When Do You Decide to DNF?

Posted September 11, 2014 by Jana in Discussion / 38 Comments


So, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. A LOT more than usual. And I’ve been reading books I worried I might not like. I do my best to request books that I think I will love, but so often I only have a small summary to go off of and no reviews from my trusted friends. And then the reviews start to roll in and I begin to regret requesting. But since I did, I feel I owe it to the publisher and the author to give the book a fair shot regardless of what I’ve read about it. You know what it’s like. They spent money on me to send me a book, fully expecting that it would benefit them. Unless I read something super extreme about a book (like it contained brutal violence, lots of swear words, or animal cruelty), I will do my best to give it the shot it deserves.

So often, my book lover’s intuition is correct and I know pretty quickly that I’m reading a book that will ultimately end in DNF. Once I feel that way, I’m pretty positive that reading 20-50 more pages will not change my mind. I’ve been known to DNF as early as 20 pages in. And I feel like that’s fair. I read until I knew I would not be finishing it. In doing this, I can end a happy person instead of an annoyed person who wasted their time. I’ve seen, though, that some people mention in their review policies that they will read a book until they are halfway through, no matter what. And I wonder why they torture themselves. So I figured I’d ask you to weigh in on this.

Do you have a DNF policy? If so, what is it? When do you feel it’s ok to quit reading a book and move on?

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38 responses to “When Do You Decide to DNF?

  1. For me it doesn’t really matter if it’s a review book or one of my own. Publishers are readers as well, and they understand that not every book they send you will be a five-star book. If you let them know that it just wasn’t for you, that’s fine.

    I don’t think I ever DNF before a hundred pages unless the content is really offensive, because I often change my mind once the story picks up some speed. I don’t have a set policy or anything, it’s more of a gut feeling, and if the gut feeling says that I will not enjoy reading the book, I put it down.
    Celine recently posted…Review: The Witch of Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

    • Jana

      Celine, I like that you point out that publishers are readers too. Sometimes I forget that, but it helps to remember that they are human and not book-reading machines. :)

    • Jana

      Haha. I actually used to be the same way, but that was back when I first started blogging and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by not finishing their book. I guess I’ve gotten to the point where I’m doing this more for me than for others. I never want reading to feel like a chore.

  2. I can also tell pretty early on, if a book is going to be for me or not. Usually, anyway. Sometimes I know after the first few pages, and often I will stop there. But if I’m unsure, especially if I’d heard that a lot of people liked that book, then I give it 50 pages.

    There is this sort of famous librarian named Nancy Pearl. She is known for her readers’ advisory. And her advice is to give the book 50 pages, and if you aren’t feeling it, then put it aside. But just because you put it aside, doesn’t mean you can’t go back to it at a later time in your life.

    However, she also said that for every year you are over 50, you can subtract one page from the 50 pages. She said that by the time you are 50 or older, you’ve read so many books that you have good judgment on what is working and what isn’t. Also, she said you only have so many years left of reading in you, so don’t waste the time. :)

    Since I’m not close to 50 yet, I try to aim for 50 pages.
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Express Lane Review: Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford

    • Jana

      Sounds like we do things similarly. I’m also much more likely to hang in there longer if the book is loved by a lot of people.

      I love that you told me about Nancy Pearl! I had never heard of her or her thoughts on this matter, but I love her thinking a lot. I especially love her opinion that once you’re older you pretty much know what is good and what’s not. I’m not close to 50 either, so maybe 50 is a good number to shoot for unless I’m just REALLY unhappy.

    • Jana

      I SO wish I were like you ad was able to be selective enough with books so that I would not have the DNF very often! You’re so lucky! I used to also hate the idea of not finishing a book, but my review pile has gotten so huge that I’ve had to be more realistic with myself.

  3. LilMissMolly

    Like you, I always try to finish, but sometimes it’s just impossible. I do like giving a book a fair chance though b/c 16 years ago I almost have up on Outlander after only the 2nd chapter. It’s the 3rd or 4th chapter that hooked me for 5 more books! But, there are some – Shades of Gray being one of them, I couldn’t get past all the bad grammar and bad writing, so I have up after 5 pages. But generally, about 50 pages or 3 or 4 chapters is my decision point of make or break.

    • Jana

      Like you, I almost DNF’ed a book that I ended up really liking in the end! So it’s always good to read a little more than you want to before giving up, just to make sure you won’t be missing out! I should read Outlander. So many people love that series!

    • Jana

      Exactly. I’m pretty much in the same boat with you. And if I suffer, I never write a good review… so it’s really best for everyone involved if I quit.

  4. I normally try and give it 50 pages, but I also think it depends on the length of a book..I mean if it’s over 400 pages then 50 pages might not be enough time to decide..unless you really can’t get into the writing style. I was trying to finish Blackbird by Anna Carey but the POV is so driving me crazy that even though I am over half I just don’t think nor care about finishing it. :( I feel bad about doing it cause I really hate DNFishing but some times you just got to quit.
    Stormi recently posted…Review of The School for Good and Evil

    • Jana

      Interesting thought! I had not really thought that reading more of a longer book before deciding to DNF might be a good idea. I usually go by more of how I’m feeling, but if I’m iffy I might try to go on until I’ve given it a good chance. I also feel really bad when I don’t finish a book, but I also don’t want to make myself suffer, only to write a negative review that probably won’t help the author anyway.

  5. I tend to DNF books based on how excited I was about them. If it’s a book I was super psyched for, I might keep reading even after I get halfway through and am not loving it, just because I really, really want it to get better. For books I was unsure about in the beginning I usually DNF sooner.
    Shayna recently posted…DNF Review: Belzhar

    • Jana

      I’ve found myself doing that before as well! I guess I just don’t like giving in to the disappointment of not liking a book I was really excited about.

  6. As an author, I don’t have a DNF policy. I would hate for some to have such strong dislike for my book that they couldn’t finish it. I’m sure there are plenty of people who do, though. I just try not to think about that. That being said, I won’t write a review if a book is under four stars. If I committed to a tour, I will email the host to let them know and offer to do something else to fill my commitment – a spotlight, an interview, an excerpt.
    Brianna recently posted…spotlight: no weddings

    • Jana

      Brianna, I’m so glad to get an author’s point of view here. Interesting that you don’t post reviews that are less than four stars, though. Do you just not like writing them, or do you not want to hurt the author? It’s definitely a hard choice. We love to share our opinions, but don’t want to hurt anyone in the process. I’d imagine you’re even more sensitive to this, being an author yourself.

      • It’s a little bit of both when it comes to less than 4 star books. If I don’t like a book, I don’t know what to say about it and my review ends up sounding forced. I reviewed a book a couple years ago that I had given one star to and the author sent me an email, threatening to call her lawyer, saying I was being slanderous and defaming her. I got a lot of nasty comments on Amazon for that review, too. I hated succumbing to the pressure but I did take it down, because the last thing I needed was to be sued by a woman who was self-published and didn’t know how to be respectful.

        I am super sensitive to how authors feel, especially after having former friends tell me I’m basically the worst writer on the planet. I don’t post reviews at Amazon because of all the nasty comments. I think approximately five people read my blog, and one of them is my mom, so I feel okay about posting reviews there.
        Brianna recently posted…spotlight: no weddings

        • Jana

          I am so sad to hear of your experience with that disrespectful author! How terrible! I’ve been attacked for my reviews as well, but not to that extent. Sounds like she had her fans/family/friends attack you too. I completely understand your reasons for your review policy. I hate hearing about situations that cause people to suppress their thoughts or opinions, though. Ultimately, though, we matter that most and I’m glad you’re protecting yourself.

          And wow, you had friends say those things to you!? I’m so sorry! How mean. People need to learn to be constructive, not rude. :(

          • Now former friends, but yes. It was very difficult to handle.

            As for that author, she was definitely in her own world. Her book was about adultery which is a huge dealbreaker for me, but besides that, she just didn’t have the skill, in either plot or editing, to have published a book quite yet.

            To be honest, I’m not sure there was a lawyer, but she needed some ammo.
            Brianna recently posted…spotlight: no weddings

            • Jana

              Yeah, adultery is not my thing either, not to mention poor editing and plot issues. Like you said, there probably was not a lawyer. Still, though, it’s not a happy situation.

  7. I think, as the comments suggest, this answer is definitely different for everyone. I think it’s always good practice to give review books a “fair chance”, but that might not be the same thing for two different people, or it might even vary from person to person depending on the book and situation.

    I *usually* try to give a book at least 20% before deciding to give up on it; I feel like, by that point, the plot had better have kicked in, and I should be used to the writing, and I should see some sort of attachment to the characters. But sometimes it takes a lot less time for me to decide a book isn’t for me – I DNF’d Blackbird and, more recently, The Vault of Dreamers, around 10% because I could just tell that those books would not work out based on style and lack of any feelings toward the book.

    Life is much too short (and our TBR piles WAYYYY too big!!!) to read books that aren’t grabbing us! As you said, pub’s understand this. It doesn’t stop me feeling bad when I have to DNF a review book, but that’s half disappointment, too. DNF’s are hard, but necessary, I think.
    Nikki recently posted…ARC Review: THE YOUNG ELITES by Marie Lu

    • Jana

      You’re right, Nikki. This answer depends entirely on who is being asked. I try to go for 20% as well, but won’t force myself. You’re the second person in this discussion to mention DNFing Blackbird. This is so sad! I’ve been really looking forward to it, and now I’m scare.d Haha. Some with The Vault of Dreamers. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about it.

      And I think you’re completely right in saying that at least half the reason we feel bad about DNFing is because we wanted to like it. It happens, though.

  8. Kat

    I DNF all over the place. I never used to, I’d push through even if I’d rather clean the bathroom than keep reading…but over the past couple of years I’ve learnt to really let it go when I’m not feeling it.

    I don’t have any kind of measure, or set pages I’ll read. Even if the first 5 pages doesn’t work, I’ll shove it back on the shelf and pretend the whole thing never happened ;)
    Kat recently posted…Review: Blackbird by Anna Carey

    • Jana

      Kat, we are just the same! I’ve been DNFing all over the place. I remember when I first started blogging and felt super bad for DNFing, it took me one month to read a book and I wrote a negative review anyway. Nobody involved benefited from this, and I wasted a TON of time. I’ve gotten much better as well. :)

  9. I don’t know. I usually try to finish most books even if I’m miserable. This year, I’ve only DNF’d two books so far. Those books I just new early on but still I tried, it got to the point that I didn’t want to trick myself. I’m trying to get better at DNFing though. Life’s too short for bad books
    Aly @ My Heart Hearts Books recently posted…Never Fade (Review)

    • Jana

      Life is DEFINITELY too short for bad books! It’s hard to DNF, though, for sure. I think it’s something that is necessary for my blogging happiness, though. If I know I can DNF a book, I feel less like I’m working and more like I’m having fun doing something I love.

  10. I have never actually said to myself “I’m not finishing this book” I always put it down and tell myself I’m going to go back to it.
    Though, if I find myself skim reading and not making an effort to take in the story, nor do I care what happens to the characters thats when I decide to put it down.
    Becky recently posted…Stacking the Shelves #1

    • Jana

      Becky, that sounds like a good system. It’s always nice to revisit DNFs just to make sure you weren’t in an off mood that day. :)

  11. I don’t DNF books very often, because sometimes a book does get better as it goes on, and I’m also very stubborn when it comes to finishing books. If I DNF a book, it’s because I can’t find a single positive thing about it, and I just can’t keep going. Even with books I don’t like, there’s at least something that kept me going – character development (even if I want to punch them all in the face), world building, etc. If I can’t find anything to like, I’m not going to bother finishing.
    Stephanie Allen recently posted…Review: Belle Epoque

  12. Well, this is one of the reasons I don’t accept books to review. I prefer to choose what I’ll read, than ending up torturing myself. So, I DNF very rarely since all books are carefully chosen before I start reading them.

  13. I don’t really have a DNF policy, as such. Just that if I accept a book for review, I will provide my honest opinion on the book, which may not always be positive. DNFing is coming up a lot lately, I wrote a post a while ago that could do with an update – http://confessionsofabookgeek.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/rant-where-have-all-the-reviews-gone/ I used to find it hard to DNF books, and while I still am not fond of doing it, I do because I’ll end up in a slump if I don’t, and since blogging I have loads of reads that I’m really excited about to look forward to!

  14. I don’t have an official DNF policy. I’ve only officially DNF’d one review copy (at 25-30%), but I get what you’re saying. Why do we torture ourselves when we know it won’t improve? I recently read Winterspell and, had it been a personal read, would have put it down around 40-50%; but I was 70% done by the time I decided there was no saving it from a 1-star, so I finished it to write a fully informed review.

    I guess, if I’m close enough to the end already, I’ll finish, but if I’m still in the first half, I’ll DNF?
    Kel @ Booked til Tuesday recently posted…Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop

  15. I hate it when I’m unable to finish a book. But there’s only so much you can do. If a book is truly not interesting or I feel like I’m forcing myself to read it, it’s time to throw in the white flag. Usually I try to make it at least 50% into the book before calling it quits and most of the time I’ll give the book a second chance just in case I was having an off day, but 99.9% of the time the DNF stands.

    If the book is one I received for review I will notify the person I received it from. (If it’s Netgalley or Edelweiss I’ll post a short review) Usually I don’t post my review to the blog because I feel it’s unfair to the author. Just because I didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

    Great post :)
    Lillian @ Mom With a Reading Problem recently posted…Top Ten Books on My Fall To-Be-Read List

  16. As a writer, I can tell you that my whole attitude towards books has changed ever since I was published. It’s now difficult for me to regard any book without thinking about the author and the effort he/she may have put into his/her work. For this reason I don’t really like to abandon books, nor, like Brianna, would I be comfortable posting a review if the book didn’t at least rate a four out five for me. Why? Because as a writer I know how it hurts to have people slag your book — particularly if they’ve DNFed it.

    Personally, I would never post a review of a book I’d DNFed and feel I was justified within the context of that review to comment on plot, character, or any other aspect of the novel, for that matter — aside from expressing the fact that it just wasn’t for me. I certainly wouldn’t feel qualified to draw conclusions about the rest of the novel when I hadn’t read the thing through. Don’t get me wrong: I have absolutely no beef with people posting that they have DNFed a book and citing reasons why. I do feel, however,(and this is only my opinion)that it’s unfair to expound upon deficiencies of plot, character, etc. if one has only read a small portion of a novel.

    As an example, I can think of one novel I read a few years back where I was ready to DNF because it just seemed to be doing nothing for me. It wasn’t my cup of tea (or so I thought), but I carried on to the end and actually found that the last third or so of the novel more than made up for any elements of the narrative I hadn’t enjoyed at the start. That book was “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan, and I’d have missed out on a good story if I’d abandoned it when I’d originally intended.

    To have written a review of “Atonement” without having read it to its end would have meant drawing wholly erroneous conclusions about the plot and the characters and what the story actually had to say (because it went to places I hadn’t anticipated).

    As a writer I’m not going to criticize anyone for not finishing a book. I’ve done it myself on occasion, and I fully understand that sometimes the synopsis makes the book sound right for you but when you get into it the appeal is just not there. No book is going to satisfy everyone.

    I would also never dream of taking a reader to task for giving my book a bad review — even when he/she may have made it personal, or may have made statements about the book that are patently false and either rooted in malicious intent or some gleeful desire to excoriate the work of the writer (and, sadly, there are people out there who delight in doing both). As a writer, I know you simply have to accept bad reviews — however hurtful they may be — and move on. You take solace in the good reviews.

    I guess that’s why I just can’t bring myself to give bad reviews anymore, because I know that behind each book is a person who worked hard to write the book in the first place and worked even harder (if traditionally published) to get it published. Many reviewers are aspiring writers who may one day be published themselves, so it behooves them to be mindful, when writing their reviews, that one day they may be on the receiving end, that it may be their books that are being torn to shreds by readers. That doesn’t mean you, as a reader, shouldn’t write bad reviews; just do it fairly and with some measure of compassion. Most writers, if they’re like me, value (highly) what readers have to say — whether it’s good or bad. We use that to improve our skills — something we could never do if we worked in a vacuum.