Technically, romance is its own genre. Just like any major genre, of course, it has many sub-genres, and those dramatically effect the plot, the characters, and the target audience. If you’re trying to figure out where your steamy scenes fit, review your options. And, of course, always remember who you’re writing for!
You can probably name a historical romance off the top of your head. Outlander is one of the most popular right now, but there are historical romances in essentially every library and bookstore in the world. Frequently, historical romances center around particular wars, battles, and actual historical figures. Sometimes one character travels through time to meet their love, but that isn’t at all mandatory. Pirate romances may be considered a secondary sub-genre of historical romance.
This is the genre of mannerly romance. Regency fiction tends to be more ‘family friendly’ and usually doesn’t feature as much physical love as high emotion and witty dialogue. That doesn’t mean your characters can’t have their moment between the sheets, of course, but always remember Regency romance has roots set in the banter and drama of Jane Austen’s masterpieces.
Does your romance happen in the present day? Then you have a contemporary romance on your hands. Typically, these stories feature more every-day dramas, like work, vacation, walking your dog in the park, and meet-cutes in cafes. It’s easy for modern readers to slip into these characters’ skins.
This is a very specific sub-genre that has a very specific readership. That said, it can be very lucrative, and some authors enjoy blending faith and romantic fantasy. Christian romantic fiction is one of the largest markets for this sub-genre. Stories should follow conservative Christian principles, like waiting for marriage, and themes typically tie back to theological lessons.
This rebel child of the romance genre doesn’t waste much time before getting down and dirty. Sex plays a key role from beginning to end, and readers expect lots of highly explicit scenes. Although there is still a plot populated by characters, erotic fiction tends to emphasize the physical over the emotional. Rather than building to the dizzy heights of amorous abstinence featured in Regency romance, erotic fiction inserts tab A into slot B as often as the writer can manage.
If your romance features secondary plot points that would fit well in the suspense genre (kidnapping, a murder, survival on a desert island, etc.) then it goes here. Readers are looking for a thrill with their love. It’s important to keep the romance front and center, though. Once the love between characters becomes secondary to the thrills and chills, you’ve slipped over the line and left romance country.
Like romantic suspense, this sub-genre sits between romance and a different section of the bookstore. Romantic humor explores the funny side of love, often blending the ridiculous with the sweet and charming. It’s a fun twist that often attracts a greater range of readers.
Do ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and assorted boogie-folk fall in love with your protagonist? Well then, you have a paranormal romance on your hands! Shape-shifters, aliens, and all things that go bump in the night pull your work into this genre, even when your story fits other sub-genres on this list. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as you get to explore different niches while still attracting a significant demographic of romance readers.
As a final note, always remember not only your audience’s interests, but also their age range. Erotic fiction doesn’t really belong on YA shelves, and New Adult isn’t the same as Adult. They will look for different things and appreciate heroes/heroines of different ages and persuasions. Think of movie ratings as your write. You wouldn’t want to write an X-rated erotic novel for a teenager, but a PG Regency work may appeal to several age groups.