Romance Genres and Sub-genres


Contemporary Romance

Series (Category) Romance
Traditional  Romance
Short Contemporary Romance
Long Contemporary Romance
Single Title Romance      

Romantic Suspense

Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Historical Romantic Suspense (often Gothic Romance)

Historical Romance

Long Historical Romance
Short Historical Romance
Regency Romance

Inspirational Romance

Paranormal Romance
          Time Travel

Young Adult Romance


Traditional Series Romance – sweet romantic novels.  The word count for these novels is 40,000-60,000 words. 

Don’t expect an intensely physical relationship; do expect a good emotional conflict. 

There is no explicit sex in these novels.  In the past, consummation of the relationship tends to occur after the marriage, but this expectation has changed depending on the line.  In a Harlequin Romance, lovemaking can occur if the “emotional commitment between the characters justifies it”.  However, in a Silhouette Romance, lovemaking only occurs between the married hero and heroine.  The characters in these books lean toward more “traditional” romance ideals, but be aware that more sassy books, such as a Harlequin Duet can also fall into this category.  Because of the short length, the romance is typically the sole focus of the story. 


Short Contemporary Series Romance – romantic novels in which sensuality may constitute a strong element in the romance.  The word count for these novels is 40,000 –70,000 words.

This is the shortest of the subgeneras other than Traditionals. Sensuality varies in this subgenera but typically there is some physical relationship between the hero and heroine.

The reader is usually introduced to the major story line quickly.  Subplots and secondary characters are often limited due to the length of the book.  Because of the short length of these novels, the main characters must be sufficiently intriguing to carry the story by themselves.  The focus of the story is typically all on the romance.  The shorter length dictates that each scene must move the plot forward without the pace of the novel feeling rushed. 


Long Contemporary Series Romance – romantic novels in which sensuality may constitute a strong element in the romance.  The word count is over 70,000 words. 

Series romances normally have a number on the spine, (ex. # 435 in the Harlequin Superromance or Silhouette Intimate Moments) and are released once a month.

Word count is not the sole difference between a long contemporary and short contemporary novel.  The conflicts may be more developed due to the added length.  The book will usually contain multiple characters as well as subplots.  Again, you should know the difference between a sweet romance and a sensual one.

You should also be aware that some Long Contemporary Series Romances could be marketed as Single Title Contemporary Romances, but Single Titles or Women’s Fiction couldn’t necessarily be Long Contemporaries.  Complexity of plot, level of sensuality, romance, and social issues often play a role in determining when a long contemporary is a series romance and when it’s a single title.

The main focus of the story is the romance.  A secondary plot and secondary characters are usually required due to the length of the book but the main focus is the romance.  This is still a category romance.  Certain traditions are expected to be maintained.


Contemporary Single Title Romance – romantic novels released as individual titles, not as part of a series.  The word count for those novels is over 70,000 words.

These romances are not the same as Long Contemporary Series romances.  The difference lies in the complexity of plot, level of sensuality, romance, social issues and a broader mass-market appeal.  Romance plays a part in Contemporary Single Title Romances, but it may not always be the primary focus of the story or it may share focus with the character’s personal growth or with the complex plot.

The distinction of a single title is that the romance is more balanced with other aspects of the story – mystery, action, crisis.  The books tend to be more “mainstream” with the romance blended into the story instead of the primary focus.

What is unacceptable in some category romances is acceptable in Single Title.  It is not your job to judge what an editor will or won’t accept.  Look for a more mainstream book.  Because of the length, secondary characters and subplots are almost required. 


Romantic Suspense/Gothic Romance – romantic novels in which suspense is a major element of the plot.  The word count for these novels is a minimum of 40,000 words.

Most books in this category will be romantic suspense.  This category may contain historical, contemporary novels and series category novels, i.e. Harlequin Intrigue.
Romantic Suspense includes both suspense and mystery novels.  The story will involve some sort of mystery, typically a “who dunnit?” A “how dunnit?” Or a “why’s he doing it?” (this includes psychological thrillers).   The romance is still the focus of the story.  A good balance must be established so that both the romance and the mystery are resolved to the reader’s satisfaction. 

The category is called romantic suspense because there's supposed to be suspense.  The same is true of the gothic story.  The suspense and unanswered questions are part of the storyline and part of what keeps the reader turning the pages.  Without those elements, the stories wouldn't meet the category definitions and would simply be a contemporary or historical romance.


Short Historical Romance – novels or sagas, which have a strong romantic element throughout.  The word count for these novels is 40,000 – 95,000 words. 

The difference in short and long historical romances can be the complexity of the plot or it can simply be the word count.  At one time, this category was reserved for historicals published as lines, ex. Harlequin Historicals, Diamond Homespun, Our Town, but as paper costs have grown and page lengths cut, this category now contains single title historicals.  These novels may be paperback or hardcover.

As with short contemporary, the focus here is almost solely on the romance.  There isn’t space for much beyond the romance.


Long Historical Romance – novels or sagas, which have a strong romantic element throughout.  The word count for these novels is over 95,000 words. 

These historicals are marketed as single title and would be too long and usually too complex to suit a line.  Although primarily set in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the United States, these novels may be set in less common settings and less common eras.   Example:  The Lady and The Unicorn by Isolde Martyn.

Historical novels should have a strong romantic element throughout the story.  There is also more time in a long historical novel.  More time to establish setting and indulge the reader in the history.  As with long contemporaries, there is often a subplot and strong secondary characters to help carry the reader through.


Regency Romance – romantic historical novels with primary settings during the Regency period, typically 1800-1820.  The word count for these novels is 40,000 – 85,000 words.

Regency romances differ from historicals set in the Regency period in language, style and flavor and level of sensuality as well as word length.  Review such Regency novels in the style of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austin where history, dress, and manners are as much a character in the book as the hero and heroine.


Inspirational Romance – romantic novels in which an inspirational message of personal religious faith is conveyed as a major element of the plot and not used as a plot device or subplot.  All inspirational books, both contemporary and historical, shall be eligible for this category.  The word count for these novels is a minimum of 40,000 words. 

Caution: Religion is a very personal issue and a major “hot button” for many people.  If you’re not comfortable reading about or discussing beliefs that may differ from your own, do not judge this category.

Inspirational novels will typically contain two relationships: the hero/heroine relationship and their relationship to their higher power.  Both elements have to work together and blend together.


Young Adult Romance – romantic novels geared to young adult readers.  The word count for Young Adult novels is a minimum of 25,000 words. 

These novels are clearly written for junior and senior high school levels and the plot revolves around the relationship and the lives of young adults.  You cannot mistake them for any other category.  The level of sensuality will be very tame.  The romance and growing as a person are usually on equal footing by the book’s end.


Paranormal Romance – Time Travel, Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal – romantic novels in which the future, a fantasy world or paranormal happenings are a major element of the plot.  These may be single title releases or books published within established category romance lines fitting other category descriptions.  The word count for these novels is a minimum of 40,000 words. 

Basic premises of time travel are often technology of the future and the existence of fantasy worlds and paranormal elements.  Vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts and angels fall into this category as well as “Back to the Future” type stories and “Back to the Past” stories. 

Generally speaking, if the hero or heroine travels from a contemporary setting back in time to find love and romance and the bulk of the story is historical, the entry should be considered a historical.  If the hero or heroine travels from a historical setting to find love and romance in the future and the bulk of the story is contemporary, the entry should be considered a contemporary.


There are four major types of paranormal romance.   They are time travel, futuristic, fantasy and paranormal.

TIME TRAVEL (TT) is a novel where the hero or heroine travels through time.  This can be either forward or back.  Traditionally, a TT has a heroine who travels from contemporary times to the past, but variations on who travels and when are acceptable.   The protagonists can also change locations when they change time.  Thus an American woman can wake up in Regency England.  The important elements to watch for in a time travel are 1) an 'interesting and believable' transportation method, 2) a difference in the dialogue and settings of the two periods, and 3) the protagonist's adjustment to the change. 

The transportation method should be relatively unique and interesting.  A heroine should not just wake up one morning in a new time and place.  The reader has to understand that a change has happened and why.   Believable is a judgment.  We've already discussed that a reader doesn't need to believe in time travel, but the transportation method should make sense.  For instance, most readers won't accept that the TT is random, but will accept that the hero picked up the wrong book at the wrong time.


FUTURISTICS are the romance form of science fiction.  Sci-fi is speculative fiction based on science.  Thus futuristics are based on scientific principles and theories.  Much of sci-fi contains space with travel that readily moves people great distances.  Our technology hasn't progressed to the point that space travel is realistic, hence the stories from authors vary, but the underlying principles are scientific and make sense.  As with other paranormal types, a reader of futuristics must suspend belief that the unique ideas of the author are plausible.

Futuristics may have aliens, incredible machines, and distinct cultures.  Their characters and settings must be understandable and interesting to the reader.   The writer must credibly describe the setting.  The conflicts between the hero and heroine are a product of the different cultures of the story.  Otherwise, the story might seem like a more traditional story, for instance a contemporary, with the quirk of being in the future.  In other words, the setting cannot be contrived to make the story stand out from contemporary or historic novels.

FANTASY romances are much like futuristics, except they are based on magic, not science.  Instead of aliens, fantasies may have mythological and magical creatures like shape-shifters, fairies, and elves.  Fantasies also have unique cultures, settings, and characters, which must make sense to the reader.  Of course, since the ideas of a fantasy derive from magic, suspension of belief is even more crucial. 

PARANORMAL romances cover an even wider range of possibilities.  Set against the more traditional contemporary and historical settings, paranormals have at least one element that is above the ordinary.  These elements include characters who might be werewolves, vampires, witches, ghosts, psychics, telekinetics, telepaths, etc.  The element revolves around one or more major character.  Usually, conflict arises when a "normal" protagonist meets up with a "paranormal" one.  Paranormals differ from futuristics and fantasies because the world does not change.  Only one or two individuals in our world are effected by the paranormal element.  Hence this sub subgenera can easily fit into a more traditional category like contemporary or historical, as long as the reader is willing to suspend belief for this one element.  An example of such a story would be Dream Man by Linda Howard.  Though it is a romantic suspense, the heroine is psychic. 

In futuristics, fantasies and paranormals, the interactions of the characters with each other and the setting must be believable.  Also, in these sub subgenera, often the author takes more time to set up the premise of the story.  It is vital that judges are sensitive to the delicate romantic threads that might seem overpowered by the external plot.  In most instances, the author is just explaining her world before launching into the more traditional development of the romantic plot.  It is best to give an author the benefit of the doubt when you are reading only a small portion of her work.  A FF&P story may or may not have the same level of sexual tension as a short contemporary or historical may have.