Readers searching for contemporary romance novels might find it difficult to determine if the book is genre romance or women’s fiction.
A romance novel fulfills the reader’s expectation of a central love story. Romance Writers of America explains that the main plot centers on “individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work.” The driving force of women’s fiction, according to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, “is the protagonist’s journey toward a more fulfilled self.”
Let’s look at this way: if a love story was part of a meal, it’s the main entrée in a romance novel and a side item—or sometimes just a garnish—in women’s fiction.
A women’s fiction story often includes a romance, but it’s a subplot and there’s no guarantee that it will have a satisfying or optimistic conclusion. Unfortunately, the difference is not always clear when you’re browsing the bookstore. Sometimes even booksellers can’t tell the difference. The last time I visited my local bookstore, I found Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert shelved in general fiction instead of the romance section.
It doesn’t help that the book covers for the genres are similar. These days you can find the cover art for women’s fiction and romance filled with bright colors and illustrated depictions of couples. This is probably why online media outlets mistakenly include women’s fiction books on their lists of “most anticipated romance novels” and “recommended romances to read”.
Either they don’t know the definition of a romance novel or they didn’t read the books. The answer might be a combination of the two.
The publishers are not helpful when marketing women’s fiction to its ideal reader. Or perhaps unsuspecting romance readers are their target audience. Do they think a reader is going to be pleasantly surprised with a “family life fiction” story when they thought they were getting a sexy contemporary romance? Or do publishers believe romance readers won’t be disappointed with the bait and switch?
Publishers might want to rethink their tactics. After all, how many times have you picked up a trade-sized paperback book that online media declares is a sexy romance only to discover that it’s a coming of age story with a romance on the side. What are the chances that you will try the author again when the story didn’t deliver the romance promise?
Sometimes the mistake is on the reader. If bestselling romance authors are touting an irreverent romantic comedy, I will give it a try because I think it’s going to a humorous romance. And while the biting humor has me gulping for air because I’m laughing so hard, it’s still hard to ignore the fact that I’m 100 pages in and the potential love interest still hasn’t made an appearance. So, while it’s a good book and definitely delivers the humor, I’m not satisfied with the reading experience because I was expecting a romance.
So how can readers avoid disappointment? There’s always going to be a risk, but here are a few easy steps to take:
- Check if the publisher mentions read-alike authors. They’ll use a phrase such as “for fans of”. If the list includes romance authors or popular romantic movies, the book should meet the promise of genre romance.
- Look at the bonus content. When the book includes a behind-the-book essay, reader’s guide or discussion questions for a book club, then it’s likely women’s fiction.
- Become familiar with the publisher imprints and lines. For example, HarperCollins has many imprints for different kinds of fiction. The Avon imprint is exclusively genre romance and the William Morrow imprint publishes women’s fiction.
Readers can also go to Amazon and look at the product details on the book page. If there is no mention of romance, then it’s probably women’s fiction. However, the categories are not always accurate.
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