By Christina Rich

Having served as a contest category coordinator and having judged writing contests for the romance writing community for many years, I’m always surprised by the number of entries that are entered in the wrong categories.This little slip can cause an entrant to not do so well. It’s just a contest, right? Well, how many miss-labeled submissions end up on an agent/editor’s desk?

Hopefully, this article will help you ascertain whether or not your story belongs in the romance category, which is important if you’re querying an agent or an editor. If they’re only looking for romance, you don’t want to submit your historical story in which there are no romantic elements.

I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to reading romance, but boy did I love watching romance movies. Minus a few Disney films, my first real romance movie was Grease starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. It was a true romance story Boy meets Girl, their worlds conflict and they ultimately overcome their differences to fly off into the sunset in a classic car.

When I first started writing historical fiction I knew I wanted to write romance. I wanted my characters to overcome their conflicts and ride off into the sunset with a happily ever after. However, I didn’t quite understand the genre. And I didn’t have a clue of my ignorance until I had an editor suggest my stories were historical with romantic elements, not historical romance.

So, what is the difference?

Good question. Hopefully I have a good answer for you.

Imagine if you will, a story of a young, accomplished Union soldier. You write his story. The battles he’s face, the times of solitude, the times he holds the hands of his soldiers as Dr. Sawbones removes limbs. You recount his moral dilemmas, his wavering faith in the face of tragedy, and you give him a woman to love. One that may, or may not, exist on screen. Her part isn’t exactly huge, although she gives him that certain something to keep waking up in the morning. Imagine his surprise when he comes home and finds her married to his best friend, but that is okay because he is a survivor. He sells his few belonging, loads up his horse, and heads west to become a farmer.

Now, imagine that same young man who has experienced all these things before you even set pen to paper. At the start of your story, he encounters a woman. Let’s make her a down and out Southern belle. She’s lost much to the war and is doing everything she can to protect those she loves. It is natural for these two to conflict. They’re on opposing sides, but somehow, they will ride off into the sunset and live their happily ever after.

The first story is focused on the young man and his journey. His life, with the Civil War as the backdrop, is central to the plot.

In the second story, there are two protagonists. A hero and a heroine. Their love story, with the Civil War as the backdrop, is central to the plot.

There are many sub-genres within the romance genre: romantic suspense, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, historical romance, inspirational romance, and young adult romance. The list can goes on and on, but the one thing you should know is, if it’s a romance, the romance (love story) needs to be ‘central’ to the plot and there needs to be a happily ever after, a promise of forever love.

Does your story have a central love plot or does it only have romantic elements? Answering the question may be able to help you narrow your genre down and figure out which genre your story belongs.

For more information on the romance genre please see Romance Writers of America’s page on romance.

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