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Romance vs. Romantic Suspense vs. Suspense/Action/Adventure

By Deb Werksman
Editorial Manager
Sourcebooks Casablanca

Lately I’ve been seeing an interesting phenomenon in manuscripts as wide-ranging as Regencies, paranormals and romantic suspense. Over and over I’m bouncing manuscripts back to my authors saying, “your suspense/action/adventure is swamping the love story.”

In the Romance category, the love story MUST be the center of the book. Elements of suspense or action/adventure in a romance are an exciting and interesting way to enhance the central relationship, cause tension or conflict, and move the story forward. But when the love story is subsumed into the action/adventure or the suspense elements, the book no longer belongs in the Romance category, and that’s problematic.

Sometimes when I talk to authors about this, I discover that the characters and their relationship are fully fledged in the author’s mind, and they can tell me everything—the love story is more developed when they talk about the book, but somehow, that’s not translating onto the page.

Any time you have a scene where either the hero, the heroine, or both are not in the scene, you must ask yourself: is this scene furthering the love story, the suspense/action/adventure, or neither?

A straightforward way to evaluate that is to do a scene by scene outline. It can be sketchy if it’s just for you. If you want to go over it with your editor or critique partner, you may want to make it a little more fleshed out. At minimum, you should have who’s in the scene and what happens (a sentence or so should do the job).

World-building and backstory are important; suspenseful and thrilling elements are fantastic—as long as these work to develop the central love story.

Romance is the top-selling category in adult fiction. Romance readers are voracious, intelligent, and loyal. Still, if you’re publishing in the romance category, your readership expects a love story. Romance readers like being challenged. They embrace fresh and new plots, interesting mixes of subgenres, inventive world-building, and suspenseful elements.

Romance authors are some of the most passionate, creative, dedicated, and inventive writers publishing today. Romance readers will follow writers to the most unexpected places, beyond the beyond—just as long as you deliver the romance.

Here’s what I’m looking for editorially—single title romance fiction in all subgenres that meets these criteria:

*a heroine the reader can relate to

*a hero she can fall in love with

*a world gets created

*a hook I can sell with in 2-3 sentences

*a career arc for the author


  1. Deb, thank you for another great post. I get so much direction from your blogs. Now the application falls on me!

  2. Good Morning! Great can tell when someone is passionate about their work and actually knows their industry! I'm so thankful that you said "Romance is the top-selling category in adult fiction. Romance readers are voracious, intelligent, and loyal."...I wish that the booksellers would feel the same way...I can't count the number of times that I've walked into a bookstore and had to look for the romance section...I understand that not all of the covers are appropriate for child view but we Romance readers only deserve the back corner of the store???

  3. Romance makes the world a happier place to be. :)

  4. I agree with everything you said, Deb. That's the reason I love romance books. Give me romance, romance, romance. Every time.

  5. Thanks, Deb, for a good reminder. Hopefully our characters are so hot for each other they won't let the other stuff get in their way!

  6. Stellar blog as always, Deb! I always appreciate the time you share here to give us tips and reminders - you're awesome!!

  7. Gee, this sounds familiar! ;-) I think the best piece of feedback you gave me during edits for TASTE ME was to assess my POV usage scene by scene. If the scene wasn't written in the POV of the hero, the heroine or the villain, question whether it was necessary. The answer was usually 'no'.

  8. That was an intriguing post, I never realized that about romance.

  9. I love any kind of romance books, but there is just something about a romantic suspense book. I love that edge of your seat feeling you get when reading them.

  10. Thank you for the tips, Deb. The world would be a bland place without romance.

  11. I read a variety of romance and sometimes a good suspense thriller. I see what you are saying, but for me the plot makes it more exciting for me in a suspense, romantic or not. So I don't mind the romance being secondary, though I do like some mixed in, as in suspense with romantic elements or UF where the romance develops slowly through the series.

  12. Deb,

    Thank you for reenforcing the direction of my writing. I write romantic suspense with a twist geared to hearth and home. A fellow writer put me on to this when I lamented the dilemma I faced marketing work heavy on romance, laced with suspense. Once I developed a brand - Great Lakes Romance, where love runs deep and sometimes dangerous - I built a webiste around the theory that sometimes bad things happen in small towns. It got me a three book contract!
    Your points were good ones, not all suspense stories involve serial killers.

    Nancy Kay

  13. Hi Deb-I love your post! Romance rules!

  14. Hi Deb,

    As I was reading my brain read, "They embrace flesh and new plots..." *snicker*

    I do know exactly what you're saying, though. I was probably one of the authors who had that conversation with you, and amped up the chemistry as a result.

    Thanks for reminding me (us) of our primary objective!

  15. For me the characters come first and then I will follow the author anywhere. I like that they are mixing all kinds of genres now. Actually a romance book is never "just" a romance book or at least I don't think so. It's so much more. Granted some books may have no romance in them but I think it's always an added bonus to any story. It's all about the characters :)

  16. Thanks for explaining such valuable information to us Ms. Werksman.
    The reason I love romance so much more than suspense is because I enjoy watching the chemistry build between the h/h and the emotion of the story in general.

  17. Clear and concise, Deb! Wonderful post, as usual.

  18. A straightforward way to evaluate that is to do a scene by scene outline. It can be sketchy if it’s just for you. If you want to go over it with your editor or critique partner, you may want to make it a little more fleshed out.


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