From Janet Reid’s blog: Query me for anything you want but these almost always are a pass
The reader’s version is of course: I’ll try any novel, but these almost always get a fast DNF.
For Janet, topics that aren’t going to work include: abuse memoirs, pedophilia, serial killers, vampires. Other things too; click through to see the full list plus comments.
There are plenty of things that get a pass from Janet Reid that generally or sometimes appeal to me. Vampires, say. Serial killers, sometimes. Apocalyptic pandemics, though perhaps that’s a bit to topical just at present to be attractive in fiction.
But there are several “pass” categories here that are “DNF” categories for me. The most definite:
5. The novel you wrote to prove a point.
I am entirely story-based. If you have a compelling story, you can make any point you want to, but I’m not going to read your novel to hear how global warming is a problem.
I’ll go further:
I am entirely story based AND I hate being bludgeoned over the head with a message no matter how compelling your story is.
If you have a message, kept it soft and bury it in the story and I’m fine with it. Whip out a club and whap me with it and I’m done, even if I agree with your message and even if the story is otherwise good. This doesn’t include things like “Hitler was bad and Nazis were evil.” That’s not a message; that’s just background.
However, that isn’t the kind of thing that usually stops me, or any reader, in the first chapter. It would be a very odd book if it whipped out a club in the first chapter, right? I can’t think of one that did that.
Let me see, let’s say specifically: Things that make me stop short and declare a DNF if they do in fact appear in the first chapter.
a) Too gritty. Fill the streets of your fantasy city with sewage and start out by dumping somebody in the gutter and I’m too grossed out to continue. Elisha Barber is the example that comes to mind.
b) Start me off with a protagonist, then kill the protagonist in the first chapter, and I’m probably done unless the story is a murder mystery.
c) Oh, here’s one — have the protagonist do something unjustifiably awful in the first chapter and I’m gone. I’m absolutely thinking of The Fifth Season here.
d) Things start off in too awful a place. If the protagonist is in a terrible situation, I may not be able to tolerate sticking around until she pries herself out of that situation. I wouldn’t say that’s always the case, but it can happen. I would prefer that horrible situation to be in the backstory. Let the author build up an understanding of that background slowly, after the protagonist is already involved in other things.
e) I’ve never seen this, as far as I can recollect, but I don’t recommend the author kill a dog or other pet in the first chapter. I doubt I’d get past that scene.
How about you? What’s something that, if it appears in the first chapter, makes you put down a book at once?
Or, is there nothing? Are you’re the kind of reader who always finishes a book if you start it, even if you hate it?