Previously on the blog, AAR’s Kristen wrote about how many different corners of Romancelandia there are, and how there seems to be less and less overlap in the “must-reads” and canonical works of each corner. There’s Amazon best-seller Romancelandia, Twitter Romancelandia, Goodreads Romancelandia, and blog circles that overlap to varying degrees, just to name some of the biggest players. With all of these places, and a world in which reading time is unfortunately and totally unfairly finite, where do our reviewers look for buzz? How do reviewers pick the books that end up on our review database?
Dabney: I never pick anything to review anymore. *looks sad*. But, when I read a book I want the world to know about, I will write a review. It’s an assbackwards way to review but it allows me to share my book love. That said, back when I had the time to review, I picked books by authors that I’d read and loved first and foremost. Sometimes, though, I’d look at the descriptions on Amazon or Goodreads and, if a book was described as daring, smart, and sexy, I’d take it. No matter what the genre. That’s lead me to many a fabulous read.
Maria Rose: Definitely, favourite authors usually get dibs, though since some of them are quite prolific I’ll read the synopsis first before trying to take on too many. And besides, in order to find new authors to love you have to be willing to branch out from your tried and true faves. Ensuring I’m reading some diverse authors is now a priority for me especially if they contain some of my favorite romance tropes (like enemies to lovers). I’m less influenced by bestseller lists and hype and more by recommendations from other readers and reviewers whom I know have similar tastes. And then there are just some plots that sound too intriguing to pass up – case in point, Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym Martineau is a recent fantasy romance (described accurately as Fantastic Beasts meets Assassins Creed) that I absolutely loved. It’s a reminder that every now and then a genre switch up (since I mostly read contemporary romance) can be a great way to get out of a reading slump.
Shannon: I pay a lot of attention to websites like Goodreads and fantastic fiction. I start by looking for authors I’ve enjoyed in the past, and then branch out by genre. I’m nut usually hesitant to try new authors as long as the synopsis intrigues me. It’s not a terribly original way to find new books, but it’s what works.
Maggie: I’ve been doing this so long my process feels almost organic and outside of any conscious effort on my part but I’ll give it a go. My first step is to look over the lists Dabney sends and check for books in mystery/thriller market or YA and favorite authors. A lot of time, publishers will send me notes that say something like “You liked X, we think you’ll love Y.” So if Y is on NetGalley, I will check it out and if I’m interested, I’ll read it. I’ve been making more of an effort in 2019 to read Inspirational fiction so I will also check Inspy publishers on NetGalley and see if they are offering anything I’m interested in. That’s what I do for review books.
Reading for pleasure books I pick up everywhere. I read AAR in the morning and evening and get most of my recs there. When I’m shopping at Target (mine has a great YA section and I’m often sucked in by that.) When I’m at Costco, I work at the library and browse when I’m checking in books or sending them through the sorter or shelving. Goodreads, and also RL friends and coworkers. I still go to bookstores and browse and will often buy spur of the moment stuff there. So yeah, pretty much wherever I go if they have books, I’ll stop and look.
Evelyn: I didn’t read a romance novel until I was 50! I stumbled across Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me in a bookstore on vacation and was hooked. My daughters (then late teens) and I devoured the entire series. When we finished her books I searched for “more books like Julia Quinn” and came across the AAR 100 List. And I pretty much used that for recommendations until I got a long list of “must read” authors. Nowadays I get new recommendations from the authors I do read via social media. For instance, Ms Quinn wrote a post about Penny Reid… now we are devouring her books.
Caroline: I prioritize books by authors I’ve already enjoyed. For a new author to catch my eye, it usually takes a cool premise or a character/experience that sounds and feels fresh to me. And I almost always grab a sample of the author’s writing somewhere, like Amazon “Look Inside” or the author’s web site, to eliminate books where the prose is just unreadable. But recently, more of my reviews have come from backlist reads AAR didn’t review when they were new. I’m just too crabby at this stage in my life to struggle through books I’m not enjoying, and I can quit pleasure reads in a way I feel I can’t with books I took a free review copy for. I got into reviewing because I want to share books I love, whether they are new or old, and backlist A and B grades satisfy that. It’s been really fun to share, for instance, my recent Elizabeth Essex binge.
Caz: I use a combination of keeping an eye on favourite authors (maybe the odd author newsletter), recommendations from people with similar tastes on Goodreads, and from sites like ours. Once upon a time I probably took notice of Amazon reviews, but not now because so many of them are useless. (Giving 5 stars and typing “Great book!” is NOT helpful!) I still check out what people on my friends feed on GR are reading – there are a handful whose opinions will always make me sit up and take notice – and obviously I read all the reviews here at AAR. But my selection process has changed over the last couple of years. I don’t have a lot of time to look around at reviews on other sites, and very few of my favourite, previously must-read authors of historical romances are working well for me right now, so I’m relying more on GR, and what all my fellow AAR reviewers are reading and loving. Because of the serious dearth of good historical romances right now, I’m reading and reviewing fewer of them and am really cherry-picking when it comes to the titles in the genre I read for review. Mills & Boon/Harlequin is wiping the floor with the big name publishers at the moment in terms of HR, so I’m looking to those authors even more than before to provide me with a steady diet of decent historicals.
I’ve discovered a lot of new authors and books because of my love of audiobooks. I listen to a LOT of them (sometimes as many as four in a week), some of which I review for AudioGals, some of which I listen to for my own pleasure. Because my selection process when it comes to audio is different – I always look at the narrator’s name first and will follow those I like into other genres regardless (mostly) of the author – I’ve found a lot of new authors to try. Some of those are authors I hadn’t read in print (Amy Lane, Josh Lanyon, L.A. Witt for instance), but have started to read simply because I’ve enjoyed their work in audio format. The big draw for me right now is m/m romantic suspense, which has a number of incredibly talented authors putting out some amazing stories (Cordelia Kingsbridge, Gregory Ashe, L.J. Hayward and Amy Lane to name but a few), the last three of whose work I experienced first as audiobooks.
I am a planner, and my planning spreadsheet is scheduled out months ahead – there is even an entry for April 2020! I have my ear to the ground when it comes to choosing books: Twitter, blogs, and book chatter from trusted sources. I choose well-known and début authors, traditionally published and self-published writers, I choose books which have garnered much buzz as well as those by authors whose previous books got good reviews, and I choose books from publicist offerings and author emails. And I always make sure that my reading is diverse and inclusive. So I draw books from a wide variety of sources, but the ultimate choice of what makes it on my spreadsheet is: Am I interested in reading this particular story?
In terms of picking things to review, my system is pretty simple. If I’m taking a punt on a new author, I tend to stick to sub-genres and tropes I already know I love. If I’ve enjoyed the author before, then I may be open to wandering outside my comfort zone. Sometimes I tell Dabney, our publisher, just to surprise me because I do like to try new things, but I get indecisive about picking them!
As for reading for pleasure, I’m sure I’m similar to most folks. I have auto-buy authors, and then others I dip into from time to time, and then if something I’ve not heard of is getting buzz, I’ll check it out. I know my colleagues here at AAR who have similar tastes to mine, so if they love something, I probably will too, and I use that as a buying guide as well.