A Great Book Begins with Understanding the Genre
Beyond wanting to write a great book, what's our goal as writers? To have happy readers, right? To have those readers becoming raving fans, that want to review and talk about our books, and buy the next one as it is released.
It takes more than just writing a good story. While that piece is obvious, in certain genres, like Romance, you have to go a lot deeper than just writing a good story. Because a good story that doesn't meet the expectations of your readers will fall flat.
Let's talk about the Romance genre.
You’ve always wanted to write a romance book, but as you’ve started researching, you realize, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Maybe you’ve started connecting with other writers and when they ask what you write, you respond, “Romance” only to be asked: “what kind?”
What do you mean? Isn’t a romance book a romance book?
The genre Romance falls across a very broad spectrum, from squeaky clean, to full on smut. From period eras, such as Regency and historical, to contemporary fiction. Each of these subgenres has its own norms and reader base, and those readers have expectations. The readers expect that you know their expectations when you market a book to them, and they get really upset if you break their expectations.
Each genre has its own beats, or, if you’re not down with the lingo yet – the expected events that take place throughout the book – and you better know those beats, or your readers will chew you up and spit you out.
If you aren’t reading in the subgenre that you want to be writing in, you need to start reading now. And a LOT. Knowing your subgenre backwards and forwards can help you not only find the right audience for your book, but it’s crucial to making sure your book is written and positioned properly, has the right cover, and sends the correct message to the readers.
Who knew there could be so much to learn about writing a romance? Step one truly is learning everything you can about the type of book you want to write.
Happily Ever After is a requirement
The one thing you have to know and understand about romance as a primary genre, no matter what sub-genre you are writing in, is that the Happily Ever After component of the primary couple is a requirement. If they don’t wind up together, then your primary genre is not romance, it simply has romantic elements in the book. And that will happen a lot. You may have a women’s fiction primary genre that has romance in it. But it’s not a romance book if they don’t wind up together.
What are the subgenres of romance?
Let’s talk about the different sub-genres. It’s important to know your audience when writing and editing your book so you can meet reader expectations. Your sub-genre will guide several different elements of your novel including setting and plot. People often dismiss romance books as being “all the same.” While this is true in the beats, and expected that it will follow a predicted path, those expectations vary a lot in the subgenres. So we compiled a list of some of the most popular subgenres and a few key notes for each one.
Age targeting is one of the first things you’ll need to decide on as a romance writer, and choosing to write for the YA market will bring a whole set of important considerations. Young adult romances are typically meant for readers between the ages of 12 and 18. They deal with those issues that teens are typically facing including first love, family relationships, friendship, self-identity, and more. It’s important to keep the age of your audience in mind as you tackle topics that make them feel connected as a reader. YA has gotten confusing over the years with much more mature topics being covered, but if you’re writing primarily romance for this age group, it should be kept appropriate to that age range.
There’s also the emerging and growing “New Adult” category – it’s a demographic that’s blowing up the publishing world in many genres, not just romance. New adult romance books also have strong elements of identity and finding one’s way, but it skews slightly older (ages 18-29) and can address that first job, finding your place in the adult world and the higher stakes of adult relationships.
Historical romance refers to those novels set in a specific period in history, like the wildly popular Regency sub-category. Within this subgenre, you’ll find that authors and readers often prefer immersing themselves in a specific time period (such as regency romance). With historical romances, it’s important to study the time period surrounding your novel. Details on everything from geography to clothing is part of what people love about these books. Readers will pick up on discrepancies and it can take them out of the narrative. This is a great genre for writers who love research!
Contemporary romance is set in modern times. This means these stories are relevant to things happening in the here and now. Contemporary romance addresses issues facing lovers today, and the characters have similar concerns that most of us do when it comes to work and relationships. Novels set in the 1970s to present are typically considered to be contemporary romance, too, so there is a whole array of settings that would work for this subgenre.
Erotic romance is also referred to as “sexy” or “steamy romance.” These novels are definitely written for a mature audience. Erotic romance uses sex to show the development of a romantic relationship. So while sex plays a vital role in the plot and romance development of these novels, it’s not all there is to the story. These books are not erotica (where sex is more explicit and central to the tale), bur rather stories where well-developed characters grow their physical connection.
Paranormal romance (aka fantasy or sci fi)
Paranormal romance comes in many different forms since it involves fantasy and science fiction. These novels bring elements of science fiction and fantasy into the setting and characters while following a romantic plot line. Lots of shapeshifting in these types of novels. Think werewolves, time travel or other worlds. True Blood, anyone? Paranormal romance has been around for a long time – it’s rooted in the classic gothic romance novels people loved a hundred years ago! But while these tales exist outside our reality, romance is still the beating heart of this subgenre.
Romantic suspense novels use suspense, mystery, or thriller elements to drive the story forward. The characters are falling in love as a mystery unfolds around them – what could be more exciting? The story is turbo-charged by the element of danger, giving the protagonists an exciting setting for their romance to unfold. Like paranormal romance, this is another subgenre rooted in gothic traditions, with thrilling elements that have been popular since our great-great-grandmothers’ time. No matter how compelling the suspense is, though, the core of the novel must be the romance in order for a book to fall into this category. Otherwise, it’s a suspense with romance in it. For it to still qualify as a romance, it must have a happily ever after with the main couple.
We included these common subgenres for a starting point – there are so many different, exciting worlds in romance writing. Just remember, Happily Ever After, and of course, make sure you’ve got the expected beats covered.
Want to get started writing your own romance novels but aren’t sure where to begin? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Take a deeper look into the romance genre with our Romance Roundtable Talk happening soon! Click below to sign up!