Category romance is one of the many kinds of romance novels out there. And just like with each kind of romance, enjoying it as a reader and author requires an understanding of what it is. Category romances are shorter romance – 50 000 to 55 000 words – which are written according to certain categories or outlines. These outlines generally give you insight to the kind of characters, settings and heat level you might find in the book. For example, I write for Harlequin Romance, which gives you a) a relatable heroine and a strong, sexy hero, b) has aspirational settings and c) has no or closed-door sex scenes.
There are a few things unique to all category romances though, which I’ve seen many readers who are unfamiliar with this type of book complain about. So, if you’d like to know what to expect before you pick up a category romance, look no further.
One: Tropes, tropes and more tropes
When I was younger, I loved Mills & Boon novels and would go straight for the books that had “baby” or “pregnancy” in the title. It took a while to realise that this meant I had favourite tropes. (Secret babies and pregnancies!!) It took a few tries before I knew how to use tropes in my writing, but since then, have found power in it. (Just look at my best-friend’s-bad-boy-older-brother-billionaire-next-door-surrogacy story out in May.)
Unsure of what a trope is? Look at any Harlequin title. Harlequin knows what their audience wants and gives it to them in the title already. For example, my August release – Surprise Baby, Second Chance – is a second-chance/reunited /pregnancy romance, and you know that just from the title.
Two: Romance, romance and more romance
A lot of the criticism I’ve heard about category is that there’s too much focus on the characters’ relationship. This includes a focus on the conflict – or issues – that keep them from just getting together. But the thing about category is that there’s no space on the page for more than that. We only have 50 000 words to convince the reader that these two people have worked through their issues – believably – so that they can be together – believably. That might sound like a lot, but remember, longer books are between 75 000 and 85 000 words. So we have to do what they do in about 2/3 of the word count. (Listen, if that Maths isn’t correct, I’m an author, okay?)
Category romances don’t generally include secondary characters unless they help the main characters get together. And we have to make sure there’s enough swoon-worthy romance – and enough perving on each of the main characters – while making sure our characters’ issues are real and relatable.