I'm not talking about picking up a book while browsing in a bookstore or library, and reading a line or two to decide if you'll take it. That's part of the process of choosing books, and there's always a chance that you'll pass over a book that you'd actually enjoy. No, I'm talking about choosing a book, taking it home, and sitting down to read it, only to become frustrated, disgusted or just plain turned off.
I make an effort with books. Sometimes I'll even finish a book that continues to evoke all the above emotions, just because there's a tiny thread of the plot that I'm a tiny bit interested in. (And sometimes I keep reading because- I admit it- it reminds me that if bad writing can get published, maybe I have a shot to publish some decent writing someday.)
But there are times that I slam a book closed, toss the bookmark away in disgust, and return it to the shelf unread. Here are the ways that I get turned off:
1. Plain old poor writing. I started reading a book a few days ago that actually changed from past to present to past tense again within the first page- and it wasn't because the character was remembering something "back in the day."
2. Unloveable characters. I don't mean unlikeable, because unlikeable characters can still be interesting, and I'll still want to know what happens to them. But if a writer can't make me care about the fate of even one person in the story, I'm done. It's why I watched Friends instead of Seinfeld. Are Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George funny? Of course. Are they lovable enough characters that I care what happens to them? Nope. TV off.
3. Meandering plot and/or too much exposition. It's ok if the story is character-driven, but if it's plot-driven, just get to the point.
4. This is just me, but as I've said before, I'm not into sensationalism. Don't kill someone off on the first page just to kick-start the book, unless it's actually vital to the plot, like in The DaVinci Code. Profanity just for shock value also turns me off.
It does sometimes hurt to put a book down unfinished, but I try to remember that there are millions more books out there that I'm going to enjoy, and I don't need to settle for something that's not going to satisfy me.
What turns you off?