The End-All, Be-All Discussion About Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy (He said grandiously)


So I’m supposed to be working throughout the day–and (if my bosses are reading) I am! But part of my job is to run our @bantamspectra Twitter account. Which I do–with perhaps too great a frequency.
The problem is, I get into some fascinating conversations with my followers (the fact that I consider them my followers is irrelevant for this discussion), and yesterday was a great example of starting with a small topic, and it exploding into something quite fascinating.
It all started with the rather (or so I thought) innocuous query:
Do you know and/or care about the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance?
The response was, while perhaps not overwhelming, surely whelming.
Two camps seemed to set up: those that did know the difference and didn’t care, and those who did know the difference and did.
As @Tupholos said: “Don’t care. I suppose people with strong pos or neg feelings for one or the other might care. I like ’em both.”
@LynnAAR added: “I read both PR and UF, so no. However, I do like to know what genre I’m buying.” When I asked her if it was so she knew what she was getting into, she replied: “Exactly. If a book is well-written, I’ll like it regardless, but I still like to know what I’m picking up.”
So even those who don’t care actually do care to a degree, in that their immediate selections (what they decided to read) were made fully cognizant that they were holding either paranormal romance or urban fantasy.
For my followers, then, the difference was important, if only so that they were geared up (in the right frame of mind) for the book they were about to read.
(Getting into the meat of things, after the jump–including books that readers of both UF and PR should enjoy)

But for many, it mattered explicitly–and for those it seemed to matter the most, they almost invariably fell in the UF over PR camp…and tended to be male. I found this interesting (and yet not exactly surprising).
Still, one of my first responders, @sensitivemuse (a woman) enthusiastically noted: “yes I do care!!! I don’t like romances! they get in the way of the adventure.!!! no time for kisses when out hunting demons!”
Others followed suit, including @DaveBrendon, who chimed: “Oh definitely! Being a man, I won’t set foot near to PR, but UF is cool. :-).”
Which got me thinking: what exactly was the difference between PR and UF. This is where I think things really took off.
@mattlibrarian started us off with an admittedly simple definition: “urban fantasy=hunting monsters & killing them paranormal romance=hunting monsters then having sex with them.” Most of the responses to this idea were pretty much in agreement, such as @mykindlestuff, who said the differences were important as “I want 2 know if the emphasis is on relationship or action. I prefer latter w a dash of the former not reverse.”
Even more were in agreement that the differences aren’t clear-cut as we all might suppose.
@Renered1 put it this way: “PR the romance is front and center. UF, the romance is an element. Like ’em both but think they’re confused.” @LynnAAR agreed, noting: “Lines blur sometimes but main diff. is focus – paranormal should put romance 1st.” She went on to provide a link by (and here’s where it gets tricky–is she PR or UF?) Bantam Dell author Keri Arthur entitled “Paranormal Romance & Urban Fantasy: Defining two popular subgenres.” @younglibrarian echoed this sentiment, saying “Speaking from perspective of a huge romance reader diff is ‘is the emphasis on the development of romance or the protag’s adventures?'”
The funny thing is, at the end, it is clear that Keri considers herself Urban Fantasy (which I have no beef with), but I wondered how far that perception goes. In other words, we can apply our own labels to a book, but how it’s packaged and where it’s placed are another thing altogether.
Obviously a big point of contention was sex–or rather, did sex define these sub-genres. I brought up that, regardless of whether it was true or not, the perception was that PR was defined by sex, while UF wasn’t. @Renered1 disagreed: “No. In PR, the relationship between hero/heroine is forefront. UF, the relationship is secondary. Sex is irrelevant.” Yet, for many, sex was far from irrelevant. @sensitivemuse seemed to carry the sentiments of a lot of people when she wrote “yeah, just about…that and those covers that look like they belong in the “Erotica” section.” @pauljessup added “Even UF w/sex elements doesn’t turn me off like PR’s sex elements do.” @jensaltmann followed that with “I’ve heard PR referred to as ‘housewife porn.'” Considering I myself have been known to jokingly refer to it as “werewolf porn,” I didn’t think that feeling was that constricted.
But getting back to the idea of perception, another one of our (PR? UF?) authors, Diana Rowland brought up two important points. First, “I think that when UF fans refuse to set foot in Romance section of bookstore, they limit themselves. Lots of PR is not all sexxory.” (Which is part of the reason I brought this whole point up in the first place–this topic segued off a talk I was having with @kate_mckean about the labels authors and publishers use often don’t matter for the people who actually put the books in the hands of the readers.) Diana continues “Plus, bookstores tend to be strange about where they shelve UF and PR. (For example, my book (Mark of the Demon) is shelved in Romance at BooksAMillion.)” @samsommersbyreplied to that “And not all stores shelve books within the same genre. I find UF books in romance and PR in dark fantasy.” So even bookstores can’t seem to agree! But maybe they should, because there seemed to be a number of comments in this vain (this one from @SeriouslyKooky): “I didn’t touch vampire type books before and now love vamp/romance books – all down to where they were display.” So even bookstores can’t seem to agree!
It did seem like, though, that a PR reader was more likely to read UF than vice-versa–
although, again, with the lines blurred, what does that really mean? But the basic idea is that dedicated UF readers shy away from the sex, such as @pauljessup’s comment above. @danfaust got more specific: “I love Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES, but don’t really care for Hamilton’s ANITA BLAKE books.”
Our very own @UnboundWorlds chimed in, essentially saying that it is these preconceived notions that could lead people into not reading books that they would probably otherwise enjoy, all because of an arbitrary label. Or, as the idea of covers came up, odd packaging choices. Having brought up Greg van Eekhout’s Norse Code, @UnboundWorlds, being in sync with my thinking, said “You know, NORSE CODE was the first title that popped into my mind. It’s just good fantasy, hope it won’t be pigeon-holed.” (Granted, Greg is on Twitter, too, and got decidedly nervous, but I think we alleviated his fears!).
In the end, I think what we resolved was–nothing! Okay, that’s not technically true. In fact, here were the main points as I see them:
1) Paranormal romance focuses on relationships (characters) with paranormal elements
2) Urban fantasy focuses on the action (plot), with romance elements being only a part of the story (if at all).
3) The perception for many readers is that PR=sex, and UF doesn’t.
4) PR is not simply about sex (and there are varying degrees of sexual encounters, depending on the author and the book)
5) UF can have sex, and yet it’s somehow less off-putting than PR sex (which, to use a non-word, can feel “porny”)
6) If there is a distinction between PR and UF, this is not made clear by packaging, marketing, and store-placement
7) The male/female UF/PR split is not as pronounced as you might think
8) Chances are, if you like one, you would probably like books that fall into the others’ sub-genre.
This last one, then, led to a list of suggested books and/or authors that my followers felt would work in either genre (or would, at least, appeal to readers in both groups). I haven’t read all of these, but the ones I have I agree with whole-heartedly, and, well, I trust my followers:
Kelley Armstrong (Otherworld series)
Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson series)
Kim Harrison (The Hollows series)
Ilona Andrews (Start with Magic Bites–note, too (men!), that this is a husband-wife writing team)
• The aforementioned Keri Arthur, specifically her Riley Jenson series.
T.A. Pratt (Don’t let the covers fool you–the Marla Mason is straight-up UF)
• The aforementioned Norse Code
• The aforementioned Diana Rowland
• The aforementioned Jim Butcher (Dresden Files)
Jenna Black (Morgan Kingsley series)
• The aforementioned Neil Gaiman (Sandman, at least)
Caitlin Kittredge (Nocturne City series; also, check out her superhero UF with Jackie Kessler, Black and White)
I’ve listed some of the more popular ones (from the responses) here, but would love to get more suggestions via comments.
In the end, I think the best thing to do is eschew labels: read good books, read what you like, and happy reading!
(And if you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow us @bantamspectra–free book giveaway when we reach 1500, including some paranormal romance, er, urban fantasy, um…paranormal fantasy!)