I’m THAT Reader

THAT reader? Which one is that?

Why, the one that writers dread.

Well, what’s so bad about that?

I’m a writer.

I hope no one thought I'd use a real author's book for this post!

I hope no one thought I’d use a real author’s book for this post!

If you ask writers what they do after they’ve started reading a novel, most will offer a prompt reply: “I finish it,” or words to that effect. Even if they’re not enjoying the story. Actually, many non-writers would give the same answer. But I think more “real world readers” will say they stop reading if they lose interest within a few chapters.

There you have the reader that writers dread. And I’m one of them.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a time when I forced myself to finish novels, too, no matter what I was thinking in Chapter 2 or 5. I’d give the writer plenty of time—heck, the entire book—to get me to change my mind and decide the story was worth the read. That was long before I started writing. In fact, it was before I learned just how much time adult responsibilities and lives take from the waking day. When that realization set in, my reading habits changed.

Even when I started writing a novel in 2009, I didn’t change those newer reading habits—even though I don’t want future readers setting down my story before they’ve finished it. No, I didn’t change.

Instead, my willingness to “give up” on a novel means thinking about how well I keep my future readers engaged and, well, reading. Will my first sentence grab your attention? Will I hold your interest through the first scene? The first chapter? The first half? All the way to “The End”? That’s every fiction writer’s job, whether you’re first leaping into the writing pool or looking at 30 years worth of stories in the rearview mirror.

Of course, no book resonates with every reader. But we writers want our intended audiences to read our stories from beginning to end—and enjoy the experience. We can’t get lazy. We can’t phone it in. No matter our individual writing style, our story lines and characters must keep readers asking, “And then what happens”?

So what has my inner reader taught me? At the end of the day, it comes down to this.

I don’t want to be the writer that readers dread.

31 thoughts on “I’m THAT Reader

  1. I agree – life’s too short to waste it reading books we aren’t enjoying. I’ll probably be burnt for a heretic for admitting this, but I’ve recently abandoned Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Beautiful writing but I just lost patience – it wasn’t moving quickly enough, which might say more about me than the novel….

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    • Don’t feel bad—I abandoned The Time Traveler’s Wife. I just couldn’t get interested in the characters. But I use that book as an example of how not every story can click with every reader. We just weren’t right for each other. And that’s okay. I don’t think cases like ours say anything bad about the book or reader. 🙂

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  2. I smiled when I saw your post’s topic because I was thinking of writing about something similar for a guest post I have coming up. Mine will focus on the difficulties of letting go of a book when we feel like we should finish it regardless. Great minds, I guess.

    As writers, I agree–no phoning it in. We have to maintain–and escalate really–that pace throughout.

    Great post. Nice to see one from you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, it’s not necessarily easy for me to give up on some books. What I think might be even harder is giving up on something we’re writing. And yet, I bet every superstar author has at least one story they never finished.

      I see some reviews of books by hugely successful authors that suggest some “biggies” do slack off. I suppose they can get away with it. But newcomers to the publishing world? I don’t think so!

      (PS – one reason I haven’t been posting much is that I’m having a hard time coming up with topics that will interest me and readers both! 😉 )

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  3. I’m currently reading a book that’s one another blogger wrote, I’m not going to say anything that would give away what it is because I don’t want to offend anyone, but I’m really struggling with it. If you wanted a textbook on what the complete opposite of “show don’t tell” looks like, this would be it, all the way through which makes it so lifeless. I’m forging ahead, but in stops and starts because I want to be supportive to the blogger (not that they know I’m reading it), and I’m hoping that I might change my opinion if it has a fantastic ending (I’m ever the optimist!). I won’t leave a bad review though for another blogger, I’ll leave no review rather than a bad one.

    I do usually give up on books though if they’re not holding my interest these days. I have such a small amount of time allocated to reading, I don’t want to waste it on something I’m not enjoying.

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    • I totally understand. I have read some bloggers books and would never leave a bad/lukewarm review anywhere because I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings. I’ve recently taken to not mentioning if I’ve bought someone’s book until I’ve read it and liked it. Otherwise, I find other ways to support my fellow bloggers, but I’ll never leave a bad review for anyone. Of course, often I enjoy the book but won’t post reviews because I feel like they’re not objective!

      When we read for enjoyment in our limited time, we should enjoy the book, right? 😉 So especially with library books, if I’m not hooked within a couple of chapters, back it goes!

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  4. Good point. And something to keep in mind for sure. Gotta keep the pressure and tension and intrigue high. No easy feat! Which, as you already know, is why beta readers are so valuable to let us know when and where we’re slipping.

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  5. Tremendous reminder. You are so wise to say it out loud: it’s not just the first few lines of the book that must grab the reader – but the first line of every chapter…page…paragraph. Seems obvious, but you forget the obvious sometimes.
    Writing is one thing, but authors must go back and craft and tweak to make sure it flows and keeps the readers floating along – all the way over the falls at the end and beyond.
    (and I did stop reading books that just got to be too much drudgery and a forced march a few years ago. So many books out there and so little time!…but I do feel guilty for a second or two…)

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    • Oh yes, if I’m writing something just for me, I can be wordy, terse, adverb-sowing, telling…. All those things good stories aren’t! But I can have fun doing it. 😉 For an audience, though, well, most readers won’t be too forgiving if wander off-track or write a two-dimensional tale. And yet I’ve seen some books by major authors that would never escape the slush pile if that was the first work submitted. I’d like to think I’d retire before phoning in the books….

      I do feel those occasional twinges of guilt, too. But as you say, so many books and so little time! Letting go of one that doesn’t hold my interest gives another author a chance to make a good impression.

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  6. I’ve done that a few times, JM, kept reading a book even though I didn’t care about how it ended or the characters. I’d even be a bit angry by the time I was finished or be relived that it was over. I certainly don’t want anyone feeling that way about my writing. It’s very difficult riding that fine line of “believable” fiction, isn’t it? It can’t be too over the top (we’ve read those) or too “ordinary” as life and people’s interactions often are so that the reader lose interest (read those too).

    It nearly makes you want to give in or give up. Almost…but only sometimes. :).

    Nice to see you and hope things are wonderful in your world.

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    • There are times when I throw down a book that went the traditional route of agent and editor, and I think, “My first manuscript was better than this—why didn’t it go anywhere?” Of course, it was nowhere near good enough, but I’ve seen too many books that shouldn’t have gone past the slush pile either. And that can be disheartening. And it’s just one reason why I’m still working on writing for enjoyment and not focusing on publication goals.

      The writing is slow so far this year, partly because I’m still dealing with the leg pain from last spring. And now the MRI I had earlier this month shows disc herniation. So it’s off to another doctor to see what comes next. Hopefully some relief! 🙂 I hope your spring is behaving better than ours and you can enjoy the season. We’re up and down on temps and sun, but here’s hoping the snow is behind us.

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      • JM! Be well and hope you get some relief quickly. We are having a beautiful spring. Temps in 70s and no humidity. Will enjoy it before that the unbelievable heat and humidity come to stay. Take care of yourself and here’s to writing for the sheer enjoyment of doing so.

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  7. Fun post, JM. I’m with you — if the book isn’t holding my interest, I have to abandon it. There are simply too many books out there that I want to read. I don’t get a lot of time to read. 15 minutes at the end of the day, unless I’m too wiped to read and I go straight to sleep.

    I will say, though, that in recent years, I have become a really picky reader and it’s totally because of everything I am learning about the writing process. Many books aren’t holding my interest because I see where characters are flat or tension is lacking. Sometimes, being a writer ruins the reading experience. I’ve abandoned more books in the past 5 years than in my whole reading life!

    Unfortunately, the biggest problem I have centers around blogging friends’ self-published books. I can’t abandon those books even if I’m not into them — and all because I’m trying to support my blogging pals. I want to be able to write a positive review, but gosh, I have to struggle more often than not in these cases. I hate to say it’s because they “published before the book is ready” but I can’t see any other reason why.

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    • Reading for enjoyment IS hard when you’ve spent time learning what goes into a great story! Would I have stuck with some books if I hadn’t started writing myself? Possibly. While I was already giving up on some long before I picked up a pen, maybe some recent books would have fared better…. But our time is limited, and I want to spend that reading time with books I’m enjoying. And if I can get through a book without noticing the “writerly” aspects, then that author has done a great job of story telling!

      It’s very rare that I do a book review for a blog buddy for the very fact that I wouldn’t want someone thinking I hated his/her book because I didn’t leave a review. That’s why I try to do other things to help support my fellow writers, like my “recent releases” widget and making library recommendations. Heaven knows not every traditionally published book is necessarily good, but some of the indie samples I download for Kindle make me cringe. And sometimes the blurb alone screams “look out—pass on this one.” Thank heaven for my awesome betas who made me see that my earlier manuscripts weren’t ready. 🙂

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  8. Great lesson to learn from your inner writer. 🙂 I definitely am less patient with other authors. I have given up on books more now than I used to. I think of books like relationships. There are only so many people I click with and in a variety of ways. Books are the same way. A well written book may have a protagonist that I can’t connect with. That may just be a matter of our personalities not meshing.

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    • Yep, even the most commercially successful writers can’t appeal to every reader. I’ve never understood the attraction of Stephen King (even though I love “On Writing”). The book example I usually use for “not clicking” is “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” It’s very well-written. But I just couldn’t get into the characters and their lives. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them or me. Just as in life we can’t all be friends with everyone else in the world. We should just always do the best we can when we write (and be the best people we can be in daily life). 🙂

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      • LOL. And I bawled my way through the entire book and couldn’t read it on the subway because there was a 99% chance of ugly crying happening. think of it as one of the best books I ever read. It really is about clicking. There are NYT bestsellers that I want to throw at the wall because I can’t get into them and yet they are highly acclaimed and well received by other readers. I think for me it was Me Earl and The Dying Girl. I really didn’t enjoy the protagonist or the writing style. I couldn’t click with it. And yet others adore it.

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  9. I’m in complete agreement with you, JM, even down to not being able to finish The Time Traveler’s Wife. Sometimes I feel a tinge of guilt when I put away a book I “should” appreciate because it’s touted as great or literary or it’s an author whose work I’ve liked before. Cormac McCarthy is that kind of author for me–fantastic writing but sometimes he’s a little too writerly for me, if you know what I mean. Word choices become almost too precious, sentences unnecessarily dense.

    I hope you’ll heal well and soon.

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    • Lovely to see you again, Jagoda! I agree with about someone being “too writerly.” To me, no matter the genre or writing style, the writing itself shouldn’t be noticeable. That’s likely one reason why I’m not so fond of literary fiction, where the emphasis is more on the writing. I prefer the essence of the story and the characters to be front and center—not the words chosen to describe them. “Precious” writing can turn me off as much as sloppy or just-plain-bad writing.

      I have an appointment on Friday with another doctor to see what’s next. A cortisone shot? Physical therapy? Both? Something else? I’m just hoping for something that will actually heal the damage, not just manage the pain/discomfort.

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  10. Interesting thoughts JM, I was one of those people that had to finish a book, no matter what, but I’ve also changed my habits – too many books, too little time. I recently abandoned a Clive Barker book, even though I always loved his work, and Mary Poppins, and I could never get into Moby Dick!

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    • It’s hardest to abandon a book when it’s written by an author I usually enjoy. Especially when the next book causes a similar reaction. I love a series as much as the next reader, but sometimes I think an author should bring it to an end earlier than s/he does. Yes, there’s enormous pressure from the fans and press for more, but I’d rather see an author end on a high note, not limp along and be remembered for the later, lesser works.

      I’m not sure there’s a “denser” writer than Melville…. I could never finish any of his works!

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  11. I’ve persevered with more than I probably should have done!

    It is good to read as a writer though and spot things you maybe don’t notice in your own work. I think it helps you sometimes to carry on reading just to re-enforce the edits you need to make in your own writing. See what they should have done to know that you really do need to cut that extra scene or character.

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  12. I’ll admit that I have finished every single book. I’m also very picky about what I start reading in the first place, but there have been plenty over the years that have not been my favorite. However, I use them as a learning experience. If I’m struggling to connect with the characters or if something odd is going on with the story, I like to understand it better.

    Despite my curiosity, I’ve purposely stayed away from 50 Shades of Gray because everyone said the writing was atrocious. 😉

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  13. It’s only fairly recently that I’ve started giving up on books once I’ve started reading them. I always used to plough on to the end in the hope it would improve. Although, I will admit, that when I read ‘Les Misérables’ I skipped whole chapters that weren’t taking the story forward – I would just give up on it now.

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  14. Hey there, JM. I have to say I’m That Reader, too. A character, a writing style, an intriguing plot, has to resonate with me, or I let it go. I’ve never been one to push myself through a book that I’m not invested in. I’m also pretty picky, judging by the number of books I start with high hopes and never finish. The issue you raise is on my mind when I write, too. The stakes have to be high, the characters flawed and relatable, the peaks much more numerous than the valleys, or we’ll be guaranteed to lose readers. The challenge, of course, is getting our writing to that level. All part of the journey, right?

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  15. Oh, that guilt of letting go of a book. I think many of us want-to-be writers grew up as voracious readers, which is partly what causes us that guilt. As a child in the 20th Century, before the widespread influence of the Internet and digital media, I was subjected to what I could afford, or what was in my local library stacks, which could only hold so much in a section. I can remember walking along the aisles of the science fiction, horror, and fantasy sections in the library at our town park, thinking, Read that one. Read that one. Haven’t read that one in a while, but it’s too soon to read again. I would try really hard to finish any book I picked up because I just didn’t have as many options. Now, with Amazon.com and its ilk, there are so many choices. Almost too many. I don’t want to spend my pleasure reading time on a story that doesn’t grab me, when there are so many other possibilities out there that might.

    It doesn’t make anyone a bad or unfaithful reader to drop a story or even an author. There’s just so much out there…! The masses that fuel the bestseller lists also seem to forgive a lot of writers whom I often think of as phoning it in, too, because of their established fame, name, or genre. Since you mentioned Stephen King in another comment, I’ll add that, while King often has really good ideas, and lots of his prose is daring, most of his books could stand to lose about 1000 pages. (That includes some of my favorites.) But he gets away with it more often than he probably should do, simply because of his name, and because there are readers who will buy – and probably five-star – any book he puts out, regardless of quality.

    There’s also a difference between not liking a story and finding a story poorly conceived, plotted, or written. The one is a difference of taste or opinion, which can’t be helped by the person at either end. I can’t bring myself to leave a low-grade review on a story like that. The other is more concrete, though, and I *will* warn other readers about it, especially if the creator is obviously being lazy. (I find this happens the most in serialized stories, because the turnaround is expected to be fast, but also because the publishers are just trying to cash in.)

    Great post, JM! Though, now, I am even more paranoid about my writing, and why I have lost so many readers over the years! Oh, well. I guess we just stopped “clicking,” as you say. 🙂

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