The publishing industry can’t deny that the most popular genre among readers is romance. It’s the highest-selling genre with the most loyal fan base. What do I mean by that? It means that more readers return to buy romance books than with any other genre. With the rise of the Booktok and Bookstagram communities on social media, the romance preference has been evident.
This has lead to more and more authors marketing their books as romance, despite it not being their focus. Many writers pair their genre with the word “romance” to help them market their book. Think “fantasy romance,” “historical romance,” or “sci-fi romance.”
However, as a romance editor for independent authors, I come across authors who aren’t confined by traditional publishing rules regarding what makes a genre. Yet, finding a genre that fits the story and marketing your book accurately, not only helps you find your readers, but helps you find satisfied readers.
What actually makes a book a romance?
A romance book has two main elements to it.
- A central story love story: The main plot of the story should revolve around the two main characters falling in love or rediscovering their love. The bottom line is that the primary focus of the book is to bring the two main characters together.
- A happily ever after (HEA) or a happy for now (HFN): Romance associations have adjusted this over the years because a HEA used to be a requirement. But the romance community has added the term HFN to account for the myriad of relationships shown in romance novels. Some romances don’t end with long term HEAs but genre enthusiasts consider a acceptable within the romance genre.
Are subgenres a real thing then?
Yes, every genre has subgenres and this basically shows the other parts of the book that classify the type of romance it is. This can classify setting, story type, or tone. When noting subgenres though, the important component is to make sure the primary plot is romance. Some popular subgenres are:
- New Adult
- Young Adult
When identifying what type of romance you have written, the question you should be asking is how to qualify your romance. What kind of romance is it? Pick the most important subplot to describe it.
What else goes into making a romance book?
- Meet Cute: A meet cute is the moment when the main characters meet. It’s called a meet cute because there is usually a cute or funny way that couples come into contact for the first time. This isn’t require by the genre as a whole because of the multitude of subgenres that don’t revolve around love stories always being happy or upbeat. Take dark romance for instance, the main characters can often meet in dangerous situations like kidnappings, hostage situations, or as rivals.
- Strong Main Characters: In researching this, the response was fairy heteronormative and monogamous in evaluating the characters. The general consensus is that the main characters each need to have pasts and traits that complement each other. Readers should feel that the protagonists belong together. None of the characters should be carrying the relationship nor should any of the characters be without some level of strife in their past. All parties should come into the relationship with difficulties that need to be confronted.
- Conflict that challenges the relationship: Most romance novels have some level of conflict between the characters. This is partially for moral reasons, like nothing worth having is going to be easy. And because what’s a story with no conflict? Boring. Are there books without conflict between the characters? Sure, there are other ways to challenge a couple, but there still needs to be conflict. It is a novel after all.
- Rewarding good behavior: This is the most debatable characteristic of romance books. Basically, if the characters behave “morally,” they are rewarded with love. This used to be a given, but the idea of behavior and what is good or bad has changed. It’s widely acknowledged that good behavior isn’t the only thing that attributes to someone being lovable. Morally gray anyone?
Why does it feel like every book is being marketed as a romance?
Because romance sells. Writers and publishers want to sell books. The fact is, most people don’t read all of the books they buy so it doesn’t always matter if it’s being described accurately. Also, they believe if they can get readers to buy the book and like it, readers won’t care that it wasn’t exactly what they sold it as.
With the big five it’s easier for them to ask authors to add romance subplots to their books to make it more attractive to readers. In indie publishing the authors have less of a marketing budget and are looking to get their books into the hands of readers. This could be both a misunderstanding and a bit of marketing to an audience that is known for it’s enthusiasm.
Regardless of the reason, romance has been and remains the most popular genre among readers. There will always be trends among readers. Next week I will be talking about the tropes, what they involve and examples of what books execute them well. But my advice will always be for authors to get to know their books and to market to the audience that will most enjoy their books. Even when the favor seems to be toward one type of genre, trope, or level of intimacy.
Why is romance so popular?
It’s universal. The experience of falling in love, wanting to fall in love, or knowing people who have fallen in love is something that everyone can relate to. There are romance books for people of all ages, races, backgrounds, belief systems, and abilities. There are romance books with straight couples, gay couples, monogamous, or polyamorous couples. The genre itself is wide reaching and as our brains experience books as lived experiences, it allows the reader to fall in love again.
Is your book a romance or does it just have a romance subplot?
This is something you will have to answer yourself, or maybe something you can ask your beta readers. It’s important to market your book honestly so you reach the right readers. Frequently, authors advertise their books as romances and end up disappointing their readers when it’s not the main point of the book.
Questions to consider when deciding if your book is a romance:
- Is the point of my book that the main characters get together?
- Will they end up together by the end of the book?
- Is the point of the setting and the conflict designed to bring your characters together?
- Does the main conflict support the main characters ending up together?
- Are your characters designed to complete each other equally?
- Will someone misinterpret your romance as another genre if you didn’t tell them what it is?