The downside of being an early reader


I assume the downside is the extremely obvious thing that instantly leaped into everyone’s mind: What if you don’t like the book?

Having beta read various books for BVC readers, and having dealt (often) with editorial feedback from early readers myself, I see various possibilities here:

A) You hate the book.

If you really dislike the book, you have two options, it seems to me. The first: pretend you are a suitable reader for the book in question and provide appropriate feedback. You don’t have to love the protagonist to say, “I think when she does thus-and-so, that’s out of character.” You can say that even if you thoroughly dislike the protagonist. Ditto for “I’m confused here,” or “I’m skimming here,” or “I know commas are kind of a matter of taste, but imo the meaning of this sentence is wrong and you really, honestly need a comma here.”

The second option is to say, “I’m sorry, but as it turns out, I’m not really a good fit for this book. I don’t feel I can be a good first reader for it.” Sometimes that’s probably the best choice.

B) You don’t hate the book, but you think it has a lot of weaknesses. The same two basic options: Carefully point out the weaknesses as helpfully as possible or decide you haven’t got the patience, the time, or the skill to deal with it and back out of early reading.

Other than discovering you hate the book / think the book has a lot of problems, I’m not seeing a downside. Let’s see if Book Riot has something else in mind … Oh! No, totally different take on the question!

1) I can’t talk to anybody about the book. The book I read, and loved, way too early is a mystery book so I can only discuss it with someone who has already read it, or I’d just be handing out spoilers like they were going out of style.

That’s not a problem that occurred to me! But you know what, that could be painful! Is that an early-reader thing? That’s kind of a thing whenever you read a book, love it, and whomever you usually rave to about books hasn’t read it. Of course, they can read it right away and then you can talk about it, so that solves the problem.

2. Can’t review it because the review would be kinda negative and I don’t want to drag down the star rating with an early negative review. I don’t mind posting a negative review later, after the book has accumulated some positive reviews, but it’s a pain to remember to review it later. Not even sure I want to post a mediocre review if it’s going to be the first review.

You know, that’s really a nice thought. Thank you, Book Riot post author, for being reluctant to post a negative review early. This is someone named Jamie Canaves, and I now think Jamie is a nice person. It’s quite true that an early negative review is no fun, especially if it pushes potential readers away from the book. After the star rating has settled at a decent level, it’s much less of a concern.

Those are the basic reasons given in the post, so this is not at all “early reading as feedback for the author.” It’s “early reading because I got a review copy,” a different topic. This isn’t a concern for me because I don’t have time to read stuff early; I don’t even have time to read stuff late.

Speaking of reading stuff late, what did you think of The Witch King by Martha Wells? I see it has 1800 or so ratings and a star average of 4.4. That’s lower than I would have expected. Is it low because a lot of readers wanted Murderbot and this is something else? Or is it low because it’s not one of her best? I think her best are, let me see …

  1. Murderbot, okay, I’m just another sheep following this herd
  2. Cloud Roads and fine, okay, the whole Raksura first trilogy
  3. Fall of Ile-Rien
  4. The Fall of the Necromancer, and I know that is arguably better than the Fall trilogy, but I didn’t like it as well, so here it is
  5. Wheel of the Infinite, where I was not super happy by certain things about how the plot worked out, but loved the book overall
  6. The other two Raksura books

Those are my favorites, and honestly I could flip (1) and (2), because I just love the first Raksura trilogy. I’m hoping I’ll put The Witch King up in this set of novels, and series, but who knows?

By the way, does anybody know what the heck is going on with Martha Wells’ books? If you search on Amazon, Wheel of the Infinite does not appear to be available in any format. If you go to Google and search, then you can find it on Amazon that way, where the hardcover is pricey and the mass market paperback is INSANELY EXPENSIVE. It’s not available in ebook form, so good thing I already have it as an ebook and I hope it’s still there. This is where I suddenly realize I should back up all my Kindle books via Calibre.

My guess is, it’s going to be republished. The Fall of the Necromancer has been reissued in a collection with Element of Fire and I believe that’s quite new, so that’s what I think may be happening. But not sure.

Meanwhile, honestly, no major spoilers please, but what did you think of The Witch King?

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20 thoughts on “The downside of being an early reader”

  1. The thing with Witch King is its two stories in one. There’s the present-time story described in the blurb, where Kai wakes up after being unconscious and imprisoned for an undetermined length of time and has to figure out what’s going on. There’s also a backstory set about 60 years earlier, featuring a much younger Kai.

    I loved, loved, loved the 60-years-ago story, and if you loved Murderbot and Cloud Roads, I’m pretty sure you will too. Hard to explain without spoilers, but it’s vintage Wells: character-centred with a justifiably paranoid main character learning to work with others. I wish there was a lot more of the dynamic between Kai and Bashasa!

    The problem is the present-time story. 1) I didn’t like the character dynamics so much, although they were still good, but 2) the plot was confusing. There’s a lot of backstory in the 60 years that was skipped, which Wells alluded to but didn’t fully explain. Likewise there’s a lot of worldbuilding that felt rushed and unclear – including major plot points. For example, after waking, Kai immediately goes to search for a friend who wasn’t imprisoned in the same place but we don’t know who this person is or why he cares (for most of the book, you can’t even tell if it’s a friend or a love interest) or why he’s so sure this friend needs rescuing. And the reader gets dragged through a lot of political and geographical scenery looking for this guy, without a map. The end result was that the present-time story was confusing and unsatisfying.

    I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads, which was 5 stars for the backstory and 3 stars for the present-time one, and I never thought I’d give a Wells story 3 stars. The good news is that the stories are separate and cohesive enough that you can just skip the present-time story and only read the other one, which is what I did on my re-read.

  2. Witch King: I had the opposite reaction. I fell in love with the characters in the present story, and found my attention drifting in the backstory until about half way through. At that point it picked up, and in the end both front and backstory were solid. The main problem I had was feeling that neither story ended up getting quite enough space.

    I have a feeling that it will improve on reread now that I know what to expect and can appreciate the way the two stories intermingle across time. I actually don’t think the two are best read separately, because the characters aren’t fully fleshed out in either storyline separately? It’s not the most accessible.

    The writing is very Martha Wells, but she’s doing something a little different with the plot and characters. I appreciate it but don’t think it will be a favorite of hers – but that’s a higg bar. If it had been by an unknown author I’d have solidly liked it and looked for more by the same writer.

  3. So interesting to see conflicting reactions! I’m really looking forward to reading it myself! Given your comments, I’m tempted to read the alternating stories separately, story-past and then story-present. Maybe I’ll do that the first time I read it and then re-read it with the stories interwoven and see what I think.

  4. I checked out the ebook from my library but I didn’t finish Witch King (a first for me with a Martha Wells book!), not really because of one plot being better or worse than the other but because I could not reconcile the characters in the past being the same people as the characters in the present, they felt too different and not just in a older/more traumatized way or whatever.

    Also I read almost half of the book and still didn’t really *care* about the characters or the situation in either plotline, which is also not typical of Wells. The past plotline was somewhat engaging for one chapter, but [spoilers] had been so heavily foreshadowed in the present timeline that I already knew not to get my hopes up and yup, [spoilers] happened. The situation in this world was just too stark and hopeless for my tastes, which is a personal preference and not an objective marker of quality, but there it is.

    On a technical level I can’t point at anything else and say “this was weak writing,” The writing is obviously skillful on a technical level, and I’m sure the reviews I’ve read are correct and the plotlines were resolved in a brilliantly clever way, it just felt emotionally flat to me and I just didn’t… care. At least not enough to keep slogging through all the atrocities inherent in a fantasy post-apocalyptic setting.

    The occasional clumsy bits of writing in the Raksura books don’t stop them from being some of my all-time favorite books because they were so emotionally compelling and the characters were so wonderful. I’m more likely not to finish a book that doesn’t make me care, even if the plot is clever and the bad guys are suitably evil and there’s nothing technically *wrong* with the protagonist. Especially if the world is grim and there’s too much damage that can’t be fixed or recovered.

  5. Tor is re-releasing a lot of Wells’ backlist, including CITY OF BONES and the first two standalone Il-Rien books, so I suspect WHEEL OF THE INFINITE re-release will be announced soon.

    I liked WITCH KING, and I thought the present-day and past-day chapters played off each other well thematically, in the same way you did in KERAUNANI. But… I read 65% of WITCH KING on vacation and then haven’t picked the book up again. I liked it a lot, I just didn’t feel a compelling urge to finish it. (This is probably a me-problem tho, as I’ve been struggling this year with finishing both books and TV series.)

  6. Four stars would be my rating, too…I think my main problem was that there was so much grim and upsetting stuff and the payoff didn’t outweigh it. A bit like City of Bones, but not as claustrophobic. I didn’t dislike Witch King, but I’d have to be in a very particular mood to reread it.

    (Part of the dissatisfaction is there was also a lot of Cool Stuff, as per usual with Martha Wells, and things could have been WAY more fun and satisfying if she had decided to write, well, a totally different story with those elements.)

  7. Maigen, that’s sometimes a significant problem for me — I mean wanting the book to be a different book. The most obvious example for me is The Witness for the Dead, which I desperately wanted to be a direct sequel to The Goblin Emperor and therefore found unsatisfying. I also didn’t really like Thera, but fundamentally I wanted that to be a completely different book.

  8. I just discovered I never even started Witch King, so I will have to fins out. As for other books:
    1 Death of the Necromancer. The book fits together like a fancy puzzle, and everyone gets what they deserve. Just so, so fun.
    2. Ile Rien
    3. Wheel of the Infinite. Nearly as well crafted as DotN.
    3. Raksura book 1
    4. City of Bones
    I have only read book 1 of Murderbot; somehow it did not catch my attention despite being a fine book.

  9. I loved Witch King and it’s up with the Raksura novels and City of Bones as my favorites of what I’ve read of Wells’ so far although of course I like Murderbot also. I found the dual timeline structurally very interesting and very well done personally. I can see why Murderbot fans may not cross over because it is not so pacy, it takes a little while to ramp up and get a feel for the unfamiliar world (many things are not explicitly explained and there are a lot of names to keep track of) and there are some rather dark events, including the death of a child, early on.

    A lot of the events that other novels would focus on, the (successful) war to overthrow the conquerors and the immediate rebuilding, happen in that timeskip while we get the initial shock of invasion and then making alliances under a charismatic and compassionate leader and then we get a world after his death where the remaining (longer-lived) of his companions are in conflict with his heirs who have come to believe that they alone are the inheritors of his legacy and the proper rulers of the world. The ultimate concerns are what “unburning the world” (a fantastic line!) and carrying the legacy of a great leader who you loved mean for the long term.

    While I think can understand why some readers might be disappointed about what is left off-screen I think that was a deliberate decision, that it is really about the protagonists living up to their values, challenging abuse and coercion everywhere they find it, as much as it is the grand political intrigues. I’m excited that there’s going to be a sequel and really curious to see what Wells does with it!

  10. Thank you, Sandstone — no matter what it says on the back cover, your quick orientation to the story is going to be super helpful when I open this book! This is just the kind of thing that will help me enjoy it.

  11. You’re welcome, Rachel! I’ve found that a lot of Tordotcom’s blurbs do not really give me a great idea of what to expect from the book (especially their novellas, I went into Every Heart a Doorway back in the day expecting a boarding school story and it turned out to be a serial killer story instead,??) so I am always careful to give more context when recommending the ones I’ve read.

  12. Oh, there’s going to be a sequel? Confirmed!?
    Yes, I’d be delighted to read more in this world, and Sandstone did an excellent job of explaining what this book got *right*. It just felt a bit cramped, to me.

  13. Back when I was a book blogger, I was also very reluctant to leave negative reviews, especially for indie authors. If I didn’t like a book by an self-published author, I usually didn’t review it at all rather than submitting a negative review.

  14. @Kristi Yes, I’m not sure if the sequel has been announced yet online or when it might be released but Wells mentioned to the audience that one was in progress when I saw her at an event with Ann Leckie on her tour for the book here in St. Louis! I’m hoping it will pick up some of the plot points that were left hanging, like what was up with that map!

  15. Kriti, I have posted a negative review every now and then, though more often I just don’t post anything. But I would never post a negative review of a real book (I mean, as opposed to AI-generated garbage) as the FIRST review. I probably wouldn’t if there were fewer than a dozen reviews. Maybe fewer than fifty. But absolutely not as the first. That’s a pretty terrible thing to do to a real author.

  16. I enjoyed the Witch King. I was very impatient for it to come out and ending up reading the preview chapter at least three times, catching more details of the world each time. However I don’t think it’s going to supplant Murderbot, Raksura or Fall of Ile-rien for me. I probably won’t know for sure until I reread it.

  17. Nicole, it would be hard for anything Martha Wells writes to supplant any of those three for me. If it joins them in the Top Five Wells Stories, I’ll be ecstatic — and if it’s just basically a good Martha Wells story, I’ll be happy — and the writer part of my brain is interested in the braided-narrative structure she used. Maybe I should actually start this book! But contemporary Rom-Coms are easier to get into and out of when I’m busy!

  18. I enjoyed Witch King but was left unsatisfied, so learning there will be a sequel makes me suspend my rating to see where the sequel goes. To me it felt as though this was all a prequel to the actual story: in both storylines I felt as though we were brought up to the interesting bits and then the story ended! Lots of cool world-building (I got strong Raksura vibes) and fascinating character dynamics that were teased and suggested but not fleshed out as much as I wanted them to be. I trust that she knows what she’s doing, though, so I’m eager for the sequel!

  19. Kim, I think maybe I’ll just wait for the sequel before reading Witch King. Not like I don’t have other things to read!

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