Friday, 7 August 2015

How Many Times?

By Iola Goulton

Like most readers, I have likes and dislikes. My perfect novel is romance (except Amish), especially romantic suspense. I enjoy a fast-paced thriller (as long as I'm not led to believe it's actually romantic suspense, in which case I'm likely to feel short-changed in the romance department). I enjoy space opera and dystopian fiction, but I rarely read pure sci-fi or fantasy. Fiction tends to dominate my reading: non-fiction tends to be writing-related.

I also have preferences around writing styles. I like first person point of view, and while I enjoy both plot-based and character-based novels (depending on my mood), I don't like it when the interior monologue starts interfering with the pace. Like bringing it to a complete halt.

As an example, I recently reviewed Love Arrives in Pieces by Betsy St. Amant here on ACW, a romance novel I didn’t especially enjoy because I thought it was made too wordy by the inclusion of too much interior monologue. I had the same problem with her previous novel, All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, but I loved a novella she wrote for the Year of Weddings series (A February Bride).

This led me to wondering: will I read and review any future full-length Betsy St Amant titles?

My gut feeling is 

Sure, I get review titles free through NetGalley, which means the sole cost to me is the hours required to read the book and write what I hope is an intelligent review, but I do try to choose book I know I'll enjoy. My time is worth something to me, and life is too short to read books that fail to engage me or capture my imagination.

Purchase price is also a factor. 

One of the reasons I enjoy reviewing isn’t because of the money I’m saving, but the fact I get advance access to books I’ve been looking forward to. For example, London Tides, Carla Laureano’s long-awaited sequel to Five Days in Skye, released on 1 June 2015. I read an ebook review copy in early March. Yes, I would have waited until June to read London Tides (reviewed yesterday by Andrea Grigg), but I didn’t have to so I didn’t. I also didn’t have to part with the NZD 27.99 purchase price (or USD 10.09 for the Kindle edition).

Yes, I’d be happy to wait and pay for an author I enjoyed, but not an author I didn’t enjoy. I also think it's reasonable to assume that an author's writing style will remain consistent within the books they write in the same genre or for the same publishing house. I was impatient to read London Tides by Carla Laureano, but I haven't read the fantasy novels she writes as C. E. Laureano, because I'm not a fantasy fan.

It’s doubtful that I will be reading more books by Betsy St. Amant, unless she changes genre (I suspect she'd write great romance novellas). There are other authors I choose not to read and review for the same reason: I’ve read one (or two, or three) of their books, and haven’t enjoyed them.

The question is: how many books do I read from an author before deciding not to read any more? How many do you read?

I’ve been in online conversations where people have posted that it’s unfair to an author to refuse to buy, read or review their books based on one bad experience. I can see the value in that argument. I’ve recently read and enjoyed Firefly Summer, a contemporary romance by Kathleen Y’Barbo. It was the third Y’Barbo book I’d read, and I hadn’t enjoyed either of the earlier novels (both American historical romance).

I would have missed out on an excellent story if I had turned down the review request on the basis that I had disliked her two earlier novels. (You can click here to read my review, which partially explains why I did agree to read and review Firefly Summer). But Firefly Summer is contemporary romance, and that genre swap is the main reason I gave it a chance.

But—as always—there is another side to the argument. 

I can think of another author who I like and respect as a person (well, I’ve never met her so perhaps I merely like and respect her internet persona), but I don’t read or review her books. I used to: I like her characters and I like her plots but I don’t like her style of writing. It simply grates with me, which means my reviews were solid three stars.

Anyway, this author had received a review on Amazon where the reviewer commented that while she’d read several books by this author, she didn’t like the author’s writing, so could only give the book three stars.

The author asked why the reviewer was reading the book—and reviewing it—if she didn’t like the author’s writing.

Good question.

And it persuaded me that it’s okay to choose not to review books by some authors. This particular review wasn’t mine … but it could have been.

(As an aside, I don’t like the idea of authors venting on social media about less-than-glowing reviews. Apart from insulting the reviewer, it makes the author look insecure and a little mean. Anyway, I was impressed beyond words when I checked the author’s Facebook page a couple of hours after her initial comment and found she’d removed the comment and posted an apology, saying God had impressed on her that her response was inappropriate.)

But none of this discussion answers my original question: how many books do I read by an author I’m not enjoying before deciding not to read any more?

What do you think?

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on FacebookTwitterPinterest  or Tsu.

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500.


  1. Interesting question for me it is often one. If I don't like there first book I have paid for I am not likely to pay for a second book. If its in a different genre I may give it a go.

    For authors who I have read before that have liked and then read a book I didn't like I will probably still read more but if the next was one I didn't like that would be it.

    1. I do think the "paid for" is an issue. I'm more lenient when I didn't pay $24.99 for the book (either because I got a free review copy, or because I got it from the library).

  2. It's a very good question, Iola! And as always, comes with its own set of variables.

    This week, I picked up two mainstream books from Kmart. I'm enjoying rural fiction at the moment, (wonder why that is, Nicki Edwards?) and decided to support a couple of previously unknown-to me-Aussie authors. Unfortunately, I'll not buy anything again from the first book.

    The blurb read great, the pages I skimmed through were good ... but when I got into it, the language was disgusting! Bad language, that is. I'd clearly missed it on my flick through. And then at the end, the romantic bit, when the hero, the truly well-characterised hunky hero, asks the heroine to marry her, she says she doesn't believe in marriage. I mean, they still had their HEA, but talk about a Debbie Downer! Obviously, I'm not the target audience, plain and simple. I've learned my lesson.

    Last year, I read a romantic suspense by a well-known American author. It was my first time to read her work and it'll be a while until I try her again, if ever. There were so many unrealistic events eg. the hero was a detective/cop, who leapt out of his truck to go after the bad guy and left his gun behind. Huh? Then after the heroine experienced a harrowing near rape, she went out to dinner with friends and had a lovely, carefree evening. Really?

    Those kinds of things make my decision to not read an author again easy. It's the previously mentioned variables that make it difficult, ie. a bunch of fresh writing or great characterisation in amongst a weakish plot will still keep me interested.But that's my writer brain I think, rather than my reader one.

    Great question, Iola! Thanks for raising the discussion.

    1. I certainly identify with your comments, Andrea. This has happened to me and it is very disappointing that the cover blurb promises a great plot line but then the language and very explicit sex scenes simply disappoint. It is getting so much worse with more and more such books, that I am even wondering if perhaps it is coming to the point where book covers need to warn potential readers they include high levels of bad language and/or also very explicit sex and violence scenes. I've now bought a couple of rural books but refuse to waste my money reading any more by those authors - unless recommended by reviewers I know and trust - like you Iola!

    2. I've found that impulse buys from Kmart shelves often have bad language and dodgy values too :( Seems to be part and parcel of the contemporary secular best sellers.

    3. "I'm not the target audience." That's a good point, Andrea - authors have to understand they need to write for a target audience, which means not everyone will like their books.

      It's also why I'm no longer tempted by the cheap books in big box stores!

    4. Mary, I think that's why a lot of readers like Christian fiction - they can trust it to not be full of sex and violence. Of course, that also means the CF publishers need to deliver what their target audience wants.

    5. I mainly read Christian fiction because I prefer a clean read, and they're becoming harder to find in the general market. I get distracted by the language, and I start mentally rewriting the sentences to work out how to clean it up, and then I lose track of what's happening in the actual story. Andrea, I hear you, and I'm not the audience for the books you've mentioned, either.

  3. It is a good question. As you say, Iola, life's too short (and the to-read list to high) to waste time on reading books that frustrate rather than entertain or leave one pondering. I think it depends on how disappointed I am in the author. Like, if the first book I read was just plain horrible, I doubt I'd read another book by that author. If it was so-so - I might give that author another chance - but would probably not read beyond 2 or 3 if there was no improvement. Though I might put more work for literary classics. For instance, I didn't particularly like the one and only Margaret Atwood book I've read so far but I'm prepared to give her another go. I found Murder at Pemberely a pain to read and very disappointing - but I might read another P.D. James book because of her reputation - but then I'm not as much into detective novels these days, so maybe not. I was a little disappointed in Patrick Carr's A Cast of Stones - but the premise of his trilogy is intriguing enough so I do plan to read the next one eventually. On the other hand, I'm highly motivated to read the next Jodie Picoult, or Paula Vince or Lynne Stringer - because I enjoyed their books. I guess first impressions are important :)

    1. I agree, about classics and well-known names, Jenny. Thank you, I'm glad our first books made you want to read more.

    2. And Amazon Kindle samples make that first impression even more important - if I don't like the sample, I don't even buy the book.

  4. For me, it's often only one, if I dislike it enough. A blurb and cover by the same author would have to be pretty appealing to get me to read a second one. Yet if I loved the first but found the second ordinary, I'd still be willing to read a third, based on my high opinion of the first. That really shows the enormous value of first impressions.

    1. I agree, Paula. And I'm much more forgiving of the second book in a trilogy than the first, because I've found a lot of trilogies have a saggy middle but still deliver in the end.

  5. I can understand switching away from an author based upon a bad read. Sure, there are much did you enjoy the previous novels? Is the next novel a continuation (series) of the disliked novel? Why did you dislike the last novel? Plus, that TBR stack can be really tall. There are so many good books out there, and simply not enough time to read and enjoy them all.

    1. Yes, that TBR stack is a big influence!

  6. Iola, great post! I expect to find that many books won't be appealing and, if the sample doesn't grab me, I move on to something else. It may only takes a chapter, or a page, or the first paragraph, to stop me reading. That said, I'm willing to read samples of other books by the author to see if they appeal to me. I rarely finish a book I'm not enjoying. Time is precious and I wish I had more reading time to shrink the size of my tbr list.

    1. Yes, there have been times I've stopped reading samples after only a paragraph or a page, because there is something which tells me I'm just going to find the book annoying.

  7. Thanks for the thought provoking post, Iola!

    Like almost everyone the variables are many. Did I pay full price for the book? Was I put off by explicit language or sex scenes? Was it just that the writing wasn't quite there? Were there some aspects about the book that I liked?

    If it was for explicit language or sexual content then it will generally take a lot for me to pick up another book by that author because I just prefer not to read that kind of material. If I paid for the book then I wouldn't do so again but I might borrow from the library or pick up cheap on Kindle if a new title is getting some good buzz. If there were some aspects about the book that got me but others that lost me then I might give the author another chance later down the line to see if their writing style has matured and/or craft improved.

    I read predominantly romance (of most types) and there's only one CBA romance writer who I just won't pick up ever again. That was after a couple of mediocre titles that I read she wrote one where I found the heroine so infuriating, self centred, and immature that I wanted to throttle her from page one right through to her HEA (that I was really hoping she couldn't get because, quite frankly, the hero deserved so much better!)


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