I’ve always been fascinated by how books are discovered – by how a person ends up finding and deciding to read a particular novel amidst the ever-growing sea of books swirling around them. Since starting to write myself I’ve become even more fascinated by this process, knowing I may one day have a book out there that I hope to get into readers’ hands.
Sadly I don’t have the expertise or the data to analyse how most people find the books they read. However, I do know my own habits and behaviours as a reader, so for interest’s sake I thought I’d take a look at how a book can stand out from the crowd for me and make it onto my “to-read” shelf.
This is a bigger topic than I can handle in one post, so today I’ll be looking at the way a book initially gets my attention enough to make me consider reading it or investigating it further. In next week’s post I’ll examine the factors that influence whether I actually buy that book or add it to my “to read” list.
1. Recommendation from a Trusted Source
The classic word-of-mouth recommendation is still one of the key ways I take notice of a book. If a friend raves about a book or recommends it via Goodreads, I usually give the book a look in. Similarly, if a blogger I trust recommends a book in a comment on my own blog or in reply to a comment on theirs, I’ll usually check it out. I think most of the books in my library have been discovered this way.
Some books I’ve read because of recommendations: Ready Player One, Red Rising, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Wild Swans, Hyperion, Graceling, Cinder, A Girl of Fire and Thorns, Halfway to the Grave, Vampire Academy, The Scorpio Races
In particular, I always look at the finalists of the Goodreads Choice Awards in the Fantasy, Science Fiction and Young Adult categories at the end of the year. While I’m sometimes unenthused about the winners (I’m not much of a Neil Gaiman fan, so every time he wins the fantasy category I roll my eyes), they have a good chance of peaking my curiosity.
I also often take a look at the finalists of the Hugo Awards, Locus Awards, Nebula Awards and Aurealis Awards, as well as the Chesley Awards finalists for fantasy cover art (although I know that award has nothing to do with the book’s content).
Some books I’ve read or considered reading because of awards:
The Martian (Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction 2014)
Ancillary Justice (Hugo Award for Best Novel 2014)
Uprooted (Locus Award 2016 and Nebula Award 2015 for Best Fantasy)
A Natural History of Dragons (Chesley Award for Best Cover Illustr. 2014)
These Broken Stars (Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel, 2013)
3. Media Hype
By hype, I mean when a book gets so much notice that it is in the news for breaking sales records, is being reported and blogged about left right and centre online, and is adorning the bedside tables and shelves of everyone I know.
However, while it can be a key factor, only a relatively small percentage of books I’ve read have been brought to my attention by media hype. This is probably because few books get to that level of hype, and of the ones that do, many are not in my preferred genres (Fantasy, Sci-fi, Young Adult, Romance) so I’m less inclined to read them, no matter how much they get talked about.
4. Imminent Movie or TV Show Release
When an intriguing fantasy or science fiction movie or TV show is about to be released, and it’s based on a book, I consider reading the book first.
I prefer to read books before watching their movie adaptations, because once the movie has ‘spoiled’ the plot I rarely read the book. So imminent release dates tend to get me reading books quickly!
5. Online Book Lists (including Blog Tag Lists)
Voted lists like the ones on Listopia or curated lists on fantasy book websites can also bring books to my attention, especially if those books appear on several lists. Often this is how I end up discovering older or classic sci-fi and fantasy books I haven’t yet heard about.
Similarly, if a blogger I like does a book list or tag post, or any kind of round-up post that involves selecting some books they have enjoyed or are looking forward to reading (e.g. “best books I read this year” or “my favourite YA characters” or “what I’m going to read next”), I take a look at the books they’ve chosen and what they have to say about them. If I recognise a book as one I haven’t read and it’s highly recommended, I’ll probably look into it, especially if I’ve seen other people mention it too.
6. Stand-Out, Appealing Book Covers
Sometimes a cover has even blinded me to the unappealing elements of the blurb or bad reviews, simply because I feel I must own that beautiful book!
Even if I don’t end up buying a physical copy and get an audiobook or ebook version instead, I still like the way the cover looks on my Goodreads shelf 🙂
If you want to see more covers that got my attention, I have a Pinterest board where I pin covers I find appealing. I also have a blog post that analyses the typical features of fantasy covers: Judging a Book by Its Cover.
7. Book Club
I’m not in a book club anymore (sadly I moved countries and thus left my book club) so this is not currently as relevant. However, when I was in a book club it naturally influenced which books I noticed and read. Other members would suggest books that had come to their attention that I hadn’t heard of before, and it meant I read a lot of books I wouldn’t otherwise have come across (particularly in non-speculative fiction genres).
8. I Know or Have Met the Author
I had to include this because I notice a small but sizeable portion of my personal library falls into this category. As a writer, I’ve gotten to know other writers and have friends and family who have published books. Unsurprisingly, I notice when this happens and buy their books!
Sometimes I also meet an author at a conference, see them talk in a panel, or see them signing books at a festival, and decide to buy one of their books.
A few books I’ve read and enjoyed by authors I know: The Autumn Castle (Fantasy), Frantic (Crime), Mr Wigg (Literary Fiction), Ghost Letters (Children’s Fantasy), A Hater’s Guide to Online Dating (Comedy), Blackwattle Lake (Australian Rural Women’s Fiction)
9. Blog Articles or Reviews
To be honest, a review for a book I’ve never heard of before doesn’t generally get my attention. This is because there are so many reviews out there, and because I’m not a patient reader when it comes to long reviews. I don’t want to read endless paragraphs of plot summary and analysis, all of which might include spoilers. A 1-2 sentence summary of the premise and genre, plus a paragraph about why it’s awesome or why it isn’t, is enough for me. It’s only when I’ve already read the book myself that I enjoy reading reviews in more detail (to see if I had similar opinions or not!).
However, there are some exceptions to this:
- When the reviewer’s book tastes seem similar to mine and they rave about a book I haven’t read, and the book looks like my kind of thing (e.g. this review on The Orang-utan Librarian made me bump Red Rising to the top of my to-read list).
- When I see the same book reviewed or mentioned on multiple sites.
- When the review headline or intro highlights something interesting or unusual about the book that peaks my interest (e.g. recently this review on Eve Messenger’s blog made me add Ice Massacre to my to-read list)
- When it’s an article on an interesting related topic (i.e. not a straight review), and the book it mentions grabs my interest.
- When I’m reading an insightful article or guest blog by the author of the book, and then I go check out their site and their books because I liked it.
10. Book Store Shelves
When I was a teenager one the of the key ways I discovered new books was by browsing bookstore shelves. Nowadays it’s rare a physical bookstore shelf will be the first place I notice a book that I decide to read or buy.
However, I still love a visit to the bookstore, and occasionally an intriguing cover, premise or blurb will draw my eye.
11. Bookseller or Author Direct Marketing (Newsletters, Automated Recommendations, Advertisements)
I’ve never clicked on a paid advertisement for a book on a website. However, printed book advertising (magazines, bookmarks, posters) have occasionally grabbed my attention.
Direct marketing through newsletters or automated recommendations also rarely brings a book to my attention, as my brain knows its advertising and kind of skims over it.
However, as with anything, there are exceptions:
- Deals where I can get a good price on certain books. (E.g. Audible occasionally promotes audiobooks that are on sale. I’ll usually just pick books I’ve already heard about and want to read, but occasionally I’ll take a look at an unknown fantasy or sci-fi book if I see it in the list).
- I’ve read a book in a new sub-genre or style and I want to try more in the same vein, so I use the Goodreads “readers also enjoyed” function, or I take notice when a suggestion pops up.
- A book cover, headline, blurb or the announcement of an award win in the promotion grabs my attention.
- The newsletter or announcement is about a book by an author I’ve already read and like.
12. Through an Author Website
Occasionally I visit an author website or blog through links, searching, or because I’ve encountered the author at a conference, on social media or through other sites. Sometimes I check out their books, particularly if they have a good blog or seem like a nice person.
If I do, I usually always read a few sample pages on their site or on Amazon to get a sense of what kind of books they write.
So What Makes a Book Stand Out The Most?
As you can see, there are quite a few different ways I discover books. But in all of this, two things are particularly evident:
1. A theory I once heard about book marketing rings true – that you often need to see a book or read about it multiple times before you actually pay closer attention to it. I may first encounter a book through one of the above channels, but if I encounter it through several of them, the likelihood of me eventually reading it is higher. For example, I might notice a book has won an award, but it’s often not till I also see several mentions by book bloggers that I actually get around to adding it to my to-read list.
2. Word of mouth is still the strongest factor in whether I discover and read a book or not. The majority of books on my shelf have been recommended to me by friends or fellow bloggers, or indirectly recommended in the form of a review or a list post. So things like covers and marketing hype are definitely important to get it out there, but I believe it’s the brilliance of the book itself that gets it into the most hands, because people love it and recommend it to other people.
All of that said, noticing a book is not the same as deciding to read it, so next week I’ll analyse the factors I consider before adding a novel to my “to read” list or my shopping basket.
What causes you to take notice of a book? Are your book discovery methods similar to mine, or do you have other ways of discovering books?