Once upon a time, there were only two kinds of romance novels; contemporary and historical. No, wait, series and single title…which can be in a series, but aren’t series-series, which are also called category, which is different from romance being a category of fiction, which would be a genre. What we really mean is, well, take a seat and open to a fresh page of notebook paper, because it’s time to take a closer look at how the world of romance got as wide as it is today.
We’re not going to go all the way back, as in the very first romance novel ever written, which some scholars would say was an adaptation of the 7th century Arabian love story of Layla and Manjun, but suffice it to say that the romance genre has quite a history. As that ancient novelist proves, love stories have always been with us, and have been a popular theme in all genres of fiction, but the modern definition of the romance genre is a little more, well, modern.
Mention “romance genre” to even the most casual of readers, and one publisher’s name will spring to mind: Harlequin, or Mills and Boon, depending on where in the world one is. While they are one publisher of romance, and one of the biggest publishers in the world, they’re still relatively new to the game, opening their doors to what we now know as category romance (sometimes called series, but we will get to that in a moment) in 1908. Though authors such as Georgette Heyer and Baroness Orczy wrote tales of love in centuries long past, it wasn’t until Avon editor, Nancy Coffey fished the thickest envelope out of the slush pile so she would only have one book to read over the weekend, that the historical romance genre as we know it came into existence.
Yeah, fine, that’s only two kinds of romance. We all know there are more. What about paranormals, or YA, or erotic romance (not erotica, which is another animal altogether, but can involve romance, though it doesn’t have to) or multicultural or SF/F romance, or inspirational, or or or or or or or or….well, you get the picture. Put two lovers in one place, and it’s not unheard of that they’re going to, well, multiply. When Harlequin/Mills and Boon first started, the short, masterfully crafted reads were contemporary, but the line has had more than one foray into the historical realm, both general market and inspirational. Like your romances with a dash of intrigue? They’ve got you covered. Suspense? Sure. (Wait, how are those different, you ask? That’s for another time.) Higher level of heat, or keep it sweet? No need to choose; there are lines for both, and every point in between. Small towns? Yep. Big Cities? Sure. Paranormal elements? Uh-huh. See where this is going?
If your answer is “well, pretty much anywhere, obviously,” that would be correct, and no, referring to these such books as series does not mean they are all related to each other, though many authors do write linked books within each line. (These different types of books beneath the umbrella of category romance are also sometimes called lines.) Sometimes, different authors will get together to write one overreaching story arc within one line, which is called a continuity. Sometimes, these continuities even cross the line – literally.
Okay, okay, we can hear it now. What is all this line business? Categories? Series? Can’t we just have an easy way to find the kinds of books we want, on a reliable basis, maybe branded with a distinct cover treatment, so we can tell which books are which at a glance? That would be super useful because we readers have busy lives, and would love a convenient way to get our favorite kinds of stories in literally a minute, because sometimes, that’s all we have. Oh, and if those books could come to us instead of us having to go to the bookstore every say, hmm, month, that would be super-duper convenient. We could pay up front at, let’s say the start of the year, and then keep the books coming, please and thank you.
That, right there would be category romance. Want books with a medical background, stat? Small town romance with lots of cute kiddos all day, every day? Inspirational stories of modern love with a dash of motocross? These books may be slim when it comes to numbers of pages, but the skill required to pack a full love story from first glance, or the moment when friendship turns to something more, with or without added elements such as adventure, paranormal world building, mystery, humor, heat levels all over the thermostat, and set up for future books, while updating readers on the goings-on of other heroes and heroines, whether the author’s own, or shared within a continuity, especially when that continuity spans two, three, or even more lines? Respect, sirs (oh yes, men can and do write category, too) and madams. Much, much, much respect.
Many of today’s biggest names in romance (and other genres) got their start in category romance. That Nora Roberts hardcover, or Tami Hoag suspense novel, not to mention a whole host of others, exists because of the category romances their authors wrote, sold, and that still leave fans satisfied and yearning for more to this very day. While some category lines may come and go, to keep pace with the ever changing readership, one thing is sure to always be true: whatever your pleasure, category romance has something for you.
So dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you read category romance? Why or why not? Do you have a favorite line, either current or retired? What sorts of love stories do you think deserve their own line? How do you get your category romances: in the store, by subscription, or electronic means? Have a favorite category author, past or present? Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. Category not your thing? We want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.