Several of the 8 Ladies entered the RWA Golden Heart contest this year (in case you missed it, Jeanne won 🙂 ), and last week we all received our preliminary round scores. Of course we immediately compared notes, and one thing that was common to all our entries was that one judge scored the story substantially lower than the others – in some cases astonishingly so. The highest and lowest scores are discarded, so the single thumbs-down didn’t affect our final placing, but it was interesting that out of five readers, we each managed to find one who did not respond favorably to our stories.
Golden Heart judges aren’t asked to provide comments, but I’ve entered other contests this year, and I’ve had a wealth of feedback from those, mostly helpful and sometimes not so much. Occasionally when a judge is asked a question like ‘would you keep reading?’ they’ll say something like ‘this story is well-written but it’s not for me.’ I always wish the judge would add a few words about why, but as a reader I know exactly what they mean.
Out of curiosity I spent an hour yesterday afternoon compiling a list of Not My Romance triggers.
In general I love great characters, intelligence, humor and community, but as long as I get my fix of that, I’m not picky about sub-genre. I read contemporary, historical, paranormal, romantic suspense and urban fantasy. I like the love story to be the central spine of the book, but I’m almost as happy if it’s a strong sub-plot. Either way, I have to be interested in the non-romance plot, too.
If I’m considering investing in a new-to-me author, I often browse the comments on Amazon to try to build up an impression of the story. Here are a few of the things that would be an immediate turn-off.
Erotica and Inspirational
I don’t read these two sub-genres at all, because they are by definition stories where the most significant part of the story’s emphasis will be on something that doesn’t engage me. I enjoy reading a well-written sex scene that’s emotionally important, I’m not particular about heat levels, and I like my characters to have a strong moral code, but these are books whose story promise is about physical gratification or spiritual redemption. Not my catnip.
As soon as I read a blurb about three friends, or three sisters, or three neighbors, or whatever, I’m done. Firstly because when I read a book I want to invest deeply in one hero and heroine’s love story, not three inter-twined short stories, and secondly because typically the most important, over-arching story will be about the relationship between the friends/sisters/neighbors, and if that’s what I wanted to read about, I’d be browsing women’s fiction.
I dunno, maybe it’s the corporate refugee in me, but I don’t find ditzy heroines adorable. They frustrate and infuriate me and I spend the book wanting to slap them and tell them to sort themselves out. By the time they finally do, I’ve torn most of my hair out and my stress levels are stratospheric. And giving a gorgeous, intelligent hero to one of these airheads makes my brain melt. Sophie Kinsella is a brilliant writer, but I am not her reader (millions of women are, so I doubt she’s losing any sleep about it).
I don’t expect all heroes and heroines to be childless, and I’m not against kids in romantic fiction, as long as they’re interesting characters in their own right. If all children were as fun as Dillie in Jenny Crusie’s Welcome To Temptation, or Nadine and Ethan in Faking It, I’d eliminate this category, but I can’t stand them when they’re manipulative little plot vehicles. I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but I can’t bear Edward in Dream A Little Dream. I’ve read and enjoyed books by Elizabeth Hoyt, and I heard many good things about Darling Beast, but I didn’t go there because many of the reviews put such strong emphasis on the role of the heroine’s child. If I made a mistake, perhaps somebody would let me know.
I want to know which characters to invest in and I want to spend the majority of the book making that investment. I don’t want to read scene after scene of the hero or the heroine failing to understand that they’re with the wrong guy or girl, only to see the light at the end of the book. And I don’t want there to be a credible alternative to the romantic relationship, for either character – there should be The One and no other. I have no idea where Stephanie Plum’s love life stands now, because I bailed out early in the Morelli/Ranger/Stephanie triangle (I doubt this breaking news will worry Janet Evanovich 😉 ).
The Big Mis
She believes he killed her father or ruined her family, based on something tenuous she overheard and despite all evidence to the contrary. He believes that she’s a slut because he saw her embracing a mystery man or repairing a ripped dress or whatever. Both of them leap to conclusions that create non-existent obstacles to keep them apart for an entire book and which evaporate once they finally talk to one another. Gah. No, thanks.
Love Is All
In the best love stories the hero and heroine have something else to work with, not just their personalities and attraction to one another. They have a goal, a mission, a problem, and they’re either tackling it together or they’re on opposing sides. Usually resolving this challenge, whether they’re saving the family home or saving the world, is what helps to foreshadow their happy and fulfilled future life together. If they have nothing going for them except chemistry, who cares? Not me.
I like to enjoy the journey as well as the outcome. If the story is emotionally powerful and sad, then that’s the feeling I’m going to take away from the story, even if it has a happy ending. I adore Loretta Chase’s books, but I’ll read Lord of Scoundrels or The Last Hellion a thousand times before I re-read Silk Is For Seduction. It’s a superbly written sad book with a happy ending. Pass.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few, and I bet there are honorable exceptions to the above on my keeper shelf, but just the handful of personal preferences I’ve identified here means that there are thousands of brilliantly written, wildly successful stories that won’t ever be the book of my heart.
The world would be a boring place if we all liked the same things. What are your triggers for book avoidance?