Dec 20 2012 4:00pm

Who Put That Category Romance into My Romance Novel?

The Proposition by Katie AshleyIf romance readers admit to having a guilty pleasure, it’s not so much about the genre we choose to read, but the tropes within the genre: Secretly loving alpha men with their monosyllabic commands and caveman-ish ways or enjoying forbidden boss/secretary love in an elevator scenarios. Romance readers tolerate behavior in books that in real life would have us kicking them to the curb or crying sexual harassment for sure.

My guilty pleasure isn’t any one cliché or familiar trope; thanks to my e-reader and its lovely cloaking capabilities I’ve recently found myself enjoying nearly all of them. No, my secret is that I have been a category romance lover for years, without ever really picking one up on my own.

In fact, this scenario might even describe some of you.

First, let me say my knee jerk reaction to “category” style romances and subsequent reading around the genre without reading from a romance line or collection comes from watching my older female role models. I mean no disrespect. The message I got growing up was clear: keep the beefcake covers covered. And, for the love of all that is good, don’t ever get caught browsing books under the ROMANCE signage in public. That is, if I ever wanted to be taken seriously in journalism school, graduate school, business…or my own home.

No Flowers Required by Cari QuinnAs much as I love my seriously sexy erotic romance reads, I still can’t bring myself to browse the typical category romances. Hypocritical, I know. Just to be clear; when I say category romances I mean series romances, a special type of romance line that’s released monthly by different authors and set apart from standalone novels. I tend to think of them as somewhat shorter in length, light and cliché-filled, and often categorized by a certain “heat” level.

Imagine my surprise during a recent conversation with a fellow reviewer when she gleefully pointed to the fact that I was already reading outside my comfort zone. In fact, several of my favorite light, quick contemporary reads of 2012 had all the qualities of a typical category Harlequin Blaze or Silhouette line:

1.  The Proposition by Katie Ashley: a “she’s having a baby” story with a twist featuring a likeable heroine who’s dealt with a great deal of loss and hears her biological clock ticking. When her gay best friend backs out of being her donor she finds herself accepting a baby making “proposition” from the least likely of sources: her sexy co-worker with a reputation who promises to help her make a baby the old fashioned way—no strings attached.

2.  No Flowers Required (#2 Love Required series) by Cari Quinn: a love-hate-love, mistaken/hidden identity, and reluctant heir romance that’s both sweet and sexy. Has a You’ve Got Mail/The Shop Around the Corner vibe but features an updated hero in the form of a hot, tattooed handy man and a heroine with a failing flower business thanks to…the guy she’s falling for who she mistakenly thinks is trying to help her save it.

The Marriage Trap by Jennifer Probst3.  The Marriage Trap by Jennifer Probst. (#2 Married to the Billionaire series): the Italian countryside acts almost as a main character in this fun, angsty hate-to-love, marriage of convenience story where misinformation abounds. Both hero and heroine have played the field only to remain alone, that is, until marriage becomes a necessity for the hero and his family and a way for the heroine to blackmail him out of her own family’s lives once and for all.

Now more than ever in a post-Fifty Shades market, publishers know there are readers like me who secretly love clichés, but don't want to browse through all the category romances to get them. Online retailers and ninja book marketers have done a brilliant job of telling me if I liked Tempting the Best Man by J. Lynn a.k.a. Jennifer Armentrout, why not try Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry? I did ,and enjoyed them both. Like the others, they were either category style romance “in disguise” or in the case of J. Lynn’s book, part of the new Entangled Blaze line (a category book!) and delivered a fun, quick, oh-so-slightly sexy contemporary read. Best of all, I didn’t have to do my version of the walk of shame to read them. A win-win.

Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah MayberryWho knows, with the new year coming perhaps I’ll take the plunge and try a category romance. Logically I know all romances have elements that are similar. I have to admit that it’s been kinda fun getting to the mid point of these books realizing that their talented authors have worked their magic and skillfully hooked me by weaving a painfully familiar plot in such a way that it almost didn’t feel so familiar at all.

I don’t think I’m alone in my roundabout journey to these kinds of books. Judging by book sales I’d even venture to say that thousands of women out there are just like me— returning to (or just starting to) read contemporary and erotic romance whole-heartedly thanks to the e-reader/tablet boom and reading romances by the dozens even if it means deciphering impossibly small type on our Smartphone (And loving every minute of it).

Now that I've admitted to secretly loving “category” style romances featuring marriages of convenience, hate-to-love and, of course, lusting after the forbidden man (best man, best friend, boss) stories—what “category romances in disguise” are you reading? It appears I’ll be looking for some new ones real soon.


Tina Allen has spent over a decade successfully avoiding publishing her romance novels by teaching reading and writing, pimping books as a librarian and writing/editing for others. Tina is now gleefully reading, writing and reviewing romance She can also be found tweeting about her adventures in authorhood @book_crack.

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Sarah M. Anderson
1. Sarah M. Anderson
Give categories a try! I certainly felt the same way back when I was an academic. Then, somehow, I wound up writing them! For my February Harlequin Desire book, A Real Cowboy, I was told I needed a rich, rugged rancher--and everything else was up to me. There's a lot of latitude within lines, which means that there aren't the cliches as some people think. Not all categories are for everyone, but a lot of people enjoy the shorter lengths.
Sarah M. Anderson
2. J. D. Chase
I love romances of all descriptions. When I grew up (allegedly) Mills and Boon category romances were the subject of ridicule. I don't particularly know why but I was never tempted to find out. Months ago, I was told by a friend that I absolutely must read The Siren by Tiffany Weisz so I duly downloaded it and was almost put off from reading it when I saw the Mills and Boon Spice logo. However, I'd paid for it and it was highly recommended so I gave it a go. I was stunned that what I was reading was a Mills and Boon book! I haven't read any others (with the exception of the other two in this series so far) but it taught me a lesson. Now my motto is if I like it, I'll read it. Nothing else matters.
Sarah M. Anderson
3. Lia1986
You might like Anna Cleary's The Night That Started It All from this month's Mills & Boon Modern line, since it has the exact same cover photo as The Proposition :-)

loved Her Best Worst Mistake as well
Sarah M. Anderson
4. dick
IMO, some of the best writers write categories--authors such as Kylie Brant, Gail Ranstrom, Sarah Mayberry, and on and on. Perhaps the shorter length forces authors to leave out all the stuff readers skip anyway--to paraphrase somebody whose name I can't remember. Some authors who have gone on to write stand alones did better work when they wrote category and should probably return to doing so.
Tina Allen
5. TinaAllen
Thanks for the encouragement ladies.

J.D.: Glad you gave THE SIREN a try. I felt much the same way and have since been hooked on Tiffany Reisz's Original Sinners series. I especially like your motto, " If I like it, I'll read it. Nothing else matters."

-I think that's going to be one of my new mantras for 2013 ereader or not.

Open to suggestions so keep 'em coming!
Sarah M. Anderson
6. AngelaCIMiracles
I love your content. It's rich and honest. I feel you "get it" down to the nitty gritty. Love your bio. Fabulous and thank you for writing out loud. I so enjoy your style and wit. Very clever. Thank you for sharing.
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