Big Name Books We Don’t Love

Last week’s post on why a particular book didn’t draw me in ended up generating quite an interesting discussion! And, according to my stats, last Thursday got more hits than any other day so far. Most of my blog followers are readers (many are also writers), so we all love discussing books. But when it really got interesting was when the author of the book in question outed herself in the comments, after we chatted on Facebook. It hadn’t been my intention to identify the book, but I had to give enough detail to discuss why it didn’t work for me, and who would know the book better than its author? I only hope I’m as professional and willing to learn as Elizabeth West was when bad reviews come in for my book – and I’ve no doubt they will. I’m not sure who said it, but one of my favorite quotes is, “Nothing is so good that someone, somewhere, won’t hate it.”

The comments also made me realize that Elizabeth is in some pretty prestigious company when it comes to books I didn’t like enough to finish. Prestigious as in, I am talking J.K. Rowling and Stephen King!

Yes! Harry Potter was a DNF for me! I love a good fantasy novel – in fact, I just read an absolutely wonderful untrained-mage-goes-to-college story: Fire in the Mist, by Holly Lisle. I enjoyed the first three Harry Potter books, too. The fourth… it was okay, and I finished it. But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix began with eighty or a hundred pages of nothing happening, and I just lost interest in it. I’d been reading it aloud to my daughter, who was seven at the time, and she was bored too. After the first couple books in the series, each was longer than the prior installment, and not necessarily because more was happening, or it was a more complex story. Maybe I’ll pick Phoenix up again someday. But with three shelves full of books I haven’t read, not to mention dozens on my netbook and smartphone, it’s unlikely. It just seemed bloated. Now I have been guilty of this myself – in fact, I just went over Time’s Fugitive with one of my beta readers, who pointed out a section where she caught herself skimming, because it was all boring, unimportant details where nothing was happening that added to the story. At least it wasn’t in the beginning of the book. But thanks to her, it will get cut!

One thing I have not been guilty of – at least, since I started writing with the aim of publication – is the bloated, tedious writing I found in Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Although this book too, began with pages upon pages of nothing happening, it was far more egregious than the Harry Potter book. At least in Phoenix, we had a main character to focus on, root for (and wait for to do something). Black House began with over a dozen pages of nothing but omniscient description – a nameless, personality-less presence flying over a small town, describing it in minute (and boring) detail. It did eventually touch on Jack, the main character, but even this was boring description. Talk about a disappointment! Black House was supposed to be the sequel to The Talisman, a book I loved so much I’ve read it multiple times. I say “supposed to be,” because Black House was nothing like The Talisman, either stylistically or content-wise. There were hardly even any allusions or references to it! Well, at least in the 16 or 18 pages I managed to struggle through until I dropped the book on the floor.

I’ve put down romance novels, too, some by NYT best-sellers. Paranormals with characters I didn’t care about – heroines that were too invincible, too kick-ass. Romantic suspense with “as-you-know-Bob” dialogue and characters that were doing stupid things without enough reason. Contemporaries with watered-down conflict. Historicals that were the same as the last three historicals I read. And yes, plenty that just didn’t pull me in like the one discussed last week.

Don’t get me wrong, DNFs are the exception for me, rather than the rule. Next week, we’ll talk about books we love. But for now, what about you? Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? That’s one I’ve heard a lot of people have trouble getting into, but it’s worth it – after about 100 pages! I’m not that patient. I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any blockbusters among your DNFs?

Story: Does Size Matter?

I’m talking about word count, or length of a story. If you’re an author trying to sell to a traditional publisher, then yes, it matters quite a bit. Traditional publishers have guidelines, and most include a word-count range. Too short, and you’re not giving readers enough story for their money. Too long, and your book’s going to cost the publisher more to print and ship, and fewer will fit on the rack at the grocery store (or space allotted on a bookstore’s shelf).

image of books & ebook readerWith ebooks, printing, shipping and shelf space are no longer applicable. A longer book may take up a few more bytes of disk space, and a couple more seconds for the reader to download, but disk space is continually becoming cheaper, to the point that it’s negligible. With increasing bandwidth and cell phone network capacity and speeds, download speeds don’t matter so much either. Where most publishers of genre fiction hesitate to take on books much longer than 100,000 words (epic fantasy and historical fiction being the main exceptions), publishers and sellers of ebooks aren’t operating under the same constraints. Likewise, few readers will plunk down enough cash for it to be worthwhile for a publisher to print a single novella or short story, but with production and shipping not part of the equation, ebooks are a viable medium for short fiction. So does word count matter?

I say it does, but for different reasons. When a reader buys a book from a physical bookstore, s/he can pick it up, flip through the pages, and judge by the thickness of the book, the size of the print, and the amount of white space on the pages how long this book will take to read – or more importantly, how good an entertainment (or informational) value the book is for the asking price.

The reader has no way of telling this for ebooks, unless the online retailer or publisher includes it in the book’s product description. Often, a reader shops with a goal in mind – not necessarily of a specific book, but for something to read while waiting at the kids’ sports practice, or while walking on the treadmill, on vacation, etc. – and might want a story to fit the amount of time available to read. If the reader was expecting a novella she could read in an hour, only to find when the hour’s up that she’s only halfway through it, that could be a bit jarring. Or worse, when the reader’s looking to be entertained during a long flight, only to have the story run out halfway through it, with nothing new to read and no wifi/cell connection with which to download something else.

The main situation where this is a problem is when the reader feels s/he hasn’t gotten a good value for his/her money – for example, many readers consider $2.99 a fair price for a novella, but would feel ripped off if they expected a full novel or novella, only to get a short story a fraction. In fact, I’ve read of many an ebook author getting dinged with 1-star reviews for this very reason – the reader expected a full novel, but got a novella. Sadly, in some cases, this was clearly spelled out in the book’s description, and either the reader failed to notice, or didn’t even read the description. In other cases, it wasn’t noted – and IMO the reader is justified for feeling cheated.

So what do you think – does size matter with ebooks? Or does it only matter in relation to price and value? I normally prefer longer books, but lately I’ve been enjoying some darned good novellas while on the treadmill. What about you?