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The Art of the Book Recommendation

Mara Franzen

Staff Writer

Mara (They/Them) has accidentally on purpose made their entire life about books and stories. Mara graduated with a B.A in creative writing and theatre and is halfway through an MFA in Creative writing. In addition to writing for Book Riot, Mara also has written for The Independent Book Review, Wargamer, and The Other Half, to name a few. They also work as a fiction editor with The Minison Project. Nearly all of their published articles can be found here.

If you’re a reader, chances are your friends have asked for some suggestions. Honestly, there’s no better feeling. It means that your friends trust your opinions on books! And if it’s someone who is new to reading it’s even better because you might be the one to introduce them to the joys of reading.

On the flip side, it can be a lot of pressure. What if they don’t like the book you recommend? What if they think you’re a bad judge of books? And worst of all, what if your suggestion turns them away from reading forever? While those things probably won’t happen it certainly can feel that way. Especially if you haven’t had the opportunity to give many suggestions before.

If you’ve ever been put on the spot to give book recommendations, here is my tried and true method. This method does work the best if you know the person and they aren’t a stranger, but as long as you’re willing to ask them questions about what they like, this should help you out!

Something to keep in mind is if you’re a big reader, it can be hard to remember all the books you’ve read. If you keep track of your reading, don’t be afraid to pull up the list to jog your memory! And if you don’t already keep track, now’s a great time to start.

Don’t Just Recommend Your Favorite Book

I understand the impulse to just start listing your top favorites of all time, but resist that. Before jumping in recommending all your 5-star reads, take a minute to consider if they are actually something this person would like reading. Just because you loved it, doesn’t mean they will. They might! But make sure you actually take time to consider the person’s taste before dumping your favorites on them.

Ask What They Read As a Kid That They Loved

A lot of people ask what’s something they read recently that they liked. And that can be a great question if that person is a reader already. But I’ve found that if someone is trying to get back into reading, it’s best to start out in a place they are familiar with.

A lot of adults lose their love of reading during school because they don’t have time to read for fun anymore. Once you’re out of the habit it can be hard to get back into reading. But, if you think of books that have a similar feel to their favorite YA series, it can help them see that there are fun books out there still.

Have Them Name Some Tropes, Genres, or Scenarios That They Love

It’s possible they don’t know the names of tropes, but have them describe to you specifics they liked in previous books they read. That gives you the ability to search some books that have the trope, or scenario to find the best to send their way.

People usually know what genre they like reading in, or at least what genre they’re looking for. If that’s the case your job gets either really easy or really hard. For example, if someone comes to me looking for science fiction or fantasy, I have thousands of suggestions to pick from. But, if they ask me for a romance or thriller that gets harder.

Which brings me to another important tip: don’t be afraid to look up books that meet the criteria you’re looking for if nothing you’ve read really fits the bill. It’s okay to recommend books you haven’t read! Just be sure to say something like, “I’ve heard this one is great! I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds like something you’d enjoy!”

Give Them a Few Different Options

Don’t just give them one book. Try to give at least three possible selections. That way they can pick for themselves, or be set for a while if they decide to read all three. And, if they end up not wanting to finish one they have other options.

Consider Their Needs

Keep accessibility in mind when you’re recommending books. Make sure they are easy to find at the store, library, or online. Bonus points if it’s a book that can be found in multiple formats like an audiobook, ebook, or even a graphic novel adaptation.

Also, consider if the person you’re recommending to will need large-print or similar accessibility requirements. When possible, double-check that the books you recommend are accessible to their needs before you even recommend them. You wouldn’t want to recommend a book that they can’t actually access.

Some Final Thoughts

The biggest thing to remember is that if they don’t pick up one of your book recommendations, it isn’t anything personal. We all have set intentions for ourselves that we didn’t meet. Your friend probably knows that when they are ready to read, you’ll be close by with the perfect recommendations for them in tow.

Want to leave the book recommendations to the professionals? Enter our TBR service! Our bibliologists are standing by ready to dish out Tailored Book Recommendations for your friend, or maybe even for you.