A notebook with hearts drawn in it sits on a pink and yellow backdrop. The heading reads

Category Romance VS Trade Romance: What’s the Difference?

This post has been updated from its previously published version.

Our FAQ page has a lot of great information for aspiring Harlequin authors. One of our most frequently Frequently Asked Questions is, “What’s the difference between series or category romance and other romance novels?”


Cover image for Elle Douglas' The Vet's Shelter Surprise

“Harlequin’s series books are usually shorter than trade (or single-title) romance novels, which can run up to 100,000 words or more. They’re trope-driven, and each series delivers a specific reader promise, which includes a happily-ever-after. The romance is the focus in these stories, rather than the journey of one character. Each series has its own required story elementssensuality level, and page count.

“Single-title books are published outside of a specific series or category. They often have a larger scope, allowing for more complex stories with more secondary characters and subplots.”

Let’s expand on that. To meet the requirements for one of our series, there are some must-haves:

The Story Must Have a Happily Ever After:

The movie Titanic is a romance, but it would not meet the requirements of category romance. (SPOILER ALERT: one of the characters dies!) Same goes for Casablanca. A tragic ending can be romantic, but it’s not category romance.

The Character Arc of each Protagonist Must be Equally Important:

Cover image for Denise N. Wheatley's Homicide at Vincent Vineyard

If your story features a romance, but is about the emotional journey of one character, it’s not a category romance. The couple should be together in most scenes, rather than separated by time or distance for a significant part of the story. One character shouldn’t have to choose between two potential partners. Bridget Jones’s Diary is a romantic comedy, but it’s not category romance.

The Manuscript Must be Within a Few Thousand Words of the Specified Word Length:

We wrote a post explaining the whys of our word length requirements. If your manuscript is 100,000 words long, chances are the plot has a lot more going on besides the romance. Maybe there are parallel story lines or subplots that have nothing to do with the main characters. Nothing wrong with that, but a focus on one romance is a central promise of our series. Dr. Zhivago is a great romantic drama, but it’s not category romance.

The Manuscript Must have the Right Setting and Sensuality Level for the Series:

Cover image for Julia James' Contracted as the Italian's Bride

The glitz and glamour of Crazy Rich Asians would be perfect for Harlequin Presents, but not for Harlequin Heartwarming. Set it Up has a sweet and fun central romance that would work for Heartwarming, but it’s missing the Western and family and community hooks most wanted for the series. And The Shape of Water wouldn’t fit into any of our series because…fish people (Maybe Carina Press, though…).

The bottom line is, you really need to hit all the requirements when submitting to series because of the series promise. We take our series promise, well, series-ously!  If your manuscript is fabulous but you’re missing one requirement, you might get asked to revise and resubmit. But if it strays too far from the series requirements, in all likelihood we’ll have to decline.

Cover image for Casey Dubose's A Duke for the Wallflower's Revenge

If you dream of writing series romance for Harlequin, read our books and find out everything you can about what we’re looking for. (We have lots of resources on this site, including our About Page, Harlequin Romance Glossary, and our blog) But if you’ve already written the story of your heart and it’s not right for Harlequin series, you might want to explore other channels.

If you have a passion for your story and remain true to your authentic voice, you’re sure to find the right home for your romance!