Romance For Newbies: Reader’s Advisory and The Freebie Problem

Getting into any new genre is difficult and often intimidating. You know you’re interested in the idea, but there’s so much out there, of so many different quality levels, and even your best friends’ tastes just don’t line up well with yours. Plus, you’re used to one kind of story and the formula of another kind can be jarring at first.

Romance is definitely no exception. Too often, people who embark onto projects like mine end up lost in a sea of novels with very similar covers, and, reluctant to spend too much on books they’re not confident they’ll like, end up seeking out freebies. Sometimes these freebies are just flash sales of popular titles, but just as often they’re under-edited and self-published. While that category absolutely holds some gems in any genre, it takes a lot of sifting through rocks to find them.

Enter reader’s advisory tools. Reader’s advisory is a fundamental service offered by librarians and a lot of book sellers (especially if you shop indie!), but when looking at a new genre, it’s usually a good idea to make sure the person doing the advising has at least a passing familiarity with the specific sort of books you’re considering. Just like many readers of comics trust their Local Comic Shop above all others, finding your best source for romance recommendations is a smart way to start. Since we don’t all have access to romance-focused bookstores like Culver, California’s The Ripped Bodice, I’ve collected a few of the resources I’ve been using to find new reading material.

My first stop, after any recommendations I get directly from trusted friends, is usually GoodReads, not least because my bookish friends are there reading, rating, and reviewing everything they read. Beyond those tools, though, I use a few other things: the built-in recommendations are often a

good start (especially once you’ve built up and rated your own backlist); checking the lists for a book you loved can lead to networks of read-alike titles; groups allow you to find others reading similar books and discuss them, either generally or on a schedule like a traditional book club. Some authors also maintain active accounts on GoodReads, which may lead you deeper into their work and the work of others.

If you’re up for a little bit deeper digging, most of today’s active romance authors have lively twitter accounts where they talk about not only their own books but the books they’re reading and enjoying. There are also a number of accounts that focus primarily on recommendations, sometimes honing in on particular sub-genres like bodice rippers, paranormal, steampunk, etc. For your convenience, I’ve been building a list of these accounts, so feel free to check it out!

Another deep dive option is getting into some blogs and podcasts. These often talk more about the genre as a whole, trends, and controversies, rather than strict recommendations, but sometimes those kinds of conversations are really helpful in getting into a new genre. Some popular ones for romance include Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Frolic, Book Thingo, Girl Have You Read, and Scandalicious.

If you’re up for some in-person suggestions, there are a few options, especially if you live in a larger city. Look for reading groups (facebook and meetup often have them listed) and check out independent bookstores, especially if you have a genre-specific option or one that stocks a solid romance section. Finally, libraries are a great resource, both for accessing those books without sinking a ton of money into a new adventure and for getting good recommendations. To maximize this option, see if any of the branches in your system or any of the librarians at your local library host romance-specific programming, as these staff members are the most likely to have personal familiarity.

Happy hunting! If you’ve been following along and would like to join me and others like us to talk romance on the boards, I’ll be hosting our first thread the week of May 5!

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