Romance Genre Basics

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of LARA Confidential, the newsletter for RWA Chapter 25, Los Angeles Romance Authors.

GENRE BASICS
By Laura Sheehan

The definition of romance as a literary genre is fairly straightforward. Per the RWA website, the two basic elements that define romance are:

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

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This definition is simple, almost to a fault. So many stories can fall under this definition! And so the subgenres evolved. Still under the umbrella of “romance,” we can find dozens of stories that can be categorized into more specific groups. Some examples include:

Historical Romance: These novels are set in a specific time period in history. Authors strive to create a historically-accurate background for their stories, and will often weave authentic language, characters, dress, politics, and other details into their plots. Historical Romances can be written in any previous time period or location, despite the fact that many of us automatically associate “historical romance” with those stories set in Regency or Victorian England. Other popular settings include Medieval England, Viking Romances, Renaissance, Colonial U.S., and Civil War/Reconstruction U.S., although you can find romances set in almost any period in history.
Inspirational Romance: These novels incorporate religious or spiritual beliefs as an integral part of the romantic relationship. Although non-denominational by its definition, currently most novels written within this genre are Christian-based. Often, one or more of the characters in these stories will need to overcome a crisis of faith during the story’s arc, which must be resolved. Depending on the religious guidelines of the book in question, often there will be restrictions on the type of behavior that characters will be engaged in (e.g., no pre-marital sex). Amish romances would fall into this category.
Paranormal Romance: This subgenre is difficult to define, because it encompasses any romance that incorporates paranormal/fantasy elements or settings. This means that science fiction romances would fall under this category, as well as any story that includes shape-shifters, vampires, fae, witches, magic, ghosts, demons, elves, etc. Romances which take place in a setting other than the current period or known history would also be categorized as paranormal, such as alternate histories or those set in the future, as well as stories which take place on different planes or planets. Time-Travel, Urban Fantasy, and Steampunk are three examples of sub-subgenres that would fall under this category.
Romantic Suspense: Identifying features of this subgenre include elements of danger, action, tension, thrills, adventure, rescue, and/or mystery. In romantic suspense, the hero/heroine may have to traverse a series of nail-biting adventures before they can live happily ever after. Some people define romantic thrillers has having a more wide-reaching sense of danger than romantic suspense novels (e.g., in a romantic suspense the antagonist may be a jilted lover who is bent on revenge; whereas in a romantic thriller the antagonist may be an international crime lord bent on starting a nuclear war). Mysteries are also often categorized under this genre, as they frequently include elements of tension, danger, and action.
Young-Adult Romance: The target audience for books in this genre are adolescents and young adults, although many adults read this genre as well. Often abbreviated as YA, these stories almost always have an adolescent hero/heroine. The internal conflicts in these stories typically are consistent with the age of the protagonist(s), but the external conflicts can vary widely (everything from the normal coming-of-age conflicts to saving the universe from destruction). New Adult is a recently created subgenre that focuses on older adolescents or young adults (18-25 years of age).
LGBT Romance: Like YA, this categorization focuses more on the identifying characteristics of the main characters, rather than the setting, plot, or tone of the novel itself. In LGBT romances, the hero/heroine(s) identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Many LGBT romances can fall under the definition of other subgenres as well.
Erotic Romance: Most of the aforementioned subgenres can sustain a variety of heat levels (from chaste to steamy), with inspirational romance being an exception. However, if the sexual content of the story is the primary focus, it can be considered an erotic romance. In these stories, the sexual interactions are integral to the plot, character growth, and development of the relationship. It should be noted, however, that there is a difference between erotic romance and erotica. The primary goal of erotica is to elicit sexual desire or satisfaction. Unlike erotic romance, erotica novels do not need to focus on the emotion of love and they do not necessarily need to have a happily-ever-after ending.
Contemporary Romance: Often, romance novels that don’t fall under one of the subcategories above will be considered Contemporary Romance. The only defining factor for this subgenre (besides the general factors which define a romance: a primary focus on the romantic relationship and a happy ending) is that they are set in the current time period.

Sometimes a book may fall under more than one subgenre. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, for example, can be classified as a contemporary, paranormal, young-adult romance. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander contains elements of historical romance, paranormal, and suspense.

If you need to choose a single genre under which your novel would primarily be categorized (e.g., in order to choose the correct category for a contest submission), consider where your book would be shelved at a bookstore and which readers you are trying to attract. For example, some readers simply do not like paranormal. If your main character is a psychic with the magical ability to read people’s minds, it doesn’t matter how much danger and adventure your heroine faces, you would be better off classifying it as a paranormal rather than a suspense. The young-adult subgenre also trumps most other genres as the primary classification. For example, even though the Mortal Instruments books (by Cassandra Clare) could be considered paranormal, suspense, and contemporary, their YA distinction overrules the rest as its primary categorization.

There are almost certainly some subgenres that I’ve forgotten to include here, and even more that have yet to be defined. I expect that as the romance genre readership continues to expand, so too will the diversity of its content.

Laura Sheehan writes romantic suspense, paranormal, and fantasy/sci-fi. Her award-winning romantic suspense, Dancing with Danger (published by Red Sage), can be purchased online at Amazon, B&N.com, and the Red Sage website.

Advice on Book Readings, from a Newbie

Book'd in Burbank - July 2013In July I was invited to participate in Book’d in Burbank, a literary event with author readings, bookish entertainment, and social mingling for fans of the written word. It was the first time I’d been asked to read aloud a section of my book (DANCING WITH DANGER), and I was terrified.

Which is sort of funny, because I’ve been performing on stage since I was a kid. I’ve danced for crowds of rowdy sports fans, I’ve sung in theatres that seat hundreds of people, and I’ve undressed down to my bra and panties on screen for a film role. I’ve also given speeches, some rehearsed, some not, to groups of five to 50. Twice a week I stand in front of half a dozen men and women to teach beginning jazz dance.

Sure, I’ve gotten nervous beforehand.  Butterflies in the belly are just part of the game, and I’m no stranger to the shaky-hands, dry mouth, flushed cheeks we all get as a result of the adrenaline rush from being in front of a crowd.

But this was different.

They wanted me to read a selection from my book. My baby.  The manuscript I’d struggled to write for over a year, and then spent another year revising before finally getting published. My precious novel that I secretly stalk on Amazon, and Goodreads, and BarneandNoble.com to see if anyone new has posted a review for it.

Oh, dear lord, what had I gotten myself into?

Questions and doubt and nerves sprung to life in a frenzy, like cats at the sound of a can opening. What section should I read? How many pages? How much background should I provide before starting?  Am I supposed to use voices? What if people can’t understand me? Do I have to start at the beginning of the book? What if I give too much away and no one wants to read the book after? Where’s my chocolate???

I forced myself to take a deep breath.  As the first order of business, I found my chocolate.

chocolateAs the second order of business, I sat down and thought about it from the perspective of the reader: what would I want to hear from an author?

I decided I’d want to hear something that would give me a sense of the characters in the book and a taste of the author’s voice/writing style.  The plot wouldn’t matter as much, since authors could give a quick introduction at the start that would serve as a back-of-book blurb.  I’d want it to be long enough to get a good taste, but not so long as to drag. I made a note to choose a section that would allow listeners to get a feel for who the hero or the heroine (or both) really were, and that would leave the audience wanting more.

I then turned to my RWA sisters and sought their advice. Had any of them done this before? Any words of wisdom to share?

Luckily Dee J. Adams, sister LARA member and multi-published author, answered my call.  “There’s no law that says you have to start at the beginning,” she assured me. In fact, the sample on Audible of her most recent audio book was taken from a later chapter, rather than the opening one.

As an actress and dialogue coach for television, Adams also had some great advice regarding mechanics, and she reminded me to read slowly and enunciate. “Let people take in the words and visualize the picture you are creating,” she advised.

One area I was particularly concerned about was being able to give the characters enough of their own voice to distinguish them.  As any good writer, I didn’t have a tag after each line of dialogue identifying who the speaker was.  Perfectly fine for reading, but when spoken out loud, I’d have to make sure it was obvious which character was speaking. “You can give each [character] their own voice by changing the pace or tonal qualities without having to worry about creating a distinct voice for each character,” Adams assured me. “Don’t do a voice you’re uncomfortable with. All the characters are your voice with subtle differences to denote the change of character.”

This was good advice, but took a lot of practice.  At one point I had narrowed down my book selection to two scenes, the first had two male characters and one female character, and the other had two females and a male. I ended up going with the latter, and this was partially due to the fact that I was having a difficult time creating enough of a difference between the two men’s voices without overdoing it. The scene with the two females was also challenging because one of them was a primarily Spanish-speaking character, but once I managed to speak her dialogue with just the tiniest hint of a Spanish accent, it worked well.

Adams’ advice to stick with what was comfortable was probably the best advice I received.  My novel is steamy, and there are some dance sequences and love scenes that will set your panties on fire. I’m very proud of these chapters and their panty-scorching abilities. But after a bit of practice I determined that there was no way in hell I was going to read any of them aloud. The words in these sections were seductive, but my ultimate goal wasn’t to seduce the audience, I just wanted to engage them.

In the end, I decided on a section from the end of the first chapter.  It was early enough to not ruin any of the plot and allowed the listening audience to get to know the characters in the same way that the reading audience did.  I cut out a few sentences here and there, mostly sections that provided background that are relevant when reading the entire book, but weren’t necessary for the section I was reading at the moment. Since it was from the end of a chapter, it had a finish that deliberately enticed the audience to read/hear more, and yet was still satisfying.

I practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced. I created a cheat sheet with the text printed in large font, line breaks for when I wanted to pause for effect, and italicized words to remind me of the correct emphases. Each character’s dialogue was color-coded so I could know at a glance who was speaking and make sure I was using the right “voice.”  I performed it in front of a mirror, read it for my hubby, and recorded myself.

And all my work paid off!  Aside from a brief moment of panic when I attempted to make eye contact with the audience and subsequently lost my place, the big event went well. People laughed at the jokes, sighed at the sweet moments, and cheered at the end.  At the after-party I received several compliments and was asked how many times I’d done it, and I spent the next half hour basking in the glory of their surprise when I confessed I had been an Author Reading Virgin until that night.

Book'd in Burbank - Laura Sheehan - Dancing with Danger

(photo by Judy Diep)

So now that I’m a successful, experienced, old-hat Author Reading Expert, allow me to pass on the wisdom I’ve learned over the years, er, weeks:

  • Don’t worry if you stumble over a few words. No one is expecting perfection. Be like Dory and just keep swimming.
  • Find a section you are comfortable with, in terms of content as well as the delivery required.
  • Don’t read a section that requires too much backstory.  Your intro should identify the characters, their names, and the general idea of the scene. (E.g., “Lily is a dancer who is working at a coffee shop to make ends meet. Her best friend, Judy, works at the coffee shop along with her.  They are in the middle of their shift when Marc, an L.A.P.D. officer, comes in for a drink.”)
  • Practice. Practice. Practice some more.
  • Record yourself. Yes, I know, I hate the sound of my own voice too. But I guarantee you that no one else thinks you sound weird. The point of the recording is to check for enunciation and slurred words. Be sure you are speaking loudly enough and clearly enough to be understood.
  • If the host of the event doesn’t do so for you, don’t be shy about introducing yourself and your book to the audience in the best light possible. If you’re a NYT bestseller, by Jove, let them know!
  • On the same note, don’t oversell yourself or your book.  The audience is there because they like books and are curious to learn about yours. You don’t need to need to convince them that you are God’s gift to the writing world.  As Han Solo would say, “Don’t get cocky.”
  • Sloooow dooown. Adrenaline makes us want to charge full speed ahead, and that five-minute section you practiced will all of a sudden be finished in three.  Recognize this, and mark sections in your notes where you force yourself to pause.
  • Have fun!  The audience knows you’re a writer, not a speech-giver, they will be forgiving.  If you enjoy yourself, so will they.

Laura Sheehan is a romantic suspense, fantasy, and paranormal romance author.  Her award-winning debut novel, DANCING WITH DANGER, is available online at Amazon, B&N.com, and Red Sage. She can be found online at: ReadLaura.com; Facebook; Twitter (@TimesNewLaura); and Google+.

Speaking at Book’d in Burbank

On Thursday, July 18th 2013 I will be speaking at Book’d in Burbank, a fantastic literary event hosted by Liz D at Theatre Banshee in Burbank. Festivities include Young Adult (YA), Mystery, and Romance (that’s me!) author readings, a gift basket raffle and books giveaway, stand-up literary comedy, a dessert & mingling reception, and a charitable book drive to benefit the Los Angeles County affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Tickets are just $10, and gets you a free raffle ticket. I would love to see you there!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

8:00 P.M – 9:30 P.M

Theatre Banshee at 3435 W. Magnolia, Burbank

 

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DANCING WITH DANGER is a 2013 Booksellers Best Award Finalist!

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that my novel, DANCING WITH DANGER, is a double finalist for the 2013 Booksellers Best Award! My book is up for Best Romantic Suspense, as well as Best First Book.  This prestigious contest is hosted by the Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America, and this year I am honored and humbled to find my name listed among some of the best romance writers of today (Brenda Novak! Sabrina Jeffries! Kate St. James! Courtney Milan! Jodi Thomas! ACK – there are just too many too list here).

A full list of the finalists can be found at the GDRWA website.  The wiinners will be announced at the at the RWA National Conference in Atlanta this July.

Thank you to all of my supporters, friends, family, and fans! What a ride.

2013BBAfinalist Dancing with Danger (cover art) - by Laura Sheehan

Guest Blogging at Savvy Authors about Organization for Writers

Join me today at Savvy Authors for “A Pantser’s Guide to Organization.”

Savvy Authors
I’m a pantser, I admit it. Unlike “plotters,” who map out the details of their novel with outlines and character arcs and scene structures before writing, those of us who prefer to “write by the seat of our pants” tend to only have a general direction for our material before we take off.

But although my stories seem to grow organically, sprouting somewhat willy-nilly from the garden of my imagination, I don’t have the luxury of behaving in such a manner when it comes to my career as an author.

I have discovered, sometimes the hard way, that I need to be organized, diligent, and often (gasp!) plan ahead when it comes to managing and advancing my business as an author.

Almost every aspect of being a professional author requires some organizational structure, even if your story development process doesn’t.

So join me at Savvy Authors today to learn how organization can help authors during the writing process, throughout the querying process, and for tax purposes.

Interviewed on Krystal Shannan’s Blog

Krystal Shannan, author of the Pool of Souls and Vegas Mates paranormal romance series, interviewed me on her blog today!  Join us and discover what inspired me to write romantic fiction. Hear my story about how  DANCING WITH DANGER was published, find out if I’m a plotter or a pantser, and learn my answer to the age-old question “boxers or briefs?”

Leave a comment on her blog for a chance to win a free copy of DANCING WITH DANGER!

Krystal_Shannan_Bloghttp://krystalshannan.com/3/post/2013/03/krystal-shannan-interviews-laura-sheehan.html

Amazon’s New Review Policy: A Mountainous Solution to a Molehill Problem

If you’ve been following the happenings in the world of publishing over the last few months, you’ll be familiar with the phrase “sock puppet reviewing” and the recent controversies regarding such.

If you haven’t been paying attention, in short: sock puppetry refers to published authors using “pseudonymous handles to post positive Amazon reviews of [their] own books and one-star reviews of others” (Carolyn Kellogg, LA Times, Sept. 4, 2012).  A handful of authors, a few of whom were somewhat high-profile, recently admitted to such abhorrent behavior, and the news has spread like wildfire.

Unfortunately, in Amazon’s frantic attempt to contain the flames, they’ve managed to burn down the entire forest.

Forgive me for being dramatic, but I maintain that my analogy is not that far from the mark.

To prove to their customers that the Amazon rating system has not become corrupted, they’ve decided to forbid authors from posting reviews of any other author’s work.

That’s right.

Authors, most of whom became writers because of their passion for reading, are now denied the right of other readers by being prohibited from reviewing books on Amazon.

Readers who frequently discovered new authors through the recommendations of authors they were already familiar with will no longer have that opportunity on Amazon.

New authors who are struggling to be heard in the cacophony of the e-book world can no longer solicit honest reviews from their fellow authors in an effort to get their books off the ground.

One of the saddest conclusions I’ve come to when researching Amazon’s new policy is that Amazon considers authors to be in “direct competition” with each other.  They are treating us as if we are bitter enemies, cats and dogs that can’t be trusted to be alone in a room together.

Now, some people might agree with that assumption, but I bet you that most of those people have no idea what they’re talking about. An outsider might look at the writing business and presume it is like any other commercial enterprise: the author who gets the most readers wins, and the rest of the authors lose.

But it doesn’t really work that way with books.

Unlike TV shows, authors are not fighting for the same 1-hour slot in primetime. A book doesn’t “go out of theatres” if it doesn’t outsell other new releases during it’s opening weekend. In other words, if my book sells, it doesn’t mean your book won’t.

Authors rarely “steal” readers from another author; readers just add new authors to their To-Be-Read pile.  In fact, a reader is more likely to try out a new author from the recommendation of another author than from advertising (RWA Readership Statistics, 2012).

I may be relatively new to the publishing world, but from what I’ve seen within the Romance Writers of America and Los Angeles Romance Authors, the publishing world is not dog-eat-dog. We romance authors are incredibly supportive of each other. The biggest names in the business (Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jayne Ann Krentz, etc.) regularly frequent the annual RWA conferences to share their knowledge with amateur authors and encourage them to become successful. Hundreds of mid-list authors donate their time to mentoring newbies and guiding them through the perils of the publishing world. We have blogs, newsletters, conferences, critique groups, and review sites, all created with the intent of helping each other become the best authors we can be.

I know of no author that would intentionally sabotage another author in the hopes that their own work would become more successful.

OK, apparently, there are a few writers out there who would do such a thing, but the keyword here is “few.”

But instead of searching for a tailored and efficient solution to this isolated problem, Amazon has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. They’ve branded all of us authors as untrustworthy, greedy, immoral money-grubbers who can’t be trusted to share our opinions in a responsible manner.

But there are so many other, better, solutions that Amazon could pursue.

For example, Amazon could add a disclaimer to reviews posted by authors, which identifies that reviewer as a writer. (In fact, that would be a win-win-win for the reader, the author of the work in question, and the reviewing author.  If the review was negative, readers could take that review with a grain of salt, recognizing that perhaps the reviewer was biased [especially if said review was poorly justified]. And if the review was positive [and well-written], then perhaps the reviewing author would pick up new fans from other readers.)

Other options include flagging strongly negative (1- or 2-star) reviews by authors who have been published in the same genre, so that readers can be aware of a potential bias or conflict of interest.

Perhaps the content of negative reviews from fellow authors can remain, but the star ranking would not be counted, therefore allowing the reviewing author to make their argument, but not allowing the work’s author’s ranking to be unfairly diminished.

One of the biggest problems with Amazon’s new policy is that it dramatically inhibits new authors from widening their readership.  Established authors won’t feel the impact of this new policy, since the loss of a handful of reviews won’t make a dent when you already have hundreds of reviews. But new authors often struggle to get even a dozen reviews, and so the loss of just a few can be devastating.

New authors can’t get family members to read and review their book, because Amazon considers them to have “financial interest in the product.” And they can’t get fellow authors to review their book because they have “financial interest in a directly competing product.”

Where is the line drawn?

What about friends, are they unfairly biased too? How about friends of friends, are they OK?  Friends of friends of friends? If a family member from outside my immediate household reads my book, are they allowed to post an honest review?  What if I give a free copy of my novel to a reviewer, is that considered bribery? My boss’s, sister’s, step-brother is thinking about writing a book, is he disqualified for being a biased acquaintance with a financial interest in a potentially competing project?

I’ve never been a fan of slippery-slope arguments, but since we’re already sliding down this mountain Amazon made from a molehill, I figured it was appropriate.

~ Laura Sheehan

[NOTE: This article was was originally published in the November 2012 issue of LARA Confidential, the newsletter of the Los Angeles Romance Authors chapter of RWA, for which I serve as Newsletter Editor.  It may be reprinted with proper credit to author and chapter.]