Friday, September 30, 2022

RA for All Greatest Hits: Share Why Someone Would Enjoy a Book NOT What Happens

Today's entry in the RA for All Greatest Hits series is one of  the tenants of RA Service, "Share Why Someone Would Enjoy a Book, Not The Plot." When we share book suggestions with readers we don't want to spend our time sharing the plot. What happens in a story is something that the reader will experience on their own. You can frame the story for them to prime them for how it begins, but when we are trying to match books with readers, the key is in the appeal-- how the story is told.

The post below not only reminds people of this foundational RA concept, but it also explains how you can easily articulate the appeal of a book by using both professional and reader based resources-- without every reading said book.

More below, but I would also like to add this exercise to the post. Take the last book you finished that you greatly enjoyed-- or an all time favorite-- and then look it up in NoveList and Goodreads as I mention below. Compare the professional reviews, appeal factors, and readalikes from NoveList with the "shelves" and reviews from 5 stars to 2 stars on Goodreads. Get a sense of why you and other like [or don't like] this book.

Now do the same thing but with a book you know about, but haven't read yet. Even better if you pick a favorite of a coworker and ask them why they like it first and then do the exercise described above second. You can compare their experience to what the resources teach you. 

Adding this exercise to the post will help you to practice and see the concept in "action."

For more of RA for All's Greatest Hits click here.


Share Why Someone Would Enjoy a Book, Not The Plot

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but then I remember that many of you encounter this blog at different points in your careers  so today I just want to post a quick reminder about how and why we do this job of helping leisure readers.

When we talk about books with patrons we do not need to spend more than a single sentence on the "plot," and that sentence, or even just phrase, is more to frame the book within the vast of universe of the entirety of the publishing world.

What we need to all focus on is WHY someone would want to read it. That is the information you need to  share. The plot they can read on the back of the book, but how the story is told, that is why they will like it or not.

And here is the best news for you-- articulating how the story is told is super easy to find via resources. Bonus: if you haven't read the book yourself it is even easier! That is mostly because you will only use resources to articulate appeal rather than introduce your version of the book.

In terms of the best resources to do this, I have a two pronged attack-- Professional Book World resources and Reader Driven resources. This insures you get the book world opinion and actual reader comments. Using them in combination is both efficient and effective.

For the Professional opinion, the best place to go is NoveList because they have multiple resources in one place. You can find the professional reviews from the major journals and the appeal terms and themes assigned by NoveList. Pairing the main entry for a title with the reviews is one of the best ways to get a sense of why someone would enjoy the book. You can even read the appeal terms and some of the key points from the review right from the database to your patron.

For the Reader Driven option, I like Goodreads. Look, there are issues with Goodreads, it is not perfect, but it is where the largest number of reviews, from actual readers, are available. I always suggest checking 4 star and 2 star reviews to get a sense of why a book really worked or didn't work for a particular reader. This gives you a 360 degree view of the appeal of the book to a casual leisure reader. The only better resource for this is chatting with a patron at the desk.

Goodreads also has another one of my favorite reader driven resources-- the "shelves" people place a book on. Go on, look up a recent favorite read. Here is the entry for Plan Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth [I just gave it a star in LJ and it is out next week]. I picked this book because it has wide appeal. Toward the top of the right gutter you will find a "Genre" chart for every book. Here is a screen shot of the one for Plain Bad Heroines.

As you can see in the image, you can also click on "See top shelves..."for more. These shelves are the terms real readers use to classify their books. Let's use this example to show how you use these. This novel is a Gothic, historical, horror novel with a mystery at its heart and a strong lesbian frame. Those  things are all reflected in those terms above, but which is the most important to your reader?

If  someone mentions they like this book because it is historical, you are looking in different places for a readalike than those who identify the mystery as their biggest appeal. But because Goodreads crowdsources all of  the data, you can simply click on those terms that real readers use to find more similar titles.

This resource does not always make as much sense as NoveList but that is because it a product  of real readers' brains. Think about yourself. We all have books we enjoy  equally that on paper seem to not have anything in common. And yet, to us they do. Goodreads replicates the randomness of  people and their opinions in a way no professional resource can. I am not exaggerating when I say that there have been numerous times when I clicked n a user generated adjective like "spooky," to help a patron and got better results than using the controlled NoveList language-- because people don't always make algorithmic sense.

But I never have matched a book based on its plot. Maybe its frame, which many might consider plot [it's not], but never on what actually happens. It is always about how the story unfolds, the narrative choices the author makes, and if the reader likes how it all comes together to tell that plot that matters.

Stop focusing on what happens and start sharing why the reader might enjoy it. Use the resources, not your personal experience to share that. Trust me, you will have less stress and happier readers. 


  1. For me, this post really is a greatest hit and I remember how much I liked it when Becky first put it up. It reminds me to think about the book or books I am recommending -- to a person or for purchase -- as a totality -- yes plot, but also the writing style, the setting, the mood, the characters. All the aspects they had us break down in school -- but they made it seem mechanical when in actually it is what makes a book come. Many books I love do not have plots that are conducive to quick summaries or the plot is not that enticing on its own. How would one talk about Wolf Hall in terms of plot -- half its readers probably would not have even picked it up based on plot alone. Or Beloved or Possession, which actually have rather appealing plots, but are so much more than their respective plots.

  2. Thanks Michael. I am glad that it still resonates with you.