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Percentage of books started but never finished

I finish x% of books I start.

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I start a lot of books during a month that I never, ever finish because I just can’t get past the first three chapters or so.   I estimate that I finish approximately 60% of the books that I start. How about you? Given all the books you buy, rent, borrow, how many do you truly finish?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Emily
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 09:46:00

    The poll choices (What is keeping you from buying an epublished book?) don’t reflect answers to your question.

  2. Jinni
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 12:13:52

    But I mostly finish out of guilt at having invested time in the start of the book.

    Lately, I’m giving myself permission to let incompatible books go when they are not working. My new rationale is that the book is much better in the hands of someone else who might enjoy it.

  3. vicariousrising
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 12:21:35

    I think I waste too much time trying to finish books that I am not enjoying, thus creating more of a backlog for myself. I need to give myself permission to dump books that aren’t working for me sooner so I can get to the good ones faster. I don’t know why I force myself to slog through stories that don’t entertain me, or don’t read anything because I haven’t finished that last book… It’s plain stupid.

  4. Lori
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 12:30:07

    I have a fairly high percentage of DNFs. I have a huge TBR and not a lot of time. If a book isn’t working I don’t want to waste my time on it. I’d much rather set it aside and move on to one that I might actually enjoy. I’ve also been consciously working on trying new things. I’ve found some hits, but also a lot of misses.

  5. SonomaLass
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 13:20:46

    I read really fast — too fast, but I can’t seem to help it. I am also pretty picky about the books I buy, going mostly on recommendations and reviews, so I rarely get a book that I don’t at least want to finish to see how it ends. I take more chances on books from the library, but even so, I mostly finish them.

    My reading time is right before bedtime, and if I find myself sitting at the computer or in front of the t.v. late at night, and the book I have started isn’t calling to me to switch off and come read, then I know it hasn’t really engaged me. That’s when I know not to finish it. Although recently I read a book that I was having trouble finishing (it was dark and depressing) because it came highly recommended and was the first in a series where I really liked the concept. I was glad I persevered; I suspect that if I had picked up that same book at a different time, I wouldn’t have had any trouble with it. Books that are boring me, though? I drop those. I wouldn’t say that’s even 10% of the number I start, though.

  6. Silver James
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 13:21:58

    I probably finish 90-95% of the books I start, mainly because I am very selective with which authors I buy. I try new-to-me writers from the library and feel less compelled to finish the book if I’m not enjoying it.

  7. MaryK
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 13:30:36

    “More than 75%”

    I rarely put a book down completely unread because once I start I want to know how it comes out. If I’m not liking it, I’ll skip rapidly through to the end.

  8. jmc
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 13:40:12

    I answered >50%. It used to be close to 100%, because I wouldn’t discard a book unfinished, even a bad one. But I’ve given myself permission to not waste time on books that don’t appeal, which means a lot more of them are being discarded. And a lot more of them are failing the 50 page test, which means they don’t even get noted in my reading journal.

  9. PJ
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 13:52:32

    I used to force myself to finish almost all of them, but since my time has become the most precious commodity, I don’t have any problem with “recycling” the ones that don’t work for me.

  10. Chris
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 13:56:59

    I finish most I start – but there are plenty I read the back a few more times and decide not to bother. Good thing the library’s my primary source of books!

  11. Moth
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 14:44:53

    I’m much better about stopping crummy books now that I get most of my reading material from the library. That just takes the pressure off. I didn’t spend money on it so its not a waste of anything if I don’t finish it. In fact, I’ll be wasting time better spent elsewhere if I finish a book I’m not enjoying.

    I said over 75% of the time but, come to think of it, that was probably the old me where I finished absolutely EVERYTHING I started. Now I’m probably closer to 50-60%.

  12. shuzluva
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 15:30:06

    What about percentage of books bought but never cracked? There are those moments when I go on a buying binge and end up only reading 3 out of the 10 in the pile. I have uncracked books hidden in my nightstand that one day I’m sure I’ll get to…

    I said over 75% because, to this day, I have a hard time putting a book down. In the last 6 months I’ve been unable to finish two books. I think it may be because I’ve spent my hard-earned dough on them…but then see above. And that pile has a tendency to grow. I still have Vikram Seth’s Two Lives sitting there and I actually feel guilty about it right now.

  13. joanne
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 15:41:22

    I’m much more discerning now with my purchases then ever before so I have bought very few books in the past year that I couldn’t finish.

    Due to the rise in the price of new books — and to be fair, the costs of everything else — my dollars just won’t stretch to throw-away reads.

    I also stick fairly close to authors that I’ve read before and only take a chance on new authors that have written a trope I love. A half-way decent pace, a H/h that aren’t idiots and a HEA and I’ll keep reading.

    The few books that have been DNF for me this year have all been in the Romantic Suspense genre. I’m particular about the mysteries I buy and mixing mystery with romance is not often successful, IMO.

    About 95% of what I buy I read to the end. More to the point is how many pages have I skipped of blah, blah, blah that could have been edited down to a few sentences?!

  14. Aoife
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 16:23:20

    I chose >25%, but there is a lot of variation tucked inside that number. I bring home piles of books from the library, and within my family there are always numerous books circulating that someone else bought and is passing along. Of those, I probably read less than 25%. Books that I bring home from the UBS, I actually read 2 or 3 out of every 10. Books I buy full price, either paper or e-books? I tend to read more than half of those, because I am much, much more selective when we’re talking $7-30 each. (And, of those full price books, only 1-2% of them are e-books.)

  15. rebyj
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 17:34:47

    I finish probably 99% of books I start. My budget is so limited that I make very careful choices when buying a book. Books are so hard to come by some months that I think people who don’t finish one are nuts.. no offense LOL

  16. Tae
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 18:05:15

    I’m more like 99%. I need to break myself of the habit of finishing books I don’t enjoy, but it’s difficult for me to do so. I would save myself so much time, and read more good books if I did. Since I am a library user, I’m not wasting my money, thankfully.

  17. Lorraine
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 18:19:54

    I always finish books I start. Like Tae, I’d like to break myself of the habit.

    I ran into this problem over the weekend. I was reading Helen Kirkman’s Forbidden and falling asleep, in broad daylight, after about 80 pages. I visited DA and AAR to see if there were reviews and both sites gave it a C- and D. I put the book down at that point and picked up a new one. However, the next day I went back and finished Forbidden, albeit only skimming it for the most part.

  18. Heather H
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 18:28:20

    I read 100% of the new books I buy – but I am super picky about what I buy.
    I read the majority from the library or friends – and life is too short to waste reading books I don’t enjoy. But I always read the last chapter even if I only read the first chapter of the book. I still have to read the ending.

  19. Edie
    Jun 22, 2009 @ 19:15:33

    If I do not like a book, I can not continue reading it..
    It normally happens within the first chapter. Though I will read the last chapter before putting it down.. does that count as finishing??

    Edited to add, this is generally only on second hand books I have picked up randomly.. with my new purchases I am incredibly anal about how I spend my money, so there are generally not too many duds in there. And the odd dudd will most likely get finished, as I have darn well paid all that money!

  20. kirsten saell
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 01:24:27

    I try to finish books I start, but sometimes it’s really hard. I picked up a book recently by a highly lauded epublished author who’s made inroads in NY (no, I’m not saying who), and the first 30 pages were full of navel-gazing, infodump (riddled with redundancies, no less), and “as you know, Bob” dialogue, before anything actually, you know…happened. I made myself finish it, because it was my first book by this particular author, and I wanted to see what the big deal was about.

    Not much, apparently. Should have reread that first Brent Weeks book or something instead…

    I’m much pickier with some subgenres than others, too. I have no compunctions about dropping an f/f(/m) book in the middle (or at the start) if it’s lame–which all too often it is–because it’s my favorite subgenre and it’s frustrating to see it poorly served by an author.

    I’m more forgiving with m/f–I think it’s easier for most authors to get the relationship dynamics right with those, so even if the writing is lackluster it will usually appeal enough for me to finish it.

    M/M can be problematic. Fairly often it reads to me like that particularly emo brand of f/f I don’t like, only with guys instead of chicks. When that happens, it gets turfed with extreme prejudice.

    And while fantasy is my first love, I think I’m probably the hardest on those. Sloppy or cursory worldbuilding, stilted prose, and a tendency to throw every spice in the cupboard into the pot can drive me crazy. It’s as if some authors feel like if witches are cool, witches and faeries is even cooler, and it would be even cooler still to throw in angels and demons and elves and dragons and shifters and vamps and gods and goddesses and unicorns and centaurs and prophecies, and did I miss anything? Blurgh.

    Most of the fantasy I love best follows the KISS method. Keep it simple, stupid.

  21. Maili
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 03:52:14

    It varied from year to year. Some years, I finished every book possible – even when it made me want to put my head through a window, repeatedly – and some years, can manage only 25% with the first-25-page rule in force. This year so far, it’s 100% because I didn’t read a romance last, perhaps, three years.

    With all that in mind, the average is ‘more than 50%’.

  22. Jane O
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 06:37:29

    There are two kinds of DNFs for me.

    1. Mmmm, nah, I’m not in the mood for this right now.

    2. What ever possessed the publisher to put out this drivel?

    The first I may come back to another day.

    The second -‘ well, the older I get, the less patience I have, and the more books seem to fall into that category.

  23. DS
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 06:46:50

    Depends on type of book. Romances maybe about 25%, fantasy/sf/mystery/nonfiction close to 85-90%. Free ebooks have dragged the percentage down a lot in romance because I tend to download most on offer which includes a lot that I would never have actually paid money for in the first place.

  24. joanne
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 07:12:57

    by Maili June 23rd, 2009 at 3:52 am
    even when it made me want to put my head through a window, repeatedly

    That’s just quotable!
    Been there, almost did that, thank you for the grin.

  25. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 10:46:38

    I probably finish 90-95% of the books I start, mainly because I am very selective with which authors I buy.

    Me too, but I it also depends on how you define “start”. My number drops dramatically if you count the stuff that I read the first couple of pages/chapters of but don’t even bother to buy. I rarely pick up something by an unknown author without reading an excerpt or sampling the first few pages in the book store.

  26. CupK8
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 10:56:40

    I finish almost every book I pick up. Series are another matter entirely! I will often finish the first one, but if it didn’t grip me, I won’t move on to the next. I go a lot on recommendations too, so I like to give each book a fighting chance.

    But I too read very quickly, often gulping down so many chapters that I’ll reread the book later and not even realize I had read it before! (Happened with To Sir Phillip, with Love)

  27. ReacherFan
    Jun 23, 2009 @ 13:10:26

    by vicariousrising June 22nd

    I think I waste too much time trying to finish books that I am not enjoying, thus creating more of a backlog for myself. I need to give myself permission to dump books that aren't working for me sooner so I can get to the good ones faster.

    That makes two of us.

  28. Sam
    Jun 24, 2009 @ 05:52:57

    You can be very selective now with the internet. You can find spoilers everywhere to avoid books with your pet peeves and find books that you might like.

  29. KristieJ
    Jun 24, 2009 @ 16:14:06

    I’d say I finish about 60% too. And of the 40% I don’t finish, I always plan on going back and reading about 25%. I say plan – because I don’t always follow through.

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