Romance Sub-Genres

romance sub-genresAs we hit the very last day of our week-long sub-genre blitz, our final spot is for romance. Romance is both one of the most straightforward to categorize and one of the most complicated. To identify your romance sub-genre, you first need to classify your novel in terms of heat level.

Heat level in romance refers to how intense and explicit the intimate scenes are. Romance novelist Starla Kaye gives an excellent overview of heat levels in romance at her website, including what publisher lines print them and the classifications given to the various levels by different publishers.

Once you know your heat level, you can pick one of the following . . .

Contemporary Romance – As the name suggests, contemporary romances take place post 1960. This is kind of a catch-all category for romance that doesn’t fit in any of the others.

Historical Romance – The line dividing a historical romance from a contemporary romance is, frankly, a little fuzzy. If your book is set pre-1960, you’re probably safe calling it a historical romance, but my suggestion for this one is to find out what your ideal publisher defines as historical and go with their dividing line.

Western Romance – Set in the American frontier, or in a contemporary “western” setting such as the Canadian prairies or Australian outback, western romance readers expect to experience horses, cowboys, and a simpler way of life (though not a simpler plot line).

Gothic Romance – Gothic romance combines romance and horror and often involves a mystery. The darkness and terror should compliment the sexual tension between your main characters.

Regency Romance – Set in regency-era (circa 1790-1820) Great Britian, it takes more than just a location and time period to make a successful regency romance. Readers expect wit and fast-paced dialogue like that found in Jane Austin’s novels. This sub-genre is less likely to include explicit sex scenes (or even open discussions of sex) than the other sub-genres. Marriages of convenience, false engagements, mistaken identities, and large differences in social class are popular elements.

Romantic Suspense – Romantic suspense is the most plot driven of all romance and usually involves a strong heroine who finds herself in a dangerous situation. The key to a successful romantic suspense is to blend both elements so that neither overwhelms the other.

Paranormal Romance – Paranormal romances usually involve a romantic relationship between a human and a ghost, vampire, shapeshifter, werewolf, or some other non-human or quasi-human being. They can also focus around psychic abilities. Unlike with fantasies, the romance rather than the otherworldly elements is central.

Inspirational Romance – Inspirational romances will always fall to the most conservative end of the heat spectrum. If you want to sell an inspirational romance, don’t try to push the envelop. The envelop isn’t going to budge, and you’re just going to end up with a lot of very painful paper cuts. Inspirational romances always end either in marriage or the very strong potential of marriage, and the characters’ faith journeys need to be central to the plot and their relationship.

Inspirational romance can serve as an umbrella category for the other sub-genres as well. For example, you could be writing a romantic suspense that’s also an inspirational romance because of the faith element to it.

If you missed Lisa’s overview post that started off our series, or my earlier posts on fantasy sub-genres, science fiction sub-genre, thrilled sub-genres, or mystery sub-genres, now’s a great time to go back and read them πŸ™‚

Where does your book fit? What do you love about romance novels? What do you hate?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

15 comments on “Romance Sub-Genres

  1. Hi guys–love your series this week on sub-genres. I’d love to link the series to my @WriterThesaurus twitter account, where I post links to writing tools and resources. Would you consider adding a tag for me that will link to only the sub-genre posts? Just let me know!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • Hi Angela,

      We’d be please to. We’d just like to clarify. Would you like us to create a new category like the others on the right and enter only these posts into it, or would you like us to create a unique tag to add to just these posts (like the ones in tiny print at the bottom of the post)?


  2. I think of my current WIP as a paranormal romance. One of the subplots involves the main character trying to get her kids to go to church, and because of that I wonder if it will get classified in the inspirational sub-genre. Nothing wrong with inspirational fiction, except that I’d like this piece to find a wider audience – assuming I can get it published in the first place.
    Thanks for the great series of posts. Am so glad I found you guys, and will try my best to leave just one comment today, and not do the triplicate thing like last time.

    • Hi Liz,

      Without knowing more about the paranormal elements in your romance, it’s hard to say, but if you feel that it could sell as a paranormal romance, it probably wouldn’t be able to sell as an inspirational romance, even with the church sub-plot. Inspirational romances have certain taboos that can’t be broken, and a lot of what would be considered “paranormal” falls within those taboos. You’re probably wise to try to sell it as a paranormal romance regardless of the faith element.


  3. Genre is always a bit of a head spin. I’ve been reading – and writing – a lot of paranormal romantic suspense. I seem to have a thing for books that cross multiple of sub-genres… if not the big time genres. Thanks for the post! I love trying to wrap my head around genre rules.

  4. Pingback: Genres and Subgenres Defined | Marcy Kennedy & Lisa Hall-Wilson

  5. Pingback: Inspirational Fiction Genre | Marcy Kennedy & Lisa Hall-Wilson

  6. I write romantic suspense and this is one of the best explanations I’ve read of it. My book is more plot driven and the relationship is secondary to the heroine’s journey, but still important. Thanks for breaking down each of this, because the romance genre can became really muddled!

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