Thursday, October 06, 2011

What to Do with the Bad Book

Ever stop reading a book because you just couldn't get into it . . . or worse, it sucked? Then you feel guilty, especially as a writer, because you know the pain and hours that go into such composition. So many of you read it through anyway, though, hoping to glean some sense of hope or glimmer of talent before it ends. Don't.

I give most books about 75 pages, but after that, a story better click for me. I've left bestsellers in airports and even thrown some books in the trash. My time is valuable to me . . . more valuable to me than to spend it reading something that does me no good. No different than eating food that tastes bad. Expect me to clean my plate anyway?

I've also judged book contests. When faced with 200 books, you recognize quality in a few moments. The cover, the blurbs, the opening paragraph, the first page, the first chapter. If it's still holding water at that stage, you read chapters two and three. Then you flip to the middle of the book and read a chapter. Then the last page or two. Those that make it that far wind up on my nightstand, being read from cover to cover. You may chastise me for not reading everyone's entire novel. Go right ahead, but I give those books more attention than they get in a bookstore or online. Way more. 

This is going to sound a little harsh, but I don't want to waste any of my precious time than I have to. If I pick up a book, I want it to make me relish the experience when I reach the last page. I want to grow from it in some fashion. Nothing feels so hollow as enduring a story to the end and finding out you spent X number of hours for no sense of enjoyment. At best, you learned not to read this writer again and how not to follow his writing mistakes. But I can usually read reviews and gather that information.

Your book is your serious chance to make friends with a fan. Screw it up, and you alienate him for life. You can't please everyone, but you need to feel as if you've done your best, using every tool in your reach. If at any step along the way you doubt whether it's edited enough, plotted thoroughly, or formatted to perfection, then chances are you are stopping short of where you could be. Be strong enough to avoid temptation to jump too soon.

Everybody works hard on a book. Absolutely everyone. Some work harder. Some excel. Some strive for perfection. You can read it in the phrasing, see it on the cover, feel it in the climax. Characters become you, or someone you wish to know or are afraid to meet. A how-to book describes situations as if the author interviewed you before putting pen to paper.

When you offer a book to a reader, you ask him to give hours of his life to you. It's more than paying $2.99 for an e-book or $25.99 for hardback. It doesn't matter if it costs 99 cents, that's not the point. The reader pours unrecoverable time into reading it. Your job is to make his time worthwhile, not just give him the best bang for his buck.

How do you think Coca Cola, Disney, and Apple excelled all these years? By not stopping short of their absolute best, for who they consider the best fans in the world.


Sioux said...

Hope--When choosing a book in a bookstore, I'll look at the first couple of lines. I figure, if the author is leading with a great "foot" and it doesn't appeal to me, the rest of the book will probably not, either...

Unknown said...

I agree with you, Hope. I recently began quitting books if they no longer held my interest, instead of plugging through them. My time is definitely more valuable to me than the dollars I paid for the book.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Hope! You're way more patient than I am. Usually I can tell in about two paragraphs whether I'll want to read the entire book. But if I happen to buy one that disappoints after the first four or five pages (rare, but it has happened) I toss it without thinking twice. Doesn't bother me a bit. Other than the fact that I spent money on it, anyway.

Kathy McIntosh said...

I've grown less patient, as well, even though I'm a writer and editor.
I tell myself tastes differ, but really bad writing is still prevalent. Wow. Two paragraphs, Dana?

kyrsten bean said...

I agree! I am a freelance writer and I also work in a county library part-time. I see a LOT of books. Seeing and checking out so many books on an almost daily basis has made me be a little more choosy with my choices. If it doesn't grab me, I don't want to force myself through it. I just don't have the time in between writing words, music, exercising and enjoying all life has to offer.
Thanks so much for your blog and your newsletters, I have found them to be very helpful since recently subscribing. :)