It used to be, back before the Internet could satisfy any random question my brain asked in a stray moment, that I looked at book covers to choose which one to read.
Did I want teal or purple? Blonde or brunette heroine? Open-mouthed face of pseudo-ecstasy or closed mouth? Ermine cloaks or purple fields of unidentifiable flowers? Horse in the background or zebra? A stray llama perhaps?
Read the last Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on the importance of a great book cover.
I was—and am—terrible at remembering author names and titles, particularly the correct combinations thereof. I'd remember color—I liked the blue one, but not the green one by one author. I liked the pink one but not the red one with the title about hearts on fire. And so forth.
It was not at all the most successful or efficient method of selecting a book. And with romance, whether I was standing at the rotating rack of the library in 1993, or now standing in the book aisle in 2012, there is a lot to choose from.
Sometimes, depending on where I shop, the selections are limited by genre. For example, my local grocery stores, of which I have six, each stock a different subgenre of romance. One stocks nothing but romantic suspense, and another stocks only romance by African-American authors, and the entire monthly selection of Harlequin Kimani romances, with exactly four Nora Roberts and two James Patterson’s each month. (I have no idea why Patterson is in the romance. The books look very uncomfortable there.)
The smaller grocery store with the ridiculously expensive produce puts their romance in a bookshelf by the checkouts—but PAST the point where you pay, so not only do you have to get back in line once the impulse-buy urge is satisfied, but you have to make that selection in front of everyone waiting to pay for their food. That store stocks a lot of fluffy-covered historical romance, with a solid row of Amish romance at the top. Very few stock contemporary—that's the domain of the CVS drugstore down the block.
The local library has a well-developed romance selection, and it's right inside the front door, so I don't have to go too far if I have little time. But for the reader who can't remember names and titles, it's difficult to remember who is good and who isn't, and what books one has already read. There aren't many "if you like" advisory lists, unfortunately, and everything is housed in one big "romance" section. I'm more likely to shop at the CVS, see what titles are new, take notes, then go to the library instead of sifting through the library’s entire shelf selection.
More and more readers tell me that online reviews and online communities are the best way to choose books, especially if they've figured out that the reviewer's tastes align well with their own. I now keep a spreadsheet of books I've heard about and want to read, and mark off books into monthly lists to meet my reading and reviewing goals. Most of my recommendations are online—only occasionally do I see a book in a store that I haven't already seen or heard about online. But then, I'm online most of the time, trying to learn about romance as much as I can each day.
Not every romance reader is online, and most go hunting for their books the way I used to: going to stores, some with increasingly limited selections, and going to the library, which is why the well-tended and curated library selection of romance is a wonderful thing to find. A library shelf with recommendations as well? Even better.
So where do you find your books? What do you think is the best way to help readers find new and excellent romances?
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.