Saturday, 31 January 2015

8 Things You Always Wanted to Know about Writing Category Romance

What is Category Romance?

Category Romances are a clearly designated series of books, usually around 50-55k words in length. Mills and Boon is the biggest publisher of category romances in the world, and their categories, to name but a few, include Modern Romance, Riva, Medical, Historical and Intrigue. The different lines are generally colour coded, each with a with recognisable ‘livery’. Their American arm, Harlequin, publish the same books but in slightly different lines and colour codes. For example, in America, Modern romances are called ‘Harlequin Presents’.  The books are published on a regular basis, with as many as four or five from each line being published each month. This means there are a lot of opportunities for writers who want to break into the category romance market.

How does category romance differ from traditional romance?

It doesn’t differ that much. Category romances are, for the most part, traditional male and female romances. The main difference is that the category romances tend to be more centred on the romance, with hardly any sub-plot. One tip I was given by a Mills and Boon writer was to keep it simple, but dig deep so that it’s all about the emotion and internal conflict rather than external conflict.

So what exactly does each category involve?

Different romance publishers have different categories and conventions, so I’ll stick with the main Mills and Boon lines for now. You’ll find that other publishers have very similar lines but give them different titles.

Mills and Boon Modern Romances are contemporary romances, usually involving rich men and ordinary girls (though sometimes it’s the other way around). They’re set in luxurious locations, and are pure escapist fantasies. The covers are generally royal blue, and the images are sensual in tone.

Riva have two categories within their line. One is for chick-lit style novels, and the other is what used to be known as ‘cherish’ for a sweeter romance. The newer covers tend to have a cartoon ‘fifties’ feel to them with pink ticker tape at the bottom. Much like the chick lit novels on sale in bookshops.

Medical romance is pretty much as it says on the tin. They’re set in hospitals or doctor’s surgeries, and it’s just as likely that the heroine is a doctor or surgeon. They generally have a cross motif on the cover, though the colours are varied nowadays.

Historical can encompass anything from ancient Scotland to World War II. They tend to be longer – around 70k – to allow for more historical description. Purple seems to be the main livery colour, but these are also becoming more varied, but with a recognisable ‘silk ribbon’ pattern at the top of the cover.

Intrigue, in the British line of M&B, can either include stories of romantic intrigue – cops, CIA agents, soldiers etc – or paranormal. Vampires and werewolves are very popular. In America, these are two different lines, Intrigue for the cops and robbers type story, and Nocturne for the Paranormal. Like the Historical, they’re around 70k words in length.

Check out the Mills and Boon website for other categories (

It’s important to stress that in all of the lines, the romance must be the primary story. Any subplots take second place to the development of the main love affair.

It’s a bit formulaic, isn’t it? Don’t they all end up with the exact same stories?

Not at all. Within those lines and genres are sub-genres. In Modern Romance this can include Greek Billionaires, Italian Billionaires, Arab Sheiks, Indian Maharajahs and so on, depending on reader’s favourite fantasies.

Then there are the sub-sub-plots. This can include the ‘amnesia plot’ and the ‘secret baby plot’.

Plus it isn’t unusual for the doctors or policemen in the Medical and Intrigue lines to be very rich, and also forget they’ve either fathered or given birth to a secret baby…

So far from being formulaic, there is a lot of scope within each line and always room for an author to bring their own voice to the proceedings. 

However, top Mills and Boon Modern romance author, Kate Walker, does offer this calculation for writing the perfect category romance:




‘Getting to know you’+

Lowest point (black moment)+


Happy ending


Other than that, Kate insists that it’s ‘all in the execution’.

Who writes category romance?

Anyone, including male writers. The late great Penny Jordan was one of the top writers, and managed to write several category romances a year for Mills and Boon at the same time as penning doorstopper bonk-busters. Joanna Trollope and Nora Roberts both started their careers writing category romances for Mills and Boon.

Can I make a fortune writing category romance?

It varies. According to a recent report in the London Evening Standard, M&B writers could make anything from £2000-£30,000 per book, although the M&B writers of my acquaintance were amused by the higher figure.  If you write category romances for a smaller publisher, particularly e-publishers, it’s nowhere near to that, and could only amount to a few pounds a quarter. But if you’re fairly prolific and Mills and Boon like your style, you could have four or five books a year published, which will make your earnings much healthier.

Are there any opportunities for new writers?

Mills and Boon are particularly supportive to new writers. They’re happy to take unsolicited manuscripts at any time. Once a year they run a competition, formerly called New Voices, but now called ‘So You Think You Can Write’ (SYTYCW), where unpublished authors are invited to load the first chapter of their novel onto a website where it is judged by the readers.  They also have ‘fast track’ submissions drives occasionally, where they promise to look at your submission within a month.

Where do I start?

It’s a good idea to read several books from each category, so you can decide which would be a better fit for you. You’re more likely to write well for the category you enjoy most. And Mills and Boon make it fairly easy for you to research their market, particularly if you have an e-reader. If you put ‘Mills and Boon Free ebooks’ into the Amazon search engine, it comes up with about eleven books, from across their range, which are free to download.

You can also find a Mills and Boon section in your library, and if you have a few pounds to spare, Tesco has a shelf devoted entirely to category romances.

Even if you don’t want to write category romances for Mills and Boon, their lines will give you an idea of what other publishers might expect.

Do make sure you research the very latest books. If you last read Mills and Boon 20 or 30 years ago and still believe that the novels include ‘punishing kisses’ and alpha males who indulge in a bit of corrective rape for the frigid heroine, then you’re very much mistaken.  The newer novels have more modern sensibilities, and the feisty heroines give as good as they get.

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