I’ve been contemplating this question in anticipation of a meeting with my writer friends this weekend. We have a different topic every month, and this month it’s what makes us stop reading a book. The hope is to learn what mistakes not to make with our own work. For me, it could be a number of reasons. A few examples:
I like to take advantage of an e-book sale to try new authors. A year or so ago I bought a paranormal romance. This isn’t a genre I’d normally read, but I do like a good ghost story. And this one promised a pirate ghost. The description on Amazon assured me it wasn’t a book number two or three of a series where I’d be forced to buy others at full price to understand what’s happening in the plot. Yet, when I tried to read it there was definitely a lot of back story I was missing. Either it was, indeed, a subsequent book in a series, or the author dropped me down right in the middle of something without enough explanation. I was confused. I tried to keep going, to give it time, but I couldn’t get far and it just wasn’t worth even the $.99 I spent on it.
Then there was the book that came highly recommended. They even made a movie out of it. It was set during WWII in Germany and I’d read and enjoyed many others set during that time period so I was excited to read this one. I really wanted to like it; but, unfortunately, I didn’t even finish the first chapter because I disliked one of the characters that much. Now, I wasn’t supposed to like her. She was clearly the bad guy, but she was so awful, so mean to a child, I refused to read any further. And since the book was borrowed, I gladly returned it unread.
I was tempted to do the same with the book I recently finished. But I kept reading because it was a novelized version of true historical facts I’d never heard before and I wanted to know why it turned out the way it did. So I forced myself to keep reading. The problem was, it took place during colonial times and the author wrote in the style of the time. She freely used slang terms that were, no doubt, common at the time, but were completely unknown to me. The author did this to make it sound authentic. She also included excerpts from letters and newspaper articles of the time, so she wanted (I’m guessing) to make the novelized portions flow. All it did was make the reading laborious at times. But the storyline was interesting, so I continued until the end. Had it been complete fiction I wouldn’t have bothered. There’s a big risk anytime the author includes too much slang, stiff formal sentence structure no longer in use, or writes in such a way as to try and mimic a heavy accent by throwing in odd spellings and word contractions.
As writers we have to catch our readers’ attention from word one. The opening scene has to grab their attention and keep them reading through to the last page. No one has the time, or the money, to force their way through a long boring tale or, worse yet, one ridden with typos. If they don’t finish it, they certainly aren’t going to recommend you to a friend. They aren’t going to leave that all important good review that will help strangers make the decision to take a chance on a new author and buy your book. And they definitely aren’t going to anxiously await your next book.
I have too many books I want to read, and too little time to read them all, to routinely force my way through something that doesn’t excite me from page one. Have you ever given up on a book? Have you ever told yourself life’s too short? I know I have, many times.
Hopefully I won’t make the mistakes that lead my readers to say the same about my books