How I Decide to Read a Book

Last week I listed the ways a book can get my attention. I looked at how things like awards, recommendations and online lists can help a novel to stand out from the crowd for me. However, once a book has my attention, it usually still needs to jump a few extra hurdles before it becomes something I want to buy and read.

So this week I thought I’d analyse all the little factors that come into play when I’m investigating a book to see if it’ll go onto the “to-read” list, or even straight into the shopping basket. My decision-making process is usually automatic and almost sub-conscious but I thought it’d be interesting to take a step back and analyse it in more detail.

Of course, the way I initially learned about a book (e.g. through a recommendation) can play a big role in my decision to read it or not, however for the purposes of this post I’ll be looking purely at factors I consider when I’m coming at a book undecided and looking for more information.

Since I’m a Goodreads user, my most important stop for this decision making is usually done on the Goodreads book page, so a lot of the elements below are ones I consider on there. However, many of these elements would be relevant to looking up a novel on any book website, so it’s not just relevant to Goodreads users.

1. Genre

As the title of this blog probably makes clear, I’m a fan of fantasy fiction. I also like science fiction, young adult fiction, dystopia and romance. While I occasionally read and enjoy books outside of these genres, I’m unlikely to read a book in a different genre unless it’s particularly intriguing or comes highly recommended, simply because I don’t usually enjoy other genres as much. So my first stop is to check which genre people have shelved the book as on Goodreads, or figure it out from the blurb or cover.

2. The Buzz

I also consider how much buzz there is around the book. This tends to be a more subconscious thing that relates to how I first heard about it. Have people been talking about it online and blogging about it? Has it won awards? Are my friends reading it? Has the cover been popping up more and more when I’m browsing online or in a book store? A lot of buzz may help put the book in my “to read” basket because I want to see what the fuss is about. However, buzz is not necessary for me to consider reading a book as I also like to look for little-known or under-appreciated gems.

3. Friends’ Ratings

I always scroll down on Goodreads to see if any of my friends have read the book I’m considering reading and if so, what they thought of it. This is fairly crucial, because if a friend I usually agree with has given it a 4 or 5 star rating, I am much more likely to read the book. If there are no ratings from friends I move on to consider other factors.

4. The Cover

I put the book cover high up in this process not because I’ll make a decision to read a book based on how nice the cover is, but because if the cover is frightfully unprofessional or tacky it will make me worry the contents are unlikely to be any better. The cover has to be halfway decent to avoid turning me off immediately.

This before-and-after style article about cover redesigns on JaneFriedman.com gives great examples that illustrate what a difference a professional, well-designed book cover can make.

5. Total Number of Ratings

(In Combination with Year of Publication)

You might call it shallow because it’s purely a reflection of a book’s reach, but if very few people have rated a book it can make me hesitant to read it. If the publication date is in the last few years (i.e. the book hasn’t been around long enough to garner more attention) or if I have a glowing recommendation from a trusted source, I disregard low numbers. But if it’s a random book published 20 years ago and only 8 people have rated it, I can’t help but wonder why it hasn’t gotten more attention in that time.

6. Average Rating

I don’t give as much weight to this factor as other people I know do (I have friends who won’t read anything with an average rating of less than 4 out of 5 on Goodreads) but if a book has a high average rating it’ll certainly stand it in good stead.

7. The Blurb

You might wonder why the blurb is all the way down at 7 in my decision-making process. Well, I’ve found blurbs aren’t always useful to me in finding great books. Sure, if the blurb is poorly written or full of clichés it’ll help me avoid it – but I’ve read plenty of great books that had underwhelming blurbs so while I do use it, I don’t weight it as heavily as other factors.

8. The Sample

Sometimes I’ll read sample chapters on an author’s website or bookseller website before buying a book, or listen to an audiobook sample (for audiobooks the sample is vital because it’s also how I decide if I like the narrator’s voice or not – if I don’t I’ll consider reading a print or ebook version instead). When reading a sample, the things that turn me off are usually clichés, clunky writing, typos or annoying characters. Conversely, intriguing ideas, characters and worlds, or tantalising conflicts, will peak my interest.

9. The Author

The author is a big factor in the decision-making process if I’ve read their work before. If I disliked it I’m unlikely to go back for more, and if I loved it, even bad ratings won’t turn me off reading their new book. Similarly if I’ve heard good things about the author or like their blog it’ll make me curious.

Ultimately, though, the author is down here at 9 because if I’ve never heard of them I might visit their Goodreads page or website to get a sense of where they’re from and who they are, but it’s unlikely to greatly influence whether I read their book or not.

10. Ratings of Other Books by the Same Author

If I’m investigating a book because I’ve heard about the author or feel I should read something by that author, I’ll likely compare its average rating (and total number of ratings) to other books by the same author. This is because I usually want to read the most beloved and popular book that author has to offer first (though occasionally I like to read their debut novel first).

11. Reviews

Truth be told, I rarely read reviews on sites like Amazon or Goodreads (unless they are by someone I know). This is because I’m afraid of spoilers, but also because for every person who writes a glowing 5-star review there will be one who writes a scathing 1-star review, and I never really know who to believe. Occasionally I do read of a few reviews if I want to get a sense of the kind of book it is and what people liked or didn’t like about it, but it’s rarely a pivotal factor in the decision-making process.

12. Length

Length occasionally comes into play when I’m deciding to read a book. I’m willing to take a risk on a shorter book, but if it’s a 1000 page monster it can make me hesitant to dive in. This is particularly important with audiobooks. I’m reluctant to embark on anything longer than 30hrs simply because it can be a slog to listen to one book for that long.

13. Publication Date

While it plays a very minor role, I’ve noticed I am more likely to preference books published in the last 10 or so years in my reading. This wasn’t always the case, as I used to read more old fantasy classics and “must-reads”, but now that I’ve read quite a few of those, I tend to be keen to discover new books in a more modern style. Also, it’s nice to read things people are getting excited about and talking about now.

14. Available as an Audiobook

While this would rarely mean a book does or doesn’t make it onto my to-read list, it can affect how soon I read a book. Only a small portion of the books I want to read are available as audiobooks, yet I go through as many audiobooks in a year as paperbacks and ebooks combined, if not more.  So if a to-read book is available on Audible it’ll get onto my Audible Wish List and likely get read sooner than a book that’s only available as an ebook (especially because I usually only read ebooks when travelling).

__________

I may have forgotten some other minor factors, but in essence, the list above shows the main things I consider when deciding whether to click ‘to read’ on Goodreads, add a book to my in-store shopping basket, or put it in my Audible Wishlist.

Are there any other factors you would consider when reading a book? And do you think any of the above factors are more important than others in terms of convincing you to read a book?

14 thoughts on “How I Decide to Read a Book

  1. I think personal recommendations do the most to convince me to read a book. I’ll read reviews on Goodreads or Amazon if I want to get a sense of a particular book or author, but I honestly don’t put much stock in them. Genre definitely plays a big role as well – historical fiction is a niche genre I love to explore and discover otherwise-unheralded stories within 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I tent to look for authors I trust. I’ve read them in the past and had a good time. This can put me at a disadvantage when I look for authors who are no longer working. For instance, I was looking for something by Tanith Lee and then I said, “Oh, yeah — she died.”

    I’m also strongly influenced to look for books by friends I’ve corresponded with in the past. I want to give them a review, even if it’s just a couple of stars.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting that you focus more on the author, but if you trust them then that is a good way to know you are likely to enjoy the book. Sad if some of those authors are not working anymore though – a friend of mine is a massive Terry Pratchett fan and he was very sad when he read the latest Pratchett book because he knew he had died and there wouldn’t be any more.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a great post! I rely A LOT on friends’ recommendations, because there are SO many books, it could take me days, or years, to decide haha. So if a book really makes my friends talk, and they really enjoy it, I am most likely getting it sooner than any other book. Obviously if it’s a favorite author of mine, I will get the book no questions asked haha 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yes there are so many books out there that I’d also be lost in indecision without recommendations 🙂 Recommendations from friends make up at least half my collection!

      I used to buy new books by favourite authors straight away but I have so many other books/authors on my TBR list now that it often take me ages to buy and read their new books. I usually get to them eventually though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! Apart from recommendations, I tend to be someone that relies heavily on the blurb. If I’m still undecided after the blurb, I’ll try a sample. I agree with you about reviews on goodreads- if I read them, it’s after I’ve finished- cos like you I’m wary of spoilers. I also tend to drift towards authors I’ve read before- but if I didn’t like a book by an author I won’t rule them out. I can look at the rating too. And the buzz can also be to a books detriment- I get a bit suspicious if a book that’s not been published yet has huge hype, cos it’s usually just generated by the publisher

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seems like you rely on an equally broad set of things to decide! Interesting that you weight blurbs more heavily. For some reason my brain seems to drift off halfway through every blurb I read unless I force myself to concentrate, so I only get a vague impression, e.g. “okay so there’s a romance, it’s in a fantasy world with slaves and nobles, and there’s a war going on” 🙂 and then from there I go by other things. Unless of course I see elves, dwarves and long unpronounceable fantasy names mentioned in the blurb in which case I steer clear! 😛

      And true, buzz is not always a positive thing because you wonder how much of it is manufactured hype.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As an author who hopes to get my books read some day, this was a very helpful post. And it’s helpful reading the comments as well.

    Here is my process:
    1) I see it on the new books shelf in the library. I get curious. I read the blurb on the inside cover. If the blurb is hard to follow but the premise sounds intriguing, I flip it open and read the first page or two. If interested, I check it out. After all, the worst thing that can happen is I don’t finish reading it before returning it to the library!
    OR
    2) Same process, but instead of happening at the new books shelf, all of this happens back in the thriller, sci-fi or fantasy section of the library because I wandered back there to find something good to read.
    OR
    3) I look up the author and book on Amazon and buy the book because I have gotten hooked on the series (or, more rarely, author) and I need the next book in the series and it isn’t in my city’s library system.
    OR
    4) Same as #3, but I am buying the book because it’s a classic that I know I will want to own.

    The only thing that worries me about your list is your slight preference for more recently published books with lots of ratings.

    In case you have not read them or had them recommended to you, I recommend the following classics of the genre(s):

    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. This one is a classic, and I think for good reason. However, when I put it up on my shelves in online book club, only 2 or 3 other people had read it, and one of those rated it a 2 (I had rated it 4 out of 4).

    Short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. I dutifully checked these out because he is supposed to be father of modern sci-fi horror. I was not disappointed. It turns out his stories were very original at the time, and have had a lot influence in the genre.

    The Clan of the Cave Bear series by Jean M. Auel. A friend got me reading these when we were 13 years old. Since then, Auel has added a lot more books to the series. In retrospect, I was a bit young to be reading them (lots of sex). But, they are an older series that it would be a shame if you missed because they’re older.

    The Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. These are set on the border of Wales in the 1100s (high middle ages). There is no magic, but each one has a mystery, some kind of romance, and always lots of bonus medieval stuff like a siege, duel, or whatever. They start a little slow, but once they get going, the plot just keeps on giving!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad it was helpful! And that’s really interesting that most of your decision-making happens in the library – sounds like a much nicer book-choosing atmosphere than clicking around online. I live in Germany so my local libraries are mostly filled with German-languages books (which I am reading more of, but don’t want to exclusively read). I used to go to the library more when I still lived in Australia, but I also just really like owning books (perhaps because there’s no time pressure to return them) so I guess that’s why my book choosing mostly happens online or in a book store.

      I’ve actually read The Left Hand of Darkness and really enjoyed it! A very moving and unique story. And I’ve been meaning to read more H.P Lovecraft, so far I’ve only read The Call of Cthulhu. As for the other two, I’d never heard of them but I’ll definitely check them out – The Clan of the Cave Bear sounds particularly interesting. Thanks for the recommendations!

      I should say, even though in general I tend to lean toward newer books with more ratings, an enthusiastic recommendation from someone or a glowing review on a trusted blog will often override that, as will a really good sample. So I never completely exclude older or less known books, and I have read some really good ones where I was glad I found them!

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      • It’s because of my budget. I could never, never afford to buy all the books I want to read!
        I know authors probably aren’t too happy to hear this. But I do repay them by talking up books that I have read and loved … and I usually end up buying something, eventually, after I discover an author in the library.

        I understand about living overseas, though. I also bought a lot more books on line when I lived outside of my home country.

        After I posted the comment about your slight preference (in the last year) for newer books, I looked back at the article and realized you’d said that you had gone through periods where you read a lot of older ones. So, sorry about that mistake. I am glad you liked Left Hand of Darkness too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes if you read a lot of books it can get very expensive to buy them all! And as you said, if you talk up books you love that’s still good for authors – I know I’ve bought books because of recommendations by bloggers who say they mostly borrow from libraries or get free review copies. Also libraries do help promote books and encourage reading, so I think they’re pretty good for authors on the whole.

          And no worries, it’s been a while since I wrote this article and I’ve actually found myself going through another period of trying more older books/fantasy classics recently – so it’s good to get some recommendations 🙂

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  6. P.S. You are right, a good blurb is super hard to write.
    I have a pretty high tolerance for mediocre blurbs. I don’t even mind dwarves. But, if I can’t get through the blurb because it introduces about 100 years of political history of the kingdom and about 6 characters, I usually decide the book is too much of a commitment. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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