How Far Do You Go?

Brother Gilstrap mentioned yesterday that it was his job as an author of thrillers to give his readers a wild ride. ‘Tis true, of course, but it got me to thinking about what happens when we climb aboard a horse which we expect to be a stallion but which seems, at least out of the gate, to be a foal. It has happened to me, and I daresay at some point it happens to everyone who reads a fair number of books: the first couple of pages grab you, but twenty or so pages into the story you find that the grip is becoming looser by the paragraph.

My question to you is, how deeply do you go into a book before you check out? What is your line of demarcation? Do you give the author a chance to change your mind? Do you immediately hang it up? Or do you hang in until the bitter end? For me, if I’m not immediately enjoying a book by a familiar or favorite author, I go one-third of the way into it before I even think about calling it quits. If I’m reading a book by an author unfamiliar to me, it’s a bit more complicated. If the narrative (or my mind) seems to be wandering before I’m one hundred pages in, I may consign it to my “later” pile in favor of something more immediately appealing. The same is true if I have no idea what has been happening during the thirty pages or so I just read, or can’t recall, in the words of the famous limerick, who has been doing what and to who. At that point I tend to put the book down wet.

But what about you? How far do you go? A few pages? A few chapters? One-third? One-half? Or do you engage in the literary equivalent of speed dating: the story has to impress you in five minutes, or you’re done?

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What I’m reading: The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry. Worth reading for the mention of abiotic oil alone. And for so much more. Berry is a master of rendering the complicated and complex interesting and exciting. And yes, it’s a wild ride.

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14 thoughts on “How Far Do You Go?

  1. I usually give it until about a third through before I abandon it totally. For me, as soon as I start to skim pages I know the author is in trouble and my interest is waning. I do give the book time though to draw me back in, just in Case!

  2. Joe, I’ve got a few shelves in my office book cases loaded with what I refer to as my “50-pages” books. Those I couldn’t get through the first 50 pages. Some I abandoned after only a couple of pages. Life is too short to waste on poorly written books and cheap wine.

  3. There are a few books that I couldn’t even make it through the first page, but I try to give the author two or three chapters. If it still isn’t doing much for me, I start looking for the outline milestones. I’ll jump forward to the break into the second act. If it still isn’t going anywhere, I’ll jump to the midpoint and then to the third act. If the author can’t hold me in the third act, I give up.

  4. I used to plow through a lot more than I do now. But, as Mr. Moore said, life’s too short. If the story is starting to slog, I may skim-read to see if it picks up again.

    But if I’m hit with implausibility, or characters doing things they wouldn’t do in real life, I’m liable to stop right there.

    Sometimes, it could be an editor’s fault, like the time a police officer, heading into danger, put on his Mylar vest.

  5. due to the sheer number of books coming out each month….i don’t usually continue reading a book that i’m not connecting with. so many books, so little time. i know pretty much from the get-go whether i will engage with both the story and the characters. a quick deal breaker for me is graphic violence. i shut james patterson’s Swimsuit after the end of the 3rd chapter….when they sawed off a model’s head. just don’t need that visual. any hint of a woman tied in a remote basement being heinously tortured does the same. there are too many other stories with good plots and characters to be bothered with the this storyline. matters not to me if it’s needed to “remain true to the story”.

  6. I stop reading as soon as I get to a point where I don’t know what I’m reading. If a book doesn’t interest me, I’ll start daydreaming even though I can “hear” my mind’s voice reading words, and at that moment I know there are better books on my shelf.

    Now everyone thinks I’m crazy, hearing voices and such, but it’s the truth.

  7. You, sir, are mean. I can’t get the new Steve Berry yet. It’s not out until Tuesday and I’m not some connected author. 😉

    I usually read some – give it a chapter or two – but I’ll read on if there’s someone who’s recommended it.

  8. It depends. If I bought it, unless it is absolutely horrid, I read the whole thing–can’t waste money, and even if it is terrible, I need to screen it and see who it would be appropriate to give it to. Just because I don’t like a book doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

    If I borrow it from the library, I will still probably read 50 pages or more. I know someone recently posted they wouldn’t give a book that long but sometimes you really can find good books even though the first 50 pages were sluggish.

    I’d probably be inclined to give more leeway to a writer I already know as opposed to one I’ve never read before.

    I figure if a writer went to all that trouble to write the book, I need to give it a good solid go before I throw in the towel.

  9. I follow a blog about structure and was looking forward to the author’s newest book to see her techniques in practice. I read only four paragraphs. Four paragraphs of nothing but visual imagery. Of a building. This type of camera-view opening may work in movies, but a novelist doesn’t have the benefit of the theater environment – surround sound score in a dark place filled with strangers. I needed a connection with a character to feel the menace I’m sure the author intended. Otherwise, I’m just looking at a building. Ho hum.

  10. An excellent question – and a useful one for budding writers, too. Two things:

    (1) Kindle samples have made it easier for me to drop out sooner. If the first few pages don’t grab me or tell me something new, I can abandon it with a few keystrokes.

    (2) That being said, for me it’s not a page count boundary but a plot count boundary. If a new character is introduced and I genuinely don’t care about them, I give up.

    This is a reliable guideline for me. The first characters I meet should be fascinating and compelling. Later characters should add to the thrust of the story. But if someone shows up and I have no idea why they’re important, I just get tired. And reading shouldn’t be tiring.

  11. I like to give a writer 50-100 pages to change my mind. I’ve read too many books i ended up liking after a rocky start not to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    the one exception is if the style of the writing is wholly at odds with my taste. No story can save that for me, so I might as well quit now.. Fortunately, I almost never buy those books, as I browse a page or three in the store, or already have a trusted recommendation

  12. I tend to give a story a time constraint. Within an hour or so if it has kept my interest I keep reading at normal pace. If not I start skimming. If within the next half hour I have not reconnected I skip several chapters to see if something is happening that makes me want to go back and find out why its happening. If I reach the halfway point without reconnecting I skip to the last few pages and see how it ends (if a few instances I didn’t even care enough to see what happened at the end) then off I go in search of the next.

    What I’m reading now? Just finished Nightmare Frontier, by Stephen Mark Rainey…my first retail narration by the way…look for it soon on Audible.com and other fine audiobook retailers

  13. I’m more impatient than I used to be, so give less time to iffy / marginal books. I have to like the protagonist enough to want to spend time with him or her (or them, in the case of multiple protagonists).

    Years ago I read a book with unfailingly unpleasant people who did not improve over the course of the story. After I finished, I vowed to never spend my time with characters who in real life I would cross the street to avoid.

    So, occasionally I’ll miss stories where the character has an epiphany on page 499 of a 500 page book, but I won’t be there to read about it. Not worth my time. Far, far too many other stories out there.

    A favorite author gets a bit more time, though I may end up skimming chunks of it. If it doesn’t get better, I’m less likely to keep that author on auto-buy.

    Basil,

    Sorry for my ignorance, but what’s a ‘retail narrative’? I have an image of a Macy’s clerk telling me a story…

  14. No worries Tricia. While telling stories to crowds of Christmas shoppers may be fun, I was referring to narrating audiobooks for a retail publisher. For the past several years I have narrated audiobooks, four of my own and one for the folks here at TKZ, for publication via podcasts. These audiobooks were for free distribution in serialized format. Recently I was hired to do one for a publishing company who will sell them…hence the retail.

    By the way authors, if you have audio rights to your stuff and want to break into the audiobook world, give me a buzz and I can hook you up with a great new audiobook publisher to get your stories professionally narrated and out there for sale with no out of pocket expense.

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