What Is Romantic Suspense?

Romantic Suspense is commonly used to describe a sub-genre of romantic books. But just what is romantic suspense? What makes it different from other types of romantic books? How is it different from the suspense which is a sub-category of the mystery area?

Let’s start with the two halves.

First, Romance. Romance is just a blockbuster genre. Some estimates are that 51% of all paperback books sold are romance novels. With ebooks it’s closer to 40%, but that is just an enormous number. Also, while most readers in the US read only 5 books each year, the average romance reader reads a new book EVERY WEEK. So it’s a genre that builds loyal fans.

Around 85% of romance readers are female, but since the other 15% are not, it’s good to keep all types of readers in mind in marketing and writing. Always aim to be inclusive.

Romance books, in general, have as their primary plot line the interactions between two (or more) main characters in an emotionally attractive manner.

There can be love triangles. There can be unrequited love. There can be women loving women. There can be non-binary trios all loving each other. The key is that the romantic entanglement is the main focus of the story. If you cut out that emotional entanglement, there would be no story left. That is what separates it from, for example, a cozy mystery that happens to have people falling in love. It would take a little rewriting of some scenes, but the mystery generally would still happen without the romance. In a romance, the romance is the main, core part of the storyline.

Now, Suspense. There’s sort of a sliding scale of tension in the world of mysteries. On one end you have the gentle, cozy mysteries with very little tension. A typical heroine in a cozy mystery might be a quiet, elderly woman who happens to figure out clues. Then you move on to “standard” mysteries which have a bit more tension. Suspense is the next ratchet up, where there is a genuine fear of being harmed. Then comes the thriller, usually involving serious death-defying situations a la James Bond with gunfights, torture scenes, and the like. If you get more gruesome than that then for many it begins to cross over into horror.

So a Romantic Suspense has as its key feature the relationships between two or more characters. It is more than a friendship – but it doesn’t have to involve sex. It can be a chaste relationship, as long as those strong emotions of caring and concern are there. And on the Suspense side, there needs to be serious risks being taken. These are not risks like loosing the Scrabble pieces and having to find them before Uncle Ben gets home. They are dangerous risks usually involving bodily harm or death.

In some sub-categories like Christian Romance and Amish Romance there generally should not be any “on screen” sex or any sex outside of marriage. But in general Romantic Suspense is known for its fairly explicit sex scenes. If an author chooses to write in a tamer style – which is quite fine!! – they should make quite clear with their cover art and in their description the nature of the writing. Otherwise they’re setting themselves up for negative reviews from this genre’s typical reader who might find that sort of content too tame for their tastes.

Ask with any questions, and let us know your take on the Romantic Suspense genre!