Good advice, and 11 great reasons to hire a good editor. Also, know your audience. You can get away with some of these to a certain extent, but moderation is the key.
I’ve been a senior editor for Loose Id since 2009. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of manuscripts have come across my desk. I’ve accepted only a handful. Why? Recently, I was asked this at Arisia, and I promised to compile my Top 10 reasons why I reject an erotic romance.
After an extensive field recon of over 200 manuscripts that I’ve assessed (we don’t call it a “rejection” at Loose Id. Rather, we “assess” why the story is not for us), I’ve narrowed it down to these ten reasons. Some of these reasons overlap and tie into one another, and this list is by no means exhaustive.
The reasons are presented in approximate order of frequency, not importance. Also, please note, I’ll use the romantic pairings interchangeably. If something says, “hero/heroine,” that can also hold true for “hero/hero,” “heroine/heroine,” and any other romantic pairing/group.
I hope you find this enlightening, helpful, and maybe a little terrifying.
Here are the Top 10 Most Common Reasons for an Assessment.
1. Telling, Not Showing
The author doesn’t engage the reader by providing them with an experience. Instead, the author uses explanations, thinking that relaying information alone is what makes a good story
Signs of Telling Not Showing:
Events and characters’ emotions are simply reported to the reader
The POV is distant. We never get inside the characters’ minds. We never find out what they’re thinking or why
Instead of giving us active scenes, the author relays scenes after they occur, giving us the sense that we’re missing out on the action.
Flashbacks hamper the forward motion of the story
2. Presupposing the Reader’s Interest
The author makes no effort to hook or otherwise interest the reader. Instead, the author assumes the reader will keep turning the page without impetus.
Signs of Presupposing the Reader’s Interest:
The story question or the conflict is undeveloped or unclear. We have no idea what the stakes are or what the hero/heroine stands to win or lose. We can’t answer the question, Why am I reading this book?
The characters’ goals and motivations are undeveloped or unclear. Jane Protagonist wants to do Thing A, but we have no idea why—or the reasons why are contrived, ridiculous, senseless, or downright selfish
The story relies on backstory or flashbacks. There is not enough forward momentum of the plot
Too many characters are introduced too quickly, making it difficult to single out the heroes
3. Characters are Flat and Unappealing
The author has created cardboard cutouts that are lifeless on the page. They don’t seem real or realistic. Their dialogue is often stilted and boring.
Signs of Characters that are Flat and Unappealing
Stereotypes and clichés abound. Heroes whose eyes are “deep pools that a young girl could get lost in.” Heroines who are supermodel attractive with Barbie-doll figures.
The hero or heroine is perfect and without any real flaws. They have a perfect life, perfect body, perfect job. No one dislikes them. They are the best at everything. Nothing bad ever happens to them
The hero/heroine is in some kind of conflict but has no actual plan to get out of it—or the plan is so poorly formed as to be foolish, out of touch, or downright stupid
The hero/heroine is a bully, treats people poorly, thinks only of himself/herself, thinks too much of himself/herself etc… and is not someone the reader can even like, much less root for
The hero/heroine doesn’t learn from his/her mistakes
The heroine has no agency (see more below)
The heroine is less like a realistic woman and more like teen wish fulfillment come to life
The alpha hero is an abusive jerk (see more below)
The POV is written in distant third person with no deep POV
The heroines don’t have to work for their Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN)
The villain is moustache-twirlingly bad
4. Contrived Plot
Conflict happens for convenience rather than to increase tension by putting the characters in actual danger or distress.
Signs that the Plot is Contrived:
The characters are in conflict, but they easily escape that conflict
The conflict is only internal. It’s all in the hero’s/heroine’s mind. They don’t have any real-life struggles that illuminate and/or complicate their internal conflict
The heroes create all the conflict themselves through bad behavior, poor communication, or otherwise being giant assholes.
No sacrifice is needed to overcome the conflict/defeat the bad guys
The opposing force is weaker than the heroes
There is nothing keeping the hero and heroine apart
Events are artificial and ridiculous. Example: A dog attacks to get the steaks Kathy Heroine is carrying and just happens to tear her blouse open.
My personal least favorite: The author has a surprise ending or surprise reveal. Thinking they are clever, the author withholds key information from the reader
5. Rape of the Heroine
While I don’t disdain writing on the subject of rape overall, I do think many authors, especially newer authors, use rape as a convenient device to torture the heroine without treating the subject matter or the heroine with the respect she deserves. Treating rape with flippancy is an especially glaring mistake in an e-rom, where the focus should be on the romance.
Rape of the Heroine is especially egregious when:
The rape is “on-screen” and graphic
The rape is treated with flippant disregard by the heroine, the hero, the fleeting characters—basically anyone.
The heroine immediately has sex with the hero (known as Magic Penis syndrome)
The rape is used as an attempt to titillate the reader (note: this does not include forced seduction or rape fantasies in which the author makes it evident that those involved are engaged in fulfilling a consensual fantasy)
The rape is used to “punish” the heroine who has a lot of agency or to “take her down a peg”
The rape is used to prove that the bad guy is Bad with a capital B
6. Plot Problems
The story suffers from a poorly executed plot where the characters’ arcs are not realized in a satisfying way.
Signs that there are Plot Problems:
The story is rife with distracting subplots that veer off the main journey and make the story feel padded
Too many characters are introduced with no sense of their function or importance in the story. Jimmy wants Tammy, but Tammy wants Suzie, and Suzie has three sisters, each of whom wants something different—oh, my!
The romance doesn’t increase in tension throughout the story
Too many flashbacks confuse the timeline and hinder the forward momentum of the plot
Active scenes are seldom. Instead, everything is relayed after it happens
The dialogue is clunky and boring with the hero and heroine just batting sentences back and forth like a monotonous game of tennis. Their discussion doesn’t forward the plot or increase tension.
There’s nothing coming between the heroes. There’s no struggle and no tension. Thus, there’s no reason to root for them.
Unimportant moments are given lines and lines of dialogue (Jon Protagonist ordering champagne at the restaurant) while important scenes (Jon reconciling with his father) are glossed over in summary.
Conflict is not tied up, characters don’t arc, and the heroes and heroines don’t grow and learn from their mistakes
The villain conveniently escapes at the end to “fight again” in the sequel
The premise is terrible, awful, nasty-bad, no-good. Example: After her husband dies in a tragic hunting accident, MILF is attracted to son’s friend who then blackmails her for sex. She falls in love with him only to have him rescue her from her evil boss’s white slavery ring.
7. The Heat Level Is Lacking
The sex isn’t hot enough or plentiful enough—or the sex scenes are problematic
Euphemistic words abound—love canals, disco sticks, and throbbing manhoods make the sex unintentionally hilarious rather than hot
The heroes are only attracted to each other because of their looks
Sex is described with mechanics. Emotional content is lacking, and deep POV is absent. We can’t tell how the heroines feel about the sex, the romance, or even each other
The hero and heroine are apart for most of the book, making it impossible for the reader to get a sense of their burgeoning romance/relationship
The heroes’ interactions are cliché. They bump heads, they bump hands, they bump knees in the taxi, and then when they finally kiss, their hearts skip a beat, the earth moves, and probably one of them “shatters” or “is gone” or “undone”
Romance is secondary to the UF, F, SF, Thriller/Horror etc elements
Sex scenes fade to black
The “fated mate” plot is poorly executed. The author wants us to be invested in the heroines simply because they’re “fated to be together” and for no other reason
The author has this bizarre way of making things unsexy. Example: “Her thighs squeezed together a little harder and she felt a little honeydew oozing. God, she hoped she hadn’t peed herself.”
Bestiality. Shifters should be in the same shifted form during Sexy Times. So, Clara and Kimber can both be werewolves when they get down and dirty, but any girl/wolf sex is a strict no-no. Besides, who wants rug burn?
8. World-building is Lacking
No attempt is made to orient the reader in space and time. We have little to no idea where the characters are or why or even what that place looks like.
Signs that the World-Building is Lacking:
Chapter and scene openings leave us wondering about the location
Consistency between locations is lacking
Fantasy elements (like magic) are not consistent or are easily set aside for the convenience of the plot
Terms like “blew her mind” and “you know the drill” in a historical fiction, or a hero described as “laser-focused” in a world that does not have lasers.
Every woman in the story is “marked” and impregnated by a man with no solid cultural or plot reason
Every female other than the heroine is a bitch
All the male charas are alpha
Tropes are stale or cliché. Examples: The vampire’s name is Mina, Damien, Katarina, or some other derivative of a character from a popular vampire show or book. Vampires are allergic to silver or vervain, the setting is New Orleans, they have daylight rings, etc
9. Dominant Hero is an Abusive Asshole
The hero has no real regard for the heroine’s health, well being, needs, or desires and seeks only to influence, stalk, or otherwise control her
Signs that the Hero is an Abusive Asshole
The hero introduces heroine to a new experience—BDSM, breath play, age play—without her consent
No safewords are present
Hero goes overboard with physical “punishment”
Hero is overly controlling of the heroine without her inviting and enjoying such treatment
Hero does things like trading the heroine around, beating her, talking down to her in public, stalking her, trying to control her life, and making all her choices
Hero is passive-aggressive with the heroine
Hero is pushy about the relationship
Hero doesn’t respect the heroine’s privacy
Hero is violent toward animals
Hero becomes angry, threatening, or violent with the heroine—often when she refuses him
The alpha hero is constantly growling and threatening other male characters
10. Heroine has no Agency or is Simply Poorly Drawn
The heroine has no real control over her life, her situation, or her romance--or she is so poorly drawn she seems more like male wish fulfillment than a realistic woman
The heroine takes no action on her own. She is just there to be acted upon by the hero
Heroine doesn’t initiate any of the sex or romance
Heroine is helpless without the hero
Heroine is always being carried, coddled, or otherwise infantilized by the hero or other characters
Heroine engages in douchey reflections such as, I gave myself the once-over in the mirror. I smiled. If I was a guy, I’d fuck me.
Heroine is a bitch to all other women
Heroine sees all other women as bitches
Heroine is unkind, selfish, or an otherwise terrible person
11. Mechanical Errors
Headhopping. We’re in Sally’s head, then we’re in Billy’s head, then we’re in Johnny’s head—all in the same scene. There’s no attempt to orient the reader
Poor grammar and punctuation
Words that make no sense or exist to “garnish” the sentence. His heart beating “in his chest.” Where else could it beat but in his chest?
Filter words: he felt that, she saw that
Phrases that rob authority: a little, almost, nearly, etc
Ridiculous dialogue tags like: he gritted, he bit out, etc
Incorrect use of words: He “blanked” his expression.
As always, with this and any advice, your mileage may vary.