Category romances aren’t actually a sub-genre, but rather this a publishing term used to describe books that are published in a specific categories or series. Typically, they are lower in price and shorter in length than other titles, and often they receive heavy criticism for having formulaic plot structures. I, however, disagree with this criticism, or rather, I don’t think it should be a reason for criticism.
Readers choose category romances because they know exactly what to expect, what emotions they’re going to experience, and how long it will take to read. For instance, if a reader has a spare couple of hours on a Thursday night and they’re looking for a little danger with their romance, all they have to do is pick up one of the romantic suspense category romances and they can lose themselves in the story for a little while. Alternatively, a reader might have fantasies of joining the mile high club while on a flight across the country. Obviously actually acting out that fantasy isn’t likely to happen on any given Thursday night, but that doesn’t mean the reader can’t enjoy a naughty read from one of the more sexually explicit titles. Then again, an employee who likes to read while on their lunch break might choose something from the Forever Romance category (or maybe not if they’re reading on a Kindle and nobody can see the cover!).
One of the things I like about category romances is the fact that I always know what I’m going to get because each category has a set structure and content criteria that define the restrictions placed on the story so that the titles published within the category conform to the reader’s expectations. These expectations are set by the category description—as written and moderated by the publisher—and allow the reader to determine which series of books is likely to appeal to them. Also, knowing these guidelines allows multiple authors to contribute to a series whilst still maintaining the integrity of the series.
The criteria used to organise titles into their specific category could range from content to heat levels to professional occupations. For instance, content guidelines could be used to stipulate that a title must have an element of danger (e.g. Intrigue or Romantic Suspense), heat level guidelines could be used to stipulate how sexually explicit each title could be (e.g. Forever Romances contain mild sexual content usually limited to kissing, while the Blaze series contains erotic content). Professional occupation is another common category differentiator and can be broad, stipulating that the main character must be wealthy (e.g. Harlequin Desire) or specific to a particular occupation (e.g. Harlequin Medical Romance).
The most well-known category romance publisher is Harlequin’s Mills & Boon, but there are others around including:
Carina Press (also owned by Harlequin)
RipTide (focusing on LGBTQ manuscripts)
James Patterson’s HotShot Flames
As the industry leader in category romance, Harlequin Mills & Boon and have the greatest variety of categories to select from. The following table (correct as at 26th April 2017) shows the current varieties available on the Harlequin Mills and Boon websites in the USA, the UK, and Australia.
|Harlequin Blaze||American Romance||Australian Romance|
|Harlequin Heartwarming||By Request||By Request|
|Harlequin Kimani Romance||Cherish||Cherish|
|Harlequin Historical||Cosmo Red Hot Reads||Desire|
|Harlequin KISS||Heartwarming||Forever Romance|
|Harlequin Medical Romance||Historical||Historical|
|Harlequin Romance||Love Inspired||Romantic Suspense|
|Harlequin Romantic Suspense||Medical||Sexy|
|Harlequin Special Edition||Modern||Special Releases|
|Harlequin Superromance||Nocturne||Western Romance|
|Love Inspired Historical||Western Romance|
|Love Inspired Suspense|
Category romance is never going to win any major literary awards, but it’s not supposed to. These books are about slipping away from reality in order to delve into fantasy, even if only for a few short hours. They’re about escapism, and happily-ever-afters, they’re not meant to make you think deep thoughts or ponder the injustices of the world. So if you’re ever after a quick, feel-good read, pick up a category romance and lose yourself in the moment. Don’t be afraid to look beyond the major publishers either. Indie authors such as Clare Connely are taking the category romance format and blazing their own paths, often times at much cheaper prices without compromising on the quality of the work.
Join the Conversation:
Are you a fan of category romance or do you believe they’re the reality TV of the book world?Let me know by replying in the comments below.