Choosing category romance

Nora Roberts, Iris Johansen, Jayne Ann Krentz, Suzanne Brockmann—single-title authors often get their start in category romance. Jessica Andersen shares what makes writing category romance an appealing career move, for both new and seasoned romance authors.


What is category romance?

Category, at present, is sold almost exclusively by the Harlequin/Silhouette name. And so if you go into the supermarket and you see that wall of series books. And they’re very uniform in their cover design. Different colors cue the readers that they’re different lines. And so you’ll have—the purple covers are what I write for. Those are Intrigues, and so you know you’re going to get a romance and you’re going to get a mystery of some sort. So it’s a way of creating predictability for the reader not in the story but in the content. You know Intrigue will always have a satisfying mystery and a satisfying romance.

Category is an easier place to come into without an agent. And so I wanted, if possible, to sell into category, develop a bit of a category career and then make the leap to single title using as my model people like Suzanne Brockmann and Lisa Gardner and Tess Gerritsen. All of whom wrote in their early days, and some still do, for the categories.

But the category books tend to be shorter. They come out four or six per month. They’re on the shelves for a month. So it’s a quick turnover. They want you to be able to produce two to four books a year for them, because they want to keep you on the shelves. They want to keep your name out there. It’s a great place to start a career in my opinion. It’s a reliable income stream. And, to be honest, you don’t get that when single title. Single title is non-category books. It’s the bigger things that’ll come out and stay in the bookstores for longer. But there’s this mythos that you’re going to make more money in single title.

Single title has got a much higher ceiling but you have the potential to start here and fall off a lot quicker. So it’s a little bit more of a risk. So, for me, especially where I wanted to work as an author, category was a good choice. Also I loved reading them.

Writing the category books has taught me an incredible amount about pacing, because you don’t have time to fool around—if I’ve got 60,000 words. So say my big books are 130,000 words. In an Intrigue, I have 60,000 words to tell a satisfying romance and a mystery and, in some cases, because I a lot of times do interconnected trilogies, I also have to plant seeds for the next book. So you just don’t have time to waste. So it makes your writing style very clean and sparse, least it has mine, and has made me very aware of scenes that don’t need to be in the story and to just cut to the chase, what has to be on the page next.

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