Why Readers Stop Reading Image

Why Readers Stop Reading a Book.

Recently, we here at LitWorldInterviews.com conducted a survey, “Why do you put a book down?” and through the assistance of the writing community we had a very nice response of over 100 participants (I stopped counting.). Now it’s time to share what we found.

First, I want to say why the survey was conducted. We wanted to help writers by giving them the information they most need. If a reader takes the time to check out your book and don’t like it, they are unlikely to give you a second chance with your next work. First impressions mean a lot.

86.30% of those responding were Female, thus leaving the remaining 13.70% Male. Considering the majority of those reading novels are Female, although not quite this extreme, I’m comfortable with sharing what we found.

There were 34 sub-categories as a result of the survey. Those results were then placed into 5 main categories: Writing, Editing, Proofreading, Taste, and Other, with Writing providing the largest number of sub-categories and results.

68.49% of those responding noted some form of dissatisfaction with Writing as a reason for putting a book down.

26.03% gave Editing.

23.29% gave Proofreading.

17.81% was Taste.

2.74% was Other.

Let’s take a look at the Writing sub-categories first.

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Writing Concerns of Readers Pie Chart

The above pie chart shows the concerns in descending order of greatest number of mentions. The story being Dull was the most frequently mentioned problem with 25.29% of the mentions of the Category. Followed by actual Bad Writing, then Dull or Unbelievable Characters, Info Dump, and uses  of Profanity.

Let me speak about Profanity for a moment, this along with Gore, Violence, and Sex were all mentioned in the context of being included in the story for no apparent reason. Most of those who noted it as a concern stated they know these things occur in books, and even have a place, but the problem arose when the author was using them as obvious crutches in an attempt to hide poor writing and plot.

The subcategories of Writing Concerns as identified by readers are as follows in descending order: Dull, Bad Writing, Unbelievable Characters, Info Dump, Profanity, Over Describing, Violence, Weak Narrative, Confusing Beginning, Unexpected Sex, Gore, Weak Story, Bad Dialogue, Dashes, Racism, Poor Relationships, Head Hopping, Repetition, and Writing with Dialect Accents.

What does this tell us? The first thing that jumps out to me is that we as authors aren’t putting out books with stories that are capturing the attention of the reader. With a book done with professional intent behind it, a dull story should be the reason our books are not read. That’s right, we are not read because we just didn’t do a good job of telling our story. Maybe we didn’t have the right beta readers. Maybe they were too nice. Maybe they just went through the motions. Maybe they just aren’t that good at the task. Or maybe we should recognize our work isn’t that good. How about all of the above?

Let’s look at Editing Concerns

There were four subcategories for Editing Concerns: Actual Bad Editing, Plot Holes, Sentence Structure, and No Scene Breaks for Time Lapses.

Click Image For Larger View

Editing Concerns of Readers Pie Chart

The bad thing about writing a novel is the author knows everything that is happening, even behind the scenes, the back story the reader never sees, and the in between scenes that happen. The problem this creates is hopefully caught during editing. A good editor can save a book from disaster. Fresh eyes see old mistakes that the author overlooks each time they’ve gone through each of the five drafts they’ve done.

An Editor is not responsible for rewriting a novel. I want to make that clear. They take what a writer gives them, looks for plot holes, sentence structure, weak story development, and things of that nature. They are not a Proofreader. I think people confuse the two, but having been associated with a professional Proofreader who has guest hosted here on the site, I know the difference.

If you pay an Editor they are to give you the tightest and most entertaining story they can from what you’ve given them. Of course you, as the author, can disregard everything, but that would be a foolish thing to do. I have a writing mentor who edits some things I give her at times. I take some of what she offers and disregard others because of the importance of what that means to the overall story, a story she isn’t fully aware of yet.

Notice I didn’t throw everything away, and I took into consideration what she said about the part I disregarded. I changed things to make that part seem more relevant to the story at that point, without giving anything away.

But what we get from this part of the survey is that readers notice editing of a book. The idea of not editing a book crosses the minds of Indie Authors. We’ve been through the book a dozen times. We know it’s just fine the way it is. Note the sarcasm I said those last couple of sentences with. I’m not saying it’s impossible to edit your own work, but you would have to be able to step away from the work long enough to see it with fresh eyes, several times. At least that’s my opinion. You also have to become slightly detached from this labor of love, in some cases.

Proofreading Concerns

There isn’t a need for a chart here. There were two sub-categories: Proofreading (66.66%), and Grammar (33.33%).

I have to say, this is an area I notice a lot in books. If there are proofreading problems in a book, they take me out of the story, out of the world created by the writer. Every book has a proofreading error, or perhaps a printing error, not so much on the printing these days with the modern printing methods, but back in the old days of typesetting, errors happened.

I’ve read several books for the purpose of reviews and I have put some down because of the proofreading problems. I honestly don’t think there was any proofreading conducted. You might get past the dull story, even some bad editing, but when you are constantly tripped up by spelling errors, punctuation, and all of that, you eventually become tired of it all.

Taste Concerns of the Reader

There were 7 different sub-categories placed under taste: Slow Beginning (30.77%), Tragic Ending (15.38%), Difficult Vocabulary (15.38%), Too Much Detail (15.38%), Back Story (7.69%), Genre (7.69%), and Cliffhanger Ending (7.69%).

Click Image for Larger View.

Taste Concerns of Readers Pie ChartYou won’t find two readers with exactly the same taste. They may have a discussion and it sounds like they are the same, but put five books in front of them and have them read them, I would be willing to bet you would get different opinions.

Some books, due to the nature of the story and world, may require a slow beginning. The trend is to jump right into action to capture the reader’s interest, but perhaps your story doesn’t fit that type of trend. Difficult vocabulary may be part of how a certain character speaks.

But I understand what the readers are saying. Sometimes the way things are done, they are not necessary. I think when it all makes sense, a reader is fine with it, but just as when people throw profanity or gore into a story, sometimes these tastes, other than perhaps genre, are signs of weak storytelling and plot.

Other

There were only two that fell into the Other category: Having the book available for Screen Readers, and Having a Misleading Book Description.

I think these are two very valid reasons to not read a book. As my eyesight fails I know it becomes more difficult to read. Some will say just get glasses, but this is due to medications I must take. Eventually I will likely not be able to see at all. But I love books. It would be a shame to not buy a book because it didn’t work with my screen reader.

As for a misleading book description? It may be the opinion of the reader as to the misleading nature or not. If it truly is misleading, I think the book needs removing or at least the description updated.

 Conclusion

What all did we learn from the survey? Good writing and story, with good editing and proofreading will make for a page turner.



by Ronovan Hester

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99 thoughts on “Why Readers Stop Reading a Book.”

  1. What good writing looks like, and what makes a good story are very subjective concepts, fortunately. As you say, Ronovan, no two readers are the same. I wonder about the role of genres, as both plot and expectations are more pre-determined there

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Good writing is only quasi-subjective. There are many objective ways to determine bad writing. Passive writing, stilted dialogue, too many adverbs and adjectives, a lack of proper dialogue attribution… There are many parts of quality writing that aren’t all that subjective. While, of course, there is obviously a subjective component in what I consider good writing, the line isn’t as blurry as you might think.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I agree with Olganm because she questions the genres vs. readers who were part of the survey. If there was not a match/expectation level then the results of the survey can be skewed. Example of this would be plenty of young adult/supernatural authors who have captured a ton of readers, despite the work having proofreading and grammar problems/foul language/provocative issues. Telling a great story that connects with the reader is the bottom line… and that is very subjective depending on the genre and the readership. There are other major flaws with this survey. If you’re an author, I believe the only safe takeaway is a general one — write a good story, or risk not connecting with readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s what every writer should know, but do they? However I also would take issue with a reader’s concern about genre. If you don’t like SF or romance don’t read it. It’s like asking a vegetarian what they think about meat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe this was when the sex was in there for no reason and had nothing to do with the book and didn’t move the story forward. And I would imagine it would have to be more than just one time in the story. 🙂 At least I would hope.

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  3. Love this! I did participate in the original survey, so I am glad to see the results. Handed my latest proof to 3 people yesterday and was grateful for their candor. What they loved about it will stay the same, what they felt needed to be changed… 98% of that will happen. As I explained to them, I have NO ego where their comments are concerned, People seem to always want to harp on that one thing you didn’t pull off just right and you only have to mess up once..

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I would have liked for the survey to go deeper, for instance – if you break it up by genre categories, how does the focus on these topics change? Are the concerns of the blended general readership the same as the concerns of specific genre readers? It would have been interesting if there were questions about fictional characters as well; for instance, which sort of protagonists do readers like? How many core-cast characters are the average reader’s preference (5? 8? 22?)?

    It’s easy to label something as ‘bad’, but that doesn’t provide information that a writer can effectively use…. other than to strive to be ‘good’, which is subjective like olganm astutely commented. I can think of a few best-selling traditional books that as a reader, I find extremely dull and badly written, but those authors seem to be doing just fine regardless.

    Still, interesting findings to glance over – I was surprised by how many females were part of the sample. Perhaps females are more willing to spend time to fill out surveys about these things…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There will be more surveys. This was just the beginning. I’ll be taking your suggestions into consideration. The results of this one leads to many possible survey topics. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Excellent article and survey. As a professional and freelance book reviewer these are my biggest gripes, which make it hard to give a potentially interesting story a good review. My own book was so full of formatting and typos, even after several editors, that I had my publisher print a second edition. I reblogged this on mallie1025@wordpress.com

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I believe the first pie chart has everything to do with taste as well. Of course, everything depends on what you’re writing about, but it seems there are topics missing from this. I’ll mention just a handful of the points I’m having an issue with:

    * Dull story – what makes a dull story? Anyone reading this may have a completely different idea of what makes a dull story. My most recent tutor with the OU showed avid enthusiasm for what he was teaching; the 19th century novel. For me, most of the books I had to read had dull stories, and yet all of them are considered classics and they were of course written in the century before last. Still, while I enjoyed some of them, I honestly found them boring (I found them dull). Let me repeat “I” found them dull.

    * Profanity – if it’s in dialogue and it fits, I use it. People use profanity every day. Some don’t, but many do. It should not, however, be used in any sort of description. A fantasy author I’ve read the work of (Scott Lynch) writes about a group of thieves who are con artists, and there is a lot of profanity in that. For the most part, it fits. They’re a group of criminals conducting their crooked business behind the scenes after all. So I didn’t mind that. What I did mind, was when he used it in description. For example, on board a ship he describes two characters going below deck to f***. That wasn’t in dialogue; it was in description. It was unnecessary and he lost clarity with me because of it. However, if someone wished to have a priest who outside of his pious responsibilities swears like a trooper, then so be it. It wouldn’t be within context if you then had the entire congregation doing it in the middle of sermon.

    * Accent writing – I’m assuming this is refers to description as well, because quite frankly, every single person speaks with some kind of accent. I do this in my writing because it shows how different characters speak, but I don’t do it in description at all. If we take accents and dialects we know, then reading it in dialogue is easy. If I write, “good evening sir, may I interest you and the lady in one of our finest vintages?” then the waiter evidently has a posh accent. If I write “a’right lads; how’s about we go an’ rough those bastards? Show ’em we ain’t gonna take no (insert expletive) from ’em” then the character is obviously some kind of ruffian/criminal.

    * Racism – that’s everywhere I’m afraid, and it’s worth noting that unless your entire cast is of one race and skin colour, it’s likely there will be at least one character who’s a nasty piece of work and will see someone who is unlike themselves as inferior or as some kind of threat.

    * Over-describing – well fans of Tolkien didn’t seem to have too much of a problem with this. Admittedly I’ve yet to finish the first book but that’s only because I found his style far too long-winded (that was many years ago and I intend to retry) and it took 3/4 of the book for the story to get close to kicking off. But that’s me. I had an issue with it, others didn’t. Hmm…

    * Violence – Come on; there’s violence in everything whether it’s physical or verbal. I’ll call any reader a hypocrite if they say that they don’t like violence in books but will happily watch Die Hard, James Bond, or some other action thriller. The only genres you’re likely to find a distinct lack of violence is in bog standard literary fiction such as in something like Bridget Jones’ Diary, or in some 19th century fiction such as Northanger Abbey.

    * Dashes – really? What’s all that about? ————— Ok en-dash doesn’t work on here, but is it really an aspect of writing that’s in any way life-threatening to one’s clarity as a writer? Is it a mind-blowing problem or is it something – I don’t know – more like the use of dashes instead of (brackets)? If it’s necessary, use them. If it’s a matter of how your style works, use them.

    * Confusing beginning – well I’ve found most 19th century novels to be extremely confusing and it’s not limited to that either. Most books I’ve read start off with something obscure to actually draw the reader in. I’m always confused at the beginning while I’m thinking “what’s actually going on here?” but it depends on the writing style.

    I could go on with these, but I won’t. My point is, all of this (with the exception of the proofreading, editing and plot-holes side of things) is a matter of style and a matter of taste. We writers cannot please everyone. I am fully aware that there’s likely to be as many people who hate my work for all the given reasons as there are those who will find it amazing and flawless. I’d also like to point out that you can also have the best proofreader in the world and you’re still likely to end up with at least a few typos still present in the printed book. Onwards and upwards everyone; don’t give up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lazy authors over-use em-dashes because they have no clue how to properly use colons and semicolons, and they use em-dashes for parenthetical statements where commas would do. Readers expect an important change, or drama, and instead get an ordinary clause.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Very nice commentary, Melissa! You captured my thoughts precisely. But I did find this survey useful and I hope to see others. I have committed many of these sins, but I do feel that we should write the books that we would like to read.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What all did we learn from the survey? Good writing [which cannot be defined] and story [which cannot be defined], with good editing [which cannot be defined] and proofreading [which is subject to interpretation ] will make for a page turner [a purely subjective matter of taste].

    What all did we learn from the survey? Absolutely nothing about writing. But a great deal about people who know nothing about writing and therefore chase self-destructive write-by-number strategies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We learned that readers don’t tolerate poor editing, which can be defined within parameters; otherwise, editors would be marking red willy-nilly as they happen to feel so. We also learned to take care with unpopular topics, as they must be justified to exist by some readers. Yes, reading is subjective. But grammar and punctuation are not.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Dissatisfactory endings/cliffhangers are unlikely to make you put the book down unless you peek early or someone tells you! It might cause you not to enjoy a book, but by the time you’ve found out, you’ve already finished it.

    I read so many pre-release/ARCs books that I can put up with small amounts of typos or grammatical errors. However, I hate exposition early on, especially if it involves a lot of names and places that the writer seems to expect me to remember! Tell not show is another big turn-off.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wondered about the cliffhanger ending things as well. I am thinking the readers won’t buy the more from the same writer if that’s the style. But since they put it in the survey, I included it because I couldn’t go with an assumption. I agree with your second paragraph. 🙂

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    1. Lack of understanding of the proper use of colons, semicolons, and parenthetical clauses leads to overuse of em-dashes and a choppy effect within the flow of the narrative. Because a dash implies drama or importance of the matter it introduces, using it where it’s unnecessary sends the wrong signals to the reader, creating a roller-coaster where none should exist.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Editing is crucial! A great editor can make the difference between a dull story and an exciting one just by suggesting where to slash, cut, or modify.

    Thanks for the pie chart and such a thorough evaluation of the results.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Very interesting survey. Lazy editing will kill you every time.

    I have to agree with the gore – too many authors are using shock over suspense these days.

    And I keep trying to get romance writers to cut their “f” word use to just one time – at the most dramatic moment. Unfortunately too many rely heavily on it these days.

    Wonder what RWA will think of this survey, especially regarding sex scenes. Seems a lot reader don’t think “it moves a story forward.”

    A lot of stuff to consider as a writer. NOW IF WE WILL ONLY LISTEN!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 🙂 I’ve read a few things about Romance in regards to what readers want and I think it falls into the, what makes sense rather than just throwing sex in for no reason. I’ve read some romances, and write romance as well, and have been happy to see the less is more concept in play.

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  11. I wonder if most of the people surveyed were writers. I think this changes things a little. As a writer I tend to notice mistakes in other people’s books (unfortunately it’s not always easy to see the random apostrophe in your own writing!).

    People who read for fun often say to me that if they like the story they don’t care much about the occasional typo.

    This doesn’t mean writers shouldn’t care but …

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Very good question. I know some were definitely writers, while some were reviewers, and others general readers. So a nice mix. My next survey will have a question to take that into consideration. Thanks for the poke at my thinking process. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  12. An editor friend has recently started editing for self-published authors in addition to her work for a publisher. The first author she worked with put back in everything she cut, then stated so in the acknowledgements. Give your head a shake! I’ve worked with this editor, and she knows her stuff. The author chose to sell a novel that appeared poorly edited and did her editor no service by her disclaimer; rather, she embarrassed both.

    Cuts usually mean the book contains redundancy or muddy words that slow the flow. Boring! Readers go on to the next book, and put this author’s name on the “never again” list.

    Argue with your editor if you feel strongly on a point, but understand they do this half a dozen times or more a year and they know what works. I love my own prose as much as the next author, but I’m grateful to the editor who told me to re-write the first four chapters because they were boring (she was nicer and more specific!). All I had to do was change the POV and I had fascinating exposure instead of tedious back story. She saved me a load of two-star reviews.

    I read a lot, and have a lot of traditionally and self-published author friends and a few editor friends. Every time I’ve heard an author or editor say, “We/I knew that was wrong, but decided to keep it in,” I’ve had to bite my tongue because I noticed it while reading before they mentioned it, and the confusion/inconsistency/jarring change pulled me out of the story or the redundancy/extraneous information made me quit reading the boring thing.

    This article reinforces the need for all books to have professional editors, and listen to them. Aunt Sally or an English major or high school English teacher are not good enough. I’ve seen the errors they miss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some writers like to over use the em dash in their style of writing. They use it in the place of punctuation and often incorrectly. I’m currently editing a book and have run across a few cases of the wrong use of the em dash. So, although it’s okay to use in regards to your style, it’s still bad if you over use it. The em dash should be used for sudden changes as opposed to for any old reason. I think it’s better explained in another comment somewhere in here if you can find it. 🙂

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  13. Very interesting breakdown of reasons readers will put down a book. My number one reason: I can’t relate to these foolish/irrational/silly twit characters. Sure, every character will have flaws, but I must be able to relate to a character in some way. The reasons she does what she does must make sense. Wimpy, thoughtless protagonists who just bump along need not apply.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Reblogged this on Readers' Junction and commented:
    Could some of these issues be the reason why you’re books aren’t selling? Direct from your readers, the main reasons they put down a book. I have to agree with Dull & Bad Writing, and Editing/Proofreading. I’ve stopped reading books just for those purposes.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Very interesting. I agree with Adrienne Morris’s question about re how many respondents were writers, because writers read differently than most readers do.

    I disagree with the assessment that overuse of em-dashes is due to ignorance about colons and semicolons (though that may coexist). Many readers will put down a book using colons and semicolons. Maybe it’s because *they* don’t understand their meaning and usage. Or maybe because it adds complexity to the sentence and challenges the readers beyond their comfort zones. I do think em-dashes are overused, but like anything else, they fall into and out of fashion.

    As for editing, there certainly are many ways to approach it. Grammar does involve subjective calls, and editors will disagree about solutions to a problem. In fact, it’s the #1 topic in the few editors’ groups I belong to (and for an editor, these questions can be quite fun). If you were to give an error-ridden rough-draft chapter to five different experienced and knowledgable editors, I can pretty much guarantee that you would get from them five different versions of the chapter. And that doesn’t even get into the developmental editing decisions.

    I look forward to seeing future surveys like this, though. It’s always interesting to break down what readers are noticing and reacting to, especially when we remember that there is no book, not even a blockbuster bestseller, that will appeal to most readers. That alone tells us that there is no one way or best way to write a book.

    /soapbox

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I look at self-published books and traditionally published ones differently. For a traditionally published one, the first element considered is genre, the next is an intriguing summary: if it doesn’t work for me on those two levels, I won’t start reading. After that, I tend to give it a pretty good chance. I’ll stop reading if there’s some really cringe worthy decisions, but I will probably force myself to finish the book. If I don’t, it’s usually more because I put it down and forgot about it, rather than deliberately chose to stop reading.

    For a self-published book, a poor cover or typos early on supersede everything simply because I’ve bought enough indie books to know that if it has typos in the summary or a homemade cover, it’s extremely probable the writer doesn’t take care of her reader in any other place either.

    Liked by 1 person

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