Walking into the bookstore has always been a religious experience for me. I am at peace whenever I’m perusing shelves overflowing with stories written by strangers. Stumbling upon a book that captures my attention and excitement always makes me feel like I’ve won some literary lottery.
I honestly blame the Scholastic Fairs that my elementary schools threw once a year. There was something magical about wandering around that liminal literary space, not knowing what I’d find. This imperfect process of discovery is a significant part of my identity as a reader because I want to stumble upon new authors with no preconceived notions about them or their books.
As a child, I didn’t have any biases toward books; I just knew that they were supposed to make me smart (hazards of being the daughter of immigrants). As I got older, I found myself being more “plugged in” with bookish news and the newest, hottest authors.
Although I still loved reading, being plugged in made me lose that feeling of exploration I had at the Scholastic Fair. However, I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years to take advantage of being plugged in to rekindle that feeling of discovery.
In a world where everyone is strapped for time, many find the idea of taking a chance on an unknown author to be a risk or a waste of time. This of course is where our favorite commercial authors such as Danielle Steel, James Paterson, and Lee Child come to the rescue. Their formulaic plots and almost superhuman ability to engage readers render them trustworthy to their stans.
But I would argue that part of the reading experience is taking a chance on a story. Reading a book isn’t so different from a relationship. There’s always a chance that you won’t get along. But almost all the time, you’ll walk away having learned something, even if it is realizing that you personally can’t stand the insta love or enemies-to-lovers tropes (no hate for those who enjoy these, but I’m DONE).
Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
I noticed that many readers operate within a comfort zone when selecting a new book. Many of my own friends rely on word-of-mouth suggestions, celebrity book clubs such as Reese’s Book Club, and/or if there’s a movie coming out based a book. All these seem like great ways to ensure that the book you’ll read won’t be a waste of time.
You’re letting your fear guide your selections. What your friend Susan loved you might hate. And guess what? Reese Witherspoon’s literal stamp on a book doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it. Books are subjective to their readers. So your book search should be subjective as well.
Diversify where you go for recommendations and you just might be surprised at the treasure trove you were missing out on.
Where To Discover New Authors Online
First off, let’s begin with the basic of basics for discovering new authors: walk into your local bookstore or library. Wanna level up? Talk to an employee (or librarian). There’s nothing like having a conversation with someone who spends their days surrounded by books. They know the scoop on debut authors and what folks have been enjoying.
Now, let’s talk about finding books from the comfort of your laptop. There are eight types of sources I rely on:
- Book Databases
- Basic Google Searches
- Editorial Book Sites & Pages
- Book Reviews
- Book Subscription Boxes
- First Editions Book Clubs
- Social Media
Databases are the best one-stop shopping destinations for discovering new authors and books. Each has its own quirks on how to filter books, but once you figure out which ones work, you’ll have so much information at your fingertips. I’ve broken down these three because they’re by far the resources I turn to the most.
Project Gutenberg & Librivox
Project Gutenberg deals in books already in the public domain, which means the books are free to read. I love perusing the new books dropped into the public domain. There’s always a gem or two.
Librivox also deals in books in the public domain but for audiobooks.
I find a lot of joy just perusing both sites and researching long-forgotten authors.
Goodreads is my go-to database for discovering new authors. It has been around for a while and although the interface isn’t always user friendly, it’s the most comprehensive resource with a nifty “Listopia” section that has lists of books about everything from Indian cooking to space operas.
Over time, I encourage you to follow authors and reviewers you trust. Many of them post long, thoughtful reviews that are always insightful. I personally love seeing what Roxane Gay and Celeste Ng think about their recent reads.
The StoryGraph is a relatively new resource I only began using this year. However, the code is set up specifically for recommendations. The more you rate books and add to your TBR pile, the better your recommendations get. I’ve been surprised at how effective the website has been in introducing me to books I normally wouldn’t come across.
Basic Google Searches
There’s nothing like going to Professor Google for answers. I imagine all of us have at one point turned to her for recommendations. The resulting websites on the SERP, whether they be blogs or online magazines, are filled with a treasure trove of recommendations for discovering new authors.
Some of my favorite searches include “books like [insert favorite book]” or “authors like [insert favorite author].” These will usually yield either a Goodreads list (see Databases) or articles with some great listicles or even in-depth reviews.
Another search I use often is “top [genre] books [year].” This search has helped me find some great BIPOC writers and get a pulse on popular books published so far into the year.
Looking up the winners of past and present literary prizes, such as the Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize, Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Hugo Award, and The Edgar Award, also yields great recommendations.
Editorial Book Sites & Pages
Many editorial sites have dedicated book pages where contributors regularly compile lists of popular books in various genres. Some of my favorites include the Book Recommendations pages of Refinery29, Buzzfeed Books, Oprah Daily, and Bustle. I already read these websites regularly, so it was natural for me to check out their bookish articles. To that end, if you have an editorial site that you regularly read, check if they have a book page.
And then there are dedicated editorial book sites. (Hey look, you’re on one right now! Check out our latest articles for recommendations.) These are built specifically for bibliophiles and future readers. The four I turn to the most are She Reads, LitHub, and The Scoop (our dedicated recommendations blog for the TBR service, for which I’m a bibliologist). There are so many, but the key is to find two or three editorial sites with writers and recommendation styles that work for you.
I’ll begin by conceding that formal book reviews do sometimes have an elitist edge. More than once, I’ve noticed how they prioritize literary fiction and even nonfiction over genre fiction. In addition, they also have a long way to go in terms of diversity. However, the the book critics do carefully think through their book reviews. As a result, the writing is topnotch, and a good book critic will help readers see how a certain book or author fits into the zeitgeist.
If you choose to go this route, I strongly encourage you to find a book critic you trust. I personally love Parul Sehgal from The New York Times Book Review. Two other sites I enjoy are the Los Angeles Times Books section and the The Washington Post Books section. Note: All of these sites require a subscription.
There are also dedicated book review sites in the publishing industry that are perfect for keeping you updated on the latest releases. These reviews aren’t as in depth, but they’re honest and worth consideration when discovering new authors. The three sites I rely on are Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Publisher’s Weekly.
Book Subscription Boxes
If you prefer for someone to do the vetting for you, then consider book subscription boxes. Each month/quarter includes a theme with a book (often a new release) and some goodies. Nowadays, there are so many that cater to niche audiences that you’re bound to find one you love.
The most popular one for YA is Owlcrate. However, there are some like BlackLIT that supports Black authors and businesses, The Alignist that strives to teach readers about a specific country and its history/culture, and Feminist Book Club that aims to empower women.
The box I personally subscribe to is Life’s Library, which has introduced me to a diverse array of incredible books and donates proceeds to organizations supporting maternal health care in Sierra Leone.
First Editions Book Clubs
These are a form of book subscription boxes but without the extra trinkets. However, if you consider yourself to be a book collector, then First Editions Book Clubs are for you. As the name suggests, you’ll receive a signed first edition of a new release.
Each selection is carefully curated by the staff of an indie bookstore, who select books they believe will have a place in the zeitgeist. The upside is that you have a chance at owning a signed first edition of a future Pulitzer Price winning book.
I’ve written an entire guide about First Editions Book Clubs from around America if you’re interested. This is also a great way to support an indie bookstore.
I don’t need to convince you that social media has a serious influence over readers. What I love about following accounts dedicated to books is that I’m getting personable recommendations from people who love books just as much as I do.
I will caution you that sometimes social media can feel like an echo chamber, especially when a particular book or author is constantly being hyped. However, I’ve found great success in following content creators from marginalized communities and/or those with smaller followings.
If you want to add some bookish fun to your daily commute, then may I suggest a book-related podcast? What I love about podcasts is that listening to them feels like having a conversation with close friends who also love books. Once you find one or two podcasts with a host whose energy matches your own, you’ll never want to stop listening to their recommendations.
The Bottom Line
I have purposefully suggested various options for discovering new authors. Some options such as the book subscriptions do the suggesting for you while others require varying levels of research and/or commitment. It truly depends on what sort of media you enjoy consuming and what fits into your lifestyle.
Whichever options you choose, I strongly encourage keeping an open mind. It’s so easy to get caught up on the latest releases of popular authors and while I too enjoy commercial fiction, romance, and cozy mysteries, part of the fun of being a bibliophile is discovering surprising new books.
I understand that it’s a leap of faith to read something by an author you’ve never heard of, but more often than not, it’s worth the effort.