Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Authors Beware!

Okay, authors, you've got your awesome idea. You've written the novel. It's been tweaked until it is as good as you can possibly make it.


Your readers might not have the patience to read through the hundreds of pages where you lovingly set up the scene and introduce the characters.

I asked on Twitter how long readers gave a book before they would give it up, and the answers were mixed, but I'd say to you all - err on the side of snappy and get things going quickly!

@FunkyScarecrow: 150 pages. If the writer hasn't hooked me by that point, they're never going to.

: a hundred unless it is truly awful.

@J_Oliver: 50 - 100 pages, but it varies. I put Eragon down after the first page. I stopped reading Polansky's Low Town after the second.

@adribbleofink: Generally 100 pages or 1/4 the length of the book, whichever comes first. Of course, there are exceptions.

@empireofbooks: I normally play the baseball rule. 3 strikes and your out. One chapter = a strike. Or a strike can be a cringeworthy moment/scene!

@mygoditsraining: The least I've given a book was 29 pages. Usually I'll stick with a book to the bitter end, but as I've aged I've lost patience.

Luckily there are a few more patient peeps out there:

@The_Ladylark: as far as I recall there are only 2 books I never finished. Both just forgot about rather than an active decision. I'm stubborn. I even finished Twilight, and The Da Vinci Code (nearly threw that one across the room though).

@cbosteve: These days, I try to finish every book , cos I know no matter my opinion, it was a long tough journey to print

@ibc4: The last page. Just like a bad play or bad film: there is always the chance of a glimmer of Gold on the last page, scene or frame.

So, there you have it, authors! I'm teaching you to suck eggs by saying 'Entertain your readers or lose them!' In all seriousness, readers know how many books there are published all the time. None of us will ever read all the books we want to, no matter how much we kid ourselves... Hence, readers are becoming much more discerning. I know a lot more people these days who won't hesitate in dropping a book as soon as it bores them, or the pace isn't snappy enough. Novels like Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch are held up as great books partially because of the nippy pace. I do think this is a lesson that should be taken by all prospective novellists. You may like that lengthy description of what the light looks like as it falls through trees - but, by the time you get to the good bit, you readers might have gone elsewhere (where the tree is hewn down by some axe-wielding shades of grey anti-hero who is most definitely NOT on a quest *grins*)

Howabout dropping me a comment letting me know where you stop reading a book, and what turns you off?


  1. I can't believe how forgiving people are! The longest I have ever given a book was Game of Thrones - I didn't like the first chapter and kept going. I'm glad I did because I loved the book. I normally give it one page - and frequently a lot less.
    It's nothing to do with action - though I believe there should be action - it's generally the style of the author that does it for me. You can tell if someone can write or not in three paragraphs, let alone 150 pages! However, a good first line can keep me going well into the book. William Gibson's Neuromancer has, of course, an excellent first line but it just wasn't my kind of thing. His writing ability kept me going until about half way through, never mind that the story bored me (sorry everyone).
    Things will be different if I've read a book before. I don't think I'd have got past the first chapters of Lord of the RIngs if I hadn't read The Hobbit. I'm currently reading Clash of Kings and it's nowhere near as good as Game of Thrones. I'll keep going because I've seen at least that GRRM can spin a good tale so it might pick up.
    Books can be great where very little happens - American Psycho springs to mind - nothing for pages and pages but a compelling, hallucinogenic world. That said, I never managed Gormenghast - despite the fact I can see it's clearly a work of a hugely accomplished writer with an incredible vision. It wound down too many cul de sacs for me and very little seemed to occur. Sorry to spam Amanda but I'll be running my 'Novel in an Hour' seminar at Alt Fiction where I'll be showing just how modern novels demand us to cut to the chase quickly!

  2. I meant 'read a book by an author before'.

  3. Depends on the writing. I will keep going with an uneventful book engagingly written with good characters and description for much longer than a clunky piece of cliche ridden drivel. Sometimes I stop on the first page, with the latter. I'm extrmely busy, these days, and I read a lot that hurts my head. I know many people regard poorly written action or love filled books as junk food they can turn their brain off for, but I have to work fifty times harder for them, and these days I just don't have the time.

    Whilst I agree that a book with no action for 100 pages will not keep me anymore either, it would be wrong to forefront the action to the detriment of the description, characters, and seen setting. Remember, wanting to be hooked quickly doesn't necessarily mean starting by swinging an axe at someone's head or jumping straight to the snogging/longing looks/whatever. The comments above don't necessarily indicate a wish for faster pace, just an adequate hook.

  4. The last time I haven't finished a book was February of last year. I gave that one up after about 160 pages. I've read well over a hundred books since then and finished them all. I guess I'm just stubborn :P

  5. I agree with the Womble. In Game of Thrones the real hook is Robert Baratheon's demand that Ned becomes his hand. The Others are a distraction and Martin is quite clearly bored by them. They're a device to get the action fan interested and then they are quietly pensioned off for most of the book.

  6. I'm J_Oliver from the above list, figured I would expand on mine a little.

    For me, the most important aspect of a book is the prose. Hook me with that and I will ride the wave all the way through to the end, doesn't matter if your characters are paper thin or your plot is hard to spot. If you don't hook me with your prose, then you had better make up for it with your characterization, plot, or something else that manages to snag my interest. If you are doing a middling job at all of that, then you have a maximum of fifty to a hundred pages to resolve the issue (depending on the size of my to-read pile) before I move on. And, of course, if I dislike your writing (Eragon) or you do something that I can't stand (Low Town), I am going to drop the book as soon as possible.

    It is rare for me to put down a book because of a lack of action. In fact, I prefer less action in my books.

  7. I'm the same as mark. I've even stopped reading books after the first paragraph before.

  8. I decided recently to give a book 50 pages. However I have abandoned long before that, and similarly I have finished books that I tried to abandon but ended up finishing and liking. But as a rule of thumb I'll give it 50 pages.

  9. This seems really generous to me. I suppose it's because my time is limited so I don't want to waste it on rubbish books, but in general, a book has a chapter to engage me, two chapters at the most. Some books I will put down after a page or two if I don't like the general writing style/tone etc. I do have books that I've got half/two thirds of the way through and not finished, but often this was just due to looming assignment deadlines; I'd abandon the book while getting the assignment done, and then, since it hadn't held THAT much interest for me, ended up forgetting about it altogether.

  10. I used to feel sorry for not finishing a book, but after a while I wondered if I had the time to finish them all. So, depends heavily on the book. It is possible that the first two pages to not work on any level for me, so I put the book aside. It is possible for half of the book to be entertaining and than to lose me. Sometimes, just to give it another try I break the reading of the slow and not very engaging reading with some short fiction, but when I come back for its second chance if I see that it still doesn't work I put it aside.
    Lately, it happened less and less for me to not read a book entirely, but that I believe is due to a more careful selection of readings from my part. Not that I will not find some books I will not read to the end again in the future.

  11. I try to give books at least 60-100 pages, but if a book is really bad or annoying without also being entertaining in some way, I might give up around page 30-50.

    Mostly because, like you said, a reader has to be discerning to some degree if she or he has a lot of books they want to read. So the window of opportunity to impress me definitely gets shorter and shorter as my TBR pile gets larger and larger.

  12. I put down quite a few books but I don't have a set page count or anything I'll give a book. I'll read a book for as long as I'm having fun with it. I don't feel I owe the author of the book to finish it. Them selling a book to me is a two-way contract. I promise to read what they have written and they promise to give me something interesting to read. If they, to me, doesn't fulfil there part of the bargain I feel no obligation to fulfil my end.

    Once I'm done with it I'll put it away, whatever the book or done or not. For instance Boneshaker. I really rather liked that but about 2/3s of the way through I was done with the setting. It stopped being interesting to me so I never read the last third. It's still a good book and I'd happily tell people to give it a go. Alternatively I might also let a book go if I put it down and then don't get around to continue reading. Whatever I'm busy or I just forget it can be no fault of the book, aside from not gripping me enough to "want" to continue. And then you have the few that are so atrociously bad they get put away in disgust quite quickly, the Left Hand of God for instance.

  13. My official answer is "100 pages," but I'll usually give a book more than that. If it's short, I'll aim for the 150-page mark, just in case it picks up as the second half approaches. If it's a chunkster, I try to make it at least a third of the way through so the story can build momentum.

    I'm always reluctant to abandon books, though. I rarely fall in love with a story straight off. I need time to sink into it. Some of my very favourite books didn't well and truly hook me until a couple hundred pages in.