Paranormal romance is a sub-genre of romance that has become extremely popular in the past decade. In 2008, paranormal romances generated 12.65% of the $1.37 billion in romance novel sales; it's not uncommon for a popular paranormal romance title to sell over 500,000 copies (if you see a paperback stocked in a grocery store, that means the book had a print run of at least 150,000). Paranormal romances have their roots in gothic fiction and feature otherworldly and speculative elements such as ghosts, witches, faries, psychic abilities, time travel, and of course werewolves and vampires. Some paranormal romances are pretty much standard category romances that just use the otherworldly elements as window dressing; others have an increased focus on the speculative elements and explore them more seriously.
As with all romances, the relationship between the female protagonist and her love interest has to be the focus of the storyline. The amount of sex in a paranormal romance can vary from a little to a whole lot, depending on the publisher and the category. Most books feature straight characters (and plenty of gender stereotypes), although paranormals featuring GLBT secondary characters have grown more popular in recent years, and some specialty presses such as Loose Id regularly publish novels featuring GLBT romances.
There's been considerable blurring of the genre lines between paranormal romance and urban fantasy; here are some of the genre-specific "rules" of mainstream paranormal romances:
- the story is from the heroine's point of view (either first person or third)
- she falls in love with a sexy idealized alpha male hero (he can be a hot-tempered jerk, and/or a vampire, but he can’t be an alcoholic/unemployed/impotent/shy/depressed)
- she frequently has to "tame" the hero
- once they're together, they only have eyes for each other
- the romance between the two lovers is such an important focus for the story that their relationship becomes a kind of silent third character (this is the big difference between romances and other kinds of novels that happen to have love stories). The relationship-as-third-character changes the wants and dreams of the pair and drives the plot; it is something that readers empathize with and invest themselves in emotionally.
- the two lovers (and the reader) are rewarded with a happily-ever-after ending (HEA)
- there's nothing too outlandish/imaginative in the story
- the story must not be too cerebral/nonlinear/”difficult”
- the heroine must be concerned about her clothes and makeup etc. even though she’s got better things to worry about.
- the heroine must of course be feisty but she can’t be too “butch” or otherwise challenge the reader’s gender/sex role perceptions
- there's nothing too disturbing in the text:
- protagonistic vampires/werewolves shouldn’t really act like the bloodthirsty monsters they are (and are treated more as somewhat mundane superheroes)
- nothing too “icky” (protagonists with disease or deformity, genuinely realistic sex scenes, etc.)
- no harm to children or cute pets
These rules can become a problem for writers of other genres such as urban fantasies if romance readers pick up their novels with the belief that something not intended to be a romance is going to be one; romance readers have an active Internet community and are vocal in expressing their displeasure with books that fail to conform to their expectations.