Learning To Love Romance | Readers’ Advisory

ljx170501webRAslugPassionate historicals, fast-paced suspense, werewolves, Vikings, modern-day bikers, Navy SEALs, Amish families. The romance genre can give you all these things and a happy ending.

Romance novels share two defining characteristics—a love story and the satisfying resolution of that story. There can be any kind of setting or theme, but the main characters must fall in love and have their happily ever after, or at least the promise of one. While the happy ending is guaranteed, romance readers still demand a strong story and a connection with the characters and the emotions that come from investing in that journey.

relishing the range of romance

Romantic suspense is the most widely read subgenre, containing plots full of mystery and thriller elements. Classic authors such as Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt spin stories with hints of danger, while modern authors Suzanne Brockmann, Sandra Brown, and Catherine Coulter create tales with explicit danger and sex.

Historical romances take place in any time period prior to 1950 (though that is loosening up a bit as we proceed down the time line), with settings and eras that vary widely. Authors to know are Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Grace Burrowes, Loretta Chase, Tessa Dare, Beverly Jenkins, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah MacLean, Courtney Milan, and Julia Quinn.

Paranormal romances contain supernatural elements such as vampires, ghosts, werewolves, psychics, and angels. There are also sf tropes such as time travel and steam­punk. A few authors in this subgenre include Gail Carriger, Christine Feehan, Jeaniene Frost, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Nalini Singh.

• Spiritual beliefs of the characters play a defining part in the relationships in Christian and inspirational romances. Take a look at the works of Tamera Alexander, Piper Huguley, Julie Klassen, Beverly Lewis, and Lauraine Snelling.


• In erotic romance, explicit sex is a large part of the storytelling. The stories can be set in any time period and contain elements from some of the other subgenres. For some steamy reading, check out Emma Chase, Sylvia Day, Zane, Vi Keeland, Alisha Rai, Leah Raeder, and Damon Suede.

Contemporary romances take place from 1950 to the present and can be set in a variety of locations. You’ll find sports, bikers, the military, and just about any other pro-fession in this subgenre. Jennifer Crusie, Christina Lauren, Jamie McGuire, Brenda Jackson, Debbie Macomber, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Jill Shalvis are some favorites.

• Readers looking for romantic fiction with LGBTQ leads should seek out K.J. Charles (historical, m/m), Radclyffe (contemporary, f/f), Heidi Cullinan (contemporary, m/m), Melissa Brayden (contemporary, f/f), and Anna Cowan’s Untamed (Regency, bisexual). Dream­spinner, Carina, and Riptide are all publishers to know.

Connecting to the reader

In a training course I teach about romance RA, I stress that you have about five seconds to connect with a reader, and your attitude is everything. Romance readers are used to being judged—by friends, family, strangers, booksellers, and librarians. They’ve been told their reading tastes are not good enough, and their favorite books are often dismissed. If you personally dislike romance works, just keep in mind that RA isn’t about you or what you like but about assisting readers and helping them find their next great read.

Levels of sexuality vary widely across the romance genre, and it’s important to match the level to the reader as part of the RA interview. Find and practice your preferred terminology to assist in that discussion. You may want to use terms such as sweet, tame, mild, hot, spicy, or PG-, R-, or X-rated.

A great resource is the Romance Writers of America (RWA) website (www.rwa.org). An entire section, “About the Romance Genre,” explains the genre and subgenres and offers statistics. Kristin Ramsdell’s Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (2d ed. Libraries Unlimited, 2012) and Joyce G. Saricks’s The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (ALA Editions, 2009) have excellent suggested authors and titles. (Ramsdell has written LJ’s romance column since 1994.) In addition to the traditional review sources, the website Smart Bitches Trashy Books (smartbitchestrashybooks.com) is bracingly honest and calls out the horrible as needed. The website founders, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, also wrote Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels (Touchstone, 2009). Many romance authors are savvy marketers and have strong presences on social media. Women of Color in Romance (@WOCInRomance) is an excellent Twitter presence to follow.

Romance readers generate a billion dollars in sales each year and check out millions of books in libraries nationwide. Let’s give them recognition and serve them well.

Kim Storbeck is the Electronic Resources Collection Development Specialist at Timberland Regional Library, Olympia, WA. While a reader of everything, she holds a particular love for romance novels

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  1. Roger Entwhislte says:

    A superb article – great examples of specific authors, well-written, brilliant insights. I shared it with the staff here. Thanks.

  2. Carolyn Lawrence says:

    Any LGBTQ publisher list that doesn’t include Interlude Press is not current. IP may not be as big as Dreamspinner or Riptide, but it’s shaking things up with its quality and fresh approach to genre fiction. Fewer torso covers, more substance. Disappointed to see it overlooked by Library Journal.

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