Paula asked this question recently on FB.
A few days ago, I read the start of
a novel on Amazon (using the ‘Look Inside’ facility) as it was set in Ireland
and looked interesting. It also had 20+ good reviews. However, I decided not to
buy it. Why? Because there was too much narrative, description, and backstory
in the first few pages. Following this, I posed the question on FB and received
about 30 replies giving different reasons why people didn’t buy a book
after reading the Amazon excerpt. Here's a summary of the comments:
Inevitably quite a few people
mentioned bad grammar or poor editing, or more generally ‘bad writing’. Linked
to this, ‘style’ could be a deal breaker. Obviously this is subjective, as not
every writer’s style will appeal to every reader, but some commenters felt it
was important that the style, rhythm, or quality of writing appealed to them.
One person referred to this as the ‘character’s voice’.
Another major off-putting
factor was too much description in the first few pages - phrases used were ‘superfluous
description’, ‘overabundance of exposition’, or ‘painfully describing every
detail’. Info dumps and blatant factual research were also disliked, as was
‘all telling’ and too much backstory at the beginning of the story. However,
one commenter said: “sometimes the author doesn’t give enough back story and
you’re lost from the get go.”
Readers didn’t like
slow-paced stories that failed to make much progression in the first few pages.
The need to be ‘grabbed’ was important.
In some cases, dialogue could
be the make or break factor. One person commented on ‘discussions about
nothing,’ while another disliked ‘too much dialog where the things the characters
say gives you no insight into their personalities’. Both of these could be
summed up as ‘waffling’.
Point of View switches came
in for some criticism. Several disliked too many switches of POV, referred to
as ‘bouncing’ or ‘ping-pong’ switches (even though, as one person pointed out, Nora Roberts does this all
Other commenters were put off
by: violence for the sake of violence, too many unpronounceable names,
unlikeable characters, two-dimensional characters, too many characters introduced too quickly, too many adverbs, and four
letter words. A couple of people also disliked stories written in first person
So there you have it. Now you
know what to include (or rather what not to include!) in your first few pages.
The ‘Look Inside’ facility is the one that seems to be universally used, and it
is this, and not the cover or blurb, that will persuade your readers to buy
your book - or not!