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What Makes You Want to Keep Reading?

Monday, September 5, 2011

I never thought I’d be one of those people reading books on an electronic device. Nope—never—not me!

That was, however, until I actually got one. And I discovered one of the greatest pleasures of having a Kindle—book samples. Kindle e-books (and I’m sure this works with other retailers and their devices, too) allow a customer to download a sample of the book to read before making the decision to purchase.

Since I’m coming out of a (work- and) self-imposed reading hiatus of about three or four years—and because the only reading I have done in that time has been “market research”—I have a lot of catching up to do in several genres of fiction, but most especially general-market historical romance. And while Christian publishers are great at offering entire books for free on Kindle, larger general-market publishers typically don’t do that. And since I’ve spent the last eight months pretty well scraping pennies together to buy Ramen noodles, purchasing new books has been out of the question for me.

However, the e-book sample program works great for me in three distinct ways: (a) it fulfills that need to shop—to get something new, something I didn’t have before—which I can’t otherwise do when I’m sitting on a $5 bank balance at the end of the month; (b) it’s allowed me to try out new and new-to-me authors I might otherwise never have taken a risk on; and (c) it’s allowed me to compile a wishlist of books I know I want to read—not just that I think might be interesting. Why do I know I want to read them? Because I’ve read the sample chapters—and wanted to be able to keep reading when I reached the end of them.

As you can see by the screen capture of my Kindle, I have 80 titles in my Historical Romance collection—of which at least 80% are samples—and only 23 in my Wishlist (Read Samples) collection. I read, on average, three or four samples a week; I’ve had the Kindle since February, which means I’ve read at least 100 samples since getting the device. So why only 23 titles on the wishlist?

Well . . . because only about a quarter of the ones I’ve read have made me want to keep reading (and I should say that while general-market historical romance makes up a good portion of the wishlist, it also includes Christian fiction, general and literary fiction, and speculative and YA fiction).

As most of you know, I judge in a lot of unpublished-author contests in which I get the opening pages of someone’s novel, anywhere from three to thirty pages. And one of the criteria I must judge the book on is whether or not I want to keep reading at the end of the sample. I’ve had some in recent months which I couldn’t wait to finish (and was relieved when I got to that last page) and others with which I wanted to know who the author was so I could get her to e-mail me the rest of the manuscript so I could keep reading.

Same thing with e-book samples . . . except, of course, when I find one that I don’t enjoy reading, I don’t have to read it to the end—I can just delete the sample from my device and move on to the next one. Then, when I find one that does make me want to keep reading, since I probably won’t have money to purchase it immediately, it gets moved into the Wishlist collection until such a time as I do have a little disposable income and can make those purchases. (Or, with Christian fiction, until it goes up for free to promote the author’s newest release—yes, I must admit, I do take advantage of this—and that’s how far behind I am in keeping up with the Christian market! Though, now that I think about it, most of the Christian books I’ve downloaded free onto my Kindle recently are those I already have hard copies of on my shelves.)

Which leads me to the question I’d like for us to discuss today . . .

After reading the opening chapter(s) of a book, what makes you want to keep reading?

And let’s try to get a little deeper than “because it’s a good story and I like the characters.” Think about books you’ve read recently—those you’ve devoured and those you had to force yourself to continue reading. What was it that made you devour the great books? What was it that made the others so tedious? (And let’s try not to disparage specific books—you never know who might be reading this blog!)

And if you’re a sample reader, like me, what will compel you to spend $5.99, $7.99, $9.99, or even higher, for the privilege of reading the whole book?

12 Comments
  1. Tuesday, September 6, 2011 2:27 am

    Firstly I have been wondering how is the new job?
    I haven’t tried the samples yet and I was one who didn’t think I would love the kindle as much as I do and now I have a cover with light its so good.
    what makes me keep reading? I normally buy books that I like the blurb for or is in the genre I like. To keep reading the first chapter has to capture me and make me want to know more about the story and the situation. I need there to be something happening from the beginning that makes me want to know more. Like the last book was set in India with a backdrop of rebellion. The first chapter or two set up the characters the setting and the premise of unrest. The book I just started has started with the heroine posting a notice looking for her siblings, we then learn shes been doing this for awhile and then goes back to say how she got to where she is now about to embark on a journey to the other side of the country. I want to know does she find her brothers, how she will handle the journey to a new place and how she will handle being on her own there.

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    • Tuesday, September 6, 2011 1:23 pm

      I definitely like openings that make me ask questions. Where are they going? Why are they there? How are they going to do that? What’s the motivation behind such-and-such an action?

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  2. Kav permalink
    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 8:02 am

    Hmmm….action will definitely hook me. So will a mystery — and that doesn’t mean it has to be suspense. Rather the sense that something isn’t being said — it might be about the hero or heroine or a situation — but it raises my curiosity and I just have to keep reading to find out what its all about.

    Love an explosive encounter between a hero and heroine too. Then I can’t wait to find out how the author can turn all that fire into the right kind of fireworks.

    Sometimes it’s the mood the author conveys. This happens in historicals alot where I just feel like I’ve eased into that era — somehow all my senses have been engaged. Just finished reading To Have and To Hold by Miller/Peterson and I got that kind of vibe on the very first page.

    That’s a few for starters. Happy work day. Hope all is going well!

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    • Tuesday, September 6, 2011 1:31 pm

      Something I’ve definitely noticed about the romance novels that don’t make it into my wishlist collection is that by the end of the sample, the hero and heroine haven’t come face to face with each other yet. As I was just saying in a discussion in a romance e-mail group this weekend, in a romance novel, the plot doesn’t start until the h/hn meet—and before that, all the rest is just setup. A little bit of setup is necessary and can be interesting, but too much gets tedious and boring, no matter how beautifully it’s written. So one criterion for me as to whether or not a book makes it past the sample stage is that all important MEET.

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  3. Audry permalink
    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 8:48 am

    It’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly what makes me want to keep reading… I think a lot of it is the voice. Sometimes I’ll start reading and just enjoy the style of the writing, or I’ll feel pretty quickly like I’m inside the character’s head. Other times the character’s motivations don’t seem convincing, or I won’t be given enough reason for their seemingly inconsistent thoughts and actions and that will be a turnoff.

    Right now I’m halfway through a book (I think it’s a romance… kind of odd though that I’m halfway through and not sure!) that I wavered on actually continuing past the first couple of chapters because the main character seemed to be rebellious and resentful of her controlling family on one page and on the next was ready to sacrifice anything required to “win back their honor” basically because they told her to. It seemed very phony to have both, without any real motivation either way. I’m far enough in now that I’m interested to see where the story goes, but the author doesn’t seem to be able to make up her mind about whether the main character actually has a backbone or is content to just be married off like she’s supposed to. (And it isn’t presented as an internal struggle either – very odd)

    I also started another book (I think this one is “chick-lit”) a few days ago and put it down after two chapters because the whole premise seems to be based on the main character lying about everything. I think during the course of the book she’ll see the error in her ways, but the character just didn’t interest me at all.

    Bad grammar will turn me right off. Good grammar, well-constructed sentences, basically good writing, will make me want to keep reading.

    I’ve said this before, but since it’s relative to the discussion today, I rarely buy a book unless I’ve already read it and enjoyed it enough to know I’ll read it again. I actually talked myself into buying a $1.99 kindle book recently because it was “less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks” (though I don’t buy those very often anymore either ๐Ÿ˜€ ). Do you ever get books from the library Kaye, instead of waiting till you can afford to buy them? I think I would die without my library!

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    • Tuesday, September 6, 2011 1:43 pm

      I only occasionally get books from the library. There are a few reasons for this—first, a lot of the books that I want to read either the library doesn’t have or doesn’t have listed in their circulation (mass-market paperbacks, especially) to be able to request to have them sent to my neighborhood library (with as many branches as there are in Nashville, it could mean driving miles and miles and miles to find a branch that might have the book I’m looking for—and the main library is in downtown Nashville with a pay-to-park parking garage with only the first 30 minutes free . . . IF I can find an open parking space; my neighborhood branch is one of the smallest in the area, and it’s more of a place for people to go in to use the computers than anything else). Then, also, because my time to be able to read is so scattered, and I never know what last-minute projects are going to come up, it’s hard for me to commit to that two-week window to get the book read before it has to go back to the library.

      Plus, I prefer supporting the authors I like reading by purchasing their books as often as possible, because I know all too well what it’s like to not have enough people buy my books (thus my going back to work).

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  4. Tuesday, September 6, 2011 9:48 am

    Yay for libraries, Audry! ๐Ÿ˜€

    What makes me keep reading?
    *When I’ve gotten to chapter three and I didn’t realize I’d finished chapter one and it’s one AM! To me, that’s a finisher.
    *When I have to MAKE myself slow down and savor it (like Laura Frantz’s books). If I feel like I’m slogging through, life is too short to finish that one.

    I used to think it was somehow morally wrong to NOT finish a book once started (kind of a “clean your plate” mentality), but now I know that if I’m truly not enjoying a book, there are plenty more out there just WAITING in that pile by my bed.

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    • Tuesday, September 6, 2011 1:49 pm

      Because I’m doing so much reading on my Kindle—and because I’m doing it at night, in bed, with only my little Kindle reading light—it’s very easy for me to lose track of time when I’m reading, because the time doesn’t show up on the screen when I’m in the text of the book! (And I have my alarm clock turned down so dim I can’t read it from the bed.)

      And about finishing books . . . that’s the question we’ll discuss next week! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Tuesday, September 6, 2011 2:10 pm

    I guess it the feel of the story that keeps me reading the books if it feels wrong i find i get bored with the story

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  6. Tuesday, September 6, 2011 8:06 pm

    If I was a sample reader, I’d be afraid I’d never actually finish a book — sometimes my beginning-to-end of a book reading time/focus can be so scattered or interrupted, I have to guard it, I guess.

    As to what makes me keep reading — well that’s tough, I don’t know that I’ve ever stopped to think about it to “pin-point” the why — I suppose the biggest thing would be my insatiable curiousity to discover “what happens next.” ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Thursday, September 8, 2011 1:43 pm

    Some kind of positive tension between the main characters has to happen. Like you said, something to make me ask questions. One of my favorite angles, that doesn’t happen often, is the POV of the hero. I just got done with one where that happens. It made me want to see how the author was going to make the story work. And it worked! I guess I keep looking for the unexpected twist to the story. If it’s not there in the first couple of chapters, I move on.

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