Romance is easily my favorite genre, but I think it’s largely misunderstood. It’s about more than Hallmark-worthy plots, pretty dresses, and spicy scenes. Here are four things I think all readers should know if they’re interested in getting into the romance genre.

1) All romance novels have a HEA.

Inevitably, someone argues with me in the comments about this, but it’s true. All romance novels have a happily ever after, happy for now, or optimistic ending. If a book featuring a romance between a couple ends with a break up, death, etc. then it’s not a romance but simply another genre with romantic elements, like a romantic drama or romantic thriller. It’s okay if you’re interested in books that feature a not-so-happy ending, but look outside of the romance genre for these reads. And before you say, “But what about…?” Nicholas Sparks himself says he doesn’t write romance. Because he doesn’t. He writes romantic fiction.

And this predictable finish is what makes romance so enjoyable for its readers. Many readers flock to romance for the inevitable feel-goodness of it. Even if the novel has sadder themes, we know that the couple (or throuple!) gets their happy ending. And that’s good. Would mystery readers me satisfied if the problem wasn’t solved by the end of the novel? They might be okay with a little twist that leaves them wondering if the ending was real, but overall a resolution is expected and always provided.

2) Romance comes in a variety of subgenres.

I personally think there’s a subgenre of romance for anyone! Contemporary, historical, paranormal… All of these subgenres and more are touched on in the romance genre. If you have a favorite genre outside of romance, consider checking out a romance novel that is under the same umbrella to get into the genre. For example, I love historical fiction. My first romance reads were historical romance and I gravitate more towards that subgenre to this day.

3) Tropes are part of romance (and any genre).

Tropes are a part of any genre and are especially beloved in romance. Some (snobbier, IMO) readers poo-poo romance because of how tropey it is. But tropes can be found in any genre. Let’s think about mystery again. The hardened criminal? The jaded detective? The journalist who returns to their hometown? We’ve seen it over and over again, and we love it. There are so many romance tropes, and if one appeals to you, it’s easy to find a book with that trope simply based on the cover, summary, or reviews!

4) There are a variety of levels of spice or steam.

…and there are loads of ways to describe them. I prefer to eschew descriptors like “clean” or “dirty”. I’m not here to judge the purity (or prudity) of romance. I would say romance is more along the lines of the movie rating system, with G-rated romances featuring no sex, PG romance featuring closed door sex, PG-13 romance featuring sex with euphemisms or light description, R-rated romance getting graphic, and NC-17/X-rated romance going full on erotic. I prefer my romance to range from PG-13 to R, but I’ve read romance that is G, PG, and NC-17 or X-rated that I’ve enjoyed, too! Read whatever appeals to your comfort level. It can be hard to tell from a book blurb or cover how steamy a romance gets, so I suggest reading reviews or, once you find an author who writes at your preferred steam level, checking out more of their works.

Do you read romance? What’s your preferred subgenre or spice level? Let me know in the comments! I’d be happy to recommend a title for you.