Category romances, also called series romances, are to me the epitome of romance as a genre. They’re short – mostly about 200 pages or 50,000 – 60,000 words long. The term category comes from the various lines such as Harlequin Presents or Silhouette Desire, each of which has specific requirements that may be related to style of plot, subgenre, or level of sexual content. These lines are formed or cancelled as the market for certain types of books grows and changes. An important difference between categories and single title romances is that categories are marketed and distributed more like magazines than like books. Their distribution is thus large, but they are often only shelved in bookstores for a single month.
Out of print categories are often easy to find in used bookstores or online at book swap sites such as BookMooch. I also like that the books are physically not very large or heavy, and thus easy to carry with me while I run errands that involve standing in line.
There is not a lot of room in 55,000 words to tell the complete story of a relationship; the writer must pare everything down to essentials of characterization. In lines such as Silhouette Romantic Suspense, there is also a mystery/suspense plot to consider. Fitting in all of these elements and at the same time emotionally involving the reader is no easy task. I liken it to writing a sonnet, in which idea and form are inextricably linked. And the best categories pack just as much of an emotional punch.
Who are your favorite category authors? Mine are Carla Kelly, who writes Regency-set historicals, and Ruth Wind/Barbara Samuel, who writes contemporaries, usually with suspense elements. More of my favorites are Judith Arnold, Christine Merrill, Julie Cohen, Janice Kay Johnson, Kathleen Korbel, Cheryl Reavis, and Lilian Darcy.
Miranda’s Revenge by Ruth Wind.
The Surgeon’s Lady by Carla Kelly.
Birthright: Welcome to Riverbend by Judith Arnold.
A Wicked Liaison (Harlequin Historical Series) by Christine Merrill.
His For The Taking by Julie Cohen.
Someone Like Her by Janice Kay Johnson.
A Soldier’s Heart by Kathleen Korbel.
The Older Woman by Cheryl Reavis.
A Mother In The Making by Lilian Darcy.