While I think everyone has a pretty good idea of what mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction are, it seems that confusion reigns when we start to discuss the various sub-genres. Often I’m asked to explain cozy mysteries, erotic romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal. Authors want to know what the differences are and how they should categorize their own books.
So, to make your lives easier, here’s a sub-genre encyclopedia BookEnds style. Please take note that all of these can be fluid and there are no exact rules. We only hope this “encyclopedia” will give you a better idea and understanding of what publishing professionals are talking about when they mention a specific sub-genre.
First made popular by Agatha Christie, cozy mysteries always involve an amateur sleuth: someone who, truthfully, has no business trying to solve a murder. These days the most popular cozies include a sleuth with a very specific hobby—a knitter, collector, or baker, for example. However, an amateur sleuth could also be a priest, a lawyer, or a cab driver. Cozy mysteries must always have a murder (what’s the point of a mystery without a body?), but are not at all gory. They should have very little to no blood and no violence (at least onstage). While cozies often include a romance (most books do), there is no sex or profanity. BookEnds represents a vast number of cozy mysteries. A quick perusal of our list should give you a good idea of what to expect from this genre.
Suspense novels often include a cop, PI, or forensics expert of some sort, but do not necessarily have that “whodunit” element. Suspense novels rely on fear to propel the story. The reader may know who the villain is but will still be surprised to see what they do next. They’re often gorier than cozies, and can tell the story from various points of view, including the killer’s.
This can certainly enter into blurry territory. Romantic suspense is always a romance first, but it’s framed by a very suspenseful storyline. The best way to gauge if your book is a mainstream suspense or romantic suspense is to think about your audience. Is a reader picking up your book because of the intense attraction and relationship between the two characters? Or are they picking it up to be engrossed by the action and creeped out by the bad guys?
With the popularity of erotica and erotic romance and the desire for readers to read books with a higher level of sensuality, the lines seem to be blurring in these categories. So I’ll try my best to clear them up. Erotica is the hottest of the hot. Books with multiple partners, S&M, etc., would fall into the category of erotica. These books, at least the ones I represent, still have a strong storyline and a romance, but the sex is much more graphic and pushes the boundaries.
Erotic romance is an incredibly hot romance. The sex scenes are graphic and integral to the storyline, but involve only one man and one woman. While they might experiment a little and are definitely brazen, you won’t find them inviting a third partner in, or participating in group activities. They might, however, use some toys or pleasure themselves.
A romance first, but with paranormal elements. They could be vampires, werewolves, or aliens. It could take place on another planet or involve magic and witchcraft. No matter what it is, though, romance is at the core of these books.
Category romance almost exclusively refers to books published by Harlequin/Silhouette in their lines or categories. These books are almost always shorter than single-title romances and always fit into a very specific series, like Silhouette Desire or Harlequin American. The lines all have very distinct guidelines and a voice. Category romances are sold through bookstores and, primarily, through mail order. They usually only stay on bookshelves for one month.
Chick lit is almost universally described as Bridget Jones’s Diary, the first in this relatively new genre. What most people fail to realize, or what got lost in the excitement over a hot new trend, was that Bridget Jones’s Diary was not such a smash hit because it was about a twenty-something with failed dating and work experiences and bad habits. It was a success because of its voice. Chick lit is about the voice, not necessarily the subject. It’s funny, irreverent, and a quick read. The subject matter itself can and should vary.
I hope that helps. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything, or feel free to expand on the genres as I’ve described them. For those of you writing in any of these specific genres, I’ll let you take the opportunity to pitch your own books or those you’re a fan of to give readers an idea of what they should be reading in each of these sub-genres.