Sparks and Tarts: With Romance, Your Mileage May Vary…and That’s Okay

covers of a rogue by any other by sarah maclean, the preacher's promise by piper hugely, and top to bottom by delphine dryden

Did you try a romance once and put it down, never to pick up another? Did you ever wonder why that was? Maybe the plot didn’t work for you or the writing was bad. Maybe it was just boring. Maybe the author wrote a piece of sexist, racist garbage. Maybe there were elements that hit your YKINMK (Your Kink Is Not My Kink) hard limits. Maybe there was too much sex. Maybe there wasn’t enough.
You know the thing about romance? It’s fucking prolific. Romance may be a genre, but romance lives across categories and classifications. People of all types and interests write and read romance, so unless your biggest problem with romance as a genre is “I don’t like love stories that end happily,” there is a place in romance for you.

A lot of non-romance readers think romance, and one image comes to mind: a red cover and a bare, hairless man chest. Okay, neither of those things are bad, but I’m here to tell you something: there’s definitely more to be had in romance. Not only are there some absolutely breathtaking covers without a bare man chest in sight, but there are so many more than your average “Harlequin: Desire title” too. Not that there’s anything wrong with those either. You can read, like, five hundred of those in a year if you pace yourself right.

Harlequin and Avon Romance are the biggest, most popular romance publishers, but there are other Big Five imprints and several independent presses that are producing some of the best content around. Not to mention, there is a great stable of authors who elect to self-publish in the wake of traditional publishers not meeting their needs. These might have been authors who have published with big publishing before and want to have the reins themselves, or they could be authors who have not been able to successfully publish with big publishers for no reason besides not being what they were looking for.

What they were looking for is often a good phrase for some kinds of diverse romance. Sure, publishers like Kensington are better at finding multicultural romance and publish authors like Alyssa Cole, and Avon touts authors like Beverly Jenkins and Alisha Rai, but for the most part, authors looking to publish real romance featuring non-white characters, they might have to do it on their own.

four romance covers: Hate to Want You, Forbidden, The Lawrence Browne Affair, and An Extraordinary Union

So I guess my question for you is, what do you want? Not every book is for everyone; goodness knows there are some books that I have less than no interest in. I like books set in the historic Wild West, but forgive me if I let you keep your rodeo romance to yourself. I’ve dabbled in post-apocalyptic dystopian multi-partnered queer BDSM fiction, but find I’d rather have my Victorian London feature sweet Indian men who believe in their partners going for what they want and believe in. So what’s your poison?

cover of the preacher's promiseIf you like love stories, but not a lot of sex:

Look for sweet romances, or anything that lists its sex as “fade to black” or some similar phrase. Genres that tend to be in this category with very few exceptions are Amish romance, Christian/inspirational romance, and Sweet romance. These are specific categories, but you could also find them across the board, depending on the author or publisher’s preference.  

Delaney’s Desert Sheikh by Brenda Jackson (the FIRST Brenda Jackson novel of over 100 novels!)

Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi

The Preacher’s Promise by Piper Huguley

If you like your love stories with lots of steam and smoke:

There is a beautiful category called Erotic Romance. The steamiest of love stories can start with pretty much any situation and exist in any subgenre. Even in regular romance, you can find some of the sexiest storytelling wherever you turn. These aren’t just contemporary stories either. You can find some super sexy historicals set all over the world.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

The Professional by Kresley Cole

A Rogue by Any other Name by Sarah MacLean

cover of nuts by Alice ClaytonIf you would rather laugh with your lovers:

Romantic comedy is a thing, my friends, and some of the best writers are working in it today. Funny books range from smirks to cackling while still potentially making you cry. The key to these are that they involve great people that are easy to fall in love with even if they don’t easily fall in love on the pages. They make you laugh and you love them for it.

Nuts by Alice Clayton

Act Like It by Lucy Parker

Trade Me by Courtney Milan

If you like people getting tied up:

We’ve got stuff way more interesting than Fifty Shades for you. But we can thank it (and its better Twilight fanfic counterparts) for paving the way for good BDSM erotic romance to be published in the mainstream. Some people have only come across BDSM erotica that does not fall well into the romance world, but there is still good stuff that has a well-considered happy ending (where people can do what they want and nobody needs to be saved from their bedroom activity choices).

Fit by Rebekah Weatherspoon

How to Reprimand Your Rock Star by Mina Vaughn

Top to Bottom by Delphine Dryden

cover of first position by melissa brayden

If you’re not about that het-life:

Oh man, have I got some wonderful stuff for you. Yes, a lot of mainstream publishers are super heteronormative, but queer romance is alive and well. There’s still an issue with the majority of M/M romance being written by women, straight or queer, but there are starting to be more #ownvoices in the field, and their voices are definitely ringing clearer.

Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell

First Position by Melissa Brayden

Bound to be a Groom by Megan Mulry

There are thousands of romance novels in publication right now, and hundreds more are published every year. If you haven’t read one you’ve liked, try again. If these don’t work, there are tons more.

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Jessica Pryde

Jessica Pryde

Copyeditor Jess is a book hoarder and equal opportunity geek. She loves to get lost in stories of all kinds. See what she's lost in: @jessisreading