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Romance Genre Definitions Part 2

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Range of Romance
Romance (as defined yesterday as a novel centering on the developing relationship of two people, culminating with a happy ending) covers quite a wide spectrum (these are my definitions/categories):


  • Hottest of the hot, no holds barred. BUT—there must be a compelling story

General Market/“Steamy”

  • Majority of mass-market romance. Readers expect to find several sex scenes, but the terminology is toned down a bit, more euphemistic

Sensual but not explicit

  • Kissing, heavy petting, “making out,” but no body parts mentioned explicitly; all actual intercourse takes place behind closed doors/off page.
  • Think Lifetime movies

Sweet (*updated)
Sweet Romance can contain all of the same depth of historical and character elements that every other genre does. The two main things that set “sweet” romance apart from those above and below it in the “range” are:

  • It’s “clean” (i.e., no sex, no swearing)
  • No religious/spiritual content
  • Think Hallmark Channel movies


  • NO sex before marriage!!!! (or at least, if they do, they’re genuinely sorry for it, and it doesn’t usually happen between the main characters of the book—it’s usually a past mistake)
  • Limited sensuality/physical contact; kisses are okay. A bit of physical attraction between the characters is okay—as long as it isn’t “lust.”
  • Little to no quoted scripture, no sermons, characters are already Christians when the story opens; there may be a spiritual lesson to learn (forgiveness, contentment, etc.)
  • (This is what I write.)

Contains most of the same elements as Inspirational Romance but also includes some or all of the following:

  • Even more limited sensuality/perhaps only one or two kisses
  • Quoted scriptures, written-out prayers and sermons
  • At least one character (usually the h/hn) must “come to Jesus” as part of the resolution of the relationship/HEA


Romance Novel Formats

  • 20,000 to 25,000 words
  • Themed collections or e-pub


  • 40,000 to 65,000 words
  • Series (or “lines”) with a certain number published each month. Usually subscription based (though many companies are now shifting these to e-pub and cancelling their subscription service).

Single Title

  • 75,000+ words
  • Mass-market and Trade (small vs. large format, price point—mass market is about half the price of trade)

Romance Subgenres
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list—as pretty much any genre anyone can imagine can be mashed up with romance to create a subgenre (like Amish Vampire)—but these are the major recognized subgenres of romance:

  • Romantic Suspense: For the romance to work in Romantic Suspense, the two main characters must be involved in something that threatens one or both of them—if the romance is taken out, the suspense doesn’t work, and vice versa.
  • Paranormal: This is especially popular in Steamy and Erotica—vampires, werewolves, faeries (?), shape shifters, mind control, etc.
  • Fantasy: While most fantasy novels contain a major romantic thread, if the romance is removed, there’s still a story (think Lord of the Rings without the Aragorn/Arwen thread—which is one of the reasons it’s pretty much relegated to the appendix). In Romantic Fantasy, it’s a romance story set in a fantasy setting—again, if the romance isn’t there, the story doesn’t work.
  • Time-Travel: One or both of the main characters travels in time, facilitating their meeting. I’m sure most romance novelists can name, in one guess, the most famous title in this subgenre!
  • Futuristic/Sci-Fi: Just like fantasy, for one of these to be considered a romance novel, the plot must center on the relationship.
  • Licensed Theme: These are popular in the category lines when the publisher signs a licensing agreement with a professional sport or organization, like NASCAR, and the authors write books featuring that sport or organization.
  • Medical: One or both of the characters are a medical professional and in addition to the romance plot, there’s a medical issue/situation that must be resolved for the story to work.
  • Regency: Set in England between 1800 and 1820 (though, technically, the regency was from 1811 to 1820), this has become the prevalent subgenre in general-market historical fiction.
  • Medieval/Highlander: Set between about 900 to 1400 A.D., in England, Ireland, and/or Scotland, this used to be the dominant subgenre in general-market historical fiction—and it’s still my favorite.
  • Gothic: A forerunner of romantic suspense, these have a historical setting, are typically written from first-person POV (the heroine), and involve the heroine being in peril (genuine or imaginary, real or paranormal). The hero is typically the prime suspect, but it’s always someone else, if the threat to the heroine turns out to be genuine.

Where do your favorite books fall in the “range” of romance novels—evangelical? sweet? steamy? What is your favorite subgenre of romance?

  1. Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:35 am

    I am a inspirational gal. I like sweet and also evangelical. I only read Christian fiction as I dont want language or sex scenes in the story. Although the odd slang word occasionally is ok but not the f word.

    as for favourite subgenre not sure I love history but not big on the regencies although loved Ransome’s trilogy. but I consider it more naval which I do like. I dont like the class system could never get into books like Pride and prejudice. I am loving aussie history. I also love books from the civil war but ones like Gilbert Morris’s more so than the ones that gloss over the war.


  2. Kav permalink
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 6:23 am

    I’ve been reading only inspirational for the last two years. I didn’t realize that there was also the evangelical category, but I can see where some of the books I have read fit that category. Within the subgenres I like them all — maybe not paranormal — I’m not into werewolves or vampires — though I love fantasy.

    Regency isn’t my favourite time period either — like Ausjenny, the division of the classes really bother me. And the snobbery — if that’s the word I’m looking for. However I’ve read Regencys that I love — like your Ransome series. I think they work for me when either the hero or heroine rebel against the system which is what you did with your series.

    I just finished a Love Inspired Historical – The Aristocrat’s Lady by Mary Moore and I loved it. It had all the best elements of a Regency but it seemed fresh. Great witty dialogue and banter — incredible page-turning secret — and both hero and heroine aren’t keen on ‘society’. Great classic read.


    • Tuesday, August 23, 2011 1:57 pm

      Kav—separating “evangelical” from “inspirational” is my own view of the CBA romance genre . . . because, as I mentioned, there are different aspects to them, even though they’ve lumped together as “Christian” romance. I, personally, don’t usually enjoy “evangelical” novels—I get enough sermons at church, I don’t need them in my fiction, too. There are authors who can make it work without feeling overly preachy (thus the example of MaryLu’s book), but I find most of the time when I read a review or description that clues me in that one of the two main characters isn’t “saved,” I typically am not going to read that book. Just as I don’t like romance novels in which the hero or heroine is already in a committed relationship (dating, living together, engaged) and that relationship has to be broken for the romance of the novel to work, I don’t like romance novels in which the resolution of the romance depends on one of the characters “coming to Jesus” before they can be together.


    • Tuesday, August 23, 2011 5:10 pm

      Kav I have Mary’s book to read I won it and as I am interviewing her will be reading it shortly


  3. Tuesday, August 23, 2011 10:50 am

    For the past few years I’ve simply been trying to keep up with the Christian Fiction market and all the new and old authors that I haven’t read yet! I like your definitions that separate Inspirational from Evangelical. What I write is definitely more sweet or inspirational. I’m reading Susan May Warren’s “Deep Haven” series right now – these books have elements of both. Her characters are Christians, but one has fallen away due to traumatic events. The evangelical parts come in the way you hear their prayers, read their scriptures, hear the advice they’re given.

    Now I have, in the past, been known to read regular old romance. I was glad to see the Devereaux book I mentioned yesterday is your pick for “Time Travel.” I do not like paranormal, per se (can NOT get into the vampire thing, other than Buffy and Angel :D), but time travel is just cool. One of my fave movies? “Kate and Leopold.” I know . . . why don’t most romance novels just have a picture of Hugh Jackman in historical garb on it. I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

    Still waiting for that Julie Garwood book to come back in . . . .


    • Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:00 pm

      Once things calm down at B&H (they’ve been in their fall sales meetings), I hope to be able to sit down with Julie Gwinn and talk to her about their expectations for the spiritual content of the Great Exhibition series. I much prefer writing on the sweet end of Inspirational, and that’s the direction I see this series going (and what I feel like my readers expect from my books—am I wrong?). When I try to push toward the more prevalent/obvious/heavy spiritual content, it seems forced and unnatural for me. I did that a little bit with Ransome’s Honor (because I felt it was the only way that would ever get published in the CBA), and I ended up getting this in the Publisher’s Weekly review: “…her references to prayer and the Bible that provide Christian elements in the novel sometimes seem forced and more like frosting than essential leaven.”


      • Tuesday, August 23, 2011 3:21 pm

        I’m with you on the heavy spiritual content. I read Susan May Warren’s books, and know she comes from an evangelistic place – she and her husband served as missionaries. I love reading these kinds of books. But I’m just a regular person, being a Christian in the real world, and those are the kinds of people I hang out with, and write about. We all have our ups and downs, spiritually, and I want to write about those times. Those times you slip and fall, and think you just don’t deserve what God’s already given you! I guess that’s another part of “sweet” romance for me. When a couple knows that God has given them something special, together.


  4. Audry permalink
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 11:46 am

    Oh my word, I thought the Amish Vampire was a joke… then I clicked on the link. I’ll be back later with my real response to your questions.


    • Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:01 pm

      So, what did you think of it?


      • Audry permalink
        Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:22 pm

        Well, the premise just seemed so bizarre that I had to download the sample chapter, but I haven’t read it yet because I’m at work


  5. Susan Snodgrass permalink
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:45 pm

    Many years ago, 33 or so, I used to read historical romance and the Holy Spirit convicted me of that genre. It was getting to be almost soft porn. Philippians says whatever is pure, honest, etc. is what we are supposed to put into our minds. We are to have the mind of Christ and I can say for sure He wouldn’t read those. I like inspirational. I’m uncomfortable with all that mess in the romance novels nowadays. It’s just plain filth.


  6. Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:51 pm

    I write inspirational. Considering the sub-plot of the book I just finished, I definitely do NOT write sweet. It’s not just sex outside marriage. It’s flat out adultery, on the page, and he could be punished with death for it. After I created that sub-plot is when I discovered that if a black man so much as touched a white woman he could be killed on the spot, no questions asked.

    I don’t generally like sweet, and don’t read a lot of stuff that’s sweet. I want my history and the depictions of life as real as it can be within the expectations of a romance.

    I don’t like to read preachy stuff, so I definitely don’t write it. It’s a big turn off. That’s not how I live my Christianity, and it’s not how most people live their Christianity.

    I love vampire and werewolf movies, but not so much reading books about them. I like to see the different design takes on what they can look like. OTOH, my sister reads werewolves and zombies and vampires all the time, and even robots taking over the world.


    • Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:55 pm

      Maybe I didn’t define “sweet” well enough—Sweet Romance can contain all of the same depth of historical and character elements that every other genre does. What makes it “sweet” is that it doesn’t contain explicit sex or foul language. What makes it not fall under inspirational is that it doesn’t contain any spiritual/religious elements. Other than that, it can still be just as deep or edgy or historically compelling as any of the other “levels” on the list.


      • Tuesday, August 23, 2011 5:16 pm

        I think we all bring different definitions of “sweet” too. For me, it’s almost synonymous with “simple”. It lacks layers and complexity. Kind of like looking at life through rose-colored glasses and believing that’s how life really is.


        • Tuesday, August 23, 2011 5:23 pm

          Actually, “sweet” is the industry term meaning that they’re romance novels that don’t have sex and foul language in them (I have friends who are published in “sweet” romance, and their books are in no way “simple” or lacking in angst or conflict or edginess)—it’s an unfortunate label, as it gives an incorrect impression, which is one of the reasons that it’s rare to see “sweet” romances anymore.


  7. Audry permalink
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 7:22 pm

    I think my favorite is Inspirational. I haven’t read tons of them, but the evangelical ones often come across as preachy to me as well, and I have reservations about the mature/ immature Christian relationships that have to come out of a story where one character needs to become a believer during the course of the story.

    One possible exception I can think of is “Daughter of Joy,” by Kathleen Morgan, which I recently downloaded because the Kindle edition was free. This would probably fall into the Evangelical category, because there were definitely prayers and sermons, and the hero had been a “Christian” when he was younger, but was severely back-slidden and had to get back on track. I thought it was really well done though. There were 3 more books in the series, which I checked out of the library and enjoyed, but the first one was definitely the best.


  8. Thursday, August 25, 2011 8:50 am

    I think I’m still in shock over Amish vampire books.

    The last few years I’ve really pared back on the genres of books that I read. There have been books that I’ve put aside because of language, sex scenes, etc…mainly because they just don’t sit right with me anymore.

    There was a time when I read anything and everything, and it’s not that I’ve gone all prudish, but my thought is I need to be careful on filling my mind with what is going to encourage/uplift…and not negatively impact my relationship with my husband. There are even Christian fiction books that can do that if they leave me longing for something that my husband may not be {or ever have the chance of being}. Hopefully that makes sense. 🙂


  9. Lady DragonKeeper permalink
    Friday, August 26, 2011 10:40 pm

    … Wow, I almost can’t believe the Amish Vampire book. I kind of almost want to read it just to see how it is pulled off. 😉

    Hmm, I’d say my favorites are inspirational … some evangelical (but as some have already mentioned, it has to be done well for it to be believable), just because I don’t know of any authors writing “sweet” general market romance. When I look at book covers and summaries at my local library, a lot of the romance novels seem too “iffy” for me to take a chance (and worry that my younger siblings would accidentally get their hands on it before I read it).

    Does anyone have suggestions for “sweet” romance authors?

    My favorite sub-genres would have to be fantasy (though I can’t say I’ve read a romantic fantasy) and medieval (off the top of my head, Melanie Dickerson’s “The Healer’s Apprentice” is one of the only “romance” novel I’ve read in that category). However, most of the romance I’ve read would probably fit in the Regency era.


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