Monday, July 19, 2010

Jim's Insta-Poll: Can You Skin a Sheep More Than Once?

Today we welcome our newest blogger, Jim Thomsen. Jim's insta-polls are wildly popular at Facebook, so we decided to have the same fun here at the Blood-Red Pencil. Welcome aboard, Jim.
On my Facebook page, I recently asked my friends: "Have you ever read a book knowing that you don't like it, don't respect it and wouldn't recommend it ... yet you HAVE to finish it so you know what happened, for cripes' sake?"

Surprisingly, it was one of my most popular book-related polls. Apparently a lot of readers have felt burned by subpar genre books that delivered just the craft and left out the art. As a result, my respondents almost universally said that they'd never buy a book by that author again.

Some responses:

— Christy R., Loma Linda, Calif.: "Martha Grimes. Used to love her Richard Jury novels. I just dragged myself to the end of the last two, and that's it. I don't care about the crime. I liked her characters. But they jumped the shark, so I followed suit."

— Jenna J., San Diego: "Twilight. I knew I would hate it, but I was beaten and nagged into reading it. Trying like hell to stay in the story, I had a zillion questions I wanted answered, and assumed (silly me) that they would be if I finished. Nope."

— Marty B., Fresno, Calif.: "If I dislike a book, I generally don't finish it. But one I have is Nick Hornby's "How to Be Good," although that started out decently enough."

— Cheri B., Portland, Ore.: "Yes. Call me the eternal optimist, but I always hold out hope there's going to be a turning point when it gets good ... or at least worth the time I have invested in it ... even to the last word."

 The lesson here: You probably don't have room in your career as an author for even one sub-par book. As is often said: "It's hard to break into publishing, but it's harder to stay in." And part of that is that readers are unforgiving of what they perceive to be mediocrity. (As opposed to, say, what we might consider mediocrity.)

So, what do you Blood Red Pencil folks say? You need not name names, but do you stick it out with a book that's just not taking off? Especially if it's an author whose work you've liked and trusted in the past? And if you feel burned by a bad book, are you quits with the author, or will you give their next book another chance? How forgiving are you?

Let's hear it.

Jim Thomsen is a news editor for the Kitsap Sun newspaper in Bremerton, Washington. Facing a layoff this fall and the end of a 23-year journalism career, he's trying to launch a new career as an author of crime fiction and nonfiction. He hopes to launch his first self-published mystery novel, "Revenge Island," this fall.


  1. As writers must be, I'm chock full of perseverance, and throughout my life I've brought that to my reading as well. No more. I finally get it--Life's too short. I have put books down as late as 585/700 pages because it had become crystal clear that the author was not delivering on what they promised and I had tired of hunting for it.

    This is hardest with the classics for me, though. A few years ago I tried to read Madame Bovary for the first time. Referenced in so many how-to-write books! It has stood the test of time! I'm SUPPOSED to value it! Yet I couldn't get through it. It took a few words from my classics-loving sister to release me from my guilt: "So set it down and try other classics. It's all subjective."

    As true today as it has been throughout history. Thanks, sis, for releasing me. And welcome to BRP, Jim!

  2. I recently had a problem similar to this. The author was new to me, but the style of writing was one that I didn't really care for - continuous flashbacks. However, once I got started I couldn't stop. I had to know what happened at the end. I'm glad I finished the book, it was good. The author used the flashbacks in a way that made the book work.

    Thoughts in Progress

  3. There are some books that I haven't been able to finish (Catch-22 is one). Most of the time I won't get very far, and will give up, but recently I slogged through a long one only to find that the ending was a complete disappointment. It was a recent vampire/zombie/dystopic treatise that supposedly got good reviews. I don't usually read that kind of stuff, but it was "recommended" so I thought I would give it a shot.

  4. I accepted an ARC from a local bookstore one time with the understanding I would submit a mini-review so the store owner could decide if it was worthy of purchase. The book was billed as a spy thriller (my favorite kind) so I was incredibly disappointed to find the style literary and the first half so boring it nearly put me to sleep. I stuck with it until the end. Happily, the second half was a bit more entertaining. I doubt I would have read beyond page fifty if not for the promise to read the whole thing. I no longer finish books just because I start them.

  5. I read books for pleasure now, much the same way I read slushpile submissions - the first 25 pages and the last 10 better say something compelling to make me read what's in the middle.

    Yeah, I know... reading the end. Go ahead and gasp. LOL.


  6. Having just finished a mediocre book written by an author I've loved in the past...I'll give her one more shot, but that is it. In her acknowledgements at the end of the book, she thanked her readers for inspiring her to "write a book a year" and I yelled out loud..."Stop! Don't churn them out if it means sacrificing the quality of your writing."

  7. I just don't have the time to stick it out with anything--including subpar books. Many books line my shelves (my desk tops, my coffee table, my closet, my--you get the point) that are half-read. I may give a book upwards of 50 to 100 pages to give me a reason to stay, but if the reason isn't there by page 100, I'm putting it down and moving on.


  8. For me, at some point, it becomes a misson to get through it. I remember some book (I don't remember the title, sorry) that was waaayyyy overly descriptive of EVERYTHING. I managed to plow my way through. Once done, I set it down and said, "Now, that's what NOT to do." *sigh*

  9. Like Kathryn, I have started more and more not finishing a book if the story does not grab me and the writing is less than what I hoped for. In some cases, that turns me off on the author, but I have sometimes come back to try again if I really liked the earlier books by that author.

  10. I have quite some for good if the first couple of chapters didn't excite me, but that's rare. I tend to have several books going at once and might leave a book with the intention of coming back. If the pull isn't strong enough, however, I might not get back.

  11. Since I don't have a lot of time for reading, I often find I put books aside if I'm not hooked to continue. Sometimes I come back to them, but most often I don't. I probably won't be drawn to get another book by that author.


  12. Welcome to BRP Jim!

    The first books of Stephen King's that I read were Misery and Rose Madder, which I thought were very good. So I decided to read the Dark Tower series and I suffered through all seven books taking me a couple of years... only to reach the final page and say I'm never reading a Stephen King book again. Mind you, the ending did make me laugh. In a maniacal sort of way.

    Now, Catch-22; there's a book I thoroughly enjoyed and have read more than once. It really is subjective, as Kathryn said.

    Word 4 Writers on HearWriteNow
    Blood-Red Pencil

  13. I'm more impatient than I used to be. If I don't like a book and another one is around, I'll switch. If I have nothing else to read handy, like if I'm on the train and have nothing else to distract me, I'll keep reading.

    Morgan Mandel

  14. In a word, NO! I have so little time to read for pleasure that I won't waste it on any story that doesn't grip my interest in the beginning and hold it until the end. Having said that, however, I will give the writer a few pages to pull me into the story, providing, of course, that those first pages display good writing skills and careful editing.

  15. Whether I will give the author another chance depends on the reason I disliked the book.

    I used to be a rabid Janette Oke reader. I loved her books and snapped them up as soon as they were published. But then they started coming out so fast it was rediculous & the quality plummeted. But I felt loyal as I still loved her earlier books - so I kept reading & getting disappointed. It took 5 or 6 books for me to finally decide to stop.

    Other authors that don't have the history, it's much easier to say I don't like their books. If it's minor but annoying things - like Mary Sue heroines (I'm looking at you, Lori Wick) I give the author 2 or 3 chances before I add them to my do-not-read list. If I really hate it they'll only get one chance - like a book I read where the lead character went on a fantastical journey in another world after falling through the ice on a frozen lake - & at the end of the book he woke up from a coma with no character development to justify the dream. *rage!*


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