About the Romance Genre

The romance industry is booming! In 2016, romance made up 23% of the overall US fiction market, second only to General Fiction. On this page you'll find information about: 


Have more questions about the genre? Contact press@rwa.org!

The Basics

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there's a romance novel waiting for you!
 

Definition

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. 
 
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 
 
Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction. 

Romance Novel Formats

There are two formats for romance fiction:
  • Series or "category" romances: books issued under a common imprint/series name that are usually numbered sequentially and released at regular intervals, usually monthly, with the same number of releases each time. These books are most commonly published by Harlequin/Silhouette.
  • Single-title romances: longer romances released individually and not as part of a numbered series. Single-title romances may be released in hard cover, trade paperback, or mass-market paperback sizes.
 

Romance Subgenres

All romance novels have a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending. Beyond that, however, romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. Romance fiction may be classified into various subgenres depending on setting and plot elements. These subgenres include:

Contemporary Romance: Romance novels that are set from 1950 to the present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship

Erotic Romance:
Romance novels in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the love story, character growth and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may contain elements of other romance subgenres (such as paranormal, historical, etc.).

Historical Romance:
Romance novels that are set prior to 1950.

Paranormal Romance
: Romance novels in which fantasy worlds or paranormal or science fiction elements are an integral part of the plot.

Romance with Spiritual Elements:
Romance novels in which spiritual beliefs are an inherent part of the love story, character growth or relationship development, and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may be set in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system of any culture.

Romantic Suspense:
Romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

Young Adult Romance:
Romance novels in which young adult life is an integral part of the plot.
 

The Romance Reader

In 2017, RWA commissioned "The Romance Book Buyer 2017: A Study by NPD Book for Romance Writers of America." A portion of the results can be found below. 

Who is the romance reader?

  • Female: 82%
  • Male: 18%
  • Average age of the romance reader: 35–39 years old
  • Ethnicity: 73% White/Caucasian, 12% Black/African American, 7% Latino/Hispanic, and 4% Asian/Asian American.
  • Sexual orientation: 86% heterosexual or straight; 9%  bisexual, pansexual, or other bi+ identity; 2% gay or lesbian.

Reading Habits

  • Most frequent readers are younger, with half of frequent and very frequent readers aged 34 and below.
  • 92% of survey respondents are print readers; 64% are e-book readers; 35% are audiobook users.
  • Tablets and smartphones are the most-used devices to read e-books.
  • Half of romance readers read romantic suspense, followed by erotic and historical as the most popular genres.
  • Younger readers read more young adult, erotic, and paranormal romance and less contemporary romance than older readers.

Acquiring Romance Books

  • Top responses for how romance readers acquire romance novels: borrow from a library; purchase in brick-and-mortar bookstores; acquire them from friends/relatives; purchase in print via an online store; and purchase them as an e-book via an online store.
  • A higher percentage of readers buy from bricks-and-mortar stores than online, and 15% use a subscription service.
  • One-third of readers searched for new authors in the the past six months.
  • Content is listed as a more important purchase influence than recommendations.

Further Insights

The future of romance is the younger emerging readership.

These younger readers are:

  • diverse in sexual orientation and in ethnicity
  • more male
  • frequent readers
  • listening to audiobooks
  • reading e-books on smartphones
  • consuming YA, erotic, and paranormal romance
  • shopping at a greater number of online retailers
  • extremely engaged on social media and willing to experiment with new authors

Source and Methodology
Source: The Romance Book Buyer 2017: A Study by NPD Book for Romance Writers of America
Methodology
  • Sample of 2,000 romance book readers
  • Survey fielded in December 2017
  • Quota for gender and age based on nationally representative sample of book buyers who said they were likely to read a romance book in the future
  • Screener question: Do you read romance fiction novels? This would include books where (1) there is a central love story and (2) the end of the story is positive.


Permission is granted by Romance Writers of America to link to this page and/or use portions of the statistics with proper citation. Do not reprint or copy this information in its entirety. 
Source: NPD Books Romance Landscape: A Study by NPD Book for Romance Writers of America.