That is a question I've been asking myself for the past two months since I've upped my reading amount (thank you eBooks, especially you free ones!). I'm not quite sure which authors are the ones I can grab stuff without reading the synopsis (I have got two hopefuls though), but at least I've got a better idea of my own likes.
1. Hero does not have to be an alpha, but it helps. I'd MUCH rather have a sweet beta than an alphahole though. Unless he grows as a character, then I like it. And as for what I count as alpha characteristics to me? Strength (physical or character, like where they stick to their moral codes), confidence, assertiveness, some aggression, leaders that help those under/weaker than them, natural protectors, and those kinds of things in general.
2. Tortured hero gets brownie points. Physical scars are a plus. Emotional scars where he is almost at his breaking point I just-
3. Heroine must have a goal/challenge she wants to do besides the romance. She doesn't have to be Sigourney Weaver-strong like in Alien franchise, but that definitely makes her more awesome!
4. M/m are a nice diversion, but I've yet to try F/f or trio books yet. They may not be sexy to me, but I am quite curious about the story lines.
5. So far it seems I have not found any naughty stuff that squicks me. Certain types (i.e. in the booty for ladies) is kinda 'bleh', but doesn't ruin any scenes yet. I haven't dealt with non-con/rape scenes in my reading, but I think it depends how it's presented. For instance, if it's a tragic backstory or attack - understandable. Poignancy that a partner is an anti-hero, or fantasy-style where the aggressor is so good at it the receiver stats to enjoy themselves - well maybe. Pointless and/or gratuitous - no thank you.
6a. Femdom novels with respect (gender equality) are delightful and I am currently on a quest for ones with alphas who are happy (or at least end up if they start unsure) with their ladies managing control. The type of alphas who would kill anyone who hurt their mistresses, but respect that their ladies can handle themselves. Alphas who give up control with trust and love, not fear. Ladies who humiliate their boys for mutual amusement or punishment, not cruelty.
6b. Not exactly female dominant, but I enjoy hurt/comfort situations when the male needs a healing cuddle with his lover. When he loves her so much he can just drop any pretense and show weakness without being judged. Even if he's a little scared he might be, he knows his lady will still love him.
7. Billionaire Heroes who don't think they can just HAVE their partner just because they're used to getting whatever they want. If they think so to start but then are OK with having to properly court said partner, that's acceptable. Character development as in number 1 is awesome.
8. Limited instalove. Instalust is perfectly OK, and gives time for platonic/romantic love to develop while they have a good time.
9. I don't mind that ladies are virgins or have limited sexual experience, but when they have had enough experience to know what they like and can communicate to their partners.... yes please. Having had sex with more than one partner does not a 'slut' make. Nor does it detract from heroine's love with the hero (see John Green below) . BTW: to me, a slut is someone with unhygienic sexual practices like lots of unsafe sex with different partners.
10. Plotlines that are more than the two lovers getting together. While you two are enjoying each other's company, what else is going on in your lives? Because otherwise you seem a bit two-dimensional.
11. I can't deal with major drama that is the result of misunderstandings AND lack of communication. If someone would just tell the other WHY they're angry or sad and it'd prevent 100 pages of angst, I can't enjoy it. Shorter is OK and realistic, but I can't take it when it's drawn out.
12. BDSM is a plus, if it's done right. Kinky stuff should be fun for both parties! Remember BDSM should follow the three laws of Safe, Sane, and Consensual. Safe words MUST be observed. Aftercare is not "naughty deliciousness" but OMFG I bleeping LOVE IT.
So what kinds of things do you look for in your romances? What things are deal breakers? Leave me a link if you do a similar list, I think we should share recommendations if we think we've read something that matches someone else's list if they don't know about it :D