand.
Sci-Fi (SF)Science Fiction. Sci-Fi Romance is another sub-genre, as is Fantasy
SRSeasoned Romance (main characters older than 40)
SweetStories that are classed as ‘sweet’ are those where the intimacy between characters is not written on the page. It may be implied, or not. See also ‘closed door’
TropeA way to express story themes eg friends to lovers, fake fiance, boss/employee, secret baby, cinderella etc
TSTLA character who reviewers feel is ‘too stupid to live’
VPAValerie Parv Award – a contest run by RWAus for unpublished authors

Heat Level Definitions

One Flame
  • Also called sweet
  • Maybe some hand-holding through the story and a kiss when they get together.
  • Plenty of emotion, but no undressing on the page or detail to worry about
  • The bedroom door is closed and anything that does happen, happens behind a closed door.
Two Flames
  • More sensual than sweet with more sizzle.
  • Lots of kissing and some touching.
  • Sexy talk isn’t graphic
  • Focus is on the feelings rather than the body parts.
  • Lovemaking is implied not described – generally no unzipping, prodding, poking or bodice ripping.
  • Feels sexy and full of heart
Three Flames
  • Steamy, sexy, spicy, hot
  • Most contemporary romance falls into this category
  • Some graphic sex scenes on the page with language to match but focus on the relationship
  • Body parts named and explored (so to speak)
Four Flames
  • Explicit sex and sex talk
  • One level shy of erotica
  • May involve sex toys, some mild BDSM
  • Sex used to further the story – in intimate detail
Five Flames
  • Erotic romance
  • The central plot is still the romance – sex is used to further the emotional journey
  • Graphic language, explicit sex, may involve BDSM, sex toys, and multiple partners.