8 Things Guaranteed To Make Readers Angry

There are certain topics and actions that will almost universally set all booklovers off. Oh, some will have different levels of anger—see my handy scale below—but if you’re a dedicated reader, you probably share some of the same pet peeves and irritations with your fellow bookworms.

I’m Amy Green, fiction publicist here at Bethany House, and I’ve noticed a few trends in reader posts on social media about what readers really hate. Let’s all rant together now, shall we? (It’ll make us feel better.)

One: Spoilers

This happens most often in online reviews, but pity the real-life friends who start with an innocent discussion of the main premise of a book and then, wham! Out of nowhere, a major spoiler from the last half of the book or beyond. “It’s very touching, just don’t get too attached to So-and-So…” “My favorite part is when you find out that What’s-His-Name is the father.” “It’s so clever how the Thingamajig you see in the first chapter ends up being the missing artifact all along.” You get the idea.

How, HOW, does this happen, people? Fellow readers should be aware of the fun of discovery and not want to ruin that for others. Maybe it’s just over-excitement? Whatever the reason, when in doubt, apply the Green Family Rule (originally applied to boring monologues recounting dreams at the breakfast table, also good for descriptions of books and movies): you get two sentences to describe the plot. That’s it. Use ‘em wisely.

My Angry Reader Level: 2 if I wasn’t going to read the book anyway, 6 if I was.

Two: Covers that Don’t Match the Character

Occasionally this is objective—the main character’s hair or eye color is wrong, the dress is from 100 years too late to be accurate, there is no mention of a dog in the book despite its prominent place on the cover, and so on.

Other times, it’s subjective: “There is no way the hero looks like that!” “That just isn’t how I pictured the town in my mind.” “Um…what’s with that color?” We all have our likes and dislikes, and not every cover is going to check all of our boxes, especially if we have a vivid imagination and a careful attention to detail. The ones that really get it wrong, though, are likely to be a constant annoyance to readers.

My Angry Reader Level: 3. That’s decreased a lot since I started working in publishing. Now, I know: A. often the book isn’t fully written before the cover is complete, B. there may be a marketing reason behind something I wouldn’t have chosen, and C. designers are very busy people and may occasionally make a mistake or not have access to the exact right model or image. These things make me less mad, but I still completely understand when readers grumble.

Three: Movies that Don’t Match the Book

The level of outrage for a bad adaptation will vary from person to person. Most will find themselves somewhere within the following categories:

The Purist: “Where was the carriage scene from page 193? Why does the duke have only two sons instead of five? Two of my favorite lines were not quoted verbatim, and don’t even get me started on how the Incident of the Plum Pudding was handled! Here is a detailed list, chapter by chapter, of what was wrong with this movie. I DEMAND ACCURACY.”

The Peacemaker: “A screenplay just can’t be as detailed as a novel, but it was lovely to see my favorite characters brought to life. There are a few things I’m sad were left out, but overall I think it kept true to the spirit of the original. And it will probably get a lot more people to read the book, too!”

The Permissive: “Meh, so only a few plot points were the same and the moral of the story is the opposite of the author’s original intent and there were five new major characters. No big deal. It was fun! You’ve got to judge the book and the movie totally separately.”

The Illiterate: “This was based on a book? Do people even read books these days?”

My Angry Reader Level: 3-11 depending on how much I loved the original story. (Like, Netflix, I’m telling you right now, if you mess up your upcoming Narnia series, Aslan and I are coming for you. And let me remind you, in case you haven’t read the source material enough WHICH YOU SHOULD: he’s not a tame lion.)

Four: Phony or Irrelevant Reviews

Whether they’re bots or trolls or people who are just confused, some one-star reviews on Goodreads or retail sites skew the system. I’m talking things like: “Package was ripped open” or “not the large print version” or an all-caps rant about a totally different book with a similar title. All the real reviewers out there have to cringe—and there isn’t usually a good way to pull those reviews out of the running.

My Angry Reader Level: 4. I’m always bothered, especially on behalf of my authors, but I try to keep in mind that no one actually looking at the reviews will take them seriously and that the overall star-rating impact isn’t going to be huge.

Five: Insulting Comments from Non-Readers

Whether it’s picking on your favorite genre, bringing up the fact that characters are not “real people,” or delivering the classic, “You have too many books” line (as if those five words make sense in that order under any circumstances), sometimes readers can get pushed over the edge. Maybe it was just a joke, but beware, especially if the comment was interrupting said reader in the middle of a book.

And it goes the other way too, readers, so no making fun of non-bookworms. (Open-mouthed incomprehension and confusion is probably inevitable, though.) Anything that implies “I am superior to you because we don’t share the exact same preferences” should be avoided.

My Angry Reader Level: 1-6 depending on the person’s intention. And mostly I’ll calm down and recommend a book I think they’d like instead of wasting time being mad.

Six: Long Hold Lines

You’ve just gotten a glowing recommendation from your friend about the newest book you have to try. Hurrying to the library website, you click “Place a Hold”…only to face the cheery pop-up, “Congratulations! You are 63rd in line for this title.”

Turns out, saying, “I don’t want your congratulations, I want my book!” does nothing to move the line along faster. Nor does refreshing the page every other day (or hour…or minute…). You secretly suspect there are people out there who keep the book unread the full two weeks just to look impressive on their coffee table, and others who are doling out quarters in overdue fines to hold theirs even longer out of pure spite, but without proof, you’re stuck waiting just like everyone else. (And hoping the book doesn’t arrive for checkout the day after you’ve left on a week-long trip and can’t pick it up.)

My Angry Reader Level: 5, but mixed with sadness. I try to tell myself it’s no one’s fault, that I should be happy others are discovering a good book…but waiting is hard, guys.

Seven: “Wrong” Ending Choices

Whether it’s the unexpected death in the last few pages (you and your tissue box were just not prepared) or the love triangle that resolves in the exact opposite way it should have (don’t they realize they were meant for each other?), sometimes we don’t think authors made the right call with their endings.

This can include all kinds of categories, from agree-to-disagree preferences to “where on earth did that come from and was the editor asleep on the job?” moments. Sometimes, readers are pretty sure they could have written a more satisfying last chapter, if only the author had asked them.

My Angry Reader Level: Usually 2, occasionally 4. For the most part, I remember that authors have put a lot of thought into these endings and usually have Very Good Reasons for their choice even if it’s not the conclusion I was hoping for. Every now and then, though, I come across something that is not just unexpected, but blatantly out-of-character or contrived or factually impossible. That will move me up a few notches on the irritation meter, but I also recognize that deadlines and writers’ block exist and not every book is going to be a consistent winner.

Eight: Book Vandalism

They’re out there, breaking the spine of an unpurchased book at Barnes & Noble, inking up half of a school-assigned novel in highlighter and then donating it to a thrift store, folding down corners of library books to mark their spot. They are the ones who will (gasp!) hold a book over their head to protect themselves from the rain instead of stuffing the book inside their coat. They walk among us, lurking in the shadows of bookloving spaces everywhere.

I call them…the Book Vandals.

Now, all of us have accidentally damaged a book at least once in our life. (Picture seven-year-old Amy crying as she peels a soggy Stuart Little off the playground slide where she left it. It was a traumatic day.) That’s not what I’m talking about here.

No. This is serial, unrepentant destruction of books, especially those that don’t belong to you. That, true readers know, is unacceptable.

My Angry Reader Level: 8. Unless you’re two years old and left unsupervised with a crayon box, there are no excuses here, people. (And if you’re two years old and reading this blog, you’re enough of a prodigy to know better.)

If you liked this list, follow the blog so you won’t miss next month’s post about “8 Things Guaranteed Make a Reader Happy.” (That way you can tag a friend or spouse to give them ideas….)

Which of these are high up on your Angry Reader List? Are there any I missed?

38 thoughts on “8 Things Guaranteed To Make Readers Angry

  1. I have to agree, especially about the covers and the spoilers. But I do t wait for a book. If I really want to read it I buy it.

  2. My pet peeve: grammatical or spelling errors. Even worse, blatant plot mistakes. I read a book once where all through the story a character was the nephew and then mistakenly called the son. I always wonder where the proofreader was. Lol oh well, read on!

  3. I definitely agree about the variation from book to movie. I realize they can’t put everything in the movie, but when they change the story, it just isn’t right. Why make a movie and say it’s from the book, when they change things just to make it more sell-able. Just make a movie with your own story if you are going to change it so much it’s unidentifiable. It’s not every adaptation, but when it’s so far removed, I feel like I’ve wasted my time.
    One thing about endings. It’s irritating when the story has left you hanging, for the sake of continuing in another book. I might not read the next book, not just to find out what happens to Joe and Jane. I read for pleasure and it’s always good to come to a conclusion of the story. If I find an author I like, I will likely read everything they write. But leaving the reader hanging, often puts on the irritation meter.

    • The cliffhanger ending is a good one, Jocelyn. I know a lot of readers who at least want part of the story wrapped up in a satisfying way even if there are a few threads to be continued.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  4. I agree with a few things on this list, especially about when the ending just goes off a cliff (my first read of an author, her book did that – I’ve never picked up anything else of hers again). Regarding spoilers, I won’t read reviews, especially if it’s about an author I like – had a major spoiler on one! Will only read reviews on someone I haven’t read before.
    And, timeline issues in a series I love – characters ages/lives in early books don’t match up as series moved along – did not spoil the series for me, it was slight, but I still noticed.
    Lastly, as someone who reads mostly historical fiction, I do find it highly irritating when 21st century attitudes and grammer permeate the story.

    • Those are great additions, Angela! I like the idea of shielding yourself from reviews of authors you know you like anyway until after you’ve read the book.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  5. Spoilers is my #1 issue. There are SO many articles, blog posts, and online examples/samples of good book reviews that illustrate how not to spoil a book. I wish some reviewers would take a minute to research this a little. As an English teacher of 14 years, I actually think a big problem is that people don’t know the difference between summary and analysis. I teach all of my students that a summary is 2 sentences…no more. When I read one of my student’s essays, or a book review, I want to know the WHY. Why is the book important? Why is the theme timely? Why should a reader today care? I don’t want to know what happened in the book! I’ll learn that on my own. So, spoilers are near an 11 for me.

  6. Wow, I can agree with pretty much all of those . . .

    Having read this blog for a couple years now, I am less wounded by inaccurate cover art, but there are limits. My very favorite version of Beauty and the Beast is Beauty by Robin McKinley, written in the 70’s (I personally believe Disney used it as source material for the animated movie–lots of similarities). Because I love the book so much, I’ve even ordered a French translation. Instead of artwork resembling anything from Beauty and the Beast–and I mean ANYTHING in any version that has ever existed–the version that came sported a blue female humanoid figure with wings for arms, vertical blue feather hair shaped like a tulip, and only a sheen of blue feathers over her unclothed body.

    ????????

    There just is no explanation. I feel blown sideways off the Angry Reader Scale and lost in Perplexity.

  7. Oh my goodness, book vandalism makes me see red! Pages should NEVER be turned down. lol Unless it’s a workbook or an educational book, I don’t know how anyone could write in their book. The horror!

    • I’ll admit that I’ve underlined parts of a book, but only if I know I’m going to keep it forever and really need to find those memorable bits later. But yes, turning down pages when there are perfectly good bookmarks out there seems like a waste.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  8. I find it interesting that no one mentioned the cost of books. I am at level 9 when an author publishes in hardback for a 1 year or more before it becomes available in paperback. If I have to wait that long, their book may not get read by me. I will buy a book by someone else. Don’t watch movies that often, so not an issue for me. Poor editing is a 7.

  9. Great list! Where to start! The items are all pretty valid. The cover not matching really aggravates me a lot. However, since I predominantly e-read these days, that issue is not as glaring as it used to be. I also do not like spoilers. WHY would you do that? I review all the time. I try to be extremely careful in not divulging the important details. If I ever slip, I certainly hope someone will tell me about it.

  10. I have no problem with people destroying their own books. Just don’t donate or sell them afterward. You thoroughly enjoyed your book, and now send it off to its eternal reward. Or use it for an arts and crafts project.

    As for 2, covers that don’t match the character bother me a lot when the character’s race is different. If the protagonist is black or latina, but the cover model is caucasian, I find that disturbing. Let the main character be who s/he is.

      • If Satan has a library, all the books are written in, pages are missing, spines are broken, and someone dog-earred the corners. Oh, and one especially prudish citizen went through with a razor blade and removed any reference to ankles because THE HORROR. 😉

  11. This is a great list. I’d just add that most authors with traditional publishers don’t get much input on their covers, so please, readers, if you don’t like it, don’t blame us. If you do like it, thank the wonderful people who designed the beautiful thing (again, not the author).

    P. S. I have the same fear about the Narnia series. Can Netflix actually do justice to Narnia? Will they make it totally modern with characters and situations Lewis would have abhorred? Will they get Aslan totally and cluelessly wrong in every respect? I’m praying they will at least stick to the storyline. Please, Netflix, don’t blow it!

    • That’s an excellent point, Deanna! And yes, I’ve seen Netflix do some good adaptations…and some poor ones. If they know their audience for this, they’ll put people on the project who really understand what Lewis was doing.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  12. Vague reviews that just say, “Great book!” or “I hated it” without any explanation of why. Come on, give me proof you actually read it! My angry reader level: 4.

  13. Fun post, Amy! These things irritate me, too!

    I’m another reader that HATES cliffhangers! I don’t want to feel compelled to buy the next book to find out what happens–especially if the book doesn’t come out for another year! If it’s a series, it’s okay if there are a few minor threads that are left, but the main story needs to feel complete.

    • I forgot to say that spelling/editing errors annoy me, too. My brain seems to pick up on those, and they drive me crazy. I realize that sometimes mistakes creep in, even if the book has been professionally edited, but if there are many errors, it distracts me from the story, and I start looking for errors instead of concentrating on the story line.

  14. “They are the ones who will (gasp!) hold a book over their head to protect themselves from the rain instead of stuffing the book inside their coat.”

    This quote made me chuckle because this describes me soooo accurately! Hahaha! Always keep the book safe even to the extent of getting my hair wet or frizzy! 😉

  15. Reminds me of the day I was seated at a restaurant table across from a friend who was thumbing through a book to locate a line she wanted to share.
    She found it and, catching me by surprise, quickly turned down the corner of the page to mark it for me.
    As quiet as I am, all at one time I gasped, thrust my hands out to shield the book and yelped loudly, “NO!”
    It wasn’t even my book. It was hers!

  16. I’m an end reader and I read spoiler reviews, mostly for new to me authors. But, I try to respect that some people don’t like them- so I agree that if you don’t know it’s coming, that’s annoying. The covers also annoy me when they don’t match. I think Bethany House usually does a good job – there’s only one that has really struck me the wrong way, and while I get the marketing side of slimming down a character, it really disappoints me as a heavy set woman that even Bethany House feels like they have to make someone “prettier” to put on a cover.

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