3 Tips for Making Helpful Book Recommendations

While we’re on the topic of getting people to read books (after last week’s post about requesting reviews), let’s talk about making book recommendations. This is another thing I see a fair amount, especially being on Goodreads, and it’s something I quite enjoy—when it’s done right. So let’s talk about how to make helpful book recommendations and bring other readers into our favorite fandoms. ;)

Why to Make Careful Book Recommendations

First, why is it important to make helpful book recommendations?

1) For the sake of the reader.

You don’t want to offend a reader by recommending something they aren’t comfortable reading, and you do want to recommend books they’re likely to enjoy. After all, we read for entertainment (among other things), right? And if we share books that aren’t likely to be enjoyed by the other party, then we’re likely to have friends who dislike the things we like. Better to share what both parties are likely to enjoy and keep friendships intact. ;)

2) For the sake of the authors.

When recommendations are made, books are read. This is generally good for authors, especially if those books are purchased. But books are also often reviewed, if not officially then by word of mouth. And reviews lead to more readers—or fewer. By making recommendations that fit the recipient, you’re getting your favorite books to the right audience… at least to the best of your ability. This leads to more positive reviews. Whereas recommending books to the wrong audience can lead to more negative reviews. So by making quality book recommendations, you’re not only helping the recipient but also the authors of the books you’re sharing. (We indie authors particularly appreciate this. ;) )

But now that you know why to make helpful book recommendations, let’s look at how to do so!

1. Keep a List

If you don’t already have one, start a list of your favorite books! I find it’s easiest to reference this list to give recommendations if it’s separated by genre, since most people read by genre. But you can divide it however you think will be helpful. By age range, by subject, by genre, by author…

If you have books with differing levels of mature content (language, violence, romance, etc.), you might find it helpful to make note of those things for each book as well (especially if you’re like me and have a faulty memory of particular things).

Keeping a list and adding to it as you finish more good books will make it much easier for you to retrieve recommendations when other readers ask.

2. Know What the Other Reader Wants (& Doesn’t Want)

This could mean a couple of things. If you’re responding to a specific query, then you likely know from the outset what the reader is looking for. If they’re asking for fantasy, you’ll know to grab your fantasy recommendations. If they’re asking for YA, you’ll know to leave out your adult or MG suggestions.

Of course, in some situations you might include a book or two outside the request for particular reasons. If, for example, a reader is looking for YA fantasy with similar flavor to LOTR and you happen to know of a MG series that has a LOTR-esque flavor and reads older than MG, you might still recommend it (with the note that it’s technically MG). But by knowing what the reader is looking for, you’ll be able to make those exceptions intentional and ensure that they are exceptions.

In other situations, you might not be responding to a specific request. Maybe, instead, you’ve just finished a book and you want to recommend it to other readers you know. In this case, you’ll want to know what your friends normally read. No matter how good that historical romance novel was, it’s unlikely to interest your friend who reads romance-free spec fic; and if the book you just finished had a couple swear words in it, it’s not going to be a good fit for the friend who thinks cussing is unacceptable. Know what your friends read. And if you don’t know, then either withhold the direct recommendation or else recommend a book with whatever caveats your friend might find helpful.

3. Direct Book Recommendations vs. General Book Recommendations

Some books are perfect to recommend to someone directly, while some books are better for recommending in general and allowing readers to look into for themselves.

You might recommend a book directly for a few reasons. Perhaps they asked for particular recommendations. Perhaps you saw a book and immediately thought “So and so would love this” (based on the subject matter, the author, the genre…). Perhaps you read the book and decided it would be a good fit for a reader friend. Perhaps you had it recommended to you and decided it wasn’t a good fit for you, but you wanted to pass on the recommendation. Perhaps there was a reason you wanted to make sure a recommendation was seen.

As an example, I recently recommended Lani Forbes’ books to a couple of specific friends I know enjoy fantasy and Aztec history. Lani’s books don’t look like they’d be a great fit for me, but I wanted to support Lani’s family in the wake of her passing and recommending her books to people I thought would enjoy them seemed like a good way for me to do that.

I also have a tendency to recommend heart- or medicine-related speculative fiction to my best friend, since she’s studying in cardiology and enjoys spec fic that ties in with her interests.

But sometimes, it’s better to recommend a book more generally, be it through a book review, a blog post list, a social media post, a recommendation in a group, etc. You might prefer to do it this way in order to reach more readers, or in order to reach the right readers when you don’t know who will or won’t enjoy a particular book. Some of these means of general recommendations also support the author more effectively by adding a review to their list or by enabling the recommendation to be shared by other readers (if they share a review or a recommendation list).

So there you have it! Three tips for making helpful book recommendations.

What are a few books you’ve recommended over and over?

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8 thoughts on “3 Tips for Making Helpful Book Recommendations

  1. Great post!! Keeping a list of recommendations is a wonderful idea! I should do that so I have something more to fall back on other than my default recommendations, The Green Ember and The Wingfeather Saga. :D

    1. The Wingfeather Saga is awesome! Definitely among my top recommendations, too, and not only for MG readers. I recommend Andrew Peterson’s non-fiction books all the time, too. All of his work is simply excellent.

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