I’ve just finished a spectacularly bad novel by a renowned (!) author I've never read before. It was remarkably boring, amazingly inconsistent and astonishingly incoherent. I truly wonder if it wasn’t the guide–on–how–to–not–write–a–book textbook. It had all the typical rookie flaws in it:
the promise–but–not–deliver, ever–changing plotline (which immediately told me that the author was just typing something instead of plotting a beginning–middle–end. I mean, if you want to be regarded as pantser, fine. But – admit it – even pantsers need to know where they’re starting, where they’re going, and when they type “THE END”),
the non–existent character build (where every character looks and thinks and speaks and does the same – and oh, how pathetic those characters were),
the – if present, mind you – cliché descriptions and characterizations (yawn),
the head–hopping from one paragraph to the next (headache–inducing, accompanied by much going back over paragraphs to see in whose head you’re really in now or was it just another authorial narrator passage – in which case another yawn),
pages of showing instead of telling (now why should it be there if it’s not so important that the writer can’t be bothered to let me experience it so that I can make up my mind about it myself? What’s the point? I kept asking myself, is the author going to make a point anytime soon or just rambling on and on for the sake of word count?),
the sex scenes void of emotion and which had no point whatsoever (made my eyes glaze over and I constantly fell asleep – can you believe it??? That never happened before. I mean, I couldn’t even stay awake long enough to skip over the passages!),
the overuse of the word “then.”
The "spectacularly bad book" was clearly the very first manuscript the author has ever written (hey, our very first novel still has a chance, Noelle, do you hear me???) but it was published sixth or seventh. Maybe the author tried to get into another genre. But after an experience such as this and even though the author has already published several other books, I’m convinced I won’t ever touch another book by her. As a writer myself, I have my pride. And my pride would never allow that I’d publish the very first try (The monster-of-a-novel-that-shan’t-be-named will be forever Noelle’s and my dark secret - the very first manuscript always is, there’s a reason for it!!!). I wouldn’t wish that first try on my worst enemy, so why would I want to offend and possibly alienate my reader thus?
But all of this made me wonder: When do you decide to not read an author (any longer)?
I have the “Three Times” rule, as I like to call it. I’ve read many contemporary authors over the years. I’m an ardent admirer of some, others where a good ride, and the rest are experiences I won’t repeat again. Although I call myself an ardent admirer, I’m not a totally uncritical fan. True, when the new book of one of my favorite authors is out, I’m among the first to storm the bookstore. But if said favorite author doesn’t deliver, (s)he gets transferred to the less favorite, the so-called “trial” stack of books. If the next book disappoints again, the author is transferred to the “parting” stack. I’m not as fast to buy the next book and I’m not as enthusiastic about reading it. If that book then (the book after the second disappointment) is in my opinion another throwing–against–the–wall material, I don't read any other book by that author ever again.
However, the “Three Times” rule works both ways. If I find a book surprisingly good after the first disappointment, or reminiscent of the old glory after the second disappointment, the author is transferred back to the next higher TBR stack of books.
Every writer can have a bad day every once in a while. Being disappointed three times is as much as I can bear.
Are you as critical? More tolerant? Or less?
Whether an author has jumped the shark or not also depends on publicity: good reviews (by those who have read the book and understood it), bad reviews (by those who have read the book but not understood it or those who haven’t read the book at all), those reviews that are in between and don’t really tell you if it’s a good or bad book, biased reviews, you name it.
I don’t read reviews in general because I want to approach the book as unprejudiced as possible. But how much do you let yourself get influenced by a review? Do you read just one or more – or none at all?
What about you? Let me know your thoughts!