Reader Attention

What makes you stop reading a book you started because you love the genre or loved the blurb?

I was reading blogs and clicked the link to the latest sci-fi book the blog author had just put up on Smashwords. The cover was OK, but I do not buy books based on the cover. I read the blurb and was interested. Sci-Fi and mystery. I love reading both of those genres. I looked at the word count. Yes, over 80K so it was long enough to dedicate time to reading. I looked at the price. Yes, under $5.00. Worth the investment.

I downloaded the preview text. The first scene took me right into the action. Good. I associated with the POV character. I read the scene. I had questions. What would he do next to escape? What happened to the victim’s body? Would someone find the poison in the victims blood?

I started the second scene. New characters. New location. I stopped reading.

I made a cup of coffee and thought about my actions. Why did I stop reading? If I could figure that out, I could make sure I do not make the same mistakes in my stories.

It certainly was not spelling mistakes. There were none. It certainly was not the construction of the sentences. They flowed. Subject, verb, object. It was not the description. I pictured myself lying in wait for the “mark” to show. There was enough description on handling the weapon and bullets to know the author understood handling rifles. And, yes, I used rifles a long time ago, and was not a bad shot on moving targets, especially rabbits and other vermin, so accepted the description without question.

Was it because I was introduced to new characters that I needed to associate with? Was it because I could not pronounce some names? Yes, at least one name was unpronounceable. But that does not usually stop me from reading. I just don’t pronounce the word. Recognise it, associate it with an image in my head, and keep reading.

So what made me stop reading. It had to be introducing new characters and a new location, when I wanted to read more on the first character introduced.

Then I remembered reading a “Best Seller” book for a course I took a year or two ago. It was not a genre I would read unless I liked the author and have his/her other genre books. But I purchased it and tried to read it. In the end, I picked the only likable character, and only read scenes from his POV. I never learnt anything to improve my writing from that book. Not a thing. I learnt what not to do when writing a story, but not what to do.

But this new book? Will I learn anything from it that will help my writing? I hope so. I will open the sample again, and try reading the second scene. I may enjoy it. Or not. But I will give it a chance because there are so few good books in Sci-Fi available now, that I am prepared to lower my standards to have the pleasure of enjoying a new story.

So, what makes you put down a book you started reading?

I have heard a lot of different reasons from blog comments such as:

  • Poorly constructed sentences that you have to read two or three times to understand the meaning.
  • Really long paragraphs of description that you skim or ignore to get back to the action.
  • Spelling mistakes that shake you out of the story.
  • Not associating or empathising with the characters.

What is your reason for putting a book down? I would love to know, if it is different to those listed above.

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10 comments so far

  1. Shayne on

    Voice is a huge one for me. If the writer’s narrative voice doesn’t feel right to me, I won’t keep reading. If the dialogue doesn’t feel real, I won’t keep reading. And if the characters are TSTL I won’t keep reading.

    • djmills on

      Yes, I agree. Free flowing sentences where the voice is easy to follow. Most dialogue is not real, but as long as they are not all the same, dialogue is OK. I also like strong characters who may make a bad decision, but must make better decisions as they learn more of the problem they face. As for TSTL, all except one character in “that book” we had to read for one of Holly’s courses were TSTL. 🙂
      I struggled through the second scene of the sample, but when the third scene was a flashback, I gave up again. Oh well, another book I will not purchase. Still, more free time to write my own stories. 🙂
      Oh, how did you script writing go?

  2. Shayne on

    No, most dialogue isn’t ‘real’, technically speaking, but it has to have decent verisimilitude, and it has to flow. If it doesn’t have those two things, I’m out.

    When it comes to voice, at least for me, it’s not just about flow, but also about confidence. The writer has to know what he’s trying to say and have the ability to convey that in a concise and easy-to-read way. I also prefer a voice that allows me to immerse myself in the story, rather than calling attention to itself because the writer needs to show how brilliant she is (I’ve seen this a lot in my slush pile).

    Script Frenzy was a total bust. I realized about three days before it started that I’d screwed up something major in the novel draft I was working on, and rather than drop it for the month and then pick it back up later, I decided to just stick with trying to fix it. 😦 Oh well. There’s always next year.

  3. Angela/Curiocat on

    Everything mentioned already I agree with. One thing I look for is empathy, whether I really care what happens to this character. If the answer is no then why am I reading this book?

    Another thing that’s going to make me put the book down is when the author uses her character to vent for her. In a newly released book the character was an author, too. And what do you know? The character had the same issues the author did about a year or two ago.

    Either the author was being lazy or she was venting through her character instead of saying for herself how she felt about everything said about the book she wrote that jumped the shark. It completely took me out of the story because I recognized the situation. To me that was a huge no-no and makes rethink buying anything more by her.

    • djmills on

      I never thought of that, but it sounds boring, reading a character having the same experience as an author. 🙂
      As for empathy, it is fickle to measure.

  4. Lisa on

    I’d say the four points you mentioned in your post plus slow pacing. If nothing much is happening, then I lose interest. 🙂

    • djmills on

      But … it is the seemingly slow pace of murder mysteries that hide all the clues so the reader does not guess the guilty person before the end of the book. If not a mystery, then yes, I skim over slow paced scenes, and if there are more than one or two, I stop reading.

      • Shayne on

        I’d like to suggest that it’s not actually a slow pace, but a lack of tension that will cause people to lose interest. In a mystery, if the writer has done her job, there will be lots of tension and conflict to keep readers reading while the detective is picking through people’s garbage, or sorting through the facts while he and his partner spend the night staking out the latest suspect.

  5. Texanne on

    I stopped reading a book this morning because the “story” (the excuse for all that sex) had failed to develop. True, this is not my genre, and It was a mercy read, but if the sex scenes had been picnics or shopping trips (which they very well could have, because they had no effect on the story), I still would have dropped the book. Well, closed the file. The story just wasn’t progressing, developing. More and more people were having sex, but the main characters were not moving forward. Still, I paid for the book, and I helped the author’s sales numbers, so that’s something, right?

    • djmills on

      Was the book description correct? Was the genre description correct? If not, ask for a refund.
      I love a good plot or “story” and agree, if there is no conflict and no change happening, reading the scene is wasted time and energy.


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