15 Ways to Make Readers Hate Your Book
All authors want readers to enjoy their books. Authors want readers to feel good, come back for more, and tell their friends to read the author’s book. No author wants readers to hate their books, stop reading, or feel like throwing the book and/or Kindle.
In life, we can’t make everyone happy, and everyone won’t always like us. The general rule is that 30% of people will like you no matter what, and 30% will never like you no matter what. You can affect whether or not the remaining 40% will like you.
The same concept applies to books and readers. Every reader won’t love your book. Approximately 30% of readers will love your book no matter what, and 30% will hate your book no matter what (e.g., don’t like the genre, don’t like sex in books, don’t like strong language, there is a trigger for them in the book). Worry about the 40% of readers who could go either way. Focus on making them love your book, and use the tips below to avoid making readers hate your book.
1. Book Covers That Don’t Fit
The book cover is often the first thing a reader will see. Readers have expectations for the covers of specific genres. If a book cover screams romance but is really a mystery, readers will feel misled. Not only do readers expect the cover to fit the genre, they also expect the cover to relate to the story and give them some insight into a piece of the story and/or a character. If a book cover features a castle on it, there better be a castle that plays an important part in the story.
2. Too Much Description and/or Background Information
Readers do not want to be overloaded with background information (a.k.a. info dump). Giving too much background information at once can bore readers and lead to skipping pages or putting your book down. If the information is integral to the plot or the character, then by all means, share it, but spread it out throughout the story. Share the information through a mix of narrative and dialogue.
When it comes to detail, readers don’t want to know everything, nor do they need to know everything. Yes, detail helps paint a picture for readers, but readers don’t need to know every nook and cranny of a room and every characteristic of every item in a room. Detail can help explain what a character is doing and why, but readers don’t need to know every single thing a character does before and after the important piece of detail. If each step is explained in detail, you risk readers skipping that section, which could lead to readers missing an important piece of information that was included in the detail. If it isn’t important for the plot or the character, stick with something simple.
3. Unwarranted Romance and/or Gratuitous Sex Scenes
Don’t throw in romance just because. Romance needs to fit with the plot and the characters. If a romance between two characters isn’t necessary to make the plot work or for character development, then don’t add it. Romance thrown in just because will stick out to readers and leave them trying to figure out how the romantic relationship fits with the plot. A romance thrown in just because can also change the way readers look at your characters.
Don’t add sex scenes just for filler or because you think readers want them. If the sex scene isn’t integral to the development of the relationship between two characters, doesn’t move the plot forward, or doesn’t add to the characteristics and development of a character, leave it out. There’s no reason to throw in a random sex scene just because. It leaves readers with the impression that you were looking to provoke a reaction in the reader or attempt to garner interest in your story again.
4. No Hook Within Chapter One
Within the first chapter, preferably the first page, authors should “hook” the reader. The reader should be enticed with an interesting character or premise. Present something that is different, stands out, captures the reader’s attention, and leaves the reader wanting to know more. A hook is an attention-getter that causes readers to keep reading. If a reader’s curiosity hasn’t been piqued, they may choose not to continue reading your book.
Read more about Creating a Hook.
5. Death of Too Many Characters or Death Without Meaning
If it’s a war or big fight scene, it’s okay for multiple unknown characters to die. However, killing off a main character’s entire family and all of his/her friends throughout the story will cause a problem with readers. It feels like a ploy to garner sympathy for the character or turn the character into a victim or “poor me” character who always has something bad happen to him/her and his/her loved ones.
Yes, you can kill off one or a few characters readers might have connected with; however, there must be a meaning or purpose to the death. If there is no meaning to the death, readers will feel the character was killed just for the sake of adding drama/conflict to the story through means of a main character who is now grieving.
6. Predictable Plot
Yes, there are similar plots, especially within specific genres. Romances are one genre that have one of the most predictable plots—girl meets boy, stuff happens, and girl and boy live happily ever after. A general predictable plot is fine, but your plot needs to stand out so it isn’t completely predictable. What makes your story different? Are there any unexpected conflicts and/or twists? What makes your characters unique? What makes readers feel your story is different from all the other stories in this genre?
7. Stereotypical Characters
Stereotypical characters are ones that readers easily recognize like Mr. or Ms. Perfect, the victim, the school bully, the boy/girl next door, the damsel in distress, the antihero, the absent-minded professor, and the femme fatale. Readers already know everything about this character and can figure out what will happen with this character quickly. Your character needs to be unique. Something about your character needs to stand out to readers so they can connect with your character.
If you create a stereotypical character, be prepared for readers to complain about a boring, flat character who they couldn’t really connect with.
8. Cliffhanger Not Done Right
A cliffhanger is designed to leave readers in suspense while they wait for the next book, but it needs to be done right. An abrupt ending with no closure that doesn’t answer any questions or resolve any conflicts will lead to angry readers who want to throw your book. A cliffhanger done right will resolve at least one major conflict for one main character. A cliffhanger done right will answer most of the questions readers have but will leave them with new questions at the very end.
9. Head Hopping and/or Unclear POV
Head hopping and/or an unclear POV will leave readers wondering who, what, and why. Head hopping occurs when the viewpoint shifts between characters without proper transitions. Readers won’t know who is doing what, why a character is doing something, and why a character is feeling a certain way. Readers will have no idea if it is Laura or Mark who is late to the meeting nor will they know if Laura is upset with Mark or Mark is upset with Laura. It can make it difficult for readers to determine whose head they are in and whose experiences they are following. This leads to confusion and destroys the emotional connection readers have with characters.
Read about Choosing a POV.
10. Overused Clichés
Clichés lose meaning and impact the more they are used. Clichés are boring and readers get a sense of “blah” when they read a cliché instead of feeling what the author intended to convey. Instead of using a well-known cliché, use your own words to create metaphors that will resonate with readers.
11. Unhappy Non-Ending
Everything doesn’t need to be a perfect happily ever after at the end of the story. The ending can be unexpected, happy for now, or even not so happy, but don’t leave readers without an ending and a sense of closure. This will leave readers feeling disappointed, disgusted, and dejected.
12. Characters Who Break Character
Characters can change throughout the course of the story, but this change should be gradual. Bob can’t be a vindictive, heartless jerk who kicks stray dogs in one chapter and then two chapters later be a kind, caring man who volunteers at the homeless shelter and adopts stray dogs.
A sudden change will leave readers confused, unable to connect with the “changed” character, and with unanswered questions as to the how and why of the character’s change. A character’s change needs to occur over a period of time and something needs to trigger that change. There has to be a period of reflection showing the character recognizes who he was and what he was like compared to the person he is becoming.
13. Awkward Phrasing
Awkward phrasing is difficult or confusing to read. Awkward phrasing includes sentences that are too wordy, have dangling and/or misplaced modifiers, are repetitive, and include unnecessary passive voice.
Awkward phrasing can slow readers down and leave readers guessing at the author’s intended meaning. Readers might miss something important or interpret a sentence in a different way than the author intended. Readers may have to read a sentence several times in an attempt to understand what you are trying to say. Readers don’t want to have to guess at the author’s intended meaning, nor do readers want to reread sentences. If this occurs too often, readers will become frustrated and may stop reading your book.
14. Lack of Consistency
Consistency is important not just to your characters and plot but also to readers. If consistency is lacking, readers will notice. Lack of consistency can confuse readers and cause readers to look back in the book to make sure they didn’t miss something. Be consistent with capitalized terms and spelling (especially names and terms you’ve created). Be consistent with locations and their descriptions, character descriptions, and timelines.
15. Too Many Typos and Errors
Yes, even traditionally published books might contain typos and errors, but too many typos and errors, especially encountered early in a book, will lead to frustrated readers who put your book down. At the very least, readers expect that authors will have reviewed their work and had it reviewed by others. Some typos and errors can be caught and fixed if authors have carefully reviewed their work and had beta readers or advance reviewers read their book. Some readers expect that authors, whether traditionally published or self-published, will have had an editor go over their work, and these readers expect to find very few, if any, typos and errors.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Do you agree or disagree with the points in this article?
Authors, have you discovered other things that make readers hate a book?
Readers, what makes you hate a book?
What Have You Learned?
Beautiful quote by Susan L. Taylor. I love the idea of “missteps” instead of “mistakes.” What missteps have you made and learned from? Have you been able to use your missteps in a positive way? Please share your story in the comments below.