Beyond the Bestsellers: How to Find Your Next Favourite Book

Once upon a time I had trouble finding books that I enjoyed. I am pretty picky with my reads, and often a book that is getting a lot of press and accolades leaves me cold. Suffice it to say that I had to figure out some ways to find books that I loved without relying on the usual platforms.

Now, I am pleased to say that my Goodreads “to-read” shelf (where I keep track of my TBR list) is creeping up on 800 titles, and showing no signs of slowing down.

Without further ado, here are some tips for finding books that you love.

Know thyself.
First things first. If you haven’t already, you are going to need to figure out what it is that makes you love a book. It may surprise you know that not everyone reads for the same reasons! If you’ve ever puzzled over a book that someone recommended to you but you are just not feeling (or vice versa), it is worth taking some time to think about the books you enjoy and what qualities in them you value.

Some people love books with fast pacing, plain language, multiple POVs, or dramatic plots. Others love spending lots of slow, in depth time with one or two characters they become enthralled with. Still others enjoy sinking into a book set in a detailed and well-drawn new world, or a historical novel that teaches them things they didn’t know before.

NoveList, an online database used by libraries, suggests several categories of “appeal factors” that can help narrow down your preferences. They include Storyline (character-driven, plot-driven, non-linear, intricate, etc.); Pace (fast, leisurely, intensifying); Tone (thought-provoking, suspenseful, upbeat, etc.); and Writing Style (richly detailed, witty, compelling, accessible, etc.). This is a great way to begin thinking about your favourite books in a more specific way.

Find people in your bookish wheelhouse.
This is where building yourself a little network can come in handy, and yes, that will most likely include social media (although it doesn’t have to). But most social media platforms have a corner dedicated to reading recommendations, and it is not hard to find people you will vibe with once you start looking. Spend some time scrolling through #BookTwitter, #Bookstagram, or #BookTok, if you are so inclined. Try searching some of your favourite titles or authors there and see what delightful rabbit holes you fall down. Consider joining a Discord server dedicated to the types of books you enjoy—you will enter into community with a whole new group of readers, which can only grow your knowledge.

In addition to the ubiquitous social media, book blogs are an old-school standby that are holding their own, thank you very much. Try searching for an author or title you love + the words “blog” or “blog review.” I guarantee you will find heaps of bibliophiles sharing their thoughts online as a labour of love, and you will certainly discover some new authors while you are exploring their pages.

A bunch of new blogs to explore, based on one search!

Finally, podcasts are another fun way to follow like-minded readers. You can find everything from slickly produced podcasts from the BBC (the number of gems I have read thanks to Harriett Gilbert, host of A Good Read, is phenomenal) to indie productions and author-hosted or genre-specific shows. Try googling or searching your podcast listening platform of choice.

Reach back in time.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that contemporary fiction is all there is. Older books need not be the traditional classics that you read at school, if those aren’t your thing. Seeking out books published in earlier decades can provide you with a plethora of new favourites, especially if you are into genre fiction or the so-called “middlebrow” novel. As I keep mentioning on this blog, publishers such as Persephone Books, Handheld Press, Slightly Foxed, Invisible Publishing, and Virago Modern Classics are cheerfully reprinting “forgotten fiction,” and these books are a joy.

Try searching for “forgotten [insert genre here] authors” and be amazed at the enthusiastic response you will find from bloggers and forums such as Goodreads and Reddit. As a bonus, these books can often be found cheaply in secondhand bookstores.

Broaden your literary horizons, travel the literary landscape, and other such metaphors.
You’ve probably heard of the “big 5” publishers, the New York Times bestseller list, and a handful of celebrity book clubs. But the literary world is much more vast than that.

Check out independent presses, and independent bookstores, which often have author events or book clubs. Indie bookstores typically have discerning and book-loving employees, so a “staff picks” section can yield great finds. Watch out for literary festivals and events in your neck of the woods, or ones that you might want to travel to.

Literary magazines are a fantastic source for short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, and sometimes feature writers who also write novels or other longform works. Emerging writers tend to start out publishing in lit mags, so these are a great way to discover new writers to watch out for in the future.

Many published authors also have websites, newsletters, or other online platforms where they share news about their books, their own personal book recommendations, and sometimes free short fiction. It is always fun to seek out the authors who inspired the authors that you love—and usually leads to more great books!

Finally, dedicated book websites such as Literary Hub, Electric Literature, 49th Shelf, and The Rumpus send regular emails with fascinating articles, interviews, and the latest news in the literary world.

I hope this has given you some ideas for finding your next great read. If you have any other suggestions for finding new books and authors, I’d love to hear them!

Bonus: Some of My Personal Favourite Bookish Resources!

Folks to follow on Twitter:
Catherynne M. Valente (author) @catvalente
Cecilia (Cece) Lyra (literary agent) @cecilialyra
Night Beats (writer’s collective) @nightbeatseu
Freya Marske (author) @freyamarske
Akwaeke Emezi (author) @azemezi
Aliette de Bodard (author) @aliettedb
Chelene Knight (author & lit agent) @LWEstudio
Amal El-Mohtar (author & critic) @tithenai
Tanya Gold (editor & translator) @editortanya

Bookish blogs, websites, and newsletters:
Pickle Me This
small thoughts
Close Reading Romance
Lonesome Reader

Books & Authors
Be the Serpent
Well-Read Black Girl
Book Women
Hot & Bothered Rom Pod
LeVar Burton Reads

Small presses and literary magazines:
House of Anansi
Flying Books
Uncanny Magazine
All Lit Up

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