Defining the Category Romance
Series or “category” romance is the mainstay of the romance industry. Harlequin Enterprises publishes most of the ones in the market today, which is why the name Harlequin, for many, is synonymous with romance fiction.
So, what is a category romance? Generally, it's a shorter romance that is released as part of an established line. Each novel in the line, or series, is given a number, which is reflected on the spine of the book.
Much like their single-title counterparts, series romance novels can cover a wide spectrum of subgenres. Paranormal elements, romantic suspense subplots, erotic overtones — if the subgenre is a hot seller in the romance market as a whole, it's a safe bet that it will be available in a category format.
In an average month, Harlequin Enterprises in North America releases more than 115 novels. The majority of these books are “category” romances, such as Silhouette Desire, Harlequin Blaze, and Harlequin American.
Because of their need to keep pace with the tastes and interests of a worldwide romance readership, category lines are continually growing and changing. Lines that were popular one year may be discontinued the next and replaced with new ones. Older lines may be revamped and relaunched under a new name.
Generally, however, series romances have the following four distinct characteristics:
Books in the line have a specific word count.
The line releases the same number of titles each month.
The covers have a similar tone and style.
The publisher follows specific editorial guidelines for each line.
In addition to being available in a variety of retail and wholesale outlets, series romances are usually sold as part of an in-house book club that sends all titles for that month to a reader at substantial discounts and usually in advance of their bookstore placement.
Keeping track of changes in the category lines can be difficult for a writer without connections to the publishing industry. A reliable source for the latest scoop is Romantic Times BOOKreviews.
Long contemporaries are contemporary romance novels that are more than 70,000 words in length. The level of sensuality can vary widely, as can the type of subplots used.
These contemporary romance novels are between 40,000 and 69,000 words in length. The level of sensuality can also vary, although many of the sexier, more sexually explicit titles fall into this category.
Category historicals are romance novels set before the world wars. With varying levels of sensuality, these books are generally between 40,000 and 95,000 words in length.
A Little Something Different
Publishers are always on the lookout for the next hottest selling subgenre. Often, they get their inspiration for new category lines from popular television shows, movies, or bestselling fiction in non-romance genres.
These are romance novels that deviate from the traditional formula in some way, whether through their format or their subject matter. Examples include romance novels that focus on the entire life of the relationship rather than just the courtship phase, or the recent NASCAR-themed line of romances from Harlequin Enterprises.
Romance publishers also experiment with new formats, such as immediate e-book releases for erotic romances, as well as manga romances, which are romance novels packaged as graphic novels that utilize the popular Japanese manga (comics) style.