What I look for in a good book?

EngrossedFor the past few months,  I have been reading a lot of books,  certainly more than what I read in the past few years.  Goodreads tells me 30 books.   But I have certainly read more than that.   Some have made me ecstatic, some were painfully boring, some were just nice, some I just could not finish.  This condition seems to afflict both new and seasoned authors.  The hurry to put your book out there is certainly affecting the quality.

There are many new authors who have been writing and I have been reading many authors for the first time.  I do agree that everyone doesn’t hit jackpot all the time.  If it is a self-published book,  I am very sceptical.  But would I read it?  Yes,  I would.  I want to give the benefit of doubt and a chance to every author to see what is it they have written.  In fact, if not satisfied,  I try to read their next outing too before making up my mind.   Oh! I do change my mind too.   I do not give out ratings for books for the same reason.  What I like,  you may not like and vice-versa.

So,  what is it that I, as a reader look for in a good book?  Lets look at the technical aspects first.

  • Language – If I am reading an English book, I want the author to use immaculate English language.  The grammar has to be perfect.  It is jarring when the author is writing in bad grammar with no tenses.  I assume the author is thinking in another language and then writing in a different language.  Please don’t do that.  Then there is the case of the translators who have immaculate grammar, but they are not able to bring the same effect as in the original language.

  • Beta reading & proof-reading – Use a proof-reader and also a beta-reader before sending for final print.  Believe me, it’s worth paying them.   Typos and incorrect text is becoming so common by authors that we do not even use it as a reason for bad writing.  It is accepted.  Duh!
  • Editing – Some books are just ramblings which ultimately slow down the pace and distracts from the story. Of course, the author can meander as much as he wants as it is creative freedom, but make it interesting.  I do not want to know the details of the complete dress worn by the heroine.  As a reader, I would like to add some imagination there.
  • Do not tell – I used to wonder what this means. But of late,  I see many authors spelling out everything for the reader.  Come on,  we are intelligent enough to understand and make our own deductions.  It gets the reader involved in the story.   Let the reader feel the love the heroine feels for the hero.  Let her feel anxious about his love but just show it to me and let me feel it too.  Let the heroine have her heart beating faster, let her stutter a bit,  let her blush.  I will understand the rest.

Let us look at some of the non-technical aspects.

  • The story or plot – In a book, the story has to be the king.  The reader anticipates a good story when they start to read the book.  But,  if it is not there,  we may just go and watch a one dimensional movie instead.  Of late, a lot of books of the chick-lit genre is just that.  One-dimensional.  The author seems to be hoping for a movie contract and written a script accordingly.  You just lost a reader and many more.
  • Characters – Have some good fancy and unpredictable characters with shades and layers of attitudes. Let the reader understand the character.  By the time the book ends,  the character should become a known person for the reader.  He should be able to anticipate the reaction of the character to any situation.   Mr. Darcy, anyone?
  • Location – Where is the story set? The location(s) becomes as much a character as the people in the stories.  What era is the story based in?  Is it a real place or a fictitious place.  Bring the place alive.  Who can forget the fictitious Malgudi or Middle Earth of  Lord of the Rings?   Or even the famous Baker street address of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Marketing blitz – Blitzkreig marketing is a dud most of the time. Seriously,  if a book is good,  it will go places.  It did even in the absence of the internet.  There is always a market for a good book.  Excessive marketing will improve sales but only for a limited time.  Let the readers discover a hidden gem.  But,  it need not be in your face every time someone is visiting a website or the only book available in a store.  It completely puts me off.  Nothing half about it.

By no means is this an exhaustive list.   Do let me know what you look for in a book?


Linking this post to Write Tribe’s #Monday Musings & Literacy Musing Mondays by Mary Hill

Image courtesy : https://www.pinterest.com/pin/30610472440320620/



29 thoughts on “What I look for in a good book?

  1. I love a book that captures my attention from the start and doesn’t let go. For me, a winning story is so moving that I cry and laugh often on the same page. Thanks for sharing at Literacy Musing Mondays this week.

  2. I agree with everything you have said… especially since I have read a lot of new authors post getting my kindle. But the one thing I feel is above everything is connect. Some books I can connect to even with bad language and a mediocre story… others just do not cut the ice!

  3. A comprehensive and enlightening post there.
    I mostly read non-fiction. But when I read fiction it is usually short stories or novellas. In that case I don’t specifically look for anything. Romance, drama, thriller, fantasy and other kinds. All are good with me. I guess there is no fixed metric to measure the writing. The rules change based on the story the author is trying to narrate. In that sense, as long as the author is clear about what the focus is and doesn’t go winding on too much, or gets sidetracked in small details, then that makes for a good book worth the time. I would prefer the underlying message driving the tale to be delivered with justice. So yes I would look for a really powerful message which something I get to take away from and learn from and maybe even find some inspiration which I can then bring into in my life. And on the other hand I also look for elegant and smooth pieces, which simply captivate you, and you wish if you were the one to write them. So the writer in me keeps a watch for such gem-like fragments.

    1. Thanks Omkar. Its a trend which I am seeing in recent books which was really putting me off reading new authors. Ultimately, it is bad for the readers as well as the authors in the long run if things dont change.

  4. Agree with you on all points Lata! 🙂 Hope more authors take into account these things… Language, grammar and do not tell…most importantly.

  5. A comprehensive list here. Agree with all the points. Good language is a turn-on for me. Most Indian authors are flinging in a lot of Hinglish and street language in an attempt to rope in a more diverse audience. Nothing wrong in this marketing gimmick, so long as the book is raking in the moolah, neither the author nor the publishers have a problem with it. But for the more discerning audience, the language, the hard sell, the tell and explain all, self-obsessed ramblings are some of the major put-offs!

  6. I like your fine print here and I agree to a couple of points absolutely:

    The grammar has to be spotless. I mean they should do their home-work first…no point in just coming out with some garbage!
    Also, leave something for the imagination of reader also ?

  7. I agree. Many authors are in a tearing hurry to get books out, and compromise on quality. I have noticed this more in indie books, but even traditional publishing is no exception to this. The most disappointing books are those where the author has a truly wonder plot, but doesn’t bother to fine tune it, before it gets to the readers.

    1. I feel the reader is taken for granted by the author. As you said sometimes the plot is wonderful, but the treatment of the subject is not professional.

  8. I agree with you on the rating part of the books. On more than one occasion I got close to pick up reviewing picture books for children but could not give my final consent because I did not see myself rating the books. Books meant for children are so fascinating that giving them 2, 3 or 4 stars would not be justified.
    I simply avoid Indian Chik-lit genre. People getting drunk all the time and needing a pretext to jump into beds is not my cup of tea. I need to read a story.

  9. I agree with most of your points.
    Regarding the slow meandering of the story, I guess I am at a phase of contradiction with myself. As a kid, I used to read Stephen King and wonder how a guy could just keep talking and talking without really moving the story forward. As I grew up, I realized it was how he gave us insights into what terrified the protagonists in their pasts, albeit a very slow way of doing it.

    But yes, contrast that to today and I see some authors definitely taking the slow and steady route but sadly failing at it… they just end up describing the surroundings for pages which I feel is the difference – it adds nothing to the story. It does not really push things forward, knowing there are 10 trees with green leaves.

    Typos really take me away from the story… and again, sadly that is so common with our Indian books these days. Where do you think the ultimate responsibility should lie in this – editor or author?

    1. I would say the author. Nowadays, he thinks he can do away with the editor and save money. He is not looking at the value add the editor can bring to the book. If the editor does a shoddy job, the author should be able to catch him. For that, let us use the proof readers, beta readers. The author needs to invest in his product.

  10. I sometimes think that there are just too many books out there these days and publishing has become so easy that people compromise on quality. Even a great writer needs an editor. I wish people would invest more in this.

  11. Agree with everything!!!
    From sometime last year to April ’15, I only read indie books. Some were good, some not so much, but I am still glad I read them, because the good ones, I would have never discovered otherwise.
    On the other hand, there are so many typos in books these days – mainly the indie ones. When I read a book, I sort of “absorb” the sentences and the grammar. I stopped the indie books after April, because that’s when I noticed my own sentences sounded incorrect in my head. So sad, literature these days is taking this one lightly!

  12. Nice comprehensive list Lata. I agree with the marketing blitz – too much marketing, many giveaways, book present everywhere in internet search puts me off. I also look for the genre, as I cannot read some genres even though the book is written well.

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