Romance fiction: more than just sex

Wicked Pleasures by Tambra KendallFor Valentine’s Day the Crafty Writer has asked Texan romance novelist Pollyanna Williamson (aka Tambra Kendall and Kelia Greer) to tell us a bit more about writing for this genre. And if you’re more interested in how much the flower industry generates than sighing over the roses, perhaps these figures will turn you on:

  • Romance novels generate around 1.52 billion U.S. dollars in sales
  • There are 51 million readers from all walks of life
  • Romance comprises 53.3% of all paperback fiction sales in America

Do we have your attention? Good. Now over to Polly:

What is romance?

The relationship of the couple is the main focus of the plot and romance has an emotionally satisfying or happy ending as a result of the love story. It’s more than just sex – you have conflict and character growth. Subgenres of romance add even more possibilities as a writer.

In romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. The hero and heroine’s reward in the end is each other. Romance always has a happily-ever-after ending and readers expect it.

Sizzling strong plots

When writing romance you use romantic growth to help build a strong plot, with strong characters. Readers don’t want to read about the act of sex. They want love scenes that sizzle the pages but for a reason, characters to be motivated that they can sympathize with and root for. Readers want to live vicariously through the hero and heroine. In addition, when the time comes and hero and heroine finally do have sex, you’d better not disappoint and cheat the reader. They won’t forgive you.

Publishers know that limiting the level of sensuousness would also limit their readership, so there are varying degrees of sensuality a reader can choose, ranging from none to erotica. Erotica has plot, but the parameters are different from traditional romance lines.

Changing women

From the beginning, romance has evolved as the role of women changed in society. Mills and Boon in the 1920’s and 1930’s featured heroines who were more than housewives. These women had careers. During those years, the publisher took quite a step forward portraying women in this manner. Harlequin today continues with their Steeple Hill Inspirational romance line, Blaze, Spice and Intrigue category lines.

Educated readers

What kind of readers does the genre have? Romance Writers of America, the largest professional writing organization in the United States, found in a 2005 survey that 78% of all romance readers are women. The education level of the readers:

  • 63% have attended college
  • 21% are college graduates
  • 10% have attended post graduate programs.

The Top 3 character traits readers like to see in heroines:

  • intelligence
  • strength of character
  • attractiveness

For heroes :

  • muscle bound
  • handsome
  • intelligence

This is fiction, you know!


Romance has numerous subgenre: contemporary series Harlequin/Silhouette, paranormal, romantic suspense, historical, inspirational, novels with romantic elements, young adult romance.


If you are interested in romance writing you can contact Romance Writers of America, which has chapters throughout the United States and many online chapters you can join for an extra fee. RWA has a monthly magazine, the Romance Writers Report (RWR) that features articles on the craft and business of writing along with news about RWA contests.

The UK equivalent is the Romantic Novelists’ Association; the Australian is Romance Writers of Australia.

Books on Romance Writing


Pollyanna Williamson teaches online writing classes and is published in children’s nonfiction and romance. She’s been published with Whiskey Creek Press Torrid and Red Rose Publishing under Tambra Kendall for erotic romance. Under the name Keelia Greer, her romance is sensual and published by Highland Press and contracted by Red Rose Publishing. Her nonfiction credits include Solander magazine, Once Upon a Time, a magazine for children’s writers and newspapers.

Related posts:

  1. Writing for children: sex, love and romance
  2. Writing historical fiction 3 – using fact in fiction
  3. Writing historical fiction 1 – creating your historical world
  4. Fiction know how – getting feedback
  5. Writing Fantasy Fiction

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6 comments on “Romance fiction: more than just sex

  1. BookstoreDeb on said:

    Lovely article and well said! I love the mini history lesson and the break down of romance readers statistics.

    Thanks and Happy Valentines Day!

  2. L M Gonzalez on said:

    Wonderful article, Tambra.

    It’s gratifying to know that educated women read romance. I mean I’m one of those women. However, so many people seem to think that reading romance novels is somehow not worthy reading. 51 million readers can’t be wrong, right? 🙂


  3. Heather on said:

    I know I’ve learned a lot (and not just about sex!) from romance novels because the good authors take time to research and write good stories. Great article, PW!

  4. Vita M. King on said:

    Romance and the writer were are they coming from,from what area.For some people they think that house wives can’t be about romance.Before you said I do thats all that was on your mind.And for the mature woman it get better because her time is freer,her life has changed no kids there adults no,she is looking for that romance that this is the one,to take her to where she is,having coffee or tea.Vita M. King

  5. erotic romance on said:

    Romance makes up over half of all book sales with it’s strong plot and characters. Most readers of romance novels make up intelligent women that wish to read about intelligent women with muscle bound heroes in any of the sub-genres like fantasy, suspense and even young adult.

  6. Pingback: Writing love scenes that sizzle at The Crafty Writer

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