Top 10 Reasons Readers Put Your Book Down
Today we're talking about books and why people don't want to read ’em. We've all experienced it–you pick up a book, you're super excited to read it, and then everything goes to crap. It wasn't what you expected, you aren’t enjoying it, and you decide to throw it out the window. If you're a writer, this is the last thing you want, and I'm gonna tell you why it happens.
“But Jenna, we already know why people don't finish books. It’s because they didn't like it.”
No shit, Sherlock! If someone decides not to finish reading a book–also known as DNF-ing–it’s because they weren’t enjoying it. It didn't vibe with them, they thought it was boring, or they thought it was tired. The thing is, this feedback on its own isn't particularly helpful for writers. How was the story boring? What about it was tired?
That's where this list comes in. I'm breaking down the ten most common reasons that readers DNF. These are the flaws behind statements like, “I wasn’t pulled in,” or, “The characters suck.” Let’s get right into the 10 reasons why people are putting your book down so you can fix ’em ASAP.
This video is sponsored by Book of the Month. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: They Don’t Have Any Questions
Every single chapter you write should either produce a question or elaborate on an existing question. Why did he lie to her? Is her job in jeopardy? Who started the attack? Is she really his mother? If you end a chapter without a single lingering question, you haven't done your duty as a writer.
This is the number one reason why readers claim they “weren't feeling” a story. It's also a popular reason why readers will claim a story is boring. Even if it's the start of the book, and readers aren't yet invested in the characters, you should still give them a reason to keep reading. And nine times out of ten, that reason is a question. What is this magical letter? Who is this mysterious pale guy? Will Tobias enter the tournament? No questions means the reader has no reason to continue, so they're probably gonna put the book down.
Number 2: You Answered All the Questions
A lot of writers know that they're supposed to create a question in every chapter, which is wonderful. Kudos to you! But sometimes they create a question and answer the question in the same chapter. That's not how this shit works! Each chapter should end with a cliffhanger or some type of longing. Something the reader is eager to bring to closure. It's fine to answer questions within a chapter, so long as other questions are left remaining. Think of it like breadcrumbs. Sure, you've sprinkled some along the floor, but you still got a bunch more in your hand, right? Once you've run out of breadcrumbs, the ducks have no reason to follow you. They've gotten everything they need. Your readers are ducks–keep some breadcrumbs in your hand and you’ll be good to go!
Every single chapter you write should either produce a question or elaborate on an existing question. Think of it like breadcrumbs. Each chapter should end with a cliffhanger or some type of longing. Something the reader is eager to bring to closure.
Number 3: There Are WAY Too Many Questions
As we already covered, it's great to leave questions remaining for the reader. But there comes a point in the story where you kinda have to deliver . . . Recently, I read a book that created twelve pressing questions within the first three chapters. That's four questions per chapter! The book then went on for 150 pages without answering a single one of those twelve questions. That was over half the book and not a single promise was delivered on.
It’s like what I said about the breadcrumbs. Sure, you want to keep some in your hand, but if you walk for a mile without dropping a single breadcrumb, the ducks are gonna get tired of the dick tease and walk away. Plus, 150 pages with no answers usually means 150 pages without focus on the plot. The questions your readers ask should directly correlate to the plot, and if you're not answering them, that usually means you've shifted focus elsewhere.
Number 4: Info Dumps
This is the number one reason people claim they DNF-ed a “boring book.” You overloaded them with unnecessary info dumps, and I'm gonna wager at least 75% of those were world-building. I know you're passionate about your world–I am, too–but the number one rule of world-building is to introduce your world as it becomes relevant. If it's not relevant, it don't matter. Period.
Number 5: Unlikable Characters
"But Jenna, my characters aren't supposed to be good people, they're complicated.”
What if I told you “likable” and “good” are not synonymous? Many people find Hannibal Lecter wildly entertaining and charming, and he literally eats people. About 50% of readers read specifically for the characters, and it's a huge bummer when you're reading a book and you don’t really like the MC. So put effort into making the MC likable! They can be likable because they are sympathetic or relatable, they have struggles and traits that lots of people can identify with. Maybe they’re likable because they're entertaining. They're funny and charismatic. They have an “it” factor. Whichever tactic you employ–and there are many–it’s way easier to hook a reader if they like the MC. And if they don’t, expect a DNF in the future.
Number 6: Shit Ain’t Edited
Your book is not finished until you've hired a professional editor. BOTTOM LINE. I cannot tell you how many books I've DNF-ed because of typos on the first page, punctuation errors in the first paragraph, or grammar mistakes in the first line. It's not easy to read a book riddled with mistakes. It's like walking through a minefield, minus all the death! With every mistake, your reader is removed from the plot. They're reminded that the story is fake. You don’t want that. You want them to be sucked into your world, to feel as though they're experiencing it firsthand. So for the love of God, hire an editor!
Your book is not finished until you've hired a professional editor. BOTTOM LINE.
Number 7: No Trigger Warnings
If you're writing content that is potentially triggering, like domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault, or suicide, it behooves you to include a trigger warning somewhere in or on your book. The point of this is not to coddle readers–it’s to make sure the right readers read your book. Some people, whether it's for trigger reasons or personal preference, do not want to read about graphic violence. And guess what? That is 100% their prerogative!
As a reader, it's really frustrating to go into a book that has given you zero indication that there will be upsetting content and then be hit with a scene that you would have never chosen to expose yourself to otherwise. If you want to make sure you're attracting the right readers, and your book includes some potentially triggering content, just add some trigger warnings. It's super easy! This will lower your chances of one-star reviews, and attract the kind of readers that will gobble your story up.
Number 8: Regurgitation
Also known as cliche! Every writer has tropes they adore or genres they love, and thus we'll see a lot of that in their writing. Maybe they only write science fiction, maybe they’re absolutely obsessed with enemies-to-lovers. That's fine! But there’s a big difference between that and regurgitating what has already been popularized by other authors, or what’s already been popularized by yourself. Recycling the same lines and same story over and over and over. This is what we refer to as “cliche.” It’s lines, phrases, and tropes that are overused, particularly if they're not repackaged or subverted in some way. I know you think you're hitting a home run because some other author already got popular off this, but readers are bored of it because they've already read it a thousand times. Rather than guaranteeing yourself sales, you’re guaranteeing yourself some DNFs.
Number 9: Glorification
Life is filled with horrors like abusive relationships, drug addiction, or mental illness, and it’s perfectly fine to represent these realities in your fiction. But representation is not the same thing as glorification or romanticization. If a story is representing an abusive relationship, it’s presenting it as multifaceted and complex but inherently negative. If a story glorifies or romanticizes abuse, it’s presenting it as normal, sexy, and even desired.
"Wow, I really wish a hot guy would try to break my arm! Swoon!” [Insert sarcasm here, folks.]
Look, no one is telling you that you can't write dark shit. Hell, my books are filled with torture and decapitation. But it's about the manner in which you express this content. If you're presenting depression as beautiful and poetic–something only the coolest, deep thinkers suffer from–then you're glorifying mental illness. Readers are gonna get grossed out and they're gonna put the book down.
Number 10: Filler
The back of the book blurb makes a promise to the reader, like romance, adventure, or drama. But sometimes people open up a book expecting one thing, and are met with something completely different! There are many reasons for this. Sometimes it's improper advertising, or placing the book in the wrong target audience, but a lot of the time it's filler. A book may promise to be a thrilling ghost story, but instead, we see the MC meander through their world, having casual conversations with family and friends. You know, the boring shit. It's fine to include content that is not plot specific–this is where subplots come into play–but if your book is packed with day-in-the-life shenanigans that have no relevance to the plot, you've overindulged on filler. The reader is going to get bored, and they're likely gonna walk away.
So that's all I've got for you today!
My 10 most common reasons readers DNF books. If you’ve been getting vague responses from beta readers, some less-than-enthusiastic reviews, or you want to avoid things readers hate while writing your book, hopefully, this list gave you a head start! Or, at least some answers. What’s the fastest you’ve ever DNF-ed a book? Let me know in the comments!
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