Book deal breakers

In one of last month’s Thoughtful Thursday columns, April suggested a discussion topic. She wants to know what your “book deal breakers” are.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews

Laughable Lyrics: A Fourth Book of Nonsense Poems, Songs, Botany, Music, etc. by Edward Lear (1894).

Book deal breakers are elements you find in the synopsis, cover, title, or text that will make you absolutely not buy, read, or continue reading a particular book. April says “I know everyone has some!”

So, readers, what are your book deal breakers?

As always, one commenter will be chosen to pick a book from our stacks. Winners are notified in the comments, so make sure to check the notification box or remember to check back in about 10 days. If we don’t choose a winner within 2 weeks, please bug Marion.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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  1. I don’t read postapocalyptic. I’ve had actual nightmares from far too many of those.

  2. Eep, if I was too late to check the box will you please consider it checked?

  3. I can’t stand a love triangle to begin with but when the author writes one, resolves it, then brings it back? I’ll drop the series like it was yesterdays news.

    • I hate that too, especially, “He’s back! He’s changed!” and the triangle resumes. Tiresome.

  4. I avoid love triangles too. Oh, now and then they are handled okay such that it’s really just the character moving from one (usually an old boyfriend) to a new one, but in general, I won’t buy a book if I know it has a love triangle.

    Weirdly, I don’t like mysteries with reporters as the main protagonist. I’ve read too many and the “job” is too often used as an excuse for the protag to be nosy — or worse– do something really stupid “in the name of getting the story.” As a plot device, it annoys the bajeebers out of me.

    Nothing makes me put a book aside faster than torture, rape or gratuitous violence. I can handle some of that in a “happened in the past, off screen” but that is also becoming a more and more overused plot device. I’ve read through just enough books to know that I will not read books with that kind of description in it. I set them aside and generally will not read that author again (I can think of one author whose other books I still read, but I had already read enough of her books to know that it was not the norm for her style).

    Other than that, I read most stuff!!!

  5. I’ll drop a book at the first sign of Idiot Plot Syndrome — no second chances on that one, either. Or one with the kind of bad syntax that leaves you puzzling over what the author *really* meant. I’ll also avoid authors who go overboard on the mushy romance. And Maria, I’m with you on the violence. And the gritty. And writers that make you like a character and then slaughter them in the vilest way.
    Hm. I’m surprised I read anything at all, ever, at this rate…

  6. bn100 /

    ugly covers, vague blurbs, cliffhangers

    • Oh, I forgot cliffhangers! I’ll drop a series pretty quickly for that too.

      Ugly covers? I read books with some of the ugliest. That doesn’t bother me. Blurbs…yeah, I’m not too picky about those either. It’s the sample that has to grab me. But if a blurb is too vague, I might not sample. That can be a mood thing.

  7. Not a big fan of cliffhangers either. And alright I’ll admit it – I avoid Young Adult contemporary novels like the plague – but just because I can’t relate … but really it’s because I tire of teens being written to do incredibly naive and stupid things.

  8. Sarah /

    “Dark, gritty fantasy” is usually an immediate back on the shelf.

    The ‘they wiped out her whole village and she barely survived so now very young girl person vows revenge against the evil warlords’ plot. I’ve read a couple good ones, but I don’t usually go beyond the back cover any more.

    Dystopia and post-apocalyptic are exhausting my ability to read them anymore.

  9. I don’t think I have any mid-reading deal breakers. It’s rare that I stop reading a book I’ve started, but if I do, it’s a cumulative effect of just bad writing and plotting rather than a singular event.

    As far as deal breakers that prevent me from picking up a book in a genre I might normally read (I don’t for instance read urban fantasy so I don’t consider things like covers “deal breakers” there). So:
    Pretty girls or boys as the emphatic image on the cover.
    Anything that intimates romance is the main point.
    Same old same old covers, such as burly men with swords
    Reading a synopsis that sounds same old same old plot: Chosen One, quest for a magic artifact by a group of shy little folk, etc.

    I never read blurbs, but I read the backs for plot points.

    Authors I trust, publishers I trust, reviewers I trust will all get me to ignore what would possibly be deal breakers otherwise

  10. RedEyedGhost /

    While not 100% deal breaker, I do really hate Prophecies (capitol P!!!) in books. Especially when an author relies too heavily on them. If each book in a series has its own prophecy, I’m done.

  11. I have to agree with contemporary YA, a cover that seems like it fits that genre doesn’t even get a blurb read. I have a to read list that stretches around the earth and grows every day so it’s not often I pick up something I don’t already have a good idea I’ll like. Perhaps I should add books where it seems like the author had an inflated and unrealistically high opinion of how good their book is.

    • Walter /

      …17 year old…
      Vampyre, angel, werewolf
      CIA (or other) agent…

  12. Melanie Goldmund /

    I have to agree with Bill Capossere here: anything where romance is the main focus of the story, especially books with half-naked men on the covers. Or scantily-clad ladies. In general, vampires are also turn-off for me, along with werewolves and other paranormal creatures, although angels don’t automatically make me drop the book. That would depend on the plot.

    I also remember one book that I stopped reading mostly because it just didn’t “sound” right. It was supposedly set in Northeastern England, but it felt so American that I just couldn’t believe it. And of course the author was American. Some American authors can pull it off, such as Connie Willis and Deborah Crombie, but this author just couldn’t. Added to the teeny tiny fact that there was suddenly more teen angst veering hard towards romance, and much less adventure than I’d been hoping for, and that was that.

  13. April /

    I’ve got a long list so I’ll just give you the short version:

    -Angels in human form are 99% deal breakers (I say 99% because I read one series where it worked for me, Faith Hunter’s Bloodring trilogy)
    -teen romance, YA is fine as long as there isn’t a big focus on romance
    -love triangles; really dislike them, they don’t feel realistic to me at all as I can’t imagine someone keeping two significant others on the line at the same time, either man or woman. And they are usually used as bulk filler for extra drama. Boring.
    -WWI & WWII – I don’t know why but I have an aversion to any fictional story that mentions either of those wars.
    -overemphasis on physical beauty; using terms like ‘hot’, ‘delicious’ or continually describing someone’s hair or clothes and how well they look on or off or anything like that. Always makes me think of some sweaty 15 yo high schooler writing out their romantic fantasies.

    Ok, five is enough for now ;-)

    • I really get tired of books or conversations lately where the women objectify the men with comments like “yummy” and “eye candy” and so on. If a guy made comments about a book cover the way some women have been making comments lately, imagine the reaction…

      I don’t like it in characters either. Fine, go weak at the knees now and then, but don’t sit there for a paragraph turning the guy into what ends up sounding like a five course dinner–hot, yummy, candy–I saw “slurp” the other day! WHAT??? Get real.

  14. Sandyg265 /

    Stupid plot errors. The last book I stopped partway through had the hero hotwire a car. When he left the car he took the keys with him. I couldn’t read any more because I was so annoyed.

    • Sarah Webb /

      I agree with the plot errors. I read a story where a character leaned his Harley up against the side of a building… I may be wrong, but I’ve never seen a Harley rider lean his bike up against anything. Between that and the female protag being so beat up during a fight scene that she could barely limp away participating in an amazingly athletic sex scene within a couple of hours made me toss that author.

      • I think I read that book, Sarah. (The second one you mention). I can’t remember what it was. I remember thinking the same thing.

        • Sarah /

          It was in an anthology, that I think I reviewed here.

  15. Paul Connelly /

    The President of the United States as a character. Don’t we get bombarded with enough nonsense about the insufferable idiots that occupy that office in real life?
    Any hint that this will be a Road Trip novel.
    The cover highlights the author’s deep philosophical insights. Especially if they are “life-changing”. And you never heard of him (it’s always a “him”).
    The heroine is bored and lonely in her new school/castle/space colony. And then she meets “him” (“him” again!). And he is described as “gorgeous” or “dangerous” or “another outcast like her”, or all of the above.
    The reviews mention that this book is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. And torture or abuse of animals or children is featured.
    The blurbs keep telling you how witty and clever and satirical the book is, but the pages you skim are decidedly lacking in wit.
    Sexbots, sexborgs, etc. (and nary a “him” among them)
    Any book that promotes itself, or is praised by reviewers, as something only the intelligentsia or hip streetwise outsider artistes will “get”. Especially if it’s also “transgressive” or “surreal” or “genre-bending” or “cerebral”.
    The cover features scantily clad females in all the infamous Jim Hines girl warrior poses. Or has the muscular male, but totally hairless, chest posing for you, and the top of the male’s head is cut off by the top edge of the book cover (I mean, how symbolic is that?).

    • Those Jim Hines’ poses were/are HYSTERICAL.

      • April /

        Paul – you reminded me of another deal-breaker that I have had since I was a kid. Any book with a title that ends with the words ‘a Novel’. Any fictional story that has to TELL me that it is a story, is not worth my time. Well, that is what I think anyway ;-) I think I have actually read one or two over the years anyway, mostly by accident. It just makes me feel like it is trying too hard to be something.

  16. Tizz, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!