Good morning, friends!
Lately, I've seen a lot of books through Finish The Story that come in labeled 'romance' only to discover that, in fact, they are not. They are good fiction, some even good fiction with romantic elements, but they are not...romance.
This coincides with some observations I've made at some different conferences I've gone to, where the majority audience isn't a romance reader. There seems to be a common misunderstanding that if a book involves romance at all, if that human emotion of love is present, the author is composing (or has composed) a romance.
Unfortunately, that's not so.
So what constitutes a romance?
There is a generic 'formula' that is often espoused as being the core of romance: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy looses girl, boy wins girl for a happily ever after. This is mostly true, but that really over-simplifies things and doesn't always cover all the bases. I prefer this: A romance novel is centered on the developing relationship between the hero and the heroine. Everything that happens in the book therefore relates and impacts that relationship in some way.
Conversely, in other genre works where there are romantic elements, the core of the book is not founded on that romantic relationship. In other words, the romantic relationship is secondary to the plot.
One Key Determinant
It's true -- to be a romance the book has to have a happily ever after ending. The girl has to get her guy. Really, I'm a pretty hard core believer that there are no exceptions to this. (excluding a series where the hero/heroine are dancing around each other and that romantic relationship carries over into the forthcoming books...but that's a fine-line and not generally applicable to this discussion.)
So, if your book is like dear Mr. Tearjerker Sparks.... you don't have a romance. You may have a love story, but you don't have a romance. If your book ends like Gone With the Wind, you don't have a romance. If your book ends like I Am Legend, you don't have a romance.
The couple must be together, solidly, at the end of the book.
Do I have to have all that mushy / hot sexy stuff?
A romance does not need to have graphic sexual scenes included. There are many, many romances that do not. Many are inspirational (faith-based), many will allude to the dirty deed and leave the reader to imagine what happened. Others go all the way and throw that bedroom door wide open. The heat level doesn't relate to whether it's a romance or not--which is also why erotica is not erotic romance. It all boils down to the focus of the plot. If you're saving the world from flying monkeys you're not writing a romance, unless that is an external conflict to the core plot of two people building a forever relationship.
It really is that simple.
So to sum it up, it really is that simple. Look at your manuscript and answer these two questions:
1. Is my entire plot goal to bring two people into a forever relationship
2. Do I have a happily ever after
If the answer is yes to both, chances are you have a romance on your hands. If it's not, you're probably writing something else and have incorporated a human emotion everyone in this world can relate to -- love.