I've read so many fabulous stories, but who knows if you'd like them too. Recently I read a book entered in a competition and loved it so much. I was convinced it would win, or at least be a finalist - but it did neither. And I couldn't understand how anyone else couldn't see how fabulous the story and the writing were.
What we like to read is so subjective and can be the polar opposite of what someone else likes. Equally we can't expect everyone to love our writing (and something we need to remember when we get bad reviews or low sales). As Abraham Lincoln quoted poet John Lydgate 'you can't please all of the people all of the time.'
So what floats or sinks my book boat?
I love good words. Words put together cleverly (but not so clever that I have to think about what they actually mean). Words that paint a compelling character, or a place or a situation. The genre or the story are really of secondary importance. A close second, but no amount of fascinating storyline will keep me reading if the words themselves, the way they're arranged, doesn't make me think 'wow that's written so well.'
A good blurb will grab me. The premise can entice me to look inside and once I do, I can usually tell if I'm going to enjoy a book from Page 1. Much like I can tell if I'm going to get along with someone, enjoy their company, from the first few minutes of conversation. I just know. First impressions and all that stuff. Maybe I've missed out on some good reads (and interesting friends) because of my tendency to make quick decisions, but I also know I've saved myself hours of frustration of persevering with something that won't engage my mind or my heart.
Many a book has not been bought because by the end of the first page I wasn't engrossed (thank you Amazon for the Look Inside function!) Unlike my partner, I won't continue with a book and wait and hope that eventually I will like it. Therefore I can say I've rarely read a book I didn't like, and that I've never read a 'wall banger', a book that's been thrown at the wall in frustration.
Writing craft teaches the importance of a strong 'opening hook' and I have to say that, for me, that is vital. The words must be put together in a way that makes me want to read more. To turn the page. Give me an opening page that puts me immediately into the action or the emotion and you've got me.
'My Reckless Surrender' by Anna Campbell
"I want to be your lover."
Diana was shocked to hear herself issue the invitation. Even more shocked that she didn't stumble over the bald words.
She'd never been sure she'd summon courage to speak them aloud. Yet they emerged clearly, firmly, without hesitation.
The statement sounded confident, as if she spent her life asking strangers into her bed.
Tell me more! So much I want to know. Why is she making such an invitation? Who to? What if they say yes? But it's not just the questions, it's how such few lines tell me so much about Diana. Fascinating things. I want her to tell me her story.
'Pretend It's Love' by Stephanie London
There were plenty of other things Paul Chapman would rather be doing than watching two people making goo goo eyes at each other. He could stab himself in the eye with a steak knife. Or listen to his mother talk ad nauseam about the intricacies of floral arrangements.
I'm in. The quirky language of the hero's thoughts give me a tempting insight into his personality. I love his sense of humour and he's someone I want to get to learn more about.
If the strength of the first page has ensnared me, the chances are good that the rest of the book doesn't usually let me down. But it has happened. Not because the actual writing didn't hold up, but because a character or storyline wasn't believable or relateable. All the pages of (technically) good writing won't save a hero or heroine who doesn't create empathy in me. My personal pet peeve is a character who complains about their situation yet does nothing to help themselves out of it. Or has put themselves into a situation without enough explanation of the motivation. Or a lack of emotional reaction to an important situation or event.
But (back to 'can't please all the people'), what I can't empathise with, dozens of other readers will. It doesn't make it easy for writers, either for our creative process or our creative egos, but differences are what make us interesting to each other.
Getting me to like a book mightn't be that easy, but if you do and
you're a reasonably prolific writer, all your books will end up either
on my bookshelf, or in my digital library. Finding a writer whose way with words has you sighing with enjoyment (and turning just a little green with envy) is like finding the perfect pair of shoes or a hidden cache of chocolate. It also has me aspiring to improve my own writing and that's even better.