Can You Tell How Good A Book Is From The First Few Chapters?

I’ve never downloaded the sample chapters from Amazon when looking for new books to buy. It was suggested to me the other day as a way of weeding out the dross when looking for Self Pubs to review.

I’m wondering if I should start, because clearly looking at the reviews is not a good indicator of quality.

The book I’m reading at the moment has an average of 3.96 on Goodreads with over 9000 ratings. I’m not convinced I’m going to be able to give it more 1, not because of personal taste or a dislike for the story (though to be honest, I’m five chapters in and a plot is yet to surface) but because it’s so poorly written. I don’t know who gave it all these 5 star reviews, but I’m starting to wonder if they were reading the same book.

If I had read the sample, I don’t think I would have picked it up. One page would have been enough to let me know the the quality of writing would be a problem. But does it always work?

I’m thinking about Can’t Live Without, which had a cracking first chapter, and no obvious grammar/clumsy writing problems. Three chapters would probably have been enough to grab my attention and make me want to read it. What I wouldn’t have been able to tell is how the story went downhill after that, with a rush of revelations I felt no emotional connection to.

Of course, this is a problem in traditionally published books as well. The first three chapters of Slated would have had me hitting ‘buy’ as quickly as possible. I would have been very disappointed (and annoyed that I’d spent my money) to find that the first half was great, but the second rubbish.

Is there any foolproof way of finding if a book is any good? Apart from reading it, I can’t think of one. Reading the sample might give us a clue, but I think I’d feel more cheated if I read three good chapters then was let down, than I feel frustrated that I’m reading something dreadful that I didn’t look at before.

What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “Can You Tell How Good A Book Is From The First Few Chapters?

  1. fibrochimp says:

    I can’t help with finding out how good a book is, but I can tell you how books get such good ratings. As well as friends and family who think books are great just because they know the author a lot of self publishers get together and write reviews to boost their books in the ratings so they will sell more. They don’t read the books just all get together and give the books a 5/5 and put a standard review… “Loved it, couldn’t put it down, kept me on the edge of my seat.’… that sort of stuff.
    It makes it a LOT harder for people like me who refuse to join in, and I am published by a small press so don’t technically count as one of the gang. This means my books which have been thought worthy of a publisher get less reviews and all it takes is for one bad one from some one who doesn’t ‘get it’ and I’m way down the scale. Not wishing to sound bitter of course 🙂

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  2. Catana says:

    There’s no way to guarantee that a book is going to be worth reading, but you should be able to tell within the first few pages if it isn’t. I will never shell out money for a novel before reading a sample, and very seldom for nonfiction. I won’t argue about fibrochimp’s statements, but I believe that that type of review is less common than the ones by people who read for the story alone and will put up with writing that is close to illiterate if the story and the characters hit their buttons. The more five star ratings there are, for fiction particularly, the more likely it is that the book is being judged by something other than writing quality. The samples are there for a reason. Do yourself a favor and start using them.

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