Four Reasons I Didn’t Finish Your Book

 

What makes a reader throw your book across the room? Well, I can’t speak for everyone out there, but I’d like to give you a little insight.  Lately I’ve been reading quite a few books, and a shameful amount of them have been rated with 1 or 2 stars—most of those reviews will be coming out on my blog shortly, so keep your eyes peeled!

I hate 1 and 2 Star reviews. Let’s get that straight right off the bat. A 2 Star review means that I literally couldn’t find a single positive thing to say about a book. A 1 Star review is the kiss of death—it means that a book was so awful that I couldn’t push myself to finish reading it.  I try not to let these reviews happen. If I dislike a book, generally I’ll set it aside for a few days and come back later. Sometimes this is procrastination in writing those dreadful 1 and 2 Star reviews, but I tell myself that it’s because I want to be sure that I’m not rating a book badly just because I’m tired, or not into reading at the moment. Occasionally, this works and I can pick a book back up and finish it, but usually my first impression stands. Sometimes books are just bad.

Giving 1 and 2 Star reviews makes me cringe. I write, and I know a lot of authors, so giving low-score reviews feels like I’ve just told someone their literary baby is ugly and stupid. I don’t enjoy doing it—but I pride myself on being an honest reviewer, and sometimes that means calling literary babies ugly and stupid. Sometimes they just are, and the absolute worst thing about that, is that the author never expects it.

So, after writing yet another 1-Star review last night, I decided to come up with a list of reasons why I may give someone a low-score review and give you a bit of a check list to look over. Maybe it will help someone avoid the painful blow of the unexpected 1 and 2 Star reviews.

Technical Errors

The number one reason I’ll throw a book across a room is technical errors. You need a professional editor. Hands down. No exceptions. It’s not okay to publish your book at a point where I can open it up and find more than one glaring error per page (and I’m being generous here). If you cannot construct a complete sentence, you have no business publishing. The last book I threw out had 80 (yes I counted) comma issues in the first chapter. I wish I were kidding. They were misused, and left out in almost every sentence—and a misplaced comma can change the entire meaning of what you’re writing. It drove me nuts.

Bad Dialogue

You cannot write your dialogue as if it were narrative. Think about it for a moment before you nod your head and agree with me—because most people don’t realize they’re doing it. People don’t speak like narrative. They speak in stilted half-sentences with pauses, fumbles, and stutters. They don’t speak in long monologues (because people would interrupt them!), and they don’t speak in poetic, constructed sentences. It’s not realistic! Take a minute, and put quotation marks around this paragraph. See what I mean? It’s awful. If I were to turn this into dialogue, it would go something like this:

“You can’t write dialogue like narrative. Seriously—quit shaking your head. Stop!” I held up a hand and let the moment hang until I was sure I had the audience’s attention. “People ramble and screw up, and…well… whatever, you know what I mean. We aren’t perfect,” I said. “Monologues are something cartoon villains do, not real people.”

Dialogue is personal… familiar, and usually thrown around in it’s simplest, most direct form. It’s full of emotions, actions, and personality—and while you can argue that narrative too should be full of emotions, actions, and personality, it isn’t the same as dialogue. Dialogue breaks the grammar rules, and that’s okay!

You should always read your dialogue out loud when you write it to make sure that it sounds natural. If you can’t get through a bit of dialogue without cringing, you’re doing it wrong. The side effect, of course, is that your characters will start to sound silly—and not in a good way. Silly isn’t good when you’re writing a paranormal thriller or a murder mystery.

Weak Writing

You’ve heard it, but I’m going to say it again: Show, don’t Tell. It’s a hard thing to master, and I’ve written articles about it before—so click the link, I’m not going to reiterate—but the general gist is: I don’t want you to tell me how your character feels, or what they realize. It’s boring. I want your character to react to how they’re feeling and realizing. Example:

Suddenly, I realized that this was it–the end—last chance. I wasn’t going to get another opportunity to tell him how I felt. I’d pined over Cole for the last four years, and now I had four seconds to condense that all down into something audible. I told myself I could do this. I had to. I took a deep breath. “Cole—“ It had taken me so long to speak, that by the time I said his name, he was gone. I’d stalled too long, and the four seconds had passed.

That was telling. This is showing:

Shit. No more chances. How do you condense four years of longing into four seconds?

Deep breath, Jamie.

“Cole—“  but four seconds had already passed.

Too late.

Word count difference? 65. Same message, but more direct, and with a lot more tension. I didn’t need those 65 words to tell you what was going on. Yes, weak writing pads your word count nicely, but it also sucks the tension out of your writing. It doesn’t matter how high your word count is if your readers get so bored that they put your book down in the first chapter.

Writing doesn’t necessarily need to be bare bones, but it shouldn’t spend 10 minutes meandering around before coming to the point. I want to know what’s going on, and I don’t want to spend an entire chapter figuring out that the whole point was to tell me something you could have said in one sentence. Be concise. Get to the point. Spend your word count on something more important than “I realized…”

Absurd Choices

If nothing else, your story needs to make sense. I’m not saying you can’t have crazy things in your novel. You want talking dragons? Fine. What I’m talking about is your character’s actions and dialogue. Their choices need to make sense. Now this doesn’t mean that every character in the book has to understand their choices, but your audience definitely should. I recently read a book where this was a problem. Let me set it up for you:

The main character was a princess who’s father, the King, had recently died. As the only heir to the throne, she needed to have a coronation. Unfortunately, the author chose to have the King’s funeral and the Princess’ coronation held not only on the same day, but in the same room, at the same moment. “Why? Why is this a thing?” I asked myself. I couldn’t help but think that this wasn’t normal.

If the King dies, you have a grand, stately funeral. Yes, you may throw a coronation the same day for the Princess, but you should give it a few hours. Let the Princess, and the kingdom mourn their King. The coronation should also be a grand ceremony… this is something that the people of the Kingdom are going to want to know about. Unfortunately, the author of this book choose to have no ceremony. The Princess signed a document, put the crown on her head, and then walked out of her own coronation/Father’s funeral.

I was shocked. I mean—really? She walked out? The series of events lead to too many questions and didn’t make logical sense. The direct result is that I shook my head and said “WTF?”

Another example is from another book that got a 1 Star rating. Growing up, the main female lead had been told by her grandmother that she should cut her hair. We’re talking years and years. Her mother too, was told throughout her life that she should cut her hair. It was odd. Whatever. As the story drags on, the main female lead learns that she is not entirely Human, and her hair gives off a smell that attracts Shifters to her.  She doesn’t want Shifters to find her—it’s imperative that they don’t. What does she do? She creates a complicated magical potion to mask her smell for a few hours.

Soak that in.

Why didn’t she just cut her hair like everyone has been asking her to? At one point she even says that she doesn’t particularly care about her hair, and will cut it off if she needs to…. but still uses the potion. *throws hands into the air*

Your character’s choices in action and dialogue should make sense.

Everything Else

Just about everything else that can be wrong with a book isn’t book-breaking. Yes, sometimes one-dimensional characters can be annoying. Stupid, impulsive characters can be annoying too—but rarely do these make me throw a book across the room. They may lower the star rating, but never into the 1-2 Star range. If you can master the four points above, you’re going to get at least a 3-Star review. If you can’t master at least two of the points above, you have no business sending your book to reviewers. We are tough critics. We read dozens, if not hundreds of books a year—if you think we aren’t going to notice these things in your writing, you are sorely mistaken.

I’ll read just about everything. I don’t care about the genre, the synopsis, or whether you’re an Indie Author or someone who’s got an agent and a publisher.

Couldn’t. Care. Less.

I just want to get through the first chapter of your book without wanting to throw your literary baby at your head. Low expectations.

 

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22 thoughts on “Four Reasons I Didn’t Finish Your Book

  1. Great post, it’s so useful to get feedback as to what makes a 1 or 2 star review (am as yet an unpublished author so trying to pick up all I can to avoid them when the day comes!)

    I find leaving bad reviews really tricky. Part of me realises how much hard work went into the book that I’m reading, and feels bad at the thought of hurting another writer’s feelings. Part of me also thinks that some people like certain books and others don’t. For example I read a book recently that has a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews (an indie book). I hated it. It was a struggle to just finish it, I just didn’t understand why all those people left 4 and 5 star reviews but I didn’t want to then dump a 1 star review in amongst all the positives.

    For now I’m going with if I like it I review it, if I don’t I stay quiet. Your post is making me rethink whether that’s a good approach and whether I should write those bad reviews so the writers get the feedback. I have no qualms in delivering a blunt critique / beta reader feedback but for some reason I struggle with reviews. Anyway, very interesting post, thanks!

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    • Thank you for the comment 🙂 Negative reviews are very hard to write – and it’s a personal choice on whether to post them or not–a lot of people don’t. I made the choice to do it because I think it’s important not just for the author to know when something may have gone horribly wrong with their book, but also for other readers out there who are considering a purchase without all the info on what’s going on in the book. Positive reviews all tend to sound the same “it’s awesome!”, but negative reviews (when they’re done right) sometimes have a lot of thorough insight into how characters, events, and how the style of the narrative is portrayed. Most of the time when I want to purchase a book, it’s the negative reviews I look at first. It’s easier to figure out when a negative reviews is a troll than when a positive review is one.

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  2. Great post – and I echo another commenter who said – you’re brave. I get so frustrated reading some of the self-published books I’ve downloaded that my husband says it’s like steam is coming out of my ears. Up until quite recently, I simply forced myself to finish no matter how bad I thought the book was. And I don’t even consider reviewing unless I can give a 4 or 5 star review. Too many authors have shared the horror stories of what happened to them when they honestly reviewed another author’s work. A few days ago, I just said no way to three books that I had started on my Kindle. Big step for me – one I’m glad I took. Life is short. As an author myself, I know the work that goes into writing and rewriting and working with an editor through endless drafts. Writing is hard work. Maybe that’s why I get so frustrated when the work hasn’t been done. But you know what bothers me the most?- the book that actually had a great story idea and could have been so much better but missed the mark. Enough – thanks for laying claim to the bottom line on what readers want from a good book.

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’ve totally been in the position where you are with reviews and lackluster books. There came a point when eventually I asked myself, as a reviewer, what I wanted to be known for–and the answer was honesty. Sometimes it’s brutal… but what good is my opinion if all I ever give is positive, glowing reviews? Luckily the majority of my reviews are still 4-5 stars, but I’ve worked hard to teach myself not to be afraid of going against the grain and handing out those 1-2 star reviews when they are warranted. Sometimes books are just bad… and I know I’d be appreciative of those 1-2 star reviews on a book if I were purchasing it. Why waste money on something that’s awful? Sometimes I see books that have nothing but 4-5 star reviews and I’m flabbergasted, wondering how on earth everyone thought it was so great when I couldn’t get past the first chapter.

      I also agree with your point about stories that have the potential to be great.. but instead of taking it that one step farther and editing it until it was clean and perfect, the author just gave up and published it before it was ready. Books like that make me want to grab the author by their arms and give them a good shake.

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  3. I just came across you through Pamela’s re-blog. I must say first, you’re much more brave than I. I just put down a book I couldn’t get through, but I can’t find it in myself to finish it to review it. It has so many horrid errors; it should never have been published. How ever do you get past the thought that you might be hurting indie author’s feelings, even when it’s well deserved? Don’t get me wrong – I commend you for it. They need to hear it, especially if they’re planning a sequel. I know I would if I published before the editing process is finished.
    This is a great article. Thank you for this! 🙂

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    • 😄 You’re welcome. I’ll admit, it’s tough to write those low-star reviews. Generally, I just try to be as honest as possible, hopefully with the least amount of exaggeration or drama, and try to point out any positive points I can.. even if that means just recommending it a different audience. Sometimes that’s very hard to do, but I’ve gotten to the point where I try to write while imagining that I’m talking to an actual audience and pretending that the author doesn’t exist. The absolute worst moment is when and if the author decides to comment on your review. That is always cringe worthy. The more I’ve written these low reviews though, the easier they’ve gotten. It’s to the point now that they don’t bother me that much, and I try to not read any author’s comments or pay attention to negative votes. Ignorance is bliss 🙂 Negative reviews are important – not just so the author can tell what they did wrong, but so that other readers won’t waste their money on something that’s awful. Just keep telling yourself that you’re doing it for those readers who will appreciate the head’s up, and try not to think too hard on the author. If I worried about what the author thought of my reviews, I’d never write them. It’d be impossible!

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      • Thanks so much for the advice. What you say makes a lot of sense. Then again, if I’m going to publish my own book, what about the backlash from disgruntled authors and their loyal followers? Lots to think about there.
        I do always try to find whatever I can that’s positive, but if the negative outweighs it by all but a minimal amount… Oh hell. I just don’t want to be the reviewer that no one takes seriously because she only gives positive reviews, you know?
        Anyway, you’ve given me lots to think about. Including changing my name. haha
        Thanks again. 😀

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  4. Nice post. You’ve given some very helpful advice. I wish more reviewers would be this thoughtful in the feedback they provide, or at least elaborate beyond DNF.

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    • I agree with you. As a reviewer I spend a lot of time reading other people’s reviews too — mostly because I want to see what other people thought, if they picked up on what I did, or if they had some new insight into the book I missed. Sadly there aren’t a lot of reviewers that seem to delve deeply into what made them like/dislike a book. The majority just say “I loved this!” or “DNF, book sucked.” It’s not helpful in my opinion :/

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      • I agree. Loved it/DNF reviews aren’t helpful. So thank you for taking the time to put some thought into your reviews. Positive or negative, they are beneficial to both authors and readers.

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  5. I’ve read that shifter story, and I got the same reaction as you. And, as a beginning writer, my first book (unpublished) has that long, exaustive narrative because I was afraid of not getting the message out. Thanks for the tips. I have a lot of work to do on my book….

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    • You’re very welcome. Haha I’m somewhat relieved to hear someone else had the same reaction to that story. I had so many down votes on my review over that one…sometimes I think people have no common sense.

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  6. Out of interest Mio have you ever watched the scene in the Motorcycle Diary when Ernesto is asked for his opinion on his hosts book and has to tell him it’s terrible? Your opening paragraph about how most authors don’t expect a bad reaction brought that scene back vividly to me.

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