Tina Wainscott

Can we talk? Booksellers and Readers speak out

by Tina Wainscott and Kayla Perrin

Like most authors, we want to know what readers like. What better way than to ask them, and make a party out of it? We hosted our second annual CAN WE TALK? Forum at the 2002 Romantic Times Convention in Reno. All participating authors donated signed copies of their books to be given away between topics. Free books, great conversation, and a lot of laughs. With thirty people in attendance (including seven authors), their heartfelt words and passionate responses opened our eyes about what readers want—from our publishers and from us.

Sex.—We decided to get things off to a, er, rousing start with the question of Sex. How much is too much? Who likes it hot?

  • Readers thought that books should put them in the mood, just like a good man should.
  • There is room for all levels of sensuality within romance. But writers should remember that most readers don’t need a manual. “After all, we’ve been doing it for a while!” one reader said.
  • Half of the room liked hot books, and booksellers said that the new Brava line is doing well in their stores.
  • The author’s writing style is important to a successful love scene. The language shouldn’t detract from the scene.
  • Love scenes should move the story forward and not seem thrown in.

Age — How old is too old for a reader to identify with the heroine? Too young?

  • Women of “a certain age” can’t relate to the mores of young characters. One reader skips over any mention of age and translates the age to something closer to their own. Half of the room agreed with this.
  • Some readers felt that the age wasn’t realistically portrayed. For example, twenty-something heroines were much too wise for their years or were too advanced in their careers than they could be at their age.
  • Authors were warned that if they are going to write young characters, they should keep up with trends relating to that age group. Particularly, their values, language and activities.
  • Many readers preferred the characters to be in their late twenties at the youngest and into their mid thirties.
  • There seems to be a gap in romance for young adults, though one young lady in the group didn’t think teens would read young adult romances.

Chick Lit – Hip, young…horrible?

  • Readers found the heroines of these books too self-absorbed.
  • One young lady said the current books were “horrible. I hate them.” She thought younger people preferred romance. “Chick lit treats relationships in a less serious manner.”
  • Booksellers won’t promote chick lit to their romance readers, because they would be disappointed.
  • One lady’s seventeen year old daughter loves them.
  • One reader said, “They’re too realistic. I have my own dating misery!”

Give me More – What readers like and want more of

  • One bookseller’s customers love the royalty books/series, though she has never read one.
  • Strong heroines
  • Paranormal elements
  • American and post Civil War settings
  • Books set in the 1920’s. “It’s time to move up what publishers consider historical.”
  • Dark or wounded heroes who have an inner alpha

No More, Please! — What readers hate or are tired of


  • Static characters who don’t grow by the end of the book
  • Advertisements in the middle of their books. “It jars me right out of the story.” They didn’t mind if the ads came at the end of the book.
  • Heroes who treat women badly. There is a difference between an alpha male, who is strong but sensitive. Some writers make the heroes rude for strength, and that’s unacceptable.
  • TSTL heroines (Too Stupid To Live). Writers need to find better ways to put the heroine in danger than having her check out the noise she hears in the basement when she’s all alone during a storm with the phone lines out…well, you get the idea.
  • Inconsistency in continuing characters. Readers pay attention to these details.
  • First person narratives in romances
  • When the characters tells someone else something they already know just to inform the reader.
  • Bad editing
  • Inaccuracies and historical anachronisms
  • Poor writing quality. Are writers writing too fast? Sacrificing quality to get more books out there? These readers preferred to wait for better quality.
  • Reissues! (in unison)
  • When the covers and/or blurbs don’t match the story
  • When there is a big age difference between the main characters, May/December romances
  • Books that are written all in the heroine’s point of view. They want inside the hero’s head, too.
  • Too much description

How many bad or mediocre books is a reader willing to give an author before giving up. Readers are somewhat forgiving. They’ll give an author two or three books before moving on.

Covers — Don’t judge a Book…

  • Readers thought books looked too much alike these days.
  • Covers sometimes don’t match the mood, thus misleading the buyer.
  • Historical cartoon covers got a big thumbs down. “It misrepresents the book as a contemporary and also as a lighter book.”
  • Readers hate when publishers clothe the characters in the wrong time period. Someone mentioned a cover with the wrong type of kilt.
  • Please, no boobs on the men!
  • Readers don’t want to read quotes on the back cover; they want the blurb. Some will put the back back on the shelf without investigating further.
  • As is often the case, half the room liked the clinch covers and half didn’t. Good thing there’s something out there for everyone.