Every time I see someone asking forum members for help for a poorly selling book or series, I’m tempted to stick my rude two cents in and say “Maybe it just isn’t very good.” I never do, but it’s pretty darn tempting. The beleaguered author lists all the things they’ve done right that should suck readers in and keep them coming back for books two, three and four. Is it really necessary to say that they usually haven’t done everything right? And even if they have, that’s no guarantee of success.
Every so often, I take a look at the book that is supposedly perfect and can see plenty of reasons why readers might not even finish reading it, much less go on to the next one. In this case, the cover was okay, the blurb was too brief for my liking, and wasn’t entirely clear, but we’re trying to find out why people do buy the book, but don’t finish it or enjoy it enough to buy the sequel. I’m well aware that most readers aren’t turned off by poor grammar or typos unless they’re bad enough or frequent enough to be distracting. I was skimming the sample pretty quickly, so I might have missed a few boo boos, but the only thing that really struck me was that invisible bugbear, the repeated word — (“that that”).
So what was the problem? Even a slow start might not be enough to turn readers right off, if it’s a genre they like, and the blurb has led them to expect an interesting story. But this was supposed to be an action novel, with a tough heroine, and it dragged, and the heroine immediately sounded like an idiot. If that wasn’t bad enough, the author was apparently trying for a literary touch, and sprinkled in irrelevant and awkward metaphors when he should have been concentrating on the action. Continuity problems? Oh yes. Like the villain saying he was going to take his time about killing our heroine so she could appreciate it, and then, just a few paragraphs later, saying he was in a hurry to make an appointment and could only take two minutes to finish up this little job.
All of that might not turn the average reader off right away, but it’s a safe bet that the flaws of the first dozen or so paragraphs are going to show up again and again. After a while, a little bell is likely to go off in the reader’s head, and she’s going to notice that something’s rotten in Denmark. All the lame metaphors, and the details that don’t work, will have a cumulative effect just below the conscious level. It’s when they reach consciousness that the reader is likely to sign off.
I read some of the Amazon reviews, noting that only 47% of readers gave the first book five stars. And 16% of only 19 reviews gave it one or two stars. Another 16% gave it three stars. Most of those poor reviews were spot on, even for the short excerpt that I’d read. So maybe the real problem for the author — the most important thing that he did wrong, was to not pay any attention to the reviews.