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What if DNF was your default option?

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DNF as Your Default

I have an idea for you all and I hope you hear me out before the shouts of “Blasphemy!” start up ;-). I know a lot of us struggle with marking a book DNF (‘did not finish’), especially if you’ve already invested a fair amount of time into it. I definitely do.

I’ve realized there is a murky place in between “I love this book and can’t put it down” and “I hate this book so much that I have no problem putting it down.” That murky place often leads us to finishing books that we knew were only okay all along, when we could have been reading something that we loved.

In my hunt for a first book for my not so secret project, I’ve been doing something new: starting every possible book with the intention of stopping after the first chapter or two. Certainly, some books could get markedly better later on, but for this project, I want to find the books that grab you from the first page anyway. A side effect of this method of winnowing possible books is that I’ve found the ones that I’m heart-broken to stop reading. I’ve filtered out the ones that are in that murky space between love and hate. I feel no pull to continue them after the first two chapters, and that makes it clear they aren’t the book I’m looking for in this moment and that they probably would be one of those books that I struggle through and end up rating 3-stars or lower.

We always say that life is too short for books you don’t enjoy reading. We have given ourselves permission to stop reading a book we don’t like. But that still means that a book has to be bad enough to make you set it aside and mark it a dreaded DNF. What if, instead, we switch the direction the decision needs to go. What if instead of needing to decide to DNF, we make that the default option — and therefore easier to do — and make continuing the option that requires deliberate action.

There are so many amazing books out there to read, why spend a moment more reading something that doesn’t inspire you? That doesn’t remind you why you absolutely love reading? Think about how many first chapters you can try in the time it took you to read the last ‘only okay’ book you read. You could have found an unexpected favorite instead of finishing a book you celebrated being done with. Doesn’t that sound better?

Sure, maybe you’ll pick up one of those discontinued books in the future when it calls to you again. You’ll have read the first chapter, so you’ll have a good idea what sort of mood the book would work for and will likely like it better then anyway! There’s nothing wrong with having an arsenal of first chapters to help you pick a mood book.

Now, I do here you calling, “But what about review books??” And I understand your worry. It obviously depends on why you review books — what your goal is in reviewing books — but if your goal is to help your readers find books that they will want to read, you have at least two options: 1) you could do mini or first chapter reviews for ones that don’t inspire you to keep reading (similar to my Just Hatched, though I encourage you to come up with your own way of doing it!) or 2) you could make sure you try those books that are less-hyped and likely to have been overlooked by many of your readers. I personally would prefer reading a review for a book I hadn’t heard much about, but the blogger loved, than a review of an ‘only okay’ book.

Obviously negative reviews can be very useful too, so if you want to push through every book you have for review consideration so that you can outline the negatives and positives, go for it! A negative or ambivalent review of a super-hyped book is something I seem to specialize in at times and can be exceedingly useful. However, I think that that should still be a deliberate decision that you make: ‘I’m continuing this book even though it isn’t compelling me to do so, specifically so that I can write a comprehensive review about it.’ Really, it’s all about making deliberate and thoughtful decisions about what you read instead of reading the equivalent of potato chips because they are there on the coffee table.

So what do you say? Do you want to be able to sample more books and only read the ones you can’t live without? Then let’s do it! Instead of feeling bad about DNF’ing a book and making that the less likely event, let’s embrace trying lots of first chapters and finding those unexpected but amazing reads. I know I’ve personally already found two books that I likely wouldn’t have had time to read before, but now suspect will be new favorites and I can’t wait to share one with you all ;-).

What do you think? Is this a mindset you might try out? Do you feel you have to try to finish every book you start?

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings -Anya

© 2016, Anya. All rights reserved.


  1. This is a revolutionary idea, but I don’t think I could do it. My brain rarely allows me to DNF at all – it drives me crazy, but I just can’t seem to give up on a book, even when I’m not really enjoying it. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I’ve given up on worrying about it. I do agree that I would have been better off if I’d skipped a lot of meh books, but I doubt I’d be able to convince myself to give up after a couple of chapters. Maybe I can force myself to try, though!
    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted…Audiobook Acceleration – Let’s Discuss! (And a Poll!)My Profile

  2. I do something similar. I just posted about, and I linked to this post as a 2nd opinion (near the bottom).

    Love It or DNF It

  3. It depends on the book, some are challenging to the point of giving up until they click around page 150 or so and are subsequently worth the effort, although Moby Dick was definitely a DNF I need to go back to. If an author sends me a book then I will always review it no matter how good or bad simply because it is only fair, anything else is fair game for giving up on though.

  4. This is a really interesting question and I LOVE it. It’s so hard to make the decision to quit a book sometimes but you’re so right — I always think of, if I wasn’t a blogger, would this even be a question? And most of the time it’s no question. If I wasn’t blogging and I was just reading for fun, I would just put a book down and forget about it. WIth review books it’s a bit different since I did make a commitment to read it BUT I didn’t make a commitment to finish it. If I got the book for review, I make sure to share my thoughts on some sort of outlet (blog, Goodreads, etc) even if it’s just to say this book didn’t work for me. Sometimes what I DON’T like is exactly what someone does like.
    Great post!!

  5. I think this is a brilliant idea, because I am someone who will sometimes slog through something I’m genuinely not enjoying. However, I don’t think it’s the approach for me. It’s a rare book that I love right away and I feel as though it’s not entirely unusual for it to take me more than a chapter or two to get into a book enough to know how I’m going to feel about it. Maybe with a longer cutoff this could work for me though :)
    Katie @ Doing Dewey recently posted…Review: Voices from ChernobylMy Profile

    • Definitely, from the comments a lot of people do 50-100 or 25-50%. I think it’s all about you figuring out when you generally have an idea how a book will suit you. For me the writing and characters are generally the make or break, so that I can figure out sooner than plot for instance.

  6. This is such a wonderful post! Thank you for bringing this up. This is definitely something I need to consider doing. I’ve been torturing myself reading through A Game of Thrones which I just can’t seem to get into, but now I feel silly for persisting because if I don’t love it now, will I ever?

    I think I’m going to try the “DNF if I can’t find a reason to continue about 3 chapters in” method now :)
    Annika @ Hiding in Books recently posted…Uprooted by Naomi NovikMy Profile

  7. I do use this approach, or at least started using it, even with review copies (because I can still review it even if it is DNF) because my cut off mark is 100 pages or 25%. If it’s not working for me then, I’m done with it (or I’ll pick it up later).

    You know, you can also use the Goodreads Preview feature to see whether you want to buy a book using your method as well! I don’t want to say for certain that it will give you a 10 page preview (maybe? I think 10 pages is short enough), but I think it will give you enough to see whether you like it or not! Maybe I’ll start doing this :)

    • Perfect! Yeah, my problem is that I’m usually deciding on a book before it is published, so the only previews are ones on NetGalley etc. But that would be great for seeing if I should request something from the library ha

  8. Love this topic so much!

    Lately I’ve actually gotten a lot…better(?) about DNFing books. Used to be that I’d have to finish a book no matter what – regardless of how much I wasn’t enjoying it. I was a completionist. I HAD to finish everything I started. But the past four, maybe five, months I’ve gotten a lot more likely to pull the plug on a book if I’m not feeling it – never mind dropping a book that I’m actively hating. Of course, sometimes I just want to write a ranty review, so I keep reading just so I can do that. (Because I actually do find low star reviews the most helpful in deciding to read a book or not.)

    What I try to do now is give a book fifty pages to catch my attention and, if nothing does – no characters for me to like, indifferent plot, bland world-building – there’s a pretty good chance I’ll just stop reading it. I thought about going by chapter, but with the varied books I read, sometimes two chapters are ten pages, other times it’s forty-plus pages! Besides, I feel that fifty pages give the book enough time to settle into the story and me enough time to settle into the world. I’ve DNF’d quite a few books this way, but I’m also watching my average rating going higher AND I’m not putting off reading because I’m bored with the book.
    Amy @ Pages of Starlight recently posted…Wishlist For The Harry Potter SeriesMy Profile

    • Go you! Oh yeah, rants are a lot of fun for the right book and definitely helpful to read, as long as that’s a decision you’re making mindfully I think ;-)

      For sure, I just read until I get a good sense of it, which tends to be the first couple of chapters, but some have exceptions. I generally have that limit because I need to have some sort of cut off that is still a bit flexible. It’s the worst if you’re counting down the pages to DNF D:

  9. Such a great idea and discussion, I don’t mind DNFing a book and tend to occasionally, I think I always give it about 100 pages though. For review books I am torn, there have been some on Netgalley that I have requested, gotten, and then ended up DNFing and I feel kinda terrible about it since I wanted them, but it happens I guess. Most I do read through even if it isn’t a great review, but I figure that is why I got them right? to review them… whether it be positive or negative. :) Thank you for sharing who you choose, I may have to try it :)
    Steph recently posted…Early Reader Review: American Housewife: Stories by Helen EllisMy Profile

    • With NetGalley, I think it’s important to remember that telling a publisher a book didn’t work for you to the point you didn’t want to keep reading is still valuable feedback and so that’s okay! They don’t expect you to read everything all the way through and understand that sometimes books just don’t work for you. If you still talk about it on your blog, all the better since one of your readers might feel differently about what you didn’t like and pick it up!

  10. Ooh. Okay. I am absolutely divided on this one. It’s fairly recently that I’ve learnt to give myself permission to DNF at all (for years I had a crazy I’ve Started So I’ll Finish mentality), and even so I typically get 30-60% in before I give up. But you’re absolutely right to say I wouldn’t be missing out on much. I might have to live with this idea for a week and let it settle. Right now, it means I would put down Cat Valente’s Radiance and walk away, and that feels like a missed opportunity. But I guess it doesn’t preclude picking it up again later and trying the first 2 chapters again to see if it was just my mood ;)
    imyril recently posted…March into Middle-Earth: Rejoining the FellowshipMy Profile

    • Exactly! Honestly, I DNF’d that. I decided that wanting to feel well-read and challenging myself wasn’t worth the disinterest I was feeling reading it and that is okay.

  11. I’m still learning to get to a point where I’m okay with declaring a book a DNF. I’m such a mood reader anyway; sometimes a book that doesn’t inspire me, sits on my shelf for a while, and then I come back to it and devour it. Other times, I have it on my “Currently Reading” Goodreads shelf for 6 months before I finally decide to stop pretending… The idea of starting books without fully committing sounds liberating.

    • Oh goodreads, that’s something I completely forgot! I’ve started doing this same thing where I don’t mark a book currently reading until I’ve decided to stick with it. So I’ve got a couple books that I’m planning on getting back to, but aren’t currently-reading, so that I don’t feel guilty, ha!

  12. Such an interesting idea! I do start a number of books and if the book doesn’t catch my interest in the first chapter or so I don’t read it. I’m very much a mood reader so sometimes I’m just not in the mood right then and do come back to the book, but other times I just move on to the next book. There are no shortage of good books to read. I haven’t written any DNF reviews for those books–actually haven’t written DNF reviews at all…lol.

    Usually if I have more invested in the book I finish reading it. I remember last year I was at 40% and considered stopping, but I did finish and ended up liking the book better than at the 40% mark. However, I probably wouldn’t feel too sad if I hadn’t finished the book.

    So something I need to think about. Thanks for an interesting post, Anya!
    Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic recently posted…Killing Trail by Margaret MizushimaMy Profile

  13. I see the merits of such an approach, but I don’t think I could do that. While I agree that I want to read those books I love, I also think that it’s hard if not impossible to only read those really good and love books. And many of the 3 and 4 star books that didn’t blow me away were still books I enjoyed and I am glad I read. And so many books do get better after the first few chapters. Just thinking, but wouldn’t you need a crazy amount of books for this method? I know most bookworms have a lot of books, but say you read 6 chapters every day and they are all DNF’s, then you would go through 3 books a day. I don’t think I would be able to get into this mindset, but I am curious to hear how it works out for you.
    Lola recently posted…My To-Be Read List #19: pollMy Profile

    • Even if a book ends up 3-4 stars, if you feel happy reading it, then I would definitely keep reading! They definitely won’t all be 5-star, mostly because I’m super picky about my endings, but I want to enjoy that journey for the most part :). I think it also depends on what makes a book work for you or not. The writing, voice, and characters are the big factors for me assuming the magic/world is cool. That I can generally figure out from the first chapters since it would be weird for the writing to change part way through ;-).

      I generally only dnf half of what I try since I do use the premise etc to pick out ones that are likely to appeal to me. Isn’t our general complaint that we have way more than we can read though? I know I have hundreds of books I’d like to someday be able to try out, so if I can rule out three books a day, that’d be great! And rally what ends up happening is I have a set to try, I read all the first couple chapters, and then I stop when I find the one that I can’t stand to stop and read that that week. I don’t have a lot of reading time these days, so one really good book a week is about all I can do ha

  14. This is a very interesting concept. I struggle to DNF so I don’t know how I’d go with it, but it’s a great idea! I might have to give the book until 20% or 100pages or so before I DNF (just because I’ve had so many books pick things up soon after the first chapter or two and end up being AMAZING). With my time restraints it is something I should embrace more.
    Bec @ Readers in Wonderland recently posted…5 Things about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneMy Profile

    • Definitely, I think it is important for all of us to be aware of what point we tend to have a good overall idea of the book. I have the problem that if the writing and characters don’t work for me from the beginning, it’s just not likely to improve. I think it’s important to set that number though so that you know when it is time to honestly evaluate whether you want to keep reading.

  15. I’ve never thought of reading with this approach, but I kind of love it! I already enjoy DNF’ing books, because it just means I get to move on to something better. There are so many books to read, as you said, and it really is a waste of time to read ones that are only okay. It would be different if we didn’t have an endless supply of amazing books, but since we do, we can and SHOULD be picky.

    By the way, I’m really excited about your not-so-secret project! Let me know if you need any help, even if it’s packaging the boxes to send out.

    • Haha yeah when I’m fantasizing about what book I’ll start next, I know it’s time to reconsider continuing the current read!

      Oh definitely!!! We can have a packing party :D

  16. Excellent idea! I’m currently wading through one book I’d rather not, and have recently made the angst-ridden decision to DNF two others. This doesn’t happen often, but I certainly agree, having to muster up the motivation to actually write a review for “okay” books saps some of the enjoyment from blogging.

  17. This is such an inspiring post to me. I often feel so guilty when I DNF a book. But I really shouldn’t! There are so many books out there I could be enjoying instead. So it should truly be my choice whether to finish a book or not. I’m going to try and use this mindset from now on, and see how I fare with it!

    I also love your idea about the first chapter reviews. I have DNF’ed a review book before, and while I felt guilty, I did write an entire review to talk about my reasons. So the first chapter or first chapters reviews could really be useful here too.

    AMAZING POST! I’ll be thinking about this topic for a while now :)
    Jolien @ The Fictional Reader recently posted…Does My Mood Reading Affect the Format I Read In?My Profile

    • Yey, I’m so glad to hear it :D Yeah, if you feel like you have enough to talk about why a book didn’t work for you (or just a mini review!) I think that can still be useful to everyone involved. It will put the book on your readers’ radars and might appeal to them even if it didn’t for you

  18. I’ve been getting better about DNFing books lately. I used to think I had to finish every book (and every series) I started, but as I’ve found myself with less and less time for reading I’ve realized that sometimes I just need to cut my losses and quit a book. Usually when I DNF it’s somewhere between 40-60% of the way through, because then I feel like I’ve read enough to really give the book a fair chance, and whatever set-up is happening should be over so if I don’t care at that point I probably won’t care at all.

    I find DNF reviews very helpful as long as people explain why they didn’t finish, because that way I can get an idea if it’s probably something I’ll not finish either or if whatever complaint they had isn’t something that will bother me.
    tiare recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday #46: Books To Read If You Are In The Mood For A Stand-AloneMy Profile

    • Oh yeah, series finishing is even worse! I felt so free when I realized I didn’t have to continue series that weren’t exciting to me ha. I do find it hard to quit once I’m past the halfway point honestly since I feel like I’m so close, I might as well finish xD

      Definitely, DNF reviews can be really helpful. I feel like most of the time mine wouldn’t be since it comes down to ‘just not feeling it’ or something, oops!

  19. Stephanie F. says:

    I want to like the idea and go with it because I hate getting invested into a book only to finish it thinking, why did I read that, but then I remember series like Kate Daniels. The beginning of book one had me putting it down more than once and it took me awhile to finish it. The books saving grace was that it got a lot better towards the end. The fact that it did get better was the only reason I decided to pick up book two and from that point I got hooked. I’m so glad I didn’t DNF, it’s now one of my favorite series.
    Now I’m always worried that I’ll miss that diamond in the rough, that book that starts out ehh but gets so good. I do look at reviews more now to help me get the sense of a book before I read.

    • Oh definitely there will be exceptions, though I generally rely on others recommendations to figure out those books. Kate Daniels is a great example since I tell everyone that the first books are weaker than the later ones and it is completely worth sticking it out ;-). Generally though, I have found very few books that actually turn it around so effectively and so I think I’ll generally benefit on average and can come back to those that someone I trust tells me to try again!

  20. I think I’m halfway in that mindset now just because reading time is so limited, but it’s definitely harder when it comes to review books…especially with things like NetGalley stats lurking in the background. :P
    Kel recently posted…Heartstrikers Series by Rachel Aaron (3 stars)My Profile

    • I totally put my thoughts on the first chapters on NetGalley! It’s still useful feedback for the publisher after all to know where the book lost you :)

  21. This is such an interesting approach. I like it. :) I think I will use this method as well. It will help me get through all the books I own sooner and that way I can maybe even get into my tbr list from books I don’t own. :)
    Bhavya @ Books’ N Calm recently posted…Blogger Recognition AwardMy Profile

  22. I like that approach – it makes a lot of sense. I know right now I turn down a lot of titles that might be awesome because I simply don’t have the time to read them all. If I could relax my DNF-anxiety and more comfortably say “Nope, this is not for me,” I could probably save myself a lot of unsatisfying reading AND discover a few hidden gems.


  1. […] I came across this mind-blowingly sensible article from Anya (On Starships and Dragonwings), challenging us to consider making the DNF our default option for reading.  It would certainly […]

  2. […] I came across this mind-blowingly sensible article from Anya (On Starships and Dragonwings), challenging us to consider making the DNF our default option for reading.  It would certainly […]

  3. […] inspired to finally do this one by a post from Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings entitled “What if DNF was your default option?”  While DNF (did not finish) is not my default option, one of my goals this year was to […]

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