The Difference Between Romance & Women’s Fiction

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because I’ve written a women’s fiction that is with an editor now (cross your fingers for me!).

I’m very familiar with the subject, because my first book, The Sweet Spot, I wrote as Women’s Fiction. Half the editors who read it thought it was romance, half, WF. It finally sold to a romance line, so I had to make some changes.

The difference is mainly in the focus. In a romance, the focus is on the relationship, and ends in a ‘happily ever after’. In WF, the focus is on the woman’s journey and emotional growth. It may or may not have romance, or even a happy ending.

I learned that in Romance:

  1. The bad-boy hero can’t be TOO bad. In my debut novel, the couple had lost their son in an accident, and it tore them apart – they divorced. To deal with the pain, my heroine developed a Valium habit. The hero’s drug was young and blonde. In my original version, he was still with the blonde when the book opened. I had to change that; my editor told me that if the readers met the bimbo, the hero would be irredeemable, no matter what he did down the line.
  2. I had to soften the heroine as well – she could be damaged and flawed, but she couldn’t be seen as cold, or uncaring.
  3. Because I wrote the book as a WF, most of the scenes involved the heroine’s point of view. I had to add a couple of scenes with the hero’s, and even though they weren’t together in the same scene in the first third of the book, I had to add thoughts each had of the other, showing how they were changing.
  4. Sexual tension. It’s not critical that the couple make love but there still needs to be escalating sexual tension as the book advances. Inspirational romances do a brilliant job of this.
  5. I had to be more careful with graphic scenes (not talking sex, here). My hero raised bulls for the bull riding circuit. In one scene, the heroine helped a cow with a breech birth. My editor had me reduce the level of gore, blood, etc.  I also had to be careful how I covered breeding details like selling semen (can I say that here?)
  6. And, of course, there must be a HEA (happily-ever-after.) That was no problem, because I originally planned for my couple to end up together!

In my Women’s Fiction:

  1. There is a romantic interest, but it’s a small part. The guy is mostly there to show her issues with commitment. I leave it open-ended as to whether they end up together.
  2. The focus is on a grandmother and her granddaughter who, due to the past, doesn’t like or respect the family matriarch. 
  3. So it’s about the main character’s growth. When she learns her grandmother’s past, and her secrets, she not only accepts her grandmother – she learns more about herself, and what was holding her back.

So tell me – do you read Women’s Fiction? Romance? Which do you prefer, and why?

I’m giving away a copy of The Sweet Spot to two commenters!

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Laura Drake is a New York and self-published published author of Women's Fiction and Romance.
Her romance series, Sweet on a Cowboy, is set in the world of professional bull riding. Her debut, The Sweet Spot, was a double-finalist, then won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award. She’s since published 12 more books. She is a founding member of Women's Fiction Writers Assn, as well as a member of Western Writers of America and Women Writing the West.
Laura is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She's a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

42 thoughts on “The Difference Between Romance & Women’s Fiction”

  1. I try to avoid women’s fiction because I usually find it too disappointing. I find that real life is hard enough, and I live it. I read for enjoyment, so I need the happy endings.

    • There are happy endings to be had in WF, Janice, but admittedly, some aren’t. Mine always end happy – I may take you to bad places, but I’ll never leave you there!

  2. Thank you for this explanation. I’ve often wondered what the difference is between the 2 genre’s!!!!!!!
    Happy Mother’s Day to you and everyone here.

  3. I read both but mostly romance but I enjoy to switch off to something else for a change. If I don’t I get a little bored with reading.

  4. I read mostly romance and a little woman’s fiction. I love the HEA.

    One of my favorite woman’s fiction was Under The Tuscan Sun. I’m going to read Lisa Wingate’s Tending Roses next.

  5. Laura, I loved the great job you did comparing romance to WF, and I especially loved how you had to revise to make the story fit the genre.

    One of the first things I learned when I got into this business is “We’re not writers. We’re RE-writers!”

    Whatever it takes to make a good story GREAT, right?

    • Boy, it’s THAT the truth! The editor didn’t like my main character in the WF, and I had to strip her out and put in a new one! Never done that before. Hope to never do it again…

  6. Laura, a lot to think about here, and something I’m always trying to refine in my own work. And to DEFINE. My heroines always have issues they’re working out, usually from the past, but my heroes also have issues and THEY’RE working them out, ultimately together. So I guess I haven’t done women’s fiction yet. I’ll know it when I see it.

  7. I read a wide array of books and do read both Women’s Fictions and Romances. I especially like Western Romances.

  8. I enjoy reading both, I enjoyed reading your post, Thank you. Have a great rest of the week and stay safe.

  9. Thank you for a thought provoking post. (I can’t believe I just erased my entire post & have to start over.)

    I have been on a romance binge for the past few years. I enjoy them, but had forgotten how fulfilling women’s fiction can be. In women’s fiction, it is the personal development of the characters as well as their relationships with others. Yes, characters have personal growth and relationship growth in romances. In women’s fiction, that growth is the focus of the story, not the romantic relationship. Their struggles, achievements, growth are theirs and not dependent upon that other individual. The romance has to have that HEA. WF may have one, but it is not the focus of the story. The growth and coming into one’s self is what is important. There may not even be a romantic relationship. The main character may even die as might other important characters. Coming in to what the characters were meant to be is what is important. In a way, it gives the author an opportunity to put more “meat on the bones” of her characters. They are more free to develop their characters without having to bend them to a romantic relationship as the final conclusion to validate who they have become.

  10. Thank you for explaining the difference. I enjoy reading them both. In most cases, it depends on my mood as to which type of book I chose to read. Thank you for sharing your time as well as your talent.

  11. Thanks for the shout out, Laura! I love WF the YOU do it – You never let the reader down with an ending that is unjust or tragic. It’s your optimistic nature! I agree with the previous comment that life is hard enough and I don’t want to watch movies or read books I know will be depressing. When I read, I want escapism or characters that deal with the same issues I do and watch how they overcome or accept them.

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