I've learned a few things over the DECADES I've been reading romance novels. Most importantly, I've learned to spot some glaring red flags. These red flags tell me that certain books aren't for me, and I REALLY pay attention to them. So, if I see these things in a book's blurb, marketing, or sample chapters, I bail with a quickness (and you might want to do the same):
"Not like other romance novels."
This statement has big "not like other girls" energy. It implies that most romance novels are unreadable, predictable crap, but THIS one is a grand, glorious literary achievement. It's the kind of thing people who hate romance say. I don't want to read romances written by people who don't really love romance, because let me assure you, the lack of passion is OBVIOUS to readers. The people who say stuff like this are usually people who wrote in other genres, failed to sell anything, and thought they'd knock out a quick romance novel to make some money, because how hard can it be, amirite? (Spoiler alert: It's hard to write a good romance. Really, really hard.) So, long-story-short, if you tell me your romance isn't like all the others out there (see also: not your grandmother's/mother's romance), I won't be reading your book.
Fifty Shades and Twilight
If a book mentions Fifty Shades and/or Twilight (positively or negatively) in its marketing, I won't be reading it. One big romance novel cliché that's spewed by people who know nothing about the genre is that all romance is either like Fifty Shades or Twilight. I hate marketing that plays into that cliché, so I avoid books that try it.
First of all, Nicholas Sparks does NOT write romance novels. If you don't believe me, check out his own website where he insists that he writes "love stories." There is a very big difference between a romance novel (which MUST have a happily ever after or happy for now ending) and a love story (which can end tragically, much like a crap ton of the Sparks catalog). So, if a book's marketing campaign hinges on it being like Nicholas Sparks, I'm out with prejudice.
If a book tells me in it's marketing material that it's for fans of Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, and "insert name of huge bestseller" here, I'm not going to read it. If I see all those big names, I'm going to assume that whoever is in charge of marketing just listed out whoever was selling best at the moment to try and drum up interest in the book. There's no one book that is going to appeal to readers of all of those huge bestsellers. And why romance authors would ever list out non-romance authors as a comparable, I have no idea, but I see it often. So, I guess my advice to book marketers who are doing that is...stop it. It's off-putting.
You'll laugh, you'll cry...
First of all, you're not the boss of me. Don't tell me what to do. If you try to tell me what to do, I'm gonna do the opposite, which, in this case, means I'm not going to laugh OR cry, because I'm not going to read the book. Plus, "you'll laugh, you'll cry" is a tired cliché, and if the best marketing you can come up with for your book is a tired cliché, I'm not interested in reading more of your work. I realize that's harsh, but I'm not sorry. My spare time is short. If I ignored red flags I'd never get anything done.
If you tell me you've written a romance novel that subverts expectations, I'm going to run away screaming. I expect romance novels to be beautifully written, fun, sexy, emotional, and end happily. I'm not interested in having any of my expectations subverted, thank you very much.
It's how long?
There are some authors who can pull off really long romance novels. I won't name them, but I've read a few romance novels over 450 pages that were great. But that's not the norm, in my experience. I'm willing to tolerate longer romantic fantasy novels, because I understand the world building can get time consuming and complicated. But for contemporary romance, I'm probably gonna avoid anything over 350 pages, unless I'm familiar with the author's work. Why? Because if a contemporary romance is that long, the plot is either way more complex than I care for, or worse, it's just a wordy, meandering book with a glacial plot. I don't have the time for wordy, meandering books, and I don't care for super complex plots in contemporary romance, either. (I have a short attention span. Sue me.)
Erotica about a young girl written by an old man
Yes, this one is oddly specific, I know. But I've gotten more than a few review requests from male authors (exclusively white males over the age of 65, for some reason) who wrote books about very young girls on "erotic journeys". Every time I get one of these requests I cringe so hard I pull a neck muscle, then immediately go shower, because there's just something that strikes me as terribly WRONG and gross about older men writing this kind of stuff about very young women. Maybe I'm missing out on some great erotica, but...that's a chance I'm willing to take.
Female characters who are tortured to further a male's character growth
This goes for movies, as well. When the only method a writer can come up with for furthering a male character's growth/story arc is to rape/murder/torture a female character, I'm out. Deadpool 2 is a great example of this for me. It's a misogynistic plot device that I have zero tolerance for.
There are only a few secret pregnancy romances I can tolerate. I get irrationally stabby when I read about a heroine who kept her pregnancy hidden from a great hero because he broke her heart, or she didn't want to hold him back. Unless the guy was an abusive a-hole, he has the right to now about his kid. I have trouble empathizing with heroines who rob heroes of the first years of a kid's life for no good reason at all. I read blurbs for secret pregnancy romances VERY carefully, and if the heroine had a way to contact the hero and the hero wasn't abusive and she still hid the pregnancy, I skip that book, because reading it would only result in me leaving a scatching review, and no one needs THAT.
If I see characters who participated in genocide of indigenous populations, or were slave owners, KKK members, or Nazis presented as romantic leads, I'm out. Some actions are irredeemable.
But those are just a few of MY red flags. What about you? Let's discuss!