How Much Romance Should Be In A Book That Isn’t Romance Genre? Guest Post by Jaq D Hawkins…

Here we are in February and all the book clubs have been asking members to choose a Romance themed book to reflect Valentine’s Day. But what about those of us who don’t generally read Romance? Do we look in our favoured genres for a story with a strong romantic sub-plot?

Let’s come out and say it, people who don’t read Romance are fed up with seeing Romance books infiltrating all of their favourite genres. New writers are told to get their books listed in as many genres as possible. I feel this is actually bad advice, as it has made many readers wary of new books by unfamiliar authors infiltrating genre lists where the reader has very different expectations of a story.

While it isn’t universal, a large percentage of books published throughout the history of commercial publishing have included some form of romantic subplot. This was never a problem before the self-publishing boom that began in 2010. Classics, Historicals, even Science Fiction stories have more often than not included a character falling in love with or at least being attracted to another character. The difference between these stories and those which fall under the Romance genre are that it was not the primary story arc.

I can find many stories that don’t include a Romance angle at all, but as soon as they become source material for a movie, a scriptwriter will throw one in more often than not. Why is that?

Because like it or not, humans are social creatures who are mostly driven to pair up during at least part of their lives. Relationships are a natural part of the human experience. Romance and Mystery are the two most popular genres in publishing and have a large audience.

Romance serves a need and will undoubtedly continue to remain popular, even among readers who are very much aware of the discrepancy between the fantasy of storybook romance and the reality of human relationships. During lockdowns, sales of Romance books increased 17%. It doesn’t take a psych degree to work out that the inability to go out to places where people meet turned at least some to reading more Romance books.

This creates a dilemma for writers of other genres, more so for Traditional Fantasy writers than for most others. If you write Thriller, Crime Fiction or Horror, a relationship subplot fits in neatly and doesn’t leave anyone groaning. However, if your story is all about magic, dragons and perhaps some swordplay, it has become a delicate balance not only for writing, but for marketing.

Looking at the Fantasy novels I grew up reading, most have a relationship subplot somewhere. However, they were targeted to a completely different audience than today’s dragon shifter and hot vampire novels. The audience then was perceived as largely male, though there were just as many women, and stories were about mock-Medieval wars, political machinations, riding dragons or surviving in harsh worlds among other things.

These kinds of stories still exist, but are listed alongside Fantasy Romance books targeted at young adult women, some of whom expect at least a little erotica in the plot. While relationships form a significant part of stories like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series where alliances formed through marriage play a substantial role in the story arcs, including escaping from these political manoeuvres when the bonds are unwanted, sensuality is usually low key at most in this genre in favour of more relevant plot development.

There are exceptions, as always, but the point is, these books would not be accused of being Romance genre in disguise. So the question is, how much romance should a writer of other genres include in a story? Where does it cross a line?

The short answer is to look at the main theme of the story. If your story is about a female detective looking for clues about a missing person, your story may appeal to a large demographic of crime fiction readers. If your blurb then mentions the hot new police captain the character is reluctantly forced to work with, you’ve crossed a line and will lose a lot of crime readers while picking up the Romance readers who like Mystery along with their hot guys in uniform.

Is your Science Fiction novel about a resistance fighter taking on The Empire with a side order of beautiful princess, or is the story all about the forbidden love between a common pilot and the Royal Heir? This is where definitions get sticky. The above description might apply to the Star Wars franchise, or with some minor adjustments, it could be the love story in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Whatever genre you write in, introducing a relationship sub-plot is certainly appropriate, but how it’s introduced will make the difference in reader perception. My advice if you’re writing anything but Romance is to firmly establish the main plot before developing the romantic sub-plot very far, perhaps only dropping subtle clues for a couple of chapters at least.

On the bottom line, you want to market your book to the readers who want to read what you write. Anything that disappoints their expectations will lead to low rated reviews and lost readers.

My advice to Romance writers is to put it in the Romance section, even if it does have elements of other genres. You’ve already got the biggest audience, so play to it. On Amazon you’ll find a lot of sub-sections within that. Unfortunately, Amazon itself will place books in as many categories as they can justify to themselves, so be sure your blurb is clear about the nature of your story.

What about you? Do you write Romance? Do you write something else, but have romantic sub-plots? Let’s chat in the comments.

Jaq D Hawkins

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