After avoiding it for several years, I’ve finally broken down and joined Romance Writers of America (RWA), a ‘must-have’ membership for anyone in the field. As part of my application for their professional section, I have to demonstrate that I’m a published author in the field of romance, as opposed to any other genre. Now here’s the interesting part: Impulse & Initiative doesn’t count as a romance because my publisher listed it as Fiction & Literature, while Pemberley by the Sea does qualify because it was listed as Romance. I’ve always thought of I&I as a romance because it’s all about Elizabeth and Darcy coming together as a couple, whereas I consider PbtS to be women’s fiction, since it explores family relationships as well as the romantic couple, Cassie and Calder.
I wasn’t too happy at first with PbtS being sold in the romance section of bookstores because I think of that as having less traffic than the fiction section. Lately, though, I’ve come to accept it because it turns out that in the current economic situation, romance is the only genre that’s still selling well. I guess we all need some romance during hard times! But now I’m baffled by the next chapter, as it were. Morning Light, which is also women’s fiction, would be listed as a romance because – get this – PbtS was listed as a romance. I’m sure you can guess why Last Man in the World is being listed as Fiction and Literature!
This brings up the thorny question of what constitutes a romance versus a novel with strong romantic elements? The traditional definition is that if the focus is the couple and the ending is HEA (happily ever after, leaving no conflict unresolved), it’s a romance. If the romance isn’t central to the plot, but the focus is on relationships (friendships, family, etc.) and the ending isn’t strictly HEA, it’s “women’s fiction.” I guess men’s fiction must be novels that aren’t about relationships! Hmm, that’s a scary thought. If the romantic relationship is the focus of the novel but there are other important relationships explored, and if the ending isn’t fully HEA, it’s “women’s fiction with strong romantic elements.” Yes, that really is an officially recognized genre!
I started out writing romance and moved into women’s fiction with strong romantic elements as a natural progression. It wasn’t something I intended to do, but I’ve noticed it happens with a lot of writers. Their first few stories are happy romances, then successive stories get progressively darker. I’ve never figured out why that happens. I have to admit that as a reader I tend toward the happy romances, even if that isn’t what comes out of my pen. I’m curious what other readers like. Do you like your romance straight up, or with a dollop of other issues, or off to the side?