Over the years I’ve become increasingly critical of books and I’ve honestly set more books down than read. Besides the basics like good grammar, words spelled correctly, using the right words, and the book formatted correctly, I have five reasons why I put a book down and don’t pick it back up again. Here they are!
1) The author throws a lot of confusion into the first chapter
I like books that take simple ideas and make them shine. If a book starts in a high-stakes incident like they’re crash landing on a planet or about to storm an enemy outpost, then I need simplicity so I can get into the moment. If I’m seeing a lot of foreign names and technical terms I’ve never heard before along with the whirling action of the first chapter, I put the book down.
2) Too many dialogue tags or names in dialogue
I legit gave up on a book in the first chapter because every single piece of dialogue was tagged. I whisper, he says, I say, I ask, he says with a grin, I reply, he says half-jokingly, he replies, I say softly, I admit, he replies, I counter, he asks rhetorically … OMG STOP. Those are all within the FIRST PAGE of the first chapter of a book I gave up on! I found it so annoying that I actually deleted the book off my Kindle. Also, too many names in dialogue will make me put down a book. “How are you, Grace?” “I’m great, Bob, you?” “Feeling a little shaky today, Grace.” “That’s too bad, Bob.” NO. Just stop.
3) Trying to be purple and failing
There are lots of amazing writers out there that write the most beautiful prose. I’ll never forget reading UNTEACHABLE by Leah Raeder and thinking it was some of the most beautiful writing I had ever read. But sometimes writers try to be that good and fail miserably. What really gets me are the bad similes and using them too often. I’d much rather read serviceable, workman’s prose any day than a book that tries to be purple and fails. I gave up on a book at the 30% mark after reading five boring similes on one page. Nope.
4) Nothing happens in the first chapter for the main character
I’m willing to give a book a chapter, maybe two, to get the ball rolling, but that’s it. In the first chapter, I should see the main character doing something. They need to be interacting somehow with their fellow characters or the environment. For me, it’s all about the main character. If I get nothing but setting in the first chapter, I’m moving on.
5) Doing something “ground-breaking” ie. trying to be clever
I tried to read a book last year where they decided not to use quotation marks for any of the dialogue. Yep. None. It was so damned confusing. Many times I couldn’t distinguish between what people were saying and what was descriptive text. I don’t think I lasted more than five pages with that book. I’ve seen other bloggers review books where the author does things like
write text and strike it out, or they put black boxes over the text like it’s been redacted. How about you just tell me the story and try not to get cute about it? No? I set those books aside. If the story is going to rely on tricks to keep the reader interested, then I cry foul.