Today, while discussing our novel with another author, it came to me that the misconception and stigma around Erotic Romance is still alive and kicking.
After clarifying that Countermeasure has Erotic elements, not to be confused with EroticA, I decided to write a blog post compiling the information Cecilia and I have gathered from many reputable sources while writing our novel and learning about the craft.
Let's start by defining the main genre (Romance with big R as Deborah Cooke called it in her latest workshop for the TRWA) and its sub-genres. Once that is established we can move into heat levels which is where Erotic and Erotica take a different meaning.
The Romance genre is vast and has many nuances, thin lines, and cross-genre elements that makes it hard to strictly define sub-genres. For the sake of reference we will use the RWA definition of the genre as it is available publicly available on its website:
"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 two 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."
Now, let's see what those sub-genres are and how they are defined. Please keep in mind that more and more subgenres are appearing in the publishing horizon with the advent of self-publishing, but the main sub-genres, as described again on the RWA website, are:
"Contemporary Series Romance
Series romance novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and typically set after 1945.
Contemporary-Single Title Romance
Romance novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship, released as individual titles, not as part of a series and set after 1945.
Romance novels set in any time period prior to 1945, and taking place in any location.
Romance novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religion or spiritual belief system) are a major part of the romantic relationship.
Novels with Strong Romantic Elements
A work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.
Romance novels in which the future, a fantasy world, or paranormal happenings are an integral part of the plot.
Romance novels in which the majority of the story is set against the Regency period of the British Empire.
Romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.
Young Adult Romance
Novels with a strong romantic theme geared toward young adult readers."
Based on these definitions, a number of cross-genres sub-sub-genres can be developed. Now that we understand the genres and sub-genres, let's take a look at heat levels.
You will find slight variations in definition of heat levels by publisher, but, loosely, the heat levels follow a general guideline:
Sweet Romance doesn't contain any sexual scenes. We have an understanding that the main characters have sex but there is no description of the acts. There might be sexual tension throughout the story.
Sensual Romance has an increased level of sensuality in love scenes, which are consummated, and an integral part of the story. The love scenes are not explicitly described even though they might occur more than once on the course of the story. Emotion and conflict run high. No graphic language or violence is used in love/sex scenes' descriptions.
Erotic Romance is a step up from Sensual where the sex scenes are hot, the language graphic, and the love/sex scenes thoroughly described. There is an abundance of sexual tension and sex/love scenes abound. Erotic romances can push the envelope almost to the edge of erotica but the characters in erotic romance are generally in monogamic relationships and the stories are expected to end in HEA.
Erotica usually means no holds barred. Ménage/multiple partners, BDSM and other less discussed taboos are frequently explored openly. The sex is plentiful, sporadic, intentional, chaotic and VERY explicit. Language can be often crude. An HEA is not required. The only no-no for publishers of this heat level seems to be illegal or some taboo subjects (usually described in the publisher' submission guidelines).
Now that you have information on genres, sub-genres and heat levels you can mix and match them in your writing. Defining your novel/story is a must when you reach the submission phase. You will be asked about your book's genre each time. It is important to know what you write but also bear in mind that each project is different and while you may feel comfortable writing a Sweet Contemporary Romance you may also feel comfortable writing an Erotic Romantic Suspense.
As for Countermeasure, we have defined it as such: Erotic Romantic Suspense. We are happily placed among great writers such as J.D. Robb, Brenda Novak and Karen Robards. Its heated scenes are an integral part of the character development but do not overwhelm the story. The main line belongs to the developing romance between Trevor and Cassandra. The suspense bit adds edge to the story.
Please note that the the above information is a general guide and that some publishers and authors may have different definitions. Yet, we hope it is useful and clarifies some of the questions and misconceptions about the subject.
For more information on the subject you might want to refer to the following: