The Dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish)

March 29, 2016 Discussions 54

The Dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish)

The DNF is a relatively new concept for me. I used to be one of those people that powered through every book I read, no matter how little I was enjoying it. But last year, I resolved to DNF more books. And I was quickly taken with the concept; DNFing 21 books last year and 6 so far this year. So, all this got me thinking about how I (and others) handle the dreaded DNF.

Is there a difference between a sample and a DNF?

In addition to DNFing, I picked up a sampling habit last year. If I’m purchasing an e-book from Amazon, I always download the sample first. And, I usually download two or three samples before deciding on my next book. When I choose not to purchase a book I’ve sampled, it doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t ever read that book, just that I’m not going to read it right then.
I approach ARCs (“advanced reader copies”, provided by publishers) a bit differently; I start each of those with the intention of reading the entire book unless it doesn’t work for me. And, therein lies the difference between a sample and a DNF for me. It’s all about intention. I don’t actually intend to read all the books I sample. I consider a book I intend to read, but ultimately decide is not working for me, a DNF.
Do you consider a DNF and a sample the same or different things?

How much of a book do you typically read before you officially DNF?

I usually try to make it to the 25% mark of a book that isn’t working for me before deciding to DNF. But, I’m completely willing to DNF at whatever point I start to dread picking up my current read. I’ve DNF’d at 2% and 80% (and everywhere in between) in the past year.

Do you have a general rule of thumb for how long you’ll give a book before you DNF?

How do you handle DNFs on Goodreads?

I’m wrestling with my strategy for this one. Goodreads doesn’t really make handling DNFs straightforward. There’s no official place to mark a book as DNF and no generally accepted way to handle ratings for DNFs. I created my own exclusive DNF folder and move a book from “currently reading” to “DNF” once I’ve made that decision. Ratings are a different story…

When I look up a book on Goodreads, I want to know how many people (or % of readers) have DNF’d that book. That’s helpful information for me. Given Goodreads doesn’t currently have a way to gather or share this information, I’m inclined to rate a book I’ve DNF’d. I realize there are issues with this (namely, how can I fairly rate a book that I didn’t finish?) and sometimes don’t rate DNFs for that reason. But, if I feel like I’ve read enough of a book to get a decent feel for it, I will rate it (likely 1 or 2 stars). I just feel like my DNF should be factored into the overall rating somehow…and this is the only way to do it at this point.

I wish Goodreads had a simple checkbox to indicate that you DNF’d a book and how much of the book you read…and then figured out some back-end algorithm to factor those into the overall rating. Or, report that information separately, but next to the overall rating.

How do you handle DNFs on Goodreads? Do you assign them a rating? How would you like Goodreads to handle DNF tracking?


54 Responses to “The Dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish)”

  1. Katherine Rose

    I used to plow through books I didn’t like too, but then I heard this podcast where the guy being interviewed talked about calculating the number of books he will likely be able to read during the rest of his life. That was a huge ah-ha moment. I’m never going to be able to read all the books I want to in one lifetime, so I don’t have time to finish books that I’m not getting into.

    I like your idea of Goodreads somehow sharing DNF info for a book. It would be useful to know. I too feel bad about rating books I didn’t finish, but readers should know if a lot of people don’t finish a particular book. It’s a dilemma for sure.

    • Laura | Sea Salt & Cervantes

      I have a similar philosophy to the guy on the podcast. Time is short, so I won’t keep reading unless I’m enjoying it. This allows me to turn to something else instead without too much guilt. I won’t put it on Goodreads though unless I finished it, which lately means I don’t have any bad reviews there.

  2. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    That is an excellent idea for Goodreads. I also really wish there were a good way to track DNF books.

    I generally give a book about 50-100 pages before quitting. Sometimes I change my mind after that point, but it’s rare. I find I can get a sense of whether the book is worth my time in that many pages, however long the book is.

    I think that sampling is a completely legitimate activity and not equal to not finishing the book. To me DNF applies when you intended to finish the book and didn’t.

    • admin

      Hey, Goodreads, are your ears buzzing?!

      And, I agree that 50-100 pages is generally enough to get a good sense of the book. The only time that hasn’t held for me was Fates & Furies, which I wanted to give up on in the beginning, but had heard I should stick around for the second half…so I did.

  3. Shannon @ River City Reading

    Ha! I have a post drafted right now titled almost exactly “Is There a Difference Between a Sample and a DNF?” because it’s something I’ve been asking myself a bunch lately (don’t imagine that one will get posted :). I tend to read a page or five of several books but don’t really count them as DNF’s, though I do wonder if they should be.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of star ratings (they’re too arbitrary for me), so I don’t mind not being able to give a DNF a star rating, though I can see why it’s problematic for some.

    • admin

      Haha! You could do a rebuttal post!

      I generally don’t feel like samples are the same as DNFs, BUT if the books I chose not to proceed with had grabbed me, I would have read them rather than putting them aside for later or not reading them at all. So, that sounds similar to a DNF for me. Maybe there’s a difference in the # of pages read before quitting? For me, I’m limited in that with sampling b/c I’m using Amazon’s e-book sampling.

  4. Naomi

    I rarely DNF a book, so when I do I just don’t count it on Goodreads as a book I’ve read, and it doesn’t bother me. But I do think your idea of a DNF box on GR is a good one!
    I also don’t sample books. I have such precious little reading time that I feel like it would be a waste. I choose a book that I feel like reading next and off I go! And, usually I like it well enough to give it at least 3 stars on GR. I rarely rate books lower than that – those are the ones I would just stop reading and not rate at all. Sometimes I’ll force myself through a book if it’s for book club or something similar. Luckily, that doesn’t happen very often.

    • admin

      I do get annoyed if I spend a couple hours of my allotted reading time sampling things! But, I also get annoyed if I dive into a book (especially one I purchased) and invest a day or two only to ultimately DNF. Both these habits are relatively new for me, so I’m still getting a feel for what works best for me.

  5. carrie

    the best away to describe “did not finish”, DREADED. My rule of thumb is that I read 50 pages (no matter how long the book is) if I’m still shaking my head, getting a bad vibe, or just not into the story by then I consider putting it down and walking away. Im not always good at this, I usually want to forge on (or i’m so optimistic that it will turn around), but the more I read the more I find value in not wasting my time on poopy books. life is just too short to read bad books!

    • admin

      I agree on life being too short for bad books! Especially since there are literally hundreds of books I want to read and the list only gets longer every year!

  6. Kay

    I also use the 50 page thing mostly. However, sometimes when I quit reading I do go back at another time and somehow it works. It’s complicated. I don’t like the star ratings for me because I get confused at what would be 4 and 5 and, and…..

    I do know that I’ll not ever be able to read ‘all the books’. So, I no longer feel even a bit of ‘guilt’ or whatever in not finishing something. Even book club books. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting close to 60. LOL

    • admin

      Yep – I hear you on the guilt. I sort of let go of that when I had my second child and my reading time really shrunk!! And – it’s very rare that I return to a book I DNF’d and have had it work (the one time I could think of was with Florence Gordon).

  7. Alissa

    If I DNF a book, I rate it a 1 on goodreads and also put it into an “unfinished” folder. I like your idea for a separate DNF metric.

    • admin

      It somehow seems unfair to me that a book that lots of people DNF’d could end up with an artificially high rating on GR because all those DNFs don’t rate the book!

  8. Care

    I think I am much more picky about what books I do read as ones I know and trust I am interested in so I rarely DNF. Sometimes, it is timing and if a book is just not firing on the right cylinders, I will call it a sample, I suppose, and tag it as ‘get to later’ in gr. If I don’t think I will ever pick it up, I will comment as DNF and record it as read. Usually after 100 pages. Sometimes I will skip the middle and read the end and decide I didn’t miss anything. I do feel guilt when someone highly rec’d the book and are looking forward to me enjoying it.

    • Kathleen Ingram

      I used to just remove it at Goodreads but then I have wasted reading time for my Reading Challenge. Lately, when possible I do what Care mentioned here and skip some and then get to the end (sometimes skip chapter to chapter). I do not give stars for those books but do give some review. It is really that I am so particular about books that I DNF for the most part so I do try.

      I also sample read most kindle books before I buy and I even sample read an author before I request at NetGalley. Some of my Auto Approved publishers at NetGalley already have the book out in a kindle format so I can sample.

      • admin

        Oooh – sampling before a Netgalley request is something I’ve never thought of! Smart!

    • admin

      I don’t think I’ve ever skipped the middle of a book, but I’ve definitely skimmed the end if I’m bored with it, but somewhat close to the end!

  9. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    Interesting post. I made myself a DNF shelf on Goodreads. If I read the majority of the book before I DNF it, I rate it and explain why I DNFed it. If I give up on a book early, I don’t rate or review it. My DNF system is very unscientific.

    • admin

      Haha – I’d be shocked if anyone has a really scientific DNF system! And I hope your new DNF folder works out for you. I was so happy when I set mine up.

  10. Madeline

    I too once finished every book I started. And I still (mostly) do. Broke the rule recently with “Avenue of Mysteries” and felt such a weight lifted from my shoulders when I finally gave myself permission to let it go. (And I was well past 50%.) I like the comment above about how many books you can read in a lifetime.

    I don’t sample. I’ve usually investigated the book well enough that I just get going.

    I keep my own database of books which goes back to the 1990s. Never got into GoodReads.

    Except for books that are gifts, I download most of my reading from the library. Big money saver and my library has digital editions available right on the publication date. When I read a pre-publication review of something that interests me, I put a note on my calendar to check the library on the pub date.

    • admin

      I’ve been waffling over whether to read Ave of Mysteries ever since it came out! I’m a huge Irving fan, but the premise of that one just didn’t grab me.

      And – I used a spreadsheet for years and just joined GR 2 years ago! I still use my spreadsheet for other stats and it’s my master list, but I post on GR as well.

  11. Judy

    I too rarely DNF. Just can’t. But last year I threw The Art of Racing in the Rain against the wall and DNF. And it was even for a reading group where I am known for always reading the book. It felt kind of good.

    • admin

      The first time I DNF’d, it felt like such a relief also! And I’ve rarely regretted not finishing something. But, I was you not too long ago with rarely DNFing 🙂

  12. Ann @ Books on the Table

    I feel so much better! I always thought I was a huge DNF-er but it turns out what I am is a SAMPLER. At my bookstore, we have hundreds of ARCS to choose from so I bring home a pile, read a bit of each, and decide what I want to read. (I do the same thing with electronic ARCs.) But if I actually spend my hard-earned money on a book, I almost always finish it.

  13. JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    We have a very similar approach to DNFing and I’m finally starting to make better use of sampling, thanks to you. I have a DNF shelf on goodreads, but as you say, that isn’t very helpful. I don’t usually rate titles I don’t finish. I really appreciate Litsy’s “bailed” option!

  14. Bri @ Transported By Books

    I love your Goodreads suggestion. I usually don’t add a a book unless I finished it. Most of the time I just rate it low so I remember I didn’t like it for whatever reason and move along. It would be so nice to have the option to mark DNF though because I quit a lot of books. I typically DNF a book at whatever point I quit caring at. If I don’t enjoy picking up the book to see what happens next why bother. Although a lot of my DNF books are ones I eventually return to when I’m in a better mood for them so for me DNF is not the end-all-be-all of a bad book, just my boredom lol.

  15. Tara @ Running 'N' Reading

    Ooooh, I love this Goodreads idea, Sarah! I struggle with this, too; it feels dishonest to rate the book when I haven’t read it yet, at the same time, I want to acknowledge that I didn’t like it – ha! Like you, I do try to get to at least the 25 or 30% mark before putting it down; if I don’t think about it all for awhile, I figure I’m done. I have to have a least some curiosity about what’s going to happen or how things will turn out for the characters if I’m ever to pick it up again. For me, a sample is just a sample; it’s the modern-day version of me sitting in the bookstore, flipping through books and reading a few pages to see if it sounds good. This is so interesting; I love to hear your perspective on this topic!

  16. Kate Elkins

    I like Jim Harrison’s reply in The New York Times Book Review “By The Book” column (just three weeks ago!) The question was my favorite in this weekly column: “Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book di you feel as if you were supposed to like and didn’t? Do you remember the las book you put down without finishing?” Jim’s answer: “I don’t get very far into disappointing books before I abandon them. Life is short and brutal.” Amen!

  17. Catherine

    I have no set standard for DNF- meaning I can quit as early as 5 pages (Wreck & Order) or as late as the last chapter- although at that point I may stick it out as a hate read. As for Goodreads, if I’ve read over 50% of then I give a star rating, count it as Read but add it to my DNF shelf.

    No matter what I give it a star rating because if it’s so bad I couldn’t finish it then the people who share my reading taste need to know. I’ll generally add a comment to clarify that I couldn’t finish.

  18. Kate @ booksaremyfavouriteandbest

    Yes, samples and DNFs are two very different things. I get samples whenever I can and wade through them each week, deciding what to buy, in my regular blog post, ‘Sample Saturday’- – it’s a good way to hear from others if a book is really good and worth pursuing.

    And I agree, Goodreads doesn’t handle DNFs well. I do what you do and leave a ‘review’ stating why I DNF.

    • admin

      I love the Sample Saturday post! I usually briefly mention mine in my It’s Monday, What Are You Reading post.

  19. Lauren

    I am so impressed you DNF’d at 80%. I also used to be a completeist, but am also trying to get better at the DNF. If I hit the DNF point early enough, I stop, but if I hit the 80% mark, or probably even the half-way point, I usually just speed-read to the end. Sometimes, even if I’m not enjoying a read I’ll want to know what happens.

    I don’t often hate-read, but one time I did finish a book that was a total DNF just because the author had this utterly annoying habit of describing the smell of everything. So I had to finish just so I could count the number of smell references. Yeah, weird.

    I don’t really use Goodreads (but I think your idea for DNF stats is a great one), but I do use Riffle. I hadn’t really thought about the DNF/rating issue before, but I think if you’ve read a sufficient amount of a book it’s pretty fair to rate it. When I DNF a book I take it off my Riffle page entirely, but only because on Riffle I’m only keeping track of books I’ve read. On my computer list, I just mark as a DNF and move on.

    Interestingly, I never sample. I’m either in or not. I agree, however, that a sample is different than a DNF. To me, a sample is more like perusing in a bookstore and seeing what you might fancy.

    Thanks for an interesting post, I really enjoy seeing how other people handle these issues.

    • admin

      I’ve never heard of Riffle – will have to check that out! And I kind of wish I’d sped read the ending of that 80% DNF book. I didn’t because I truly did not care what was going to happen, but would have at least been able to mark it as read for my GR challenge – ha!

      • Lauren

        I have to admit, Sarah, that on top of wanting to know what happens even in books that sprain my eyes from the rolling, the speed-read also helps me not awaken the AR/OCD Best of the Unfinished. And yes, even if I speed-read, I count it as read and avoid the DNF. Maybe cheating, maybe not, I no care. 🙂

  20. Becca

    I’m sure you’ve seen me discuss DNF’ing on my blog numerous times. I’ve even written entire lengthy posts to how amazing the DNF can be. I’m a big proponent of it and I’m glad you joined the bandwagon! Life is too short to read books that aren’t doing it for you, I say! I try to power through them, but I have noticed that my slumps are sometimes directly proportional to needing to DNF a book instead of trying to read it when I’m not feeling it. I recently DNF’d several and now I’m reading a lot more. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but I think if everyone tries it, a lot of people would find joy and freedom in it.

    It depends on the book how much I will read before DNF’ing. If it is a plot or character issue, I will give it at least 50 pages, if not over 100. If it is an issue with the writing style I typically put it down in the first couple of chapters. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the story, but there are some styles of storytelling that don’t work for me.

  21. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I really like your idea for how goodreads handles DNFing! I’d also love to know how many readers had given up on a book. I typically mark a book as read and write a review, but don’t give it a star rating if I DNF it.

  22. Athira

    I used to read to the finish every book I start until couple of years ago. I found I wanted to read more books but I just did not have the time anymore. It was difficult initially but now it’s a lot easier and I don’t feel bad either. I am with you though and Goodreads doesn’t make it easy to mark DNFs. I wrestle with whether I should even mark those books in my Goodreads list or remove it entirely.

  23. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I’m one of those people who always had an obsession to finish a book, even when it wasn’t working for me. I kept thinking there would be something later that would redeem it and make it worth my time. I was usually wrong, so I’ve started DNFing. I don’t think there’s any particular point when you should or shouldn’t DNF, but I’ve wondered the same thing. I get two or three chapters in samples from online book clubs, which give a good indication if I will like a book or not; that’s much better than the 10% Amazon gives. I actually have a post ready to go about that very thing. haha

    I completely agree with you on the Goodreads point. I know we can mark a book as read without rating, but the only way to mark it DNF is in the review section, and that doesn’t sit well with me, either. I wish there were a way to see that on Goodreads, other than creating a DNF shelf. I’ve stopped marking a book as currently reading on Goodreads for that reason. I usually go on there once a week and mark/review/rate the books I read that week. The DNF movement has certainly slowed my 1 star ratings.

    • admin

      Oooh – I can’t wait to read your 10% Amazon post…great idea! And I agree – it’s really not enough sometimes. Especially if the book is short.

  24. Allison @ The Book Wheel

    I have a DNF shelf on Goodreads but sometimes I’ll still read books that are on it. Some of the books I DNF are ones I will NEVER pick up again for whatever reason, but sometimes I’m just not in the mood for a given book and put it down for the time being. I don’t have any rules for how much of it I read (I’ve DNF’d on the first page and the 100th) – it all depends on how charitable I am feeling, I suppose.

  25. Rita @ View From My Home

    I’m sorry you had some DNFs (this is directed towards Sarah, talking about some less than stellar reads lately), but I’ve been having them more recently… and I chalk it up to having more of a selection of books than ever, between my own buys, increased library time, and more Netgalley. I know that there are better books waiting for me, so I don’t feel I “have to” read a particular book. Unless I expressly promised an author I would (which I rarely do) I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to. Kim @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer said she would never read as many books as she does (and she does read quickly and many more than I do) if she didn’t DNF without feeling badly about it and moving on- paraphrasing here.

    Hope this month finds you enjoying more books and having fun reads!

  26. Jemima Pett

    Thanks for this post, Sarah – I’m posting using the same title (which I found before I found yours) at the end of May. Please may I use your graphic?

    There is a way of spotting how many didn’t finish it, if people use Goodreads shelves categories – I use Unfinished rather than DNF, but the bookshelf that other readers put books on is on the right hand side. I find that very useful for double-checking I’m not getting horror or romance or vampires by mistake! It has to be a significant number to make the list, but if a significant number shelve it, it’ll show up!

    I’ve only just thought of that, thanks to your post.
    Best wishes

  27. Sue @ Crushingcinders

    Yes! Come on Goodreads. I always rate the books I DNF a 1-star – but it would be better to have a separate rating. Although I must admit the 1 star works for me because if I don’t like a book I DNF it so any books with 2-star or above had something that kept me reading. That leaves the 1-star rating only containing my DNF. (It sounds better in my head :))

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I think that sounds like a good system…the only issue is everyone has their own system. I wish GR had one system that everyone could use, which would actually make the data useful.

  28. Jennifer

    I was just thinking about this today because I was trying to get through some backlogged books this week and decided to DNF several of them. And now I feel really guilty about it! But… the fact of the matter is that life is too short to waste time reading books that irritate me or stress me out or bore me.

    Usually I try my hardest to get to 30% of the book before letting myself DNF it (mainly to give my mind a chance to get into the author’s rhythm before deciding it’s not for me), but I figure if they haven’t hooked me in by a third of the way through the book, they likely won’t ever. I have a shelf on Goodreads that I put books like that in, just to remind myself not to pick them up again. I don’t always rate them, but when I do, it’s usually one or two stars. Two stars are usually given for ones that were just not for me. One star is for books so awful that I wanted to set them on fire.

    The reason I do rate books I DNF’d is because I think that’s valuable information for other people curious about the book. If people only rate books they finish, most likely they’re going to rate them higher because they liked them enough to finish them. It’s equally as valuable to know why someone couldn’t finish something.

    I actually started a book yesterday though that I didn’t even make it through the first chapter. For books like that, although this rarely happens, I usually just delete it entirely from my Goodreads. I don’t feel right rating or DNF-ing something that I didn’t even read a chapter or two of. To me that’s more of just a sample, in which I realized I just don’t like the writer’s voice or for whatever reason it isn’t as interesting as the premise made it sound.

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