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Week Five - An Abundance of Riches

November 2, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (3)

As we’ve already discussed, one of the amazing things about the romance genre is the tremendous variety of subgenres. A lot of authors write in more than one subgenre, or have written in more than one subgenre over time. There are several reasons for that, and we’ll review a few of them next week.

First, let’s have a peek at the popular subgenres within the romance genre. (If you want to have a boo at RWA's list of subgenres, click HERE.)

• Contemporary Romance
These are romances set in the here and now, often set in the United States. They can be published either as single title or series romance. There are subgenres even here:
    • military romance - in which one or both of the protagonists are in the services
    • romantic suspense - in which there is a mystery subplot to the romance
    • women’s fiction or mainstream fiction with romantic elements - in which the spine of the story is the female protagonist’s emotional journey. These are not strictly speaking romances, but there is frequently cross-marketing, especially as many authors move from writing romance to writing these books. Chick-lit is a kind of women's fiction, focussing as it does on the heroine's emotional journey but with a specific tone. Again, many romance authors made the cross-over to this subgenre so I'll mention it here. There is some chick-lit being published, but it is less popular than it once was.

• Historical Romance
These are romances set in the past, usually set before 1900 in the UK or the US. It is perceived to be more difficult to sell other settings, which simply means that your romance set in 13th century Portugal has to be much much more compelling in order to find a home in publishing. (It might, in fact, have a better chance of placement if structured as an historical women’s fiction novel.) Scotland is an extremely popular setting, independent of the time period. The most common settings are:
    • Regency romance - set in England during the Regency period
    • medieval romance - set most commonly in England during the Middle Ages
    • Gothic romance - typically set in 19th century England, featuring an enigmatic hero and a suspense subplot. These are currently undergoing a bit of a revival, and tend to be written in third person (whereas thirty years ago they were always in first person) and tend more toward the erotic end of the sensuality scale.
    • Viking romance - in which one protagonist is a Viking. Recent successes in this subgenre have been humorous or sexy time travels.
    • Victorian romance - set in England (or the colonies) during the Victorian era.
    • Colonial romance - set in Colonial America
    • Western romance - set in the western States in the 19th century. A subgenre of this subgenre is Indian romance - in which one protagonist is a native American.  It seems to me that this time period is much more vital as a setting for historical inspirational romances (see below).
    • early 20th century - there have been some romances published in recent years set in the early 20th century, although WWII seems to remain a hard line between historical and contemporary.
    • historical fiction with romantic elements - this is similar to women’s fiction mentioned above, in that the spine of the story is not a romance but the female protagonist’s emotional journey, and I include it here for the same reasons. These books have been enormously popular in recent years.

• Paranormal or Fantasy Romance
Technically, these are not the same thing, but the terms are used interchangeably so we’ll avoid the argument over semantics. These are more commonly set in the present or the future. Subgenres include:
    • historical fantasy romance
    • future-set fantasy romance
    • science fiction romance - often set in the future, but not necessarily. I distinguish this from future-set fantasy romance because science fiction romance often is set in space while future-set romance tends to be earthbound.
    • time travel romance - often between contemporary and the past, less commonly linked to future settings or between two historical settings
    • romances with ghosts, either historical or contemporary
    • romantic suspense in which the villain is not human
    • vampire romance - in which one protagonist is a vampire. This subgenre shows no signs of waning in popularity.
    • shape shifter romance, including werewolf romance - in which one protagonist is a shape shifter
    • urban fantasy romance
    • steam punk romance

• Multicultural Romance
In this subgenre, one or both protagonists is African-American. Usually it is both and usually the books have contemporary settings. Multicultural romances can also fall into any of the other subgenres listed under contemporary romance - military romance, romantic suspense, etc.

• Inspirational Romance
In this subgenre, the choices of the protagonists are informed by their Christian faith. This is huge and quickly growing niche.
    • historical inspirational romance
    • contemporary inspirational romance

• In addition to all of these genres, there is what I'll call the continuum of sensuality.
    • sweet romance - in which there is no explicit sexual detail or even activity. These often are marketed as Young Adult fiction.
    • sensual romance - in which there is explicit sexual activity
    • erotic romance - in which there is a great deal of explicit sexual activity. This is distinct from erotica in that there is an emotional romance driving the physical intimacy. For a number of years, erotic romance existed as an independent subgenre, but it is becoming simply the end point of the continuum and not a subgenre in itself. Some sexual acts - threesomes and BDSM, for example - remain beyond the realm of acceptability within the genre and continue to be labelled as erotic romance.

And finally, there is the question of tone.
    • Light romances are exactly that. Although all romance novels are comedies (not tragedies), light romances are more humorous. Romantic comedies fall into this category as does a great deal of Chick-Lit.
    • Dark romances are mores suspenseful and have (surprise) a darker tone. Gothics are dark romances, as are many romantic suspense titles. A vampire romance could be written either light or dark.

Many many choices, and many hybrid subgenres always appearing on the scene. Take a look at your work in progress and identify its subgenre. If you can identify what is unique or distinctive about your work, that’s even better.


On Wednesday this week - you guessed it! We’ll have some links to my past blog posts on subgenres.

Remember that Thursday, I’ll be signing books at Indigo Spirit from 12:30 to 1:30.

Also this week, I'm hoping that we'll have an additional guest blog. Since there has been so much interest in multi-cultural romance, I've interviewed Selena James, Executive Editor at Kensington Books, on that very subject. Selena acquires for Kensington's Dafina line. My plan was for this to post on Thursday but I haven't received her replies as yet. The interview might post next week instead - I'll let you know when I know!

And on Friday, our guest bloggers will be Lyn Cote and Linda Ford, bestselling authors of inspirational romance, to tell us a bit more about that subgenre.

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Toronto Public Library's Romance Writer-In-Residence Deborah Cooke discusses writing and getting published in the romance genre.

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