“But The Book Gets Better!”

Photo credit: whisperwolf on Flickr
Occasionally I’ll get questions from writers who are worried about their WIP because they’re aware of an issue in the beginning of their novel—whether it’s slow pacing, a ton of exposition, a protagonist who isn’t initially compelling, etc. Oftentimes, when I get questions like these the concern is that their book gets better, but readers might not stick around to see it improve. 

The truth is they should be worried. 

In terms of publishing, there are tons of manuscripts that are submitted to agents and editors every day. Way too many to even think about one person reading the entire submission every time—way too many to read more than a brief sample until one decides whether or not they’re interested. There's literally not enough time to read everything being submitted from cover to cover. 

In terms of self-publishing (or books that do get published), there are tons of books being published every day. Way too many to even think about one person reading (let alone buying) every book published even in a single day—way too many to read more than the back cover copy and maybe a quick sample until one decides whether or not they’re interested. There's literally not enough time to read everything being published from cover to cover. 

This is why first pages are so darn important. This is way getting your opening right and not wasting a single sentence is crucial. This is why compelling for one reason or another, is not optional. 

It’s also why “the book gets better” is never going to cut it. 

As of this moment, I have 362 books on my Goodreads TBR shelf. I add more constantly. And I’ll probably start removing books I added years ago that I’m no longer dying to read. Because the truth is, I literally don’t have the time to read them all—and that’s without adding to the list like I frequently do. 

If I start sampling a book on my list and the opening doesn’t grab me, it’s getting removed from the list. Period. There are too many books out there that I would really enjoy for me to waste time on a book that I don’t find interesting. And if I’m being entirely honest, and I hear from readers that the book gets better…well, to be honest, it’s too bad. Why should I slog through an opening I’m not enjoying if I could read (and spend money on) something I’d love from page one? The truth is, unless there’s an external reason for me to read the book (i.e.: assigned for class, book research, etc.) I won’t. 

This doesn’t change for submissions. When my boss sends me something to look at, I’m honest with him if the opening doesn’t grab me. On the other side of the desk, the publishing industry is not a place for sugar-coating—we have to be honest with ourselves as editors and assistants and interns and readers about whether or not we really think a submission could be successful. And if the answer is “maybe,” well, maybe usually isn’t good enough. Maybe might get you an R&R but it’s not going to get you a “yes.” 

You, the author, will not be there to tell that agent, or editor, or reader your book gets better. And even if other readers are there to say it, quite frankly, it’s not going to be good enough for every reader. Some might stick it out, maybe, if they hear really raving reviews from friends. But many won’t. Many just don’t have the time. 

I’ve heard people say online that some agents and editors look at submissions looking for a reason to say no. And while I can’t speak for everyone, I can say this: do you want to give anyone a reason to put your book down, even temporarily? 

I know I don’t. And I suspect you don’t either. 

What do you think? Would you stick it out for a book that “gets better”? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"You, the author, will not be there to tell that agent, or editor, or reader your book gets better." (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says "the book gets better" isn't enough. What do you think? (Click to tweet)


Heather said...

For me, this is why I DNF so many books—unlike you, I just check out the book before I start sampling it. I tend to get three or four chapters in, start to get bored, and then decide it isn't worth my time. Because I DO know what I good book is like and I know I don't really have time to care about books that "get better." Patients with chicken pox should "get better," but for me, a book should entice me all the way through. And that's very easy to say, but a lot harder to write. *sigh*

Ava Jae said...

Interesting! I do wonder what counts as a DNF. I've seen some people mark a book as a DNF after reading a few pages (and if that counts, then I suppose I DNF frequently?). I tend not to count a book as even partially read unless I've read several chapters...but that's preference I suppose.

At any rate, I agree with everything you said. It's important to grab readers right away, so the "it gets better" line isn't enough. And yes, it can be difficult to pull off when writing...but no one said writing was easy! :)

Diana Hicks said...

I totally agree.

I'm currently reading a book by an established and acclaimed author. The first 100 pages were painful. I'm still reading (about 5 pages per night) because I'm doing research on the genre, and well, the book finally got good after page 153 (of 300).

I don't think I would have done this for any other author though...

Jen said...

Mostly online and it's so welcoming

Ava Jae said...

Yes! I love the online writer community. :)

Kira Budge said...


Ava Jae said...

Ah, yikes, that sounds painful. Definitely sounds like an "external motivation needed" book, which is pretty much what I was talking about. If you happen to have the external motivation to read it, then great, but otherwise...yeah.

VictoriaGrace Howell said...

Really great post! "The book gets better" is often cause for alarm. The beginning of your book is so so essential.


Ava Jae said...

Thanks, VictoriaGrace! I definitely agree.

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