Romance is the most popular novel genre. Pure and simple. It accounts for about 40% of what people read. People want to feel good and reading about a hero and a heroine who develop a relationship and the obstacles they encounter and then work through is at the core of this genre. And according to the Romance Writers of America, “romance novels reward characters who are good people and penalize those who are evil…their relationship will likely be rewarded with unconditional love.” So the relationship between two people in love is at the core of the genre along with an “HEA” or a “Happily Ever After” ending.
While some people consider women’s fiction to be a subgenre of the romance genre, technically, because the heroine’s relationship with her family and friends may be as important as her relationship with the hero, it is considered to be a different genre.
So where do all the other books that have romance at their heart, fit in? The subgenres are endless. Here’s a few I’ve identified and their percentage of the romance genre when I could find them: contemporary (16%), historical (17%, Goth, western, Regency, emotional, suspense (7%), inspirational 6%), comedic, paranormal (9%), and erotic.
The biggest percentage belongs to what is called category romance (40%). Certain guidelines apply to these novels. They are no longer than 200 pages, which means that the story is pared down to the essentials. There are almost no subplots or or minor characters. They have a distinct identity which may involve similar settings, characters, time periods, levels of sensuality or types of conflict. And they tend to be numbered as part of a series. Often these novels are part of monthly titles by large publishers such as Harlequin/Mills & Boon.
For authors, it can be a real problem to decide where their book fits. Plot devices encompass almost all other genres (and possibly all), but again, the defining term in romance is “HEA.” So, it seems to me from what I’ve read, that if it ends Happily Ever After, no matter what the plot genre, it can fall into a romance genre. For example if it’s a romance that takes place in a science fiction story, it can be categorized as a science fiction romance, but it could also fit in the romance genre.
The one subgenre that seems to create a problem is time-travel romances, simply because of their very nature. Often the protagonists are in different time periods and it’s impossible for them to be together at the end of the novel. To give up the aspect of time-travel would put it in a complete different genre.
As the world gets smaller due to our increased ability to communicate,it’s also become much easier, through sophisticated tracking methods, to determine who reads these sub-genres. For example, multi-cultural romance novels tend to feature African-Americans and Hispanic protagonists, but there are very few with Asian or Asian-American characters. Are the characters a direct reflection of who reads the book? In other words, if not many Asian women read romance novels, there probably aren’t going to be very many novels with Asian heroines. The sophistication of determining who reads what will definitely lead more authors to write specifically for those groups.
I also think we’re going to see a type of rebellion against the words “hero” and “heroine,” which some believe are quite sexist. If there is a science fiction love story about two lesbians, where does that fit in? Even if they get together in an HEA ending, technically there is no “hero.” So will there soone be a subgenre which includes “Lesbian Science Fiction Romance?”
I think we’re at the tipping poing of subgenre and yes, genre expansion. Stay tuned. Keep in mind that as the years go by, what was once considered to be one subgenre will fit into another. For example, contemporary romance is considered to take place after WWII, but in the near future some of those novels will fit into historical fiction. The evolution of the genre and subgenre is alive and well!