How to Find Good Books

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to Find Good Books

With all the recent discussion of sexism in publishing, 

I think it's important to talk about how we find the books we read.


I am a feminist, but I don't avoid books written by men, and I don't read books *only* because they were written by women. I read books that tell stories that connect with me. And here's how I find them.




So these are my bookshelves. I read a lot, usually 1-3 books a week. For a long time, I had trouble finding books that resonated with me. And then I found the internet. These days, my chances of discovering a new author, book, or series have grown, mostly thanks to social media.


Note: YMMV, IMHO, take it with a grain of salt, these are my own personal feelings and I'm a weirdo, etc. Feel free to tell us how you found your favorite books in the comments. 


1. Twitter

I follow people who amuse me and share links that enrich my life. I avoid or unfollow people who insult me, aggressively oversell, or espouse beliefs that hurt others. Therefore, when the people I *do* follow write or recommend books, there's a good chance I'll like them, too. 


Following authors, editors, agents, bloggers, and reviewers on Twitter ensures that my finger is on the pulse of the favorite books of a like-minded coterie of bibliophiles-- and sometimes they tweet about great sales and free books, too. I can honestly say Twitter is the #1 source of my book purchases.


If you're not on Twitter and are starting from scratch, try googling things like "top literary agents on Twitter", "top editors on Twitter", "top YA authors on Twitter". Plenty of people make handy lists of names, links, and reasons they're great to follow.


2. Facebook

The great thing about Facebook is that when you need more than 140 characters to gush over a book and leave links, you have it. I go to Facebook when I have very specific interests and would like to keep track of responses in an easy way. "I'm looking for a mass market beach read, something like Deanna Raybourn or Meljean Brook, preferably a series with a strong female protagonist and no zombies, love triangles, or robot cheetahs", that sort of thing. And then people are happy to gush. And so are their friends. The Facebook pages of book bloggers are *great* for this sort of thing. And if you go to an author's page and say, "I love your books; who else do you think I would love?", they're usually stoked to answer.


3. Blogs

Someone links an interesting article on Twitter or Facebook, whether an essay or opinion piece or some writing advice. I go to the link and notice that I like how the writer thinks, love their rhythm and word choices, not to mention that I learn something from the article. The first thing I do is look to see if they're an author and if their books are as appealing as their blog post. Boom! I buy the book and follow them on Twitter.


4. Anthologies

I know it's crazy, but I didn't even think to pick up an anthology until I was invited to be in CARNIEPUNK and needed to find out... um, how to write an anthology story. I went straight to the bookstore's scifi/fantasy anthology section and bought three anthos that included authors I loved--and authors who were new to me. Some of those short stories were so affecting that they've become part of my mental landscape. And then I received my CARNIEPUNK arc and fell in love with two stories in particular: THE COLD GIRL by Rachel Caine and THE DEMON BARKER OF WHEAT STREET by Kevin Hearne. I liked their stories so much that I bought their books, found them on Twitter, and promptly fangirled all over them. Kevin is now one of my favorite people on earth, and if I ever meet Rachel, I'm sure I'll hug her until she squeaks. 


Anthologies are pretty much well-cultivated buffets designed to help you discover yummy new authors.


5. Booksellers

Bookstores are great, but the most important thing in them isn't books; it's booksellers. People who work in bookstores don't do it for the money; they do it because they love books and want to connect readers with books that will make them happy. Find your local indie bookstore and go check out the "Employee Recommendations" section. Or ask an employee for more specific recommendations based on theme, time period, genre, movies, fandoms, favorite authors--anything. If the first person you grab is unresponsive or doesn't have helpful suggestions, go to the front desk and ask for their resident expert in your favorite genre. I've also had great luck with this technique in comic book stores, where I used to feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed. They want to help you!


6. Cons and Festivals

I know not everyone is a "pay $50 to join 60,000 people in a hotel for mutual geeking out" person, but that's definitely one way to find new authors and books. Most comic cons have a literary or writing track-- possibly several!-- with curated groups of writers answering themed questions and available for Q&A. I've picked up tons of books because a complete stranger on a panel piqued my interest. Most cons also have a huge dealer room that includes a bookstore and tables where authors will sign and personalize books and happily answer questions, including "If I like your books, who else should I be reading?" Which I ask all the time!


Most towns have book fairs or literary festivals that bring together a wide variety of local authors. Here in Atlanta, we have the Decatur Book Festival and the Dahlonega Literary Festival, both of which offer smaller crowds and great chances to connect one-on-one with authors. If you're not a geek, don't like crowds, or just generally don't dig the comic con scene, a smaller lit festival is a low-pressure family outing that might also interest your parents, kids, and friends.


7. Book Signings

If you have a local bookstore, chances are they do book launch parties and book signings, both for local authors and big-name traveling authors. Check out the newspaper listings or the bookstore's online events page, and if you see something interesting, check it out-- usually for free. If you ever want an author to love you for life, go to their book signing and buy a book. There is nothing scarier to an author than an uneaten cake and empty rows of seats. Even if the book doesn't seem like your taste, you might find a new favorite or, at the very least, have a special gift on hand for a friend or relative.


8. Strangers

Y'all might not know this, but I have some social phobias. I am terrified of small talk and would rather speak to 5000 people with a microphone than introduce myself to one complete stranger. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and mutual geekery, I can often circumvent this awkwardness thanks to shared interests. One of the few ways I'm able to walk up and interact is if I see someone reading an interesting book, at which point I assume that we can be besties and they are not going to eat me. 


Questions I will ask if I see someone reading a book that looks enticing: So is that book as good as it looks? What do you know about that author? Do you love it or hate it? Etc. And I *love* being asked the same questions, which is probably why I feel comfortable bothering a stranger to ask about *their* book. I once convinced an airline seatmate to buy THE NIGHT CIRCUS within 2 minutes of meeting her, and we sat side by side and read the same book for the entire flight. It was awesome.


9. Goodreads

As an author, I can't spend too much time on Goodreads. But for a reader, I think it can be a fantastic resource for finding new books and connecting with other fans. I definitely use it when I hear buzz about a book and want to read a wide variety of opinions. I'll skim the 5s, 3s, and 1s to see if the reasons people loved and hated the book are reasons *I* would love and hate the book. Oddly, I learn the most from 3s because people seem to want to explain in great detail why they are conflicted about a book; that is I loved this but I hated that, I would have loved it if not for this deal-breaker, etc. There are also some great book clubs where like-minded fans can discover new authors and series together. And--I'll cop to it-- the ads are especially eye-catching, high-quality, and relevant to my interests. I also like how you can read favorite quotes from books and see what other reviewers rated highly. That is, if someone gave my favorite book a 5 and gushed about it for the same reasons *I* gush about it, I'll often go check out what else they rated a 5 and see if I can find something new.


10. Libraries

I'll probably get a lot of flack for putting libraries at the bottom, but libraries are not how I personally find books. I tend to rack up such insane fines that I'd be better off buying the book in triplicate than checking it out of the library. And, unfortunately, the local branch of my (small town Southern conservative) library has a score card of 0 for helping me find books that I would like, and the librarians generally make me feel that they are super busy and would like me to go away. BUT!!! That's just me, and I REALLY SERIOUSLY APPRECIATE LIBRARIES AND LIBRARIANS. If you hate wasting money on books that you don't finish, the library is the perfect answer for you. Plus, you can use all those resources listed above and hit the library to test out your findings for free. And there's a great chance that your library will treat you better than mine has treated me, so definitely give it a go. Free books are never a bad thing, folks.




In short (which, yeah, this wasn't), there are always new books and authors out there just waiting to whisk you off on an adventure. And you shouldn't snub them because the author was this or that gender or race or because the protag was this or that gender or race or because the cover featured someone's oiled up chest or billowing Regency gown, because authors often have no control of their covers. 


In a world where you can't judge a book by the cover, much less the author's name or gender, a little bit of background work can ensure that you're constantly broadening your horizons with stories that connect with you as a person and, yes, sometimes challenge your worldview in a great way.