What makes you abandon a novel you are reading?

I recently finished a novel that was truly painful. In respect to the author, I’m not going to name it… but it was NOT an enjoyable read.

All the other novels I have lined up were screaming “Try me! I’ll be better, I promise.” And I was pretty sure that ANY of them I picked would have scaled higher on the enjoyment factor.

Was it written poorly?

I don’t think so.  You see, I purchased this book because it was by one of my favorite authors. In fact, this is someone I’ve reviewed and given five stars to, and if you hang here you know I don’t give away five stars all that freely.

I almost gave it up on this story five times, but I continued reading hoping that the author that I’d fallen in love with would shine through.

It didn’t happen.

What didn’t I like?

Well, I think it was a lot of things. This was a western. I detest westerns, but I’d read one last year that I really enjoyed, so I figured my favorite author could pull it off, too.

Ah, no.

The main character also had an annoying name. “Jazzy”.  Yeah, I’m serious. Don’t you want to smack her upside the head already?  I hoped my favorite author could overcome the annoying name.

Nope, didn’t happen.

In the end, I forced myself to finish. Probably because I purchased the book and wanted to get my money’s worth. Probably because I was waiting for some kind of a Sixth Sense ending that would make it all worth my time.

Didn’t happen.

In the end, though, something about the background came out that made me sympathize with Jazzy. Interestingly enough, I suddenly connected. Unfortunately, it was in the last couple of pages… thousands of words too late.

I’m wondering that if I had known this little tidbit of information in the beginning of the story, if the necessary connection between reader and character would have happened… that maybe, just maybe, I would have cared enough about her that I would have been worried when the stagecoach got overrun by bandits. I would have worried when the gun was pointed in her face. I would have cared if Mr. Perfect saved her scrawny butt…

The problem is that I suddenly cared to late, and it did not fix the rest of a very uninteresting read to me.

Have I given up on this favored author? I don’t think so, but I will be much more leery of picking up another title of hers. It’s a shame.

What did I learn?

I try to take away something from every novel I read. In this case, I will remember that if there is a secret or something in a character’s past that may help reader connection, I will push that little tidbit up front.  Late revelations are just that. Late. In this case, too late for me.

What about you? What makes you stop reading a book you have paid good money for?



25 responses to “What makes you abandon a novel you are reading?

  1. Hi Jenn. Sorry I’m so late. I can count on one hand the books I’ve left unfinished. Once I start, I usually force myself to finish. For me, the biggest reason for putting down a book is boredom. I believe that you have to hook the reader as early as possibly..preferably the first page. If you haven’t grabbed me within the first 30 or 40 pages, I will lose interest.

  2. I started to answer this with a list, but as I went I realised that I’d read and enjoyed stories that included things on my list. … so, after some thunks I’ve concluded that it’s probably too much of the usual suspects, (editing, world-building, info-dump, cliches, etc) and exactly what that ‘too much’ is, changes on any given day. If I’m struggling with editing typos out of a piece I’ll have less tolerance for reading a piece with (noticable) typos in it.
    … this would’ve been so much easier if I could’ve just written a list!

  3. I had that happen recently by an author I usually enjoy but not this time. I gave up about 100 pages in because I kept hoping the story would get better. It didn’t and I was so disappointed! I may pick it up again later hoping that I might be more in the mood for it. I just didn’t feel any connection with any of the characters. I have too many books to read to stick with something like that to the end. It made me sad; like I was letting the author down.

  4. I just had exactly the same experience with a favourite writer, also a western, but contemporary. I can usually relax into a story by this multi/trad pubbed author and trust she will entertain me and make me care. Not this time. It felt like she was forcing sex scenes into the story because it was flavour of the month. The sex stopped the characters from evolving. Their motivations, likewise, didn’t evolve. Unbelievable coincidences, cardboard bad guys–it was awful. However this was the only bad book of the twenty or so that I’ve read from her. I put it down to a bad day (year) for her. And was grateful I got it from the library.

  5. As others have said, life is too short (and free time too precious!) to waste on bad books. So I’ll give up on them if I haven’t found anything to like or keep me caring by halfway through the book. When it comes to e-books, I’ve learned to read that sample on Amazon first before buying. Sometimes the first chapter makes it painfully clear the “author” knows far too little about writing.

  6. Joan Y. Edwards

    Thank you for writing this article. It seems that many writers start out without getting me interested in the life and welfare of the main character. I have to like them. Too much violence turns me off. It also depends upon how much time I have to read.

  7. I agree with others here – life’s too short to read bad books! I’ve been caught a lot with ebooks and will stop just a few pages in if they are badly written. I’ve been trying out a lot of new authors since I’ve had my Kindle and because I’m not familiar with their work I go by the blurb – it’s been so disappointing at times. I’ve tried books with five star reviews and I’m sure most of them have been given by family and friends. How can someone finish a first draft at the end of December and have it up on Amazon by 10th January? (that’s what I’ve been promised by one favoured author). Books are being vomited out by writers just so they can say they’re published and unfortunately it shows. There are definitely times when it’s just not the right time for that book and in those cases I don’t delete, but otherwise…..

    Before ebooks I very rarely put a book down without finishing. Except of course for the one book that has probably been put down more often than it’s been read – Ulysses 🙂

    • I don’t even think the “greats” can put out a book that fast. To me, that means that is has not been thoroughly edited. Even worse, it has not been beta-read. I don’t care who you are… everyone needs a beta read for a reality check. If you are too close to a story, you are incapable of knowing if there are problems with it.

  8. I meant to say persevere, If I’d seen that in a book, would I forgive the author? No!!

  9. I’m a stubborn reader, maybe because I’m a writer… I do preserve to the last page but I also cheat too. I always race to the last page to find out if it would be worth my while!

  10. I’m very put off when an author seems to be “coloring by numbers,” if you will. They’re just writing to genre, their characters are hackneyed, and they generally don’t seem to be doing their own thinking. I’ll forgive a lot of sins if the author is trying to be original.

    But not grammar and spelling. Sorry. If you can’t spell, you can’t write.

  11. I really need to connect with the character right away. If I’m going to spend 300 or so pages with her or him, I better be interested in who she is, and who she might become during the book. If I don’t connect within 3 or 4 chapters, I’m outta there. There are too many books to discover, explore, enlighten me to waste it on a book that does none of the above.

  12. I’ve put down books for various reasons. Sometimes it was because I could not get into the story. Maybe it was the boring writing or the confusing storyline. Other times I put down historical novels because the author took far too much liberty with facts, IMO. I can tolerate some liberty, but the history lover that I am cannot tolerate too much of it.

    I guess it all comes down to simply that the book wasn’t for me.

  13. I generally try and force myself to finish a book once I’ve started, on matter of principal. I will however start skimming. Jean Auel’s Plains of Passage?
    “6 pages of environment desc” *skip*
    “2 pages of sex” *skip*
    1 page of dialogue and meaningful descritions *read*
    “5 pages of environment desc…sigh”
    I’ve only dropped a few books mid-read due to sheer awfulness of writing that no dedication to the written word could surmount (slavegirls of Gor) or sheer awfulness of content (the necronomicon)

  14. As a rule I do force myself to finish a book. Just a couple of months ago, I had a painful experience with a draggy story. Made me want to rip my hair out. I can’t stand unfulfilled angst which goes nowhere. I shelved the book. Would I do it again? You bet but there’s this guilt I feel for not finishing.

  15. IntrovertedSarah

    I would in the past doggedly finish a book but now I’ve learned my lesson. If I’m not getting into it by about 1/4 of the way through I will give up and move on. This use to cause me a bit of angst but now I am older I know time is valuable and I only feel a few twinges.
    What will make me give it up is a confusing story line, twists and turns that go no one and a plot that isn’t story driven.

  16. It depends how far I am into a book before I decide I am not enjoying it, if it is in the first couple of chapters I will put it to one side and come back to it at a later date, after all sometimes it is just the wrong book for reading at that time. If I am over half way through I will push on to the end. One of the hardest books I ever had to read (other than required reading for uni) was The Life of Pi and it was only everyone else promising me the second half of the book was worth persevering with the first half for that kept me going

  17. I never finish books if I’m not enjoying them. And to enjoy them, they must carry a certain emotional tension and be well written. I don’t think it’s fair to expect a “favorite” author to hit a home run every time. For example, I love William Faulkner, but only certain novels and short stories. One novel, I can’t even recall the title of at this moment and am too lazy to find (forced to read for a Faulkner lit class), left me feeling like I’d watched a rerun of a Hogan’s Heroes episode. And after hearing that two of my favorite WordPress book reviewers (Lady Fanciful and Fiction Fan) are split on the new Donna Tartt novel, “The Goldfinch,” I can’t wait to see which side of the fence I’ll end up on. I hope I don’t find it just OK. The book is too long, and my time is too dear to waste it on something that leaves me lukewarm. It is good that you identified a key element that would have made you read the novel differently, so you can use that in your own writing. Good work! Happy New Year!

  18. I used to always make myself finish a book, and more often than not, I liked something about it by the end. Two things have changed in the past 4 years: a) I don’t have as much time to read, so if I’m not enjoying the book about a quarter way into it, I pass it on to someone who I think will like that kind of story b) I became a published author, which has sucked the joy of reading from me in many ways. I’m just too aware of issues as I’m going along, unable to turn my author brain off. It’s very annoying!

  19. I used to always finish a book, even if I didn’t like it. I figured I bought it, I must read to the end. I even felt guilty not finishing library books. I’m better about this now–life’s too short to read something that doesn’t hold my attention–but I still feel a twinge of guilt, and I’ll usually skim the book to the ending just to see how it resolved. I only buy hardcovers of authors whose books I love. They’re too expensive to not finish. But like you, I’ve been disappointed by a favorite author. There was a best-selling series I used to read but had to stop because the writing became so bad, as if the author was forced to just pump out books to satisfy the publisher. Felt like I lost a good friend. 🙂

  20. Boring writing makes me stop reading a book, or a storyline I’m just not getting into. I love quieter, more character-based books, but those stories should still be hung on some kind of arc, not take forever for any semblance of a plot to come together.

    A relatively recent DNF for me is one of the most massively overrated books of the last few years, in my opinion. I couldn’t stand the smirking, know-it-all narrator constantly horning into the narrative with a constant parade of spoilers, the bizarre language, the paint-drying pace, the obscene language being passed off as cute, funny, and endearing, everything about this beast. I already knew the ending anyway, from how many times the jerk narrator gave it away.

  21. Good thought about helping readers make connections earlier, rather than going only for a cool surprise later and having ticked off readers who hate your characters. I’ve read books like that too, but never figured out why I didn’t like it…so thanks for pointing that interesting detail out for me.