I write romance so, obviously, I read romance too. Try writing a book in a genre you haven't read for years -- go ahead, I dare you.
As readers, I think we all have some things that turn us off from the get go. I know there are plot descriptions I can read and almost every time I'll slide the book back on the (real or virtual) shelf. I've created taboos because if I buy a book with one of these plots, I'll almost always have buyer's remorse. Do I hate the book because it's bad? Maybe, my preconceived ideas created hurdles so high that no writer could have written a story about these plotlines that I'd have enjoyed.
Here are some of the plots that turn me - the buyer - off:
1. It's About The Marriage:
I'll admit it. I like reading about the courtship. I want to know who they were before they met. I need to see how that first contact goes. Is the connection immediate? The thrill of the hunt or the chase and the obstacles fate throws in the path on the way to the altar matter to me. By all that's happy and holy - I have to be there for the first kiss.
I'll never buy a romance where the characters are married at the start of the story. I'll have missed too much to care about them or connect with them. I respect writers who make it clear on the cover copy that this is a book about the already married. I know to give this one a pass but I might buy the writer's next book.
My pet peeve is buying a book that reads like it's about the courtship but before I get a quarter of the way or half way through, they're marching up the altar. The rest of the story is about how unhappy one or both is during the early part of the marriage and the HEA the author is really headed for is the couple settling into marital bliss. If I bought that one, I did it because I was misled by the cover copy. It makes me feel cheated. That writer tricked me into buying the book and it's something I'll remember. I won't buy one of her books again.
Thrill me with a long and lusty hunt and don't bag the game too early.
2. It's About History or Politics:
When I read a romance novel I want it to be about --- get ready; are you sitting down? THE ROMANCE.
Sometimes a cover will catch my fancy and I'll pick up a book about so and so who is a lady in waiting to Queen Whoever in the Court of Ain't It Grand. A damned good cover artist designed that one but he or she can't make up for the writer's foibles. I'll put it down so fast I create a draft that flutters nearby book covers or creates a lag in cyberspace.
I get more than enough politics by watching the news and I studied history in grammar school, junior high, high school and college. I often get history lessons on the news or on the occasional documentary. I don't want political intrigue cluttering my books and I don't want details from history distracting me from the story.
The interaction between the characters should create the complications. If a writer resorts to politics or history to create the conflict, it removes me from the characters. If I don't care about the characters, I won't care about the story.
Don't tell me a story about how he'd marry her if only King Crabass hadn't forbade the union. I'll just wish for a stronger hero and a heroine who makes smarter choices.
3. It's About The Great Switcheroo:
This lesson I learned from hard-knock experience. Like The Who sings, I won't get fooled again.
I don't just hate - I despise authors who dangle a fake lure and make it nice and shiny. Inevitably, I reach for the shiny lure -- only to have it jerked away when the fisherman reaches for the acceptable lure he knew he'd use all along. Come on, you know these stories. They're the pits.
The cover copy will generally describe a hero who's betrothed to or has courted nice little Susie Sunshine for years. Then along comes Maggie Midnight. Susie's nice and acceptable and generally described as being as interesting as toast. Maggie is mysterious, alluring and doesn't have the right family background. Should the hero toss Susie to the curb and give in to his gut wrenching, page turning lust for Maggie?
Maybe I'm just twisted and perverted (Stop it right now. I see y'all out there mentally erasing that maybe. It's my blog and I'm allowed my crutches, thank you very much.) Anyway, MAYBE I'm just a depraved human being, but my answer to the hero's question is ......hell, yes. Kick Sunshine to the curb and bring on Midnight. He'll make the same choice, won't he? The back cover copy sure made it sound like he would.
But he doesn't. After panting after Maggie for enough pages to get the readers on the edge of their seats, the hero realizes that he needs more sunshine in his life. The interesting, mysterious lady is only good for grubbing. He wants the bland with his breakfast every morning.
I've learned to be suspicious of this one no matter how many tricks the cover designer pulls out of his paint box. If the cover copy gives a hint of a plot that even sounds like this, I'll break my cardinal rule and flip to the back of the book to see who Mr. Magic ends up with. If the last page has him billing and cooing with Susie, I'll shelve the book every single time.
This plot device breaks the rules of trust between a writer and reader. Build the interest and then cut the cord if you like - but you'll lose the sale every time, no exceptions.
Writers are free to write as they choose but readers are free to buy what they choose. And the power of the debit card wins, hands down. I do my best to remember that cardinal rule as a writer. Of course, my dream book may be your nightmare and vice versa.
Different strokes stoke different folks.