Love it or hate it, the new Amazon Kindle Unlimited just made it easier for avid readers to sample a huge number of books while paying a fraction of the total cover price. The new program will give subscribers access to over 600,000 titles, many of them Indies, but also some big name authors. This is an all you can read buffet program, with no unit cap, a marked change from the Prime lending program. All this access will cost readers $9.99 a month in the US.
Some writers are thrilled; you can already find them using the URL in their marketing campaigns, others not so much.
The thing I noted about this new program is authors only get paid if the reader gets past the 10% mark of the book. That’s right, downloading the book is no longer the defining act; it’s reading that counts toward achieving a royalty payment. This is another big change from the Prime program where the loan of a book always resulted in a small author payment, usually about $2.00 in US dollars per each loan. This means how a novel opens and if it manages to hold the reader’s interest just got even more important.
Novel beginnings aren’t a new topic for this blog, from prologues to opening sentences the Sisters have a lot to say about literary first impressions. And we’re not shy about the books we don’t like or why in our reviews.
However, this time I’m doing something different.
I decided to give a group of authors I’ve never read before a test drive. I wanted to see how many of the books I picked at random would stand a chance of getting me over the 10% threshold for their share of the money pie. I’ve selected some Indies, and some traditionally published books from a few different genres. After reading the first 9% or so, I tried to honestly evaluate why I would or would not want to read beyond that point. I selected only books that appealed to me from their descriptions. I did not read the samples, or any reviews before selecting these books. I had no preconceived notions about this group of authors; and I gave each one of them a fair chance at converting me into a fan or critic. I’m not revealing the names of the books because I have no desire to cause these authors problems just because I wouldn’t finish their books.
Here are the five books I would gladly put down before the 10% mark and why I feel the author failed me as a reader. Please note, I read more than these five books, however I’m focusing on these as the best examples.
Book 1: I was so excited by the blurb on this adventure book, and I couldn’t wait to read it. However the book starts with a 53 word sentence so convoluted I needed to read it twice. It followed that with a second sentence of 41 words. The two massive run-ons created the first paragraph and managed to insult women, as well as the English language. I am not a short sentence snob. I do read a lot of classics, so I know (and love) long sentences. However, 53 words is a tad long even for me. To make sure this wasn’t a fluke I kept reading, although I found the protagonist’s disrespect for the women characters distasteful. I couldn’t stop myself from counting the longer ones as I read. In the back of my mind I kept wondering if I would find a sentence that broke 60 words. Sadly I did, a 65 word mess showed up. When I read back-to-back overly long sentences I start feeling like I’m reading a text book. I can’t enjoy myself when I need to reread for clarity after every few lines.
Book 2: The concept on this mystery blew me away, and I went into it with high hopes. It started with “Once upon a time” and I wanted to stop reading right there! I made myself press on for the sake of literary science, but honestly even if the author meant this as quirky and ironic, the line left me cold. I love it when a writer knocks me down with a great original first sentence, however it’s not usually a deal breaker for me if they don’t. After this unpromising first line, the book’s prologue consisted of a rather long info dump. For newer writers, an info dump is when books use pages and pages of exposition to fill the reader in on backstory details before a single bit of action takes place. It’s a bit like trying to cram an elephant into a shoe box; the pages are densely packed with facts the reader has no context for or any reason to care about. Without regrets I moved on.
Book 3: This time I picked something from the historical fiction group. This book was set in an era and location I love to read about. Unfortunately the author started using modern terms almost immediately. The writer coupled this stylistic decision, with some faulty historical research (wrong century), and this bad fact played a small but consistent role in the main plot. I write historical fiction too, so I know it’s easy to make a mistake. However, I do expect most writers to keep it together and try to stay in the target historical era. At least for the first few chapters. For me the best part of any historical novel is it immerses me in another time and place, if I’m constantly being jerked out of the fantasy by the writer’s modernism’s or research mistakes, I move on.
Book 4: Of all the books I picked up for this post I wanted to love this one the most. The idea of this book, a paranormal thriller, seemed interesting and original, something that’s not easy to do in paranormal. However, it opened with one of the big cliché opening no-nos. It started with a battle, the protagonist is cornered, things look bleak and it fizzled. The protagonist wakes up. That’s right, it’s all a dream folks. Ugh! This is more common than it should be, there are tons of advice posts out there warning people to avoid a fake opening hook, so why oh why are we still having this problem? Of the five this is the one I might still finish, that is if I can forgive the overused, unoriginal opening that promised something it didn’t deliver: action!
Book 5: I picked up a contemporary romance for this last one. I don’t tend to read romance, but I’m trying to read more of them. The story felt predictable, a Romeo and Juliet vibe, but the couple seemed okay, ordinary but likeable. I read to the 10% mark mostly waiting for something more to happen. In the end what really got to me was that about 75% of the sentences started with the pronoun I. Of course in first person point of view you do see a lot of these, but I found myself bored by the lack of sentence variation. I don’t expect every book to read like a literary masterwork, but this one is too predictable and simplistic for my taste.
And there you have it, five book openings that couldn’t hold my attention as a reader.
How about you? Would you read past 10% or would you move on knowing another 599,999 books awaited you?