How Many Pages Do You Read Before Giving Up On a Book?

Anyone who reads regularly will be familiar with that feeling of struggling through the first pages or chapters of a book, pushing on because you’re waiting to see if it will get interesting. At some point the book either gets better and grabs your interest, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you have two options:

1) force yourself to read a whole book you’re not enjoying, or
2) give up and start a different book.

Believe it or not, when I was younger I always selected option 1. I had the slightly obsessive compulsive attitude that once I’d bought a book, or been gifted it, or even once I’d borrowed a book and gotten a decent number of pages in… I had to finish it. Even if I hated it.

Needless to say, this added a great deal of anxiety to the book choosing and buying process. It added even more anxiety to the book receiving experience. What if my uncle or auntie gifted me some horribly boring book for Christmas? I would be forced to read it. All the way through.

Funnily enough, it was only about 4 or 5 years ago that I finally broke the habit of finishing every book I started. It was about the time I started a Masters program and gave myself permission to read more books in general (during undergrad just about the only thing I read was course readings because I felt I couldn’t spare the time for anything else). As I began to read and discover more books, I quickly realised that if I attempted to finish them all, not only would I occasionally be stuck reading things I didn’t like, but it would slow me down and inhibit me from discovering other better books.

Breaking the habit gave me a great feeling of release, and reading became more enjoyable and relaxing. If I bought a book I didn’t like? Yes, I’d wasted some money, but it wasn’t worth wasting time on it too. If I bought an audiobook I didn’t like? I’d just return it and get another one instead, which my Audible subscription allows me to do.

Nowadays I think I am still generous with how long I give a book before I give up. If it’s just a bit slow, annoying, or just not very engaging, I might give it about 100 pages before I bail. With an audiobook, I try to give it at least an hour, possibly two. However, if the writing is terrible from the get-go I may abandon much earlier in both cases.

I’m particularly generous with Epic High Fantasy novels, because I know they take a while to warm up. I’ve been bored or annoyed during the beginnings of some that I’ve then come to love. For example I really disliked the beginning of Hyperion – I found it clunky, slow and cliché and didn’t like the characters. It improved vastly once the pilgrims started telling their tales and it’s now one of my all time favourites.

The Name of the Wind was also slow to start, but improved, as did the The Lies of Locke Lamora. In fact, I found the whole first half of the The Fellowship of the Ring rather painful (if you’ve only seen the film, you’ve been spared a very dull section focusing on a character called Tom Bombadil… it contains a lot of singing and a whole lot of nothing very interesting). The rest of the series had me enthralled. If I hadn’t stuck with these books I never would have discovered how great the story became.

Nevertheless, there are other books to which I’ve given more than enough of a grace period, and they’ve still failed to hold my interest. I’m not sad to have abandoned them. More often than not, a Wikipedia search reveals that the story didn’t get any more interesting.

All in all, I’m very glad I’ve finally let go of my compulsion to finish every book I start, but I’m also glad it left me with the patience to give each book a fair go.

How many pages do you give a book before you give up?

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16 thoughts on “How Many Pages Do You Read Before Giving Up On a Book?

  1. I tend to go more on percentage. Unless there’s something grievously offensive about a book, I’ll always give it at least ten percent of its length to hook me. If I’m on the fence at ten percent, I’ll give it until the quarter mark. (If I make it past a quarter, I’ll almost always try to finish it, but sometimes saggy middles get the better of me.)

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    • Percentages make a lot of sense! I guess a giant slow-starting epic fantasy would have some more lee-way in such a system, as opposed to a short fast paced paranormal romance or YA, which is sensible.

      And I feel very similarly about the quarter mark… once I get a significant percentage into a book I also really try to finish it. I guess I figure if I got this far I may as well go the whole distance.

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    • Yes a chapter seems fair, depending on the length. It’s not brutal like the make-or-break first page, but doesn’t leave you reading hundreds of pages of something that hasn’t grabbed you (now that I’ve said that though, there’s probably a book out there with a 100 page first chapter!)

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  2. I’ve given up on some books before even finishing the first chapter. All professional authors are supposed to know that in these days where just anyone can publish a book, you need a great hook in the beginning. But some would-be authors hear this and they start their book with some great action scene, only to reveal that the action scene is “false” in some way, such as being some character’s dream or being a scene from a video game the character is playing, etc. When an author does this, I’m bailing right there, because I can’t trust them to not fill their book with other gimmicks.

    Another no-no for me in Chapter 1 is backstory. I once tried reading a book that was filled with backstory in Chapter 1, then Chapter 2, then Chapter 3, and I was trying to give the book a good chance, but I just couldn’t take it any more. Since then, if Chapter 1 is backstory, I’m out. If you’re going to start with backstory, call it the Prologue. I can deal with that. But then get with the story in Chapter 1.

    If I get past Chapter 1, my practice is pretty much the same as Dee’s. I’ve noticed that the ten percent mark is the critical point for me. If the author can keep me reading that far, there’s at least a 50-50 chance I’ll finish the book. But like Dee, if I’m still borderline convinced to keep reading at the 25% mark, it’s likely I won’t finish. It’s not always that I make a conscious decision to stop reading the book. There are so many books out there that intrigue me, if the book I’m currently reading can’t keep my attention, I’ll find myself reading one of those other books, and the former book will simply fall by the wayside. It’s never personal. It’s just how it happens.

    Thanks for the post!

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    • Yes I’m totally with you on the backstory… I think poorly written epic fantasy in particular can often suffer from a back story dump at the beginning and it’s never fun to read (though I’ll also tolerate a prologue of backstory).

      The first manuscript I ever wrote began with a false action sequence (waking up from a dream)… Fortunately my writing mentor pointed out what a bad idea that was and I quickly revised it. Guess it is a bit of a rookie mistake. I cringe when I think about that first draft now!!

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  3. I almost gave up on LotR due to Tom Bombadil as well. I only recently began abandoning books if they fail to capture my attention after the first few chapters if I am unfamiliar with the author. However if I am reading something because it was highly recommended by a friend, was written by an author I follow, or was written by an author I’ve enjoyed before I will stick with it to the end.

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    • Yes those last three reasons you mentioned will also often keep me going with a book where I might otherwise have given up – along with perhaps when it is a very famous/highly acclaimed fantasy or Scifi book that a lot of people talk about… Then I often (but not always) feel compelled to stick with it till the end.

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  4. I’m glad I recommended Hyperion to you! I feel a bit warm and fuzzy knowing I’ve bought joy into somebody else’s life. The guy who recommended it to me said if you get through the first 50 pages you’ll love it. He was right, but after the 5th time I’d read it I even came to love those first 50. Such is the nature of an all time favourite.

    These days, like you, I give books 100 pages. This is after I’ve chosen it, so it’s likely that is already passed the first page and blurb on the back tests. By 100 pages you should care enough about the characters to want to know what happens to them, or be intrigued enough by some mystery that you need to find out what it is etc. Sadly quite a few if these books now sit forlornly around my apartment. Every now and again I pick them up just to remind me why I put them down in the first place, or maybe subconsciously I’m wondering if they’ll get any better…ebooks are much easier to ignore.

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    • Yes I’m so glad you recommended Hyperion to me! It’s funny because I’ve since recommended it to a friend of mine who started it and reported back to me that he wasn’t keen… I told him he had to make it through to the first pilgrim’s story (about 50 pages I imagine?) and if he didn’t like it then he could give up. He made it through and last I heard was very much enjoying it! Funny a popular book like that can have such a lack-lustre beginning that multiple people recommend it to friends with the proviso “get past the first 50 pages”. I guess it’s a slow, confusing, slightly clunky and overly-sci-fi beginning with so many characters being introduced that it doesn’t endear you to any of them straight off. The pilgrim’s stories are where it gets interesting. I can see though that retrospectively the beginning might be better (once you know the characters).

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  5. Yeah once you know the characters going back and reading it again sheds new light on the beginning. You understand the Consul’s angst, what the Fatline is, the world web, Force. All such wonderful creations. You begin to wonder that Dan Simmons might have been much more popular if he’d revised that beginning. He did win the Hugo though, for what that’s worth.

    Its funny reading some of those other posts. I never go through with reading a book because of the author, if its not doing it for me I put it down. I have given a book more than fifty pages recently then stopped. I read a hundred and forty pages because the author kept surprising me with some of his lines. He’d come up with some really good descriptions every now and again, just some excellent one liners, but finally lack of good characters, a confusing world and even more confusing plot drove me away.

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  6. Great post! I had the same thing, but I also tend to give up on books I hate these days. Life’s too short! I usually give it till at least halfway (and if I’m feeling generous I might try 66%), cos I feel like by then I’ll have decided whether there’s *anything* good about it. But I’m still reluctant to do it, because I’m always hoping that it’s going to get good at *some point*- especially if I’ve been recommended it. Actually, most of the time if I’ve been recommended something by a friend, I feel like I have to finish it. Though these days, if I want a new book and I’m not sure about it, I’ll read the sample on my kindle first.

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    • Thanks! Yes I’m also often reluctant to stop reading a book because I’m hoping it’ll get better at some point… especially with recommended ones like you said. I promise myself i’ll only give it another 30 pages and then I find I’m pressing on after they’re up, even though it hasn’t improved. Though if it’s a long book I usually do stop, because there are just too many other books out there I want to read instead!

      The samples are a good idea. Sometimes I also use those if I’m uncertain, though I read more than half of my books as audiobooks so sampling a chapter isn’t easy… but you can return books in Audible if you don’t like them so I guess that’s my way of sampling.

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  7. I’ve gotten very bad in recent years for, if the beginning is slow, simply skipping to the middle to check if it gets better. If it does, I’ll keep going, but if it doesn’t, that’s me done. I used to read stuff all the way through, but my reading time is limited, and I found I just can’t be bothered anymore.

    The only times I stop in the first chapter and don’t pick up is if I’m finding the writing outright offensive. That could mean the editing is bad, or the style is completely not to my taste, but it could also be that, in a book not about that topic, the main character immediately expresses misogynistic views. That happened recently, in a book that was labeled as a cute romantic comedy, and was an immediate turn-off. Usually I give books a chance, but some are not worth the bother. Knowing that is part of the challenge of writing!

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