Reading has always been my passion, and I appreciate good stories in all genres. That hasn't changed. But when I was younger, I rarely gave up on a book. I had it in my head that once begun, a book had to be finished. This applied whether I was enjoying the book or not. I can only remember one book that I simply had to give up on--Lady Chatterley's Lover. After discovering a classic novel with a racy title like that, I assumed I was in for a great read. But I found the writing dry and tedious; the characters boring and one-dimensional. I have no idea if the sex scenes were of any interest--I simply couldn't go on with the book. The fact that I remember this, twenty years later, tells me that I still feel a bit guilty for abandoning the story.
But twenty years ago, I did not have a husband, kids, pets, and a house. I had plenty of time to read. Now, my reading time is a precious commodity which I refuse to waste on something I don't love. Once I combine that reality with the knowledge I've gained throughout the writing process, the guilt disappears. If, after the first few chapters, I'm not looking forward to continuing the book, I don't. Unless there's a very compelling reason to keep going, it's time for me to move on to the next one. I want a book I can't wait to read once I finally have some down time; not one I have to slog through because of some imaginary obligation.
There are a couple of things in particular that will make or break a book for me now. First and foremost, I have to care about the characters. I want to feel connected to them, to feel their emotions and root for their success. If I don't care what happens to the main character, I lose interest fairly quickly, even if the plot seems promising.
One of the most useful things I learned when I began writing was the importance of getting the conflict out in the first 3 pages. I worked very hard to actually get it onto the first page in both my novels--hopefully the reader is hooked and wants to read more. When reading, I like to see this as well. However, I don't necessarily give up on a book that takes me a while to "get into"--Outlander was one of my all-time favorite books, and I was definitely not hooked by the first chapter. But in that case, enough people I trusted had recommended the series, and I'm so glad I kept going.
Point of view problems are another thing that I may not have noticed before writing my books--but now, they will pull me right out of the story. Occasional head-hopping is sometimes necessary, especially in romance, and I'm okay with that. It can be done seamlessly in a way that allows the reader to experience what both characters are feeling. But omniscience bothers me. If I'm connected to a character, experiencing events through him or her, and suddenly the narrator tells me something the character can't possibly know, I immediately cringe. It doesn't mean I'll stop reading, but I do notice it, and it disrupts the flow of the story for me.
It's not just negative things that attract my attention. When a writer uses a fresh, original metaphor or a wonderfully descriptive phrase, I'll read it over a few times with appreciation. That's a good thing for a writer to note--but as a reader, it still slows me down and takes my focus from the story to the actual writing. Not necessarily the best practice when reading for pleasure, but it's something I can no longer help. Funny dialog, powerful sentences, clever segues into flashbacks: these are all things that grab my interest. While picking up on these things may momentarily break my concentration, it can also serve as inspiration for my future writing endeavors...and that's a price I'm willing to pay.