I have been asked this question numerous times and I have to admit that, at first, I faked it. Yup, and I’m not proud to admit this, but I was a total imposter. I had no idea what genre I wrote in or how to even pronounce the word genre. In meetings, I would be totally lost and I’d often turn and whisper to my friend “What is Steampunk?” or “What is Chic-Lit?” I would take notes of all the different acronyms and ideas I had learned about, then go home and do some research to try and figure out this maze I felt like a rat in. The reality that I was no longer just a consumer who could read whatever cover caught my fancy without having to worry about the genre hit me hard and scared me a bit, but I realized that if I wanted to pursue writing professionally, I had a long road of hard work and studying ahead of me.
Learning about the different type of romance subgenres has definitely been an ongoing process, and trying to figure out how everything fits together has been challenging too. I am used to evaluating things from a technical perspective, which constantly leads me to finding the need to somehow fit everything into a relationship or hierarchy model.
In my madness of trying to fit the world of creative writing into some sort of technical model, this is how I have broken it down for myself:
First, we have Category Romance and Single Title Romance.
Category Romance (Series): books with about 55,000 words that are numbered sequentially and are released at the same interval. When I think about category romance, I think about Harlequin novels which are shorter in length and have the same look and feel. [RD1] Check out the newest category romance from Goodreads to get an idea: https://www.goodreads.com/genres/category-romance
Single Title Romance: books that usually have over 100,000 words and are released independently and are not part of a series. Here are some single title romance novels from Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/single-title
Now, under the umbrella of Category and Single title romance we have the main romance subgenres; here are the ones listed on the RWA website:
Contemporary Romance: Romance novels that are set from 1950 to the present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship.
Erotic Romance: Novels in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the love story, character growth, and relationship development; the sexual aspect cannot be removed, otherwise they will damage the storyline. These novels may contain elements of other romance subgenres (such as paranormal, historical, etc.).
Historical Romance: Romance novels that are set prior to 1950.
Inspirational Romance: Romance novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs–in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system–are an integral part of the plot.
Paranormal Romance: Romance novels in which fantasy, paranormal, or science fiction elements are an integral part of the plot. These elements consist of vampires, werewolves, ghost, shape shifters etc.
Romantic Suspense: Romance novels in which suspense, mystery, and/or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.
Young Adult Romance: Romance novels in which young adult life is an integral part of the plot.
Now, this is where it gets tricky. There is an additional long list of romance subgenres that can fall under one of the categories listed above or can be a subgenre of its own; this all depends upon who you ask. For example, medical romance novels can fall under the contemporary romance subgenre. Regency novels, which some consider to be a subgenre of its own, could simply be classified under the historical romance subgenre because of the period it takes place in. Or you can even have a hybrid paranormal historical erotica book–why not? It just really depends upon the creative minds of the wonderful authors out there. The difficult part comes when you are trying to sell your book and you have to find out where exactly you want your book placed on the shelf in the book store or on Amazon.
I found this lovely blog by Dara Denton, where she tackles the conundrum of book categorization and provides a breakdown-list of themes found under each subgenre.
For my own madness, this is the cheat sheet that I created for myself:
This is by no means an all-inclusive list; this is actually a very basic visual of how I try to organize genres so it can make sense to me. Something different may work for you and I’m sure I will end up changing this as I learn about more subgenres, but if there is one thing that you take away from this, remember that, at the end of the day, the Romance Genre is exactly about that: romance. It’s about a story of love between two individuals (mortal or immortal) that leave readers with a happy satisfying ending.
The Inside Voice.