Note: "Romance Genres" require an HEA ending. (HEA = Happily Ever After.)
In “Related Genres” a satisfactory wrap-up to the story is expected, but an HEA ending is not required.
Contemporary - Category*
Books, usually 50,000-70,000 words, written to a certain “style” and “rules..”
Example: books published by Harlequin & Silhouette. See their guidelines H/S Guidelines for the many sub-genres they publish, featuring a wide variety of themes, from cowboys to doctors to hot sex. View points beyond Hero, Heroine & Villain (if applicable) are usually frowned on. Sex varies from none to graphic. [Harlequin/Silhouette are known for giving many beginners their start in the writing profession.]
*It’s a bit tricky when “Category” refers to short Harlequin/Silhouette-style books but is also applied, particularly by contest coordinators, to each sub-genre of romance: i.e., "Select a Category," referring to Contemporary, Romantic Suspense, Historical, etc. It’s a double use of the word “category” to which every author needs to adjust.
Contemporary - Single Title*
A work, usually of 85,000-100,000 words, with a contemporary setting. The plots are more complex than "Category," multiple points of view are allowed. Sexual content varies from little to lots. Example: books by Susan Elizabeth Philips
*Because so many Contemporary romances are aimed at the Harlequin/Silhouette “category” market, “Single Title” is used to distinguish longer books aimed at a somewhat more “mainstream” market.
Contemporary - Series
Books, often a triology, connected by a single theme. Each book has its own hero & heroine, plus HEA, but one major problem runs through all three books and is not solved until the end of Book 3. Length - c. 80,000- 95,000 words. The style usually lies somewhere between Mainstream and Category. The books are often anchored around one special setting. Nora Roberts writes a lot of these, while also writing heavier “Mainstream” style Contemporaries. The level of sexual details varies, but characterization, romantic tension, and general ambiance are usually more important.
Contemporary - Mainstream
Authors are usually expected to work up to writing “Mainstream.” Mainstream novels are mostly 95,000+ words. They have many characters, complex plots & subplots, even secondary romances. Multiple viewpoints are common. They frequently involve extensive background research, specialized information, including technical vocabulary. Romance, including sex scenes, may be secondary to the complex plot.
A very popular sub-genre of romance, these stories feature both a love story and a suspense plot. It is generally expected that the hero and heroine will work together to solve whatever the problem is. Basically, the divisions are similar to Contemporary - Mainstream, "Mid-stream," & Category. Harlequin Intrigue (55-60,000 words) is the best-known “Category” Romantic Suspense. In Category RS, the emphasis is expected to be about 50-50 between the romance and the suspense. Most mainstream RS authors, however, tend to emphasize the suspense plot over the sex scenes. Examples of Mainstream RS: books by Tami Hoag & Suzanne Brockman (100,000+).
When I first began to write, “Historical” stopped c.1900. Fortunately, that is no longer true. The Edwardian era, the 20s & 30s, World War II are now acceptable. But I’d be leery of submitting anything after that as an “Historical.” Readers probably don’t care to have the well-remembered days of their youth described as “historical”!
Historical Romances range from the squeaky clean to flat-out hot sex. The Regency era has been super popular for quite a while now, but any era from ancient times to the mid 20th c. is acceptable. “Traditional Regencies,” some Harlequin/Silhouette Westerns,” and Inspirational Historicals put sex behind closed doors. Almost all other Historicals have sex scenes which range from PG right through X.
Historical Romances can range from 75,000 words for a Harlequin Historical to around 100,000 words for non-category publishers. The most popular historicals extend over a whole series, with recurring characters in each new book. Examples: Jo Beverly, Mary Balogh, Joanna Bourne. Blair Bancroft (that's me) writes both trad Regencies and Regency Historicals.
Paranormal encompasses a variety of sub-genres. In contests with no SF or Futuristic category, for example, these entries get lumped into Paranormal; i.e., anything that is not of our normal world on Earth. The most common sub-genres are: vampires, werewolves, psychics, ghosts, and witches. Examples: Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison. Length depends on whether you are writing for an H/S series with a strict word count or aiming at publishers who are looking for longer novels.
Fantasy sub-genres can range from relatively simple tales of fairies, elves, etc., to complex series, such as the Ring stories. Two personal favorites are the dragon fantasy series of C. L. Wilson and the more “mainstream” dragon tales by Naomi Novik. And then there’s Anne McCaffrey’s classic, and extensive, series, The Dragonriders of Pern. (See also Urban Fantasy below.)
Urban Fantasy not only must take place in a city, it is generally “darker” and “grittier” than the Fantasy genre above. Humans and “not humans” wage wars in an urban setting, usually in a contemporary or vaguely alternative universe, although historical settings do occur. The “not humans” can be allies or adversaries of the humans, depending on the plot. Characters, such as vampires and werewolves, may be drawn from the Paranormal also. Urban Fantasy tends to extend over a series of books with recurring characters. Length tends to be toward longer books, 85-100,000 words.
Many Steampunk novels could also qualify as Urban Fantasy - dark, coal-smoked cities suffering from invasion by dread diseases, mutants, robots gone wild. But Steampunk requires an emphasis on machines powered by steam. Clockwork mechanisms are also big for powering a wide variety of good and evil machines. The “punk” part simply means that although clothing tends to be exaggerated late-19th c., the alternative history of the Steampunk era allows creative genius from robots to atom bombs to computers, which did not actually exist during the age of steam. Another requirement of Steampunk is the airship as the major means of long-distance transportation. Steampunk novels range from dark, serious, even "downer," to the romance version which may have lots of drama but still manage some kind of HEA ending. Steampunk, like Urban Fantasy, also tends to extend over several books with recurring characters. For examples of Steampunk Romance, see books by Meljean Brooks and Kate Cross. For Steampunk Futuristic, Lindsay Buroker
Futuristic is simply Science Fiction which emphasizes Romance. For example, Heinlein, Bradbury, and Azimov are renowned for their ability to add true science to the stories they tell. Less scientifically oriented people who want to write about romance in a setting far in the future write the genre called “Futuristic.” Having said that, my example is an author who gets her technical information so correct, she is often shelved in Science Fiction instead of Romance. Nonetheless, she herself told me she writes “Futuristic.” Check out books by Linnea Sinclair. Jayne Ann Krentz, writing as Jayne Castle, is also an excellent example of “Futuristic.”
Books written with a strong emphasis on graphic sex are usually described as Erotica. The best have a plot, but most of the book is devoted to sexual details in a variety of forms. Erotica also includes multi-partner sex, bondage, sado-masochism, and GLBT sex. Why people got so excited about Fifty Shades when Ellora’s Cave and other major e-publishers have been presenting Erotica for years is beyond my comprehension.
When an author combines two or more genres in a book, it’s called writing “cross genre.” It used to be really difficult to get an editor to accept these books - “Where are they going to shelved?” the Marketing departments would wail. But publishing is gradually growing up, and e-publishers can be more liberal about cross-genres. My favorite example: Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, a superb blend of Steampunk, Vampires and Werewolves, with a goodly dollop of Gay.
Back in the 19th c. serials were common in magazines - many of Dickens’s books were introduced this way. Amazon Kindle has recently brought back the Serial genre. Whether or not it will catch on is still up in the air. As presented by Amazon, a story is divided into c. 8 parts, with a hook at the end of each part. [Classic hook - heroine tied to the RR tracks with a train coming]. If this revival catches on, another genre has entered the romance market. (And perhaps the general fiction market, as well.)
Since books for Young Adults often include a romance, YA is frequently included in RWA (Romance Writers of America) contests. Again, there are broad varieties within this category, which ranges from Tween fiction, often humorous, to more hard-edged fiction aimed at fifteen and up. Even sex scenes are longer no-no’s in some YA titles. With the glaring exception of the Harry Potter series, most YA books are in the 40-75,000-word range.
New Adult - added April 19, 2013
This is a brand new category, and much needed. These books are geared to the 18 to early 20s market - stories about young people going out on their own, learning to cope with the world, including sex. Bonnie Lamer's Witch-Fairy series is a good example of this. I'd been trying to figure out how sex got into what seemed to be a YA series, and this seems to explain it. Authors take note - it isn't often a brand new category crops up for you to consider.
Although Mystery/Suspense is considered a legitimate category by the Romance Writers of America, the emphasis is primarily on Romantic Suspense (see above), with the so-called “cozy” mystery allowable. Mainstream, hard-core mysteries don’t seem to fit too well into the Romance genre. Cozy Mysteries feature an amateur sleuth, like Miss Marple. They tend to have a cutesy theme - the heroine runs a knick-knack shop, a cupcake bakery, etc. Cozies are shorter than most Romantic Suspense, c. 70-80,000 words. They can be written in first or third person. (First person is definitely more acceptable in mystery than it is in Romantic Suspense. The reason? Probably because romance readers want to see inside the hero’s head as well as the heroine’s.) Cozies seldom have blood “on the page.”
Mainstream mysteries feature professional sleuths, police, PIs, etc. They can be, and often are, violent, with multiple bloody acts happening right before the readers’ eyes. These books range around the 100,000-word mark. Although an HEA ending is not necessary, the murder(s) must be solved by the end of the book. Other, perhaps more personal, problems can extend over a series of books. Examples of outstanding Cozy authors: Rhys Bowen, Blaize Clement, Julie Hyzy. Example of Mainstream Mystery: James Lee Burke and the Regency mysteries of C. S. Harris.
Darker, often longer version of the Romantic Suspense mentioned above. The action is front and center, although there is often a romance on the side. The word count is usually c. 100,000 words. In Mainstream Suspense - often written by men - there may be no romance at all. Examples of Mainstream Suspense written by a female - Tami Hoag’s Ashes to Ashes series and the almost agonizing suspense of books by Karen Rose.
A Thriller is similar to Suspense, but the problem to be solved is much bigger - widespread annihilation of some kind, whether by bomb, biological weapon, superstorm, etc. Romance is not a given. Example: the works of Jack Higgins.
An Historical novel emphasizes the historical aspect of the book, not the romance. Since history does not always turn out the way a reader might wish, an HEA ending is not guaranteed. Historicals are usually 100,000+ words, well-researched, and aimed at those who want their history correct instead of bent to fit a romantic plot.
Steampunk, even Paranormal, can be Alternative History, but a more strict definition is a story set on our own earth but with some basic ingredient altered. The author makes that one drastic change to history, then writes about what our world might have been like if this change actually occurred. For example, in my Steampunk Romance, Airborne - The Hanover Restoration, I have the Duke of Wellington seize the British government in 1830.
A bright, breezy, first-person style of writing, featuring mostly girl-talk, fashion, and female crises. Although a novelty popular for a short length of time, the writing style of this sub-genre is now mostly used to spice up other genres. Example: Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries.
Women’s Fiction defines itself. These are books which tell women’s stories to other women. They involve romance only peripherally, recounting women’s joys and sorrows, anxieties and tragedies. They do not have to have a Happily Ever After ending. These books seem to vary considerably in length.
I came across this genre only recently. Evidently, some people use it to describe contemporary novels that describe the details of a woman’s life (as in Women’s Fiction) but allow more room for romance. The emphasis is still more on the female in the story than on the male.
~ * ~
This is the last installment in the DICTIONARY FOR WRITERS series. Please don't hesitate to contact me about omissions. Adding another definition is never a problem.
Thanks for stopping by.