Rating Romance, a Personal System

I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately, and the results have been mixed. Sometimes I get a third of the way through and everything is just annoying, so I flip to the end and then bail. Sometimes the book is so good that I race through it and then start it again. More often, it’s good enough to finish, but when I’m done, I think, “I’ll never read that one again.” Then they just stack up on my Kindle. Reader kindling. (Sorry.). While my laptop was silent this weekend, I started thinking about a personal rating system, probably not useful for anyone else but a way to identify the authors I was going to go back to and the authors I was going to metaphorically throw things at, and it seemed to me that the same things kept triggering me, points at which my brain flashed “OH, that was great” or “One more of those and I’m setting this book on digital fire.” Flash points, if you will, the reading experience temperature at which the reader ignites with glee or rage.

I figured a ten-point system. All books start out with 100 points, the C of the book ratings, the books I finish but never read again. Books get plus ten if they do something magnificently. Minus ten would be a novel that does something so annoying I want to burn it in my back yard. Plus and minus five would be things that are nice surprises or annoying but not complete deal-breakers on their own. Plus and minus one are small pleasures and small annoyances that I could absolutely overlook as long as they don’t mount up (nibbled to death by ducks).


• There’s a dog. (+1, also works for a cat or other living thing).

• The dog is a rescue that becomes an active part of the book (+5, along with cats or whatever else is rescued).

• Something happens during the sex scenes that really is a story-changer (+5, c’mon, the first time? It’s not gonna be perfect)

• The hero is an ordinary or quirky looking guy (+5, see Stealth Hottie below.)

• The heroine is a Stealth Hottie (+5, a protagonist that nobody notices at first until they get to know her and then find her wildly attractive).


• The blurb asks, “Can he protect her?” (-1, but only because authors don’t write blurbs)

• The heroine puts on make-up and is instantly transformed (-1, because that actually happens in real life)

• The heroine gets a makeover and suddenly the hero notices her (-5, Shallow R Us)

• The hero smirks. (-5, smirking is a supercilious, asshole move: it means “to smile in an irritatingly smug, conceited, or silly way.”) Actually, any character who’s supposed to be a good person who smirks. Yecch.

• There are cute children who are never noisy, dirty, smart-mouthed, sullen, or annoying as hell (-5, do not use children as adorable props, that’s unrealistic and unfair to kids who may be amoral little ids but who are not colorless moppets.)

• There’s a prologue. (-5, prologues are the stuff that happens before the story begins, evidence of helicopter writing)

• There’s an epilogue. (-5, epilogues are the stuff that happens after the story ends, evidence of helicopter writing)

• The epilogue has a baby in it. (-10, great they’re fertile)

• The hero is a billionaire (-1, you know, you don’t get to be a billionaire by saving the whales)

• The hero is the heroine’s boss (-5, unequal power is not sexy, people)

• The hero is the heroine’s professor (-10, OH MY GOD DO YOU KNOW HOW ABUSIVE THAT IS???? [I may have been in grad school too long, but honestly, that’s horrible])

• There are multiple sex scenes that are awesomely awesome, OMG, and add nothing to story or character. (-10, don’t write the stuff people skip)

• The heroine is staggeringly beautiful, which has nothing to do with the plot (-10, I’m gonna have a hard time relating to her romantic problems)

• If there’s a bakery, inn, bookstore, or cafe that the heroine has inherited that requires her to move to a small, charming village full of quirky, older people who are dumb as rocks that the heroine keeps pulling from the equivalent of kitchen fires, those establishments better be fronts for something fascinating and those old people better be scamming the crap out of her. If not, (-10, for abuse of small businesses and anybody over 70)

• The dog dies (-10; if the dog lives but a kid dies, it’s -100 because what the hell, people?)

There are more, but the important thing here is that this is my system, not meant to be universal criteria. After all, many people appear to like heroes who smirk (hate ’em, really hate ’em, also annoyed with authors who DON’T KNOW WHAT WORDS MEAN) and college professors who are more interested in scoring students instead of essays [I think my worst was the sculpture prof who called me into his office for a consult and asked me if my breasts got hard when I came; I said, “I don’t know, I never looked”]). I’m sure you have other triggers that make you scream “Ten points off!” or “OMG, can I give it twenty?” (No. We have standards here.). So now I’m curious. What are your flash-points? (Don’t forget the actual points, please.)

118 thoughts on “Rating Romance, a Personal System

  1. Haha, I don’t think I could put this much thought into it but –

    +5 if people are falling in love by letter, e-mail, secret identity etc. Yes, I know some people don’t like the “keeping a secret” aspect of it, but when done well I enjoy it.

    +10 if the hero has an ordinary person job that isn’t someone tied into showing how “macho” he is. High school teacher (Well Met) Nurse! (The Flatshare). I will seek these books out and I don’t count carpenters, construction workers, etc b/c then it still ends up being a tropey macho thing usually.

    +10 if the love interests have a lot of respect for each other and genuinely like each other before they sleep together.

    +10 for good banter!

    +20 for well-written non kiss, non overtly sexual moments of emotional connection/attraction. (when Cal serenades Min in Bet Me, when Harry and Sally dance cheek to cheek and you see the reaction in their faces etc)

    -10 for overlong rhapsodies about how hot the other person’s body is. This starts to feel like a laundry list of generic attributes and to me it doesn’t feel sexy. It feels lazy and like you’re spoon-feeding your reader. I can use my imagination. Please pick just a few interesting attributes for each individual and let me use my imagination.

    and minus another 5 if either person thinks at first sight “this is the most attractive person I’ve ever met in my life” and it someone isn’t important to the plot/character development ( I still probably won’t like it, but if it’s about a person who is tired being judged by their looks, I might give the book a chance).

    -10 if it is a small town that is overly cutesy. I lived in a small town growing up. Lots of meth labs, bigots, teen pregnancy. No cupcake shops, sadly.

    – 20 if the hero has power over the heroine (her boss, her social superior in a historical, etc) and is immediately plotting on how he is going to get her to sleep with him. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

  2. Having just commented on how I got disgusted with my previous book yesterday, this is really speaking to me. I’m pretty sure the hero smirked (-10) several times, as well as plotting how to bed her at first sight. I did give him points for holding back because she was unconscious (so no rape thank goodness.)

    1. I say this not to at all sound like a dig at Nancy, but just to SMH at the thought of how sad is our world that we feel inclined to actually GIVE points to a character for NOT raping!!

      I don’t want it to be normal that we need to “give points” for the bare minimum of acting like a decent human…

  3. I just finished a book that started out really interesting and escalated well and then became repetitive (shock value eroded when the same thing kept happening) and finally just . . . ended. It felt like the author got himself into this intriguing plot problem and didn’t know how to fix it or explain it and so he just quit. There’s a -10 for you, except I think it should be -10 for illogical and inconsistent theory of problem (nothing made sense or came together at the end because it was all just a mystery), -10 for no sense of catharsis due to non-ending (WTF? is not a good final reaction to a story), and -10 for sheer laziness (you established the problem and the mystery, buddy, you don’t get to just say “the end” and smirk, and that was a smirky finish).

    I may be annoyed.

    1. I think that this is similar to my number one pet peeve, throw it against the wall, makes me mad…

      Missed potential? I think that is the best way to say it. I care, I am involved and it’s like the author has no notion of what they have created. It makes me so mad, forever.

      Best example is the Power of One. It’s so wonderful and then the ending is horrible and I am still angry about it years later because I wanted to love that book and now I hate it. Also the end of Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising books. I felt so betrayed by the ending that the whole series was ruined for me. End rant.

  4. I want a flag system for my Kindle, so I can mark favourites and do-not-rereads. I probably need to master Collections, but when they first brought them in they didn’t seem to work on my Kindle. All I do now is highlight the first para of text and attach a note warning myself not to reread, before deleting from the device (it’s too easy to accidentally download a deleted book to rely on just deleting it).

    Flags would be much better; and relate to what I do with print books. Two would do: Favourite and Reject. I’d know unflagged titles were so-so. Don’t suppose there’s any point in asking for them; Amazon would want to use my judgements to their commercial advantage, whereas my ratings would be completely personal – I don’t want to post them as reviews or star ratings.

    1. PS. I’d also like to then be able to filter based on my flags – which would make looking for something good to reread a lot easier. (I’m used to this kind of rating and filtering in photography software, of course.)

      1. PPS. Decided not to be defeatist, so contacted Amazon with this feature request. The customer services guy liked it, and promised to forward it. Fingers crossed!

        1. Yes! I have many books that fall in the categories Once Was Enough and Why Is This in my Library or OMG Reread Soon. Kindle should totally support that. Thank you for taking the lead.

          My Mobipocket Reader library is simpler. It lets you edit stuff. You can, for example, change the Genre setting from Romance to Excrement, Or you can edit the blurb to say, “Never read this again, or at all.”

          1. As someone who just had to replace a kindle, I suggest:

            Plan a set of categories

            Go to Your CONTENT AND DEVICES
            Choose CONTENT
            Select a title or two, or search for an author, or otherwise select a group of works you want in one category
            Click on the SELECT button on the left of each title
            Choose ADD TO COLLECTIONS
            Type in the name of the category
            Choose ADD TO COLLECTION at the bottom right.

            It may take a few seconds to process.

            Repeat as necessary, adding collections as needed. Once you’ve established a collection name, it will be listed and you can just choose it.

            Now, on your actual Kindle . . .

            You need to download the Collections you want on it. If you don’t want any title in the category “Once was Enough,” don’t download That Collection. Any book you’ve downloaded to that collection will trail in the list of “loose” titles.

            I am finding that currently Amazon copes with about 999 titles per collection; my Read Once category filled up. I suppose Read Once B is a possible solution.

      2. Tags – I’ve wanted tags to do the same thing!

        I started monkeying with collections just last week. It’s ok…. but a pain to start sorting with bigger collections. :/

        1. Collections is how I’m planning to stash the things I don’t want to accidentally re-read again but which for whatever reason I don’t want to completely delete. There are a couple of things in the archive that I think I should completely delete, now that I think of it.

  5. -100 for an adorable moppet who makes comments that the adult reader is supposed to indulgently read as something else, especially in first person POV. “‘Boy, Aunt Heroine’s neck sure has funny marks this morning! I sure hope she’s not ailing,’ I thought, as I skipped out the door for school.” I think I threw my paperback of “Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man” at the wall after the third iteration of that sort of thing.

    +10 for leads who have jobs that affect their lives in a realistic manner. Doctor Hero or Heroine gets pulled out of dinner because they’re on call and there’s a 20 car pileup on the freeway. Teacher Hero or Heroine’s job is not just a source of cute moppet scenes, but also involves hours of grading after class. I won’t insist on UTIs due to not being able to pee for 6-8 hours straight (let’s let romantic fiction gloss over some of the world’s ills), but picking up a summer job because you can’t afford the famous summer off on an elementary teacher’s salary seems both realistic and a great way to meet the love interest.

  6. -10 for unequal power relationships (boss/employee, teacher/student).
    -10 for beefcake covers (which is most of them according to Bookbub).
    -10 for Unbelievable Stupidity.
    +10 for ordinary people, though I’m okay if one of the people is societally extraordinary (successful actor, successful musician) but displays ordinary human qualities in the book.
    -5 for chronic underachievers (life event derailed them, 10 years later they are still derailed)
    +10 for witty banter
    +5 for general decency (I need to like the protagonists)
    -10 for stilettos

    Huh. I didn’t think I had that many triggers!

  7. -5 for mentioning brands of shoes or purses
    -20 if the main conflict is something that could easily be solved by just TALKING ABOUT IT WHY DON’T YOU TALK TO EACH OTHER FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
    +10 for people with actual interests
    +10 for families that love each other in realistic imperfect ways
    -20 for HEA that doesn’t take into account practical things like living in different cities or incompatible jobs (you know who’s going to lose here, and it ain’t the man)
    +5 for dogs. +10 if they’re weird-looking mutts. -1 if they’re yappy purse dogs.
    -100 for kissing her punishingly, against her will, but then she likes it. No. That’s sexual assault, not romance.

  8. Just if the top of my head, i also hate it when characters smirk. And I can’t stand it when characters “munch” their food. Ughh.

    1. I’m wondering why the favorite word I’ve seen in any new piece of fiction is “Perfection”. Used to describe any thing of wonderfulness.

    2. I wish characters would stop “popping” food in their mouths. Especially the men. It seems like an action that should be limited to someone compulsively eating popcorn.

  9. Mine would be +10 for quirky funny interesting side characters, +10 for any animal that contributes to the story in a positive way, -10 for any kind of hug kiss or whatever that she didn’t indicate she wanted at the start of it, -10 for any TSTL actions, -10 for the conflict being something that is over as soon as the combatants talk…
    I second really wanting to be able to add tags or labels to my Kindle books.

  10. Hmm…. Okay.
    -20 for the woman who was once had her heart broken by a man, and now is “through with men forever!!” (Only once, lady? You should be so lucky.)
    -50 for the guy who was betrayed by a shallow, faithless woman, and now wants to spend the rest of his life punishing all other women.
    (actually, these two probably deserve each other; whatever. I’d stop reading at the first hint of either)

  11. Fun list. There’s a lot that resonates with me, but then as I thought about it and challenged myself to think how it applies to stories I know, I asked myself about the next level: ie: what element about a story can still make it work for me even if some bits on their own would normally annoy me.

    Two Weeks Notice, for instance. Yes, movie not book, but still story. With a billionaire boss. Plus, there’s a transformation makeup/fancy dress scene. Think it still works for me because he’s called on being a billionaire. And even though he’s her boss, it’s very clear that they’re equals in spirit, and that they are both changed for knowing each other. And because there’s a certain energy to the story that keeps it watchable.

    Then I got to thinking about non-traditional stories like Harold and Maude and what makes me buy into the romance even though there’s a large age difference. In this one, think it’s where the characters are in their lives when they intersect and how they bond over their respective quirkiness.

    Then I thought about more stories in books and other films and realized I’d have a tough time coming up with a points list. But I do have deal breakers–mainly re any negative animal bits or graphic violence or sex/nudity content clearly there as weak storytelling or viewing device.

    Interesting topic that will likely now distract me all day:)

    1. I have big problems with Two Week Notice because they humiliate the heroine for comic value (she’s too smart for most of that stuff), but the billionaire aspect doesn’t bother me as much because Hugh Grant plays him as so clueless. He doesn’t dominate her although he does expect her to wait on him hand and foot legally and sartorially, but that’s because he values her. If she tells him to do something, he does it. He has money and she has brains and they’re both nice people and they take care of each other. The two key scenes for me were when she was drunk on the boat and he looks out for her and that scene in the restaurant where she takes the ice out of his glass (I think) and then looks at her salad and says “Beets! Beets! Beets!” and he takes them out of her salad, all the while they’re talking about something else. They’re comfortable together. He’s not deep but he’ll take care of her. He’s essentially Freddy. And in the end, he pretty much delegates all his power (and money) to her while marveling at how small her apartment is. If they hadn’t gone for those stupid humiliation jokes, I’d love that movie.

      1. Yes, that’s the funny thing. The story has some bits that aren’t so strong (not so keen on the motor home scene myself and the young lawyer storyline), yet I can still watch it.

        But honestly, this happens to me for many movies. Both contemporary and even classics like Philadelphia Story where the historical context re gender treatment/attitudes are tricky to take in stride even while bearing the historical time in mind and even though there are also some wonderful moments in there. And sometimes with some stories, after one viewing/reading I don’t revisit them while lots of folks seem to adore them.

        That’s why this points list idea is so interesting. Really brings up some good introspection.

        1. Oh, I hate the motor home scene, and the catfight subplot. Just put the camera on Hugh and Sandra and let them work things out.
          I did like his horrible inlaws; they were another plot move that made him vulnerable.
          Plus he was always so funny about the money. He never used it to impress her or bully people, he was just used to having it and buying his way through life. His relationship with his bodyguard (?) was great, too.

      2. The beets moment is stealthily great.

        Could have done without the traffic diarrhea moment, but it is another taking care of her bit.

        1. Yeah, but it also humiliates her (the moment in the script, he doesn’t, ever) so it’s a deal-breaker for me, too.

    2. I agree with katyL. A good writer can make me overcome most of the circumstances. Bet Me, for example. I didn’t pick it up for a long time because I was worried about the premise. And I love it. My dislikes are less specific. The heroine does something out of character to further the plot, etc.

  12. I don’t mind prologues if and only if there’s something in there that’s absolutely essential and riveting and surprising… but mostly, that information could have and should have been woven into the story. I’m meh on epilogues. Sometimes I really want to know the couple thrived because the end of the book was teetering on the edge. -10 if there’s a baby (and I understand the impulse and sometimes don’t mind, but it’s just too ordinary – show me something more esoteric).

    -20 for illogical logic of the problem. (This happens more in sf and urban fantasy.) If an author’s logic is bad, I’ll skip to the end, confirm they all lived or died or whatever and DNF the book. Logic is a really essential issue that authors tend to want to ignore (oh, I’ll just have them decide to do this thing because I need them to do it, and it makes no sense, but look, BIG ACTION SCENE ISN’T IT COOL?). Don’t make me smack you. The only exception is if the characters and premise are so brilliant, and engaging, I can ignore the logic. <– This almost never happens.

    -50 if they could solve the problem by talking to each other unless talking to each other is extremely difficult for Reasons. (I have done this for Reasons that seemed absolutely critical at the time and I have regretted it.)

    +10 if the characters have an unusual job or they're really good at something off the beaten path and that job/path is going to be relevant to the story. Quirk for Quirk's sake is a -10.

    +10 if the author surprises me and goes into a finale in a way I did not see coming. +20 if they pull it off.

    +10 if they make me laugh more than once (especially if it's a serious / sad story–comic relief is necessary)

    1. I’m getting angrier about that story I just read, the one with the great premise, and I just realized that part of it is the “do they live or die?” thing at the end because after killing off everybody the protagonist cared about, the end just shows her sitting, waiting, not knowing if she’s next. It’s On the Beach without meaning. Grrrrr.

        1. There was a book a long time ago that I read and really enjoyed… until the last four pages. It was as if the author had an amazing concept, and then just couldn’t figure out how to wrap it up. I sold it to customers with the warning that it was fantastic up til then, and a surprising number of people bought it.

        2. Speaking of weak endings, the latest Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake book was something like 600 pages. Unfortunately, after I waded through all those pages to find out the solution to the mystery, the book then ended with a whimper instead of a bang. Uggh. I don’t want to get into too many specifics because spoilers. But I feel the book would’ve benefited from cutting at least 200 pages (some of which was just repetitive stuff) and tightening up the rest. And including a better ending that doesn’t leave the reader (or at least me) feeling so deflated and dissatisfied. -50 for a doorstop book that fails to stick the landing.

          It’s interesting because I loved the beginning of the Anita Blake series and it used to be an autobuy. It was a great urban fantasy about a kick ass woman who took on monsters while solving interesting X File type mysteries. But then it started to veer off into Anita having sex (or something similar) with everyone in every possible combination, the kinkier, the better. In service of that, the writer started having almost every other male character (and some of the females too) fall in love with Anita or lust after her. -20 for the everyone is in love or lust with our hero/heroine Mary Sue trope.

          Moreover, the constant sex or talk about sex (or the like) just became boring to read after a while. The exploration of this was very much at the expense of the plots. -20 for making sex boring and turning an fun urban fantasy series into a bad supernatural/cryptid version of letters to Penthouse. (Although I think a GOOD supernatural/cryptid version of letters to Penthouse could be hilariously fun!)

          Oh, and -20 for having the hero/heroine develop a brand new superpower every episode. Isn’t that yet another example of the Mary Sue trope?

      1. On the Beach was fantastic. I read it while I was much younger and it was a completely new type of story for me.

    1. Well, that’s another rabbit hole I feel down: Michelle Wibowo’ s cakes. I am luck if the frost goes on in consistent pattern.

      1. if you need another rabbit hole involving cakes, check out Cake Wrecks which is a hilarious blog. The blogger features beautiful cakes on Sundays and then the rest of the week is Cakes Gone Wrong. So Wrong.

  13. Oh, this is great.
    +10 for snarky banter. I will forgive a lot for good banter.
    +10 for an animal with character. Quirky, cranky, whatever – just give them some character.
    +10 for logical magic.
    +10 for making me laugh.
    -10 for macho, dominating, know-it-all hero. No, forget the -10. This is a DNF.
    DNF plus throw it against the wall for macho hero who thinks he has the right to run the love interest’s life.
    DNF, throw it against the wall, and stomp on it repeatedly for non-consent, dubious consent, and especially, intimate contact against a character’s will and he/she likes it.
    +10 and throw a party for macho hero who listens to and respects the love interest.

    1. This
      +20 for good banter (there are days when that is what keeps my marriage going so it’s much easier to believe in a HEA)
      -20 for lack of communicating
      -20 for “I just don’t want to commit to anyone” as the barrier to the HEA
      -10 for casual one night stands.
      There are one night stands that make sense ( Fast Women — Nell and Riley) and I know lots of people have them… but it turns me off.
      + 10 historical accuracy that makes me really feel like the author knows what they are talking about (yay Mary Balogh)
      + 10 for cute kids who are realistic
      -10’for books where the hero or heroine discovers they are actually rich/members of the nobility.
      -20 the hero is a rake or bad guy and the heroine redeems him
      +10 mature hero and heroine
      +30 historicals where the conflict is a real conflict that is true to the period (Dearest Enemy by Brockway)

  14. -5 for lack of continuity in a series.
    -5 for cut and paste the “what happened in the beginning” in a multi-book series.
    -5 for adding what happened in the rest of the series up to the new book in the series.
    +5 if it’s a Jennifer Crusie. Know it won’t have squirmy bits.

  15. This is thought-provoking and fun!

    50/-50 Good banter, usually funny. This is what I check for when “shopping” books at the library (back in the day–ie 2019). Banter can range from snappy, relevant snark that calls out the other character’s attitude/bias/whatever (give me a minute to see if I can come up with an author who does that wondefully) to a gentle, bemused humor like Dorothy Cannell’s Ellie Haskel mysteries have.
    10 Engaging, fully-formed characters, both main and supporting, with warts that are understandable. Extra points if the character deals with them in the course of the story.
    20 Competence. I happily suspend disbelief that a good character can accomplish extraordinary things. Example: Sherlock. But–double standard on my part for sure: I’m not so happy to accept if it’s a bad character. A villain better believable in his/her badness.
    10 Sort of related to competence: I’m a sucker for brilliant but goofy. Example: Peter Wimsey.
    -20 Until this blog I don’t think I noticed pacing but it is vital. Plodding descriptions, digressions, self-turmoil are draining. The book just drops from my hand.

  16. A) This is great and as someone hoping to sell romances to people I am bookmarking this post

    B) How does everyone find out which books to read/ which to avoid? Obviously some of these you can tell by the cover (the hero’s job), but some stuff you don’t know until you’re in it. I mostly go off of recommendations from people I trust + Smart Bitches Trashy Books reviews, but I’m curious what else people use

    C) What do you think makes a trope you’d usually avoid ok? I’m normally not much for employee/boss romances, but I love Two Weeks Notice, and I obviously love Jenny’s Fast Women. What gets people to try a thing they wouldn’t normally try?

    1. I think the employee/boss thing only works if the power structure is balanced. That is, in Two Weeks Notice, he has all the money and power, but he’s an idiot; she has brains and drive and common sense so she essentially takes him over and runs him. The conflict in Fast Women was that power struggle: he saw her as a secretary and she saw herself as an office manager/partner, and so instead of obeying him, she met him toe-to-toe. I think there’s a lot of dom/sub in the billionaire boss trope, which is fine if that’s your thing, but it doesn’t tend to work well for an equal partnership.

      So I think you have to look at what kind of relationship arc you like (in a romance). I really like a negotiation arc where two people struggle to meet in the middle, the weaknesses of one balanced by the strengths of each other and vice versa.

      1. This just made me flash on Lily – it is Dorothy (name), yes? I know it’s totally different dynamics, but this comment made me think of her! XD

    2. I just finished a book about two porn stars. Not really my cup of tea, but I was so curious as to how the author was going to make that work. On the plus side, both main characters were engaging and I liked them. On the minus side, the story kind of copped out at the end with both of them giving it up to be together.

      I think JD Robb has a supporting character who is happily married to a male prostitute and I just really want to know the nuts and bolts of that relationship, not just use it as interesting window dressing.

      So my thought is, write well, research well, and really think about the story (easier said than done). Any trope can be overturned or redeemed if you spend enough time and thought on it. And I am absolutely fascinated by a poor trope done well.

  17. I’m wary of American gung-ho: so hero who’s special forces or similar; generally justifying people needing to carry guns. Also hate the lazy/untrue characterization of someone as ‘evil’.

    Not keen on beautiful, sexy heroines who have their pick of men. Or all those novels about women adjusting to having children or coming out of a long marriage. Not that there aren’t good stories about these things, but I tend to feel envious or irritated rather than empathetic.

  18. +10 for emotional competence. In any of the main characters, but maybe an extra +5 if it’s the hero, because it so rarely is. (This mostly applies to stories where the main characters are supposed to be grown-ups.)
    Conversely, -15 for “I was hurt once and can never love again because all x are y.”

    Those are my big ones lately. It doesn’t seem like it should be so much to ask!

  19. Your post made my day! Thank you for being you, and for sharing with us!

    +10 if the protagonists have non-generic jobs that the author has clearly researched and understands, that are important to the plot and characterization, and that matter to the protagonists. Examples from books I’ve read lately include graphic designer who’s really into hand-lettered fonts and scientist responsible for the university’s scanning electron microscope.

    +10 if the protagonists have richly realized social lives–if we see that web of family and friends with their quirks and antipathies, with a sense that those other characters have lives in which they are the central characters of their own stories. (This, along with the dialogue, is one of my favorite elements of your writing, by the way.)

    -5 if the author makes the heroine (it’s always a heroine) clumsy and thinks that this is a significant character trait that is automatically hilarious.

    -10 if the author makes the heroine do stupid things and thinks that this is a significant character trait that is automatically hilarious, or thinks that taking stupid and pointless risks is the same thing as being strong.

    -5 if the author confuses insensitivity and selfishness with being “feisty.”

    -10 for historical fiction when a protagonist whose knowledge or beliefs somehow coincidentally agree with modern knowledge and attitudes to an extreme degree–somehow knowing centuries ahead of anybody else about germ theory, e.g., or being the only person in who isn’t racist, sexist, or homophobic in any way despite having been raised in a tiny village in England three centuries ago.

  20. I would love to be able to rate my Kindle (iPad) books internally. If I want to leave an Amazon review, I will do that but I want my own system of review. I do use Kindle collections A Lot. I even have a collection for Never Reading Again.

    -1 for smirking
    -5 if they cannot keep their hands off each other and cannot think clearly whenever they are together
    -10 if the conflict could be easily resolved if they just talked to each other
    -10 for he/she hurt the other one in or by leaving the other after high school and they are still mad 10 years later. WTF? They’re teenagers!
    -5 if he sleeps with a different woman every night/weekend. Even if he uses a condom, it’s still squicky.
    -5 for using the term “alpha” to describe anyone. It’s based on the concept “alpha” wolves in wolf packs, but that’s a complete fallacy.
    -10 if they have sex within hours of meeting, unless it was a planned hook up (bleh)
    DNF if past major trauma is brushed off as fixed or unimportant after a single apology or conversation (“I’m sorry I used to knock you around when we were together before.” “That’s okay.”)

    +10 for quirky that works, not for quirky for quirky’s sake
    +5 for a cat, especially if it is important to a MC. (Dogs are okay but don’t merit any plus or minus points.)
    +5 for nerdiness that isn’t about computers
    +5 if one of them didn’t go to college but is successful anyway
    +5 for characters grinning
    +10 if it makes me laugh
    +10 if I want someone just like him
    +10 if he explains what makes her so wonderful, and none of it is about what she looks like

  21. There’s a dog. (+1, also works for a cat or other living thing).

    • The dog is a rescue that becomes an active part of the book (+5, along with cats or whatever else is rescued).

    YAY. You’re maybe going to like my upcoming cozy mystery series 🙂 Although technically, it’s not a romance.

    +10 for humor
    +10 for a believable romance
    +10 for quirky, interesting characters
    +10 for smart protagonists and smart writing
    -10 for “oh woe is me” protagonists
    -10 for macho alpha men
    -10 for sex in every chapter even if it doesn’t move the story forward
    -10 for poking fun at characters (“the fat girl” for instance) in a mean way
    DNF for most stories with graphic rape or abuse scenes, protagonists who are door mats who need some man to rescue them, and especially books that say in the description that they are humorous and then turn out to be depressing and dark.

  22. “Huskily”
    Until I read this post, whenever I heard (lots of books on tape) or read huskily, I used to want to demand a quarter from the author. Takes me splat out of the story every time. Now I think I’ll go with -10.

    I generally understand all adverbs to be mildly suspect, but that one’s my line in the sand.

  23. Mine are more for mystery, but a lot of the romance ones above apply to other genres, and some of mine happened in romances I read in the past.

    -100 for the premise of “must get married to inherit estate” (so many reasons why that kind of clause would be voided as against public interest)
    -10 for a reading of the will scene (doesn’t actually happen, just send everyone a formal letter w/ a copy of the relevant documents) without a plausible reason (i.e., the deceased was a mystery-movie buff and wanted to have a reading as an homage)
    -50 for any trial (criminal or civil) happening within two years of the legal case being filed
    -50 for TSTL (there’s way too much of that in mysteries, even though it’s romance that gets the bad rap for it)
    -50 for too-good-to-be-true characters (Peter Wimsey falls in that category for me, but I know others don’t have the same reaction to him)
    +20 for interesting information or expertise that’s relevant to the story (like Donna Andrews’s info about birds)
    +10 for humor (doesn’t have to be snark, probably isn’t slapstick though)
    +50 for competence porn
    +20 for selflessness (character doing something for someone else’s benefit primarily)

    1. Reading of a will does actually happen in some cases. When I received an invitation to my great uncle’s, I was so tempted to go as it was likely to be my only chance. Just as well I didn’t though, as my father assured me it was drama-free. Probably because the person in question didn’t die under mysterious circumstances 😜

  24. I love these! Some of my things that haven’t been listed so far:

    -5 for hero/heroine who is at the top of their very demanding, advanced degree-requiring profession before they hit 30 (always annoying, but not a deal-breaker).

    -50 for authors using their characters as mouthpieces for what I have to assume are their own random social/political views because their presence in the book is completely extraneous to the plot or characterization (book gets thrown at wall, author goes on DTM list).

    -10 for casts of supporting characters who enable a heroine/hero’s general jackassitude.

    -20 for hero/heroines who realize after the fact that The One Who Got Away was The Only One For Them (already a problem), but don’t do anything about it until a ridiculous contrivance of a plot device brings that person back into their world.

    +10 for depictions of creative processes that inspire me to do something creative.

  25. +20 for a heroine with real flaws. (Agnes.) Because I’m damn cranky myself.
    +100 for the hero that sees the flaws and loves them. If he’s knocked over by her audaciousness instead of perceived beauty. The same for her competence. He’s overawed by her ability to… ride a motorcycle, bake a cake, build a birdhouse – whatever.
    +100 She’s badass. He can be too. It helps if they are equal in some way and that could be badassedness. Or they could be balanced in some other way. This is really part of the whole competence porn thing. And I love the “Fuck it, I can do this,” attitude. I mean it causes trouble, and that adds interest. I also like an “Oh shit, maybe I can’t do this,” moment, as long as she figures it out, or they figure it out together.
    + 20 if they become a team.
    – 50 if he gets all pissy with her for being who she is. Or for doing something that seemed logical for her, but he doesn’t like. Talk it out, don’t throw a fit. I don’t like sulky or illogical heroes.
    -50 it’s my way or the highway on either side. If you have to have things your way all the time then probably you shouldn’t be in relationships.

    I could go on, but that’s enough from me.

    1. Okay, several people have mentioned this.

      How the hell do you use husking as a verb for anything but shucking corn?

      I’d take a husky voice, although I think “huskily” is very awkward, but the verb for anything but vegetables, I don’t get.

      Tell me it’s not the equivalent of shucking her clothes off.

        1. Whole swaths of writers seem to hate using “said.” They want to make it different all they time, so they make up words or use words incorrectly: “I want your body,” she husked. Seriously. Use crooned or said with a leer or something. One of my profs beat that out of me (and the rest of the class) within the first few weeks.

          1. Whereas “said” is a word that is just about transparent to the reader, so it doesn’t get between the reader and the story!

  26. I might be the oddball among everyone here, in that I don’t think I have a points schematic when I think about books I’ve read/might read.

    When I can’t stand a book in the first few pages or first chapter, I just discard it/return it to the library unread, so it’s kind of an all or nothing decision that comes first for me. I will dump:

    * Anything by an American that insists on writing about a hero who is British. Or a Duke. Or an Earl. Or an heir to a throne. Please. I’m American but we basically suck at romances set in Britain.
    * Too much violence, intense threat on the horizon, destruction of worlds or farms or communities or people stuck on a boat in dreadful weather etc. I read a book to move into that setting, and I don’t want to feel that much dread or pain for long series of pages. I have sticks. I could beat myself on the head with them if I wanted large mounds of gratuitous pain. I don’t.
    * And a wide range of writing that strikes me as dumb, or manipulative, or overwrought, or phony in a wide range of ways. I know it when I see it, but can’t categorieze it all with points, alas.

    I want a relatively innocent protagonist trying to make sense of a world he’s/she’s not on top of. Not hugely gorgeous or rich or successful or a mixed martial arts phenomenon. In a world that’s imagined well and in detail so that I can feel that it’s real, even if it’s only imagined into existence by the writer. I want him/her to think enough about his reactions to events and people so that it’s clear he/she has an inner life and a mind, and not just an endless life of action and reaction.

    Usually I enjoy some humor, some local color and some background information that’s new and interesting — not everything needs to be about the relationship — I want to know the writer cares about the world in all its complexity and interrelatedness. And I want justice to result in the end, whether that’s expressed just in a happy resolution to the relationship or more broadly.

    Which is why I really kind of enjoy epilogues, but don’t shoot me, okay?

    1. I’m with you, Jinx. But I think you’re slightly too hard on Americans writing British historical romance. I agree that most are unreadable, but there are some brilliant exceptions, such as Loretta Chase and Courtney Milan. I’ll forgive the occasional faux pas (and British authors get things wrong, too) as long as the world is convincing overall.

  27. Oh, I thought of another one: -10 for he likes her because “she’s not like other girls.”

    1. Yes! And this one is closely related to “she’s beautiful because she doesn’t know she’s beautiful”.

      1. Oh this reminds me of a line from Peep Show where one of the loser protagonists describes a girl as having the “magical combo of beauty and low self esteem” which means he’s in with a chance.

    2. Actually, I like that one because I am not like other girls. There are things I really don’t get sometimes. Just sayin’.

    3. “she’s not like other girls.”

      Often signified by being a skinny girl that eats a lot of food, which makes no logical sense unless they’re a total exercise freak. (The man will often have been dating a stereotypical salad-eating model type girl before the not-like-other-girls girl.) See also, not taking 30 mins to leave the house, drinking a ridiculous amount for your body size, etc)

  28. One of my guilty pleasure reads is Kristen Ashley, and I feel like she would have a lot of you tearing your hair out, but I really love how she handles some things that no one else seems to touch.

    She writes super girly girl heroines who wear heels and make-up and pretty clothes and are completely unapologetic about it. And it’s so refreshing. I’m not a girly girl, but sometimes it feels like we worship and shame them at the same time in our culture, and really there is nothing wrong with doing your makeup everyday if that is who you want to be.

    She also writes about older women, late thirties, early 40s, who are divorced, work blue collar jobs and love gruff men. And somehow it works. I think that her books make me less judgemental.

    Her characters are practical and hard working usually. They live tough lives. They are open about how much work they put in to their life choices…

    And this dovetails with my big plus for a romance book: I want to learn something, a profession, a new perspective. Teach me, show me, make my world bigger. That’s what I want.

    1. I dont mind girly girls at all, and do see the shame/worship issue. But when brands start being listed, I get torn out of the book, mostly because I don’t know them worth a fig, and don’t care. Or, when they have to list what’s being worn for a non-event (got dressed for the day, vs a once in a lifetime ball kind of thing) – and thats not limited to girly girls.

  29. Yes to all of these, and here are some I haven’t seen mentioned:

    -5 for a heroine who doesn’t have female friends
    -5 for using a real city/town and screwing up the geography. Find someone who lives there and run it past them for g-d’s sake.
    -10 for failure to do basic research. I just finished a book involving a hostile takeover, and well, it doesn’t work the way it was set up in the book. Author even got a bunch of the terminology wrong.
    -20 for sexual out-of-the-mainstream as shorthand for illustrating how evil the villain is. Sometimes a kink is just a kink.

    1. Oh, one more:
      -2 for rich heroes who have a stretch limo at their beck and call. I’ve worked with high net worth individuals for years, and stretch limos are for senior proms and bachelorette parties and are seen as gauche. Rich people use town cars or big SUVs, like Escalades. Just another “do your research” beef. 🙂

      1. The only time I was ever driven in one was at my grandmother’s funeral, so you can probably add Funerals to that list.

  30. I like smirking, but I’m a smirker. Also I am not a character in a romance. But-10 for a kid that is a miniature adult AND a rocket scientist. I have a kid on the spectrum, it wasn’t nearly that adorable. Also -100 for killing the heroine in the last 5 pages. After I read Almost Paradise; I always read the last chapter first.

    1. I don’t know how to smirk. I thought I did, then I watched myself in the mirror and decided no, just no. I can’t leer either or even look sexily suggestive. It’s so sad. I did learn how to lift one eyebrow.

  31. I’m loving this. And taking notes, although I’m good with smirking if it’s used well and not the character’s default setting.

    I don’t have a problem with a number of the power imbalance tropes, like boss/employee. I do have a problem with how they’re often written. I’ve thought a lot about this, because I’ve tried to work out why I sometimes like a trope like this when it’s an automatic squick for most people, and I’ve come to the conclusion that when they’re done well (and I cannot emphasize enough that it has to be done really well) then the tropes deal with stuff that is still genuinely a serious bar to romance for very good reasons, and that I deeply love the kind of couple that it would take to find a solid HEA in spite of it. That there really has to be a genuine balance of power and self between them for it to work in spite of the circumstantial imbalance. The problem is that there is so much room for the author to get it wrong, and it only takes a tiny misstep for it to be profoundly squicky.

    1. Also, I think that tropes are a kind of code for the story to follow. It’s comforting for the reader to know that a vampire story will have xyz, and a billionaire story features this, etc. Makes trying a new author safer.

  32. So many of mine have already been listed, especially all the consent ones, but I have to repeat a big one for me: -50 not doing research, messing up basic facts or information, geography, etc. E.g., the so-called doctor taking the heroine’s temperature orally after giving her an ice-cold drink.

    -50 for messing up facts in the author’s own world. E.g., in one early book, a main character’s birthday falls on a major holiday; in a later book, everyone in town worships that character (and know his IQ, every woman he’s dated, etc.), but at a big party on that holiday, no one mentions the hero’s birthday.

    -50 for very anachronistic attitudes and behaviors in books that are otherwise trying to be faithful to the time period. E.g. the heroine is a stickler for proper manners but has no problem getting her bodice undone and the hero’s hand up her skirt behind the door at a ball where anyone could catch them. Were supposed to believe that she gets so carried away by lust that she forgets that she’d be completely ruined.

    -50 for characters who are supposedly funny (including comedians) who are manifestly Not Funny. E.g., they say something really stupid, and characters were supposed to respect laugh and say how funny they are.

    -5 for misused words. One popular series author has so many of these that I started keeping a list on my phone. E.g., “absolved” someone of their heavy bags to mean “relieved,” his “alleged” aloofness to mean “feigned,” “concurrent” when she meant “consecutive.” And so many more.

    -1 Using subject pronouns as the object of a preposition or other object. E.g., “things are going well between he and I.” This is everywhere, mainly with American authors. What are the editors doing?

    +50 for providing a new (to me) perspective, insight into unfamilar places, jobs, situations. I can overlook a lot in exchange for this.

    +10 for characters who are visual artists that we get to see at work.

    1. Apparently, so many people are worried about appearing uneducated that they use I when it should be me. Whom is also often misused. We vs. us. Sigh.

    2. The ‘it is I’ thing is down to early scholars (C16-C18) of the history of language, who thought Latin was the original and most perfect language; and in Latin the verb ‘to be’ takes the nominative, so they ‘corrected’ English to match it. But English is of course a Germanic language, so the accusative – me/him – is correct.

      Since language is always evolving, and this mistake was taught for several hundred years, you could argue that ‘it is I’ is also English now. It sounds clunky to me, though.

      1. I was taught that the useful shortcut was to take the “him and I” sentence and,

        First: mentally drop the “him and” — it’s then usually easy enough to get the choice between “me” or “I” correct;

        Second: mentally drop the “and I” — and the choice between “he” and “him” is usually obvious.

        Hope this is clear . . . .

        1. Excellent! That’s what I do, too. We should teach English and writing. It could even be a very short class.

      2. My English teacher always used to tell the anecdote about two schoolgirls arguing whether it is the Queen or her sister Margaret in the car that is slowly rolling past them. Suddenly the Queen looks out the open window and says “It’s me.” So that is the Queen’s English ;o)

      3. Well, my native tongue is a Germanic language (Dutch) and it takes a nominative, as does German. (Ik ben het/Ich bin es). It is French, a Latin language, that uses the object form: ‘C’est moi’. So ‘It’s me’ may well be the effect of the French influence on English.

  33. There’s already a lot of good points here. A few more that I didn’t find yet or overlooked but which really turn me off:

    * psychologists who always want to help
    * people (mainly females) who constantly ‘breathe’ words
    * mysteries in which it takes pages to explain who did it and why
    * jeans (on the hero) that are zipped but the button is left open (why do I need to know that? And didn’t Jerry Falwell jr. recently prove that it doesn’t necessarily look sexy?)

  34. I agree with pretty much what has already been said.

    I don’t mind smirk if it is used to describe a single occasion, but if it’s used continuously it annoys me. I recently re-watched the Pride & Prejudice movie with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. She is a prime example of someone who smirks and she did it the whole way through the movie.

      1. Rouan mentioning Jennifer Ehle’s smirking reveals the reason for my discomfort with Elizabeth Bennet in that version — thank you for the insight. I haven’t watched the series in years, but now I see the smirk — the “this is all an in joke.”

        Bujold uses smirk a lot and correctly. A writer who was highly influenced by Bujold used smirk constantly and imprecisely. I don’t like the verb but used sparingly and appropriately it is okay. Reserve smirk for bad guys and fools: who wants a positive character, especially the heroine or hero, who “smiles in an irritatingly smug, conceited, or silly way”? (Google/Oxford Dictionaries)

  35. Further to the discomfort with Title-Bearing Characters, I cringe at any writer who gets those titles wrong. Which is almost ALWAYS.

    e.g., unless a woman is the daughter of a duke or an earl (such as Lady Mary Wimsey), she is NOT Lady First Name. If she marries a titled man, she is always Lady Husband’s Last Name or Lady Husband’s Title or even Lady Husband’s First Name (which is in itself an offence against women, but that’s another story).

    It’s not hard to look this stuff up. I think the problem is that so many writers haven’t a clue that they haven’t a clue. “Oh, I’ll just pop in a ‘Lady’ here and there. It’s all the same. (And worse, sometimes they even are inconsistent within the book. She’s Lady Elinor AND Lady Witherspoon.)

    Just read everything Georgette Heyer ever wrote, and pay attention.

  36. A -75 for me is the scene where everyone is assembled for a big denouement either to resolve a mystery or the hero proposes. It always seems so manipulative. I hate those scenes.

  37. +20 if there’s a dog; +25 if there are two dogs; +20 if there’s a cat; +25 if there are two cats.
    +40 if the protagonist is over 30, because the 20s are often so confusing, and people often don’t have enough self-knowledge to be interesting (to me). Lots of people are attractive in their 20s. So if they are young, there needs to be some development there in the plot.
    +10 if the protagonists are competent in whatever their job is.
    +10 if the some realities of life, like cooking dinner, are included.
    +20 if there are descriptions of parties. I love parties.
    -50 for TSTL heroine.
    -50 for domineering macho males
    +20 for manly competent men. Which means something different for most of us. Someone who doesn’t suffer from unearned confidence.
    +10 if the characters are readers.
    -20 if the cover has a ripped man pulling his shirt open.
    -20 if the cover is not in the correct era, for an historical.
    -20 if there’s a dog on the cover, but not a dog in the book.
    -10 if it’s the wrong kind of dog.

    In my Kindle app (it’s on an iPad), there is a “Permanently Delete” option in the menu.

    1. That’s interesting (the permanently delete option). I rarely read ebooks on my iPad, but it’s easier to look for books on it, and I’m forever finding I’ve accidentally downloaded another book to it. Will check this out: thanks.

  38. I think the changes to smirk are here to stay. >.> The YA I read are flooded with its use, and it does drive me nuts.

    -10 for a massive, unwarranted time jump to get between interesting points. So much story could have happened there, and the story just dies for me. Happened just last night. T.T

    -10 for always perfect sex and everyone finishing together every time.

    -5 for your one fated love. Mostly this bugs me the most in the werewolf “one mate” books. -10 when its driven by the mate hormones.

    -10 for humiliating moments.

    Definitely some other great ones pointed out above! Interesting way to think of stories for sure!

  39. My current pet peeve is the divorced woman in her early 30s who thinks she’s too old and unattractive to date again or that she’s undateable because she has young kids. If you don’t want to date because the ink isn’t dry on your divorce papers and you have 3 kids under 8 and you haven’t had a full night’s sleep in years, be my guest. I realize that society makes a lot of women in that situation feel that way but I expect my fictional women to think better of themselves.

  40. +50 for a really believable conflict – yay, Lois McMaster Bujold, SHARDS OF HONOR; your planet is at war with my planet AND we both have ADULT RESPONSIBILITIES.
    +25 for a good choice of fictional viewpoint character in a historical – Roberta Gellis paid attention to this. You really can’t rewrite George Washington to fit your plot; you need an aide. George’s every movement is too well documented.

    -100 for a hero who’s such a monster for two-thirds of the book that no one could believe the heroine is suicidal enough to fall for him. Older Angst-focused category works, especially the forced-marriage ones — I can recall thinking “leave the guy, file for divorce, and tell him to Read His Stinking Contract if he objects” instead of meekly admitting that she has learned to love him when there hasn’t been any justification.

  41. I am loving this thread so much. A few to add:

    -40 if the protagonists stop to have sex while in the middle of a battle/running through a jungle pursued by drug dealers and terrorists/being chased by zombies, etc.

    -30 for bad editing, typos

    -10 for when the character is suddenly described to be wearing a yellow dress, but 40 pages earlier they were wearing a red dress, and going back and reading it page-by-page forward from the red dress, there was no way that they had time to change

    -10 for drinking 30 cups of coffee a day; it seems lazy to me, can’t the author imagine a conversation taking place without being over a cup of coffee? And why don’t they ever need to pee?

    -10 for a dinner conversation in which after every 2 or three comments, a waiter appears to change the course. I have visions of them shovelling food up their faces after every word.

    -10 for using the word ‘slant’, as in ‘he slanted his mouth over hers’

  42. +10 for a well written series. I’m a sucker for a series. BUT

    -15 if the author uses the same name for 2 different characters in the same series/different books. It’s a distraction.

    -25 for any main character whose mother is a “Mrs. Claus”. By the time she is 45.

    -15 for the best friend who is really just the author giving the reader information.

    +25 for any female character over 50 who still actually has sex.

    -25 for anything that pulls me out of the story. Like: it was 20 years ago, and all the teenagers were running around texting each other. In the woods.

    -50 for the unsatisfying ending. I blame “Gone Girl” for the popularity of this.

    +50 for an ending that I really remember. “Dragonfly In Amber” had the best ending to any book ever. I shivered when I read that.

    -50 for “She mused”. Or “She thoughtfully munched an apple”.

    -25 for women in their 30s “shrieking” because they are just so fun-loving.

    +25 if I like the kids in the story. “The Last Days of Summer” (by Steve Kluger) is a good example of this.

    -25 if the kids in the story sound like they could have been on a 70s TV sitcom.

    I know there’s more…. but that’s all I can think of right now. 🙂

  43. So much agreement with these lists! Especially carolc and Jenn Q.

    I don’t have a rating system. I am actually kind of easy to please when it comes to romances. I steer away from ‘inspirational’ because, even from authors I otherwise like, I don’t get inspired. I get irritated. I have thought that shit through, I have studied comparative religion, and I don’t need to be preached at in the context of what is allegedly a love story between two humans, not between a human and its god.

    If I want to read about people of (Christian) faith, actually, I’ll read Ellis Peters. Have not come across many romances that dealt with non-Christian faith or spirituality as an essential component of character.

    I also steer away from law-enforcement or military-adjacent settings because I read quite a few back in the day and they got intolerably repetitive & predictable. (Which, when you’re a romance reader, is saying something.) Also tend to involve Woman In Jeopardy which, no.

    After many years of forcing myself to finish a book because I felt like I was somehow doing myself or the author a disservice by not finishing it, I have arrived at a couple of Hard Nopes that result in DNF.

    The first is and always will be a main character who I simply don’t like OR find interesting OR whose place in the fictional milieu is so ludicrous that I can’t believe the plot or supporting characters will ever make up for it.

    The second is Overt Reactionary Messaging. If I’m reading fiction (whether romance or mystery or SF/fantasy) my primary interest is in the characters. If the authorial voice keeps breaking in to talk about how progressive values are a menace to society, I’m out. I am a white woman married to a non-white man, my sister is gay, and I’m a civil-rights voter. My choice of what to read reflects that.

    Authors I would buy again I could grade.
    A = Always Buy
    B = Buy after a minute to see what other people have to say about the latest
    C = Buy if I had reservations about the last thing I read from that author but the new thing is about a character I liked from the first thing OR the setting/profession is one I am interested in AND the book is on sale.

    Choosing what authors not to buy again is a little different from the DNF criteria (which is graded F). I would put those authors in D.

    To get a D, the author:
    -thinks s/he is funny and isn’t
    -uses the wrong words and/or doesn’t do hir research
    -is poorly edited, to the point of distraction
    -does not finish hir stories, in books that are not obviously To Be Continued
    -incompetent main characters, whatever the profession
    -overreliance on The Gruff or The Mean as character traits that must be overcome by true love
    -makes a big scene about how overpoweringly attracted the main characters are to each other but then fades to black (I think how people get physical is (not always, but usually) important to show, at least twice in a full-length book. It doesn’t have to be graphic but if they don’t even have an on-the-page kiss worthy of description, forget it.)
    -uses the word feisty to describe a historical heroine.

  44. I have one more! Courtesy of the book I read last night. If the hero has the same first name, middle initial, last name as an ex … Every time another character said his first & last name, I was pulled out of the story, I wrinkled my nose, and said “EW”.

    Not the author’s fault (what are the chances?), but still … negative blue gazillion points. 🙂 I do not hope for a sequel to this book. 🙂

  45. One thing that will cause as much as +/- 30 swing in how I’m perceiving a story and the heroine’s journey are realistic time frames for realistic deliverables.

    So if the character is some how able to completely create a new business from the ground up without coming from a deep business background and/or seemingly without having any kind of practical experience in the underlying industry… and yet is able to completely figure out how to launch it all herself including renovating a physical store front, deciding on a ‘clever’ (and yet somehow still available!) name and creating a unique brand/logo, designing a fully functional website and then filing (and receiving!) the appropriate permits/loans/insurance to open her doors all within a week or two…and all that all by her own plucky self without paying a team of experts a ton to help do it that quickly..maybe she just “doesn’t sleep at all that week” and enlists her similarly inexperienced friend to help -who I guess has nothing else to do but volunteer all her time to help our Plucky Entrepreneur?…or brings her kid to “help renovate” and like “paint the walls” of this new endeavor… because a kid can totally be trusted to actually be a HELP when stuff has to happen quickly and still look professional! (… Unless those little hand prints everywhere on the new paint are just darling emblems of the earnest charm of Ms Pluck’s new small business? Hey, maybe that ‘mistake’ is just going to be the new business logo, because that’s how ‘easy’ making a ‘cute and quirky’ logo is!) and not only does all this come together so quickly… it’s also somehow an instant smashing success without much more than a moment of doubt that the bank loan will be paid or that there will be enough cashflow to cover payroll (or maybe it’s just her and her good ol’ friend, Lotta Volunteerin who after the initial store opening has decided to stay to work every shift everyday for free/practically nothing because FRIENDSHIP)

    But some how after the “big two week push” (pheew!) to get the store open, our heroine also has the ability to just to open/close/leave her shift at the shop at her whim to deal with her life events in realtime as they happen, not around her actually working at her business…and her work is of course 95% contained within normal working hours..it’s not like she would all of a sudden need to be handling a ton of new PAPERWORK and EMPLOYEE ADMINISTRATION and INVENTORY and SUPPLIER MANAGEMENT in addition to actually doing the part she loves of her New Quirky Business venture, right? So it’s just the upside and flexibility of business ownership, without the downside and responsibility part!

    I mean that kind of hand waving is not enough to completely make me stop caring about a character’s journey if everything else about her is interesting and well written, but when so many major things happen too quickly/easily too often on the logistics end of things, I end up side eying it in a way that pulls me further and further out of the story. I mean – it’s fiction and a fantasy, and I get that paperwork and administration isn’t sexy – but it’s hard for me to suspend the belief that any one person – no matter how plucky – would be able to instantly have all the skills required for something that requires so much different kind of expertise – on both the creative and structured side of being a successful business owner – with no learning curve and no help and no failure at any stage.

    1. What you said! My husband worked all his life to gain the career he wanted risings through the ranks in order to work sixty hour weeks. Not to mention missing out of family gatherings. I remember a cancelled vacation because an employee gave his two week notice and he had to find a replacement. There were constant changes always having to come up with new ideas, setting schedules, working with cut backs until his health got in the way. Even then I didn’t believe he would walk away. But walk away he did. He was actually home nights. That’s why I roll my eyes when reading about any new venture that is suddenly a success.

  46. I have a new thing I can’t stand in romance novels. Just encountered it in a book I was reading on a friend’s recommendation. The author had a good grasp of friends and friendship — how it builds, how friends interact at different points, etc. I liked that about her book.

    But she drove me CRAZY every time she commented in detail about the clothing choices of EVERY character in the book, EVERY time they got ready for something, EVERY time they walked into a house, or a restaurant, or a car heading to the beach for a walk or a picnic or whatever. It never stopped being mentioned.

    In loving detail, too. “A simple light teal shift with deep pockets, along with a soft mauve shrug for the evening chills to follow dinner.” (I can feel the bile rising in me just typing this much….)

    Given this, it made sense she would have one of the characters start giving her unwanted excess clothing to another one, despite their having been despised enemies until THE DAY BEFORE. And it was to give her a friendly MAKEOVER so she could look more attractive and feel better about herself etc. etc.

    I don’t want to follow that level of attention to the clothing of anyone, much less everyone in a book. If it relates to the interaction — X had been shipwrecked and looked crappy when she got off the rescue boat to find TV cameras pointed at her — fine, tell me a little about what was ragged and embarrassing about her looks. If someone had been saving a particular piece of clothing until the group celebration, and I knew about it, then putting the green dress on for the feast would signify something, so — fine.

    I’m going to try one more book by that author but the first place she mentions a plot-unrelated simple linen ANYTHING, I’m dnf-ing it right then and there.

    1. You get a lot of this in fanfiction – detailed point-by-point breakdowns of what the character is wearing when it’s completely irrelevant and breaks the flow of the story. I sometimes think that it stems back to school exercises on How to Write a More Interesting Scene – Use Descriptive Detail to Build a Picture.

  47. I wonder who takes the blame when words are out of sync? For instance when I’m reading a story that takes place in the USA and a napkin is referred to as a serviette (spelling) or a living room is called a lounge is it the author or editor? Drives me nuts. I have to put my kindle down and think (curse) before I pick it up again. And I’m sure it’s the same the other way around. One author I read admittedly thinks it is cute to leave those mistakes in. No it is not.

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