How do you know a book is going to be good?

Posted December 15, 2019 by Lory in discussions / 32 Comments


How do I know a book is going to be good? Well, I can tell you what does not necessarily help:

  • A description that sounds good
  • A blurb by an author I like
  • Reviews that make it sound great

I’m always getting sucked in by these marketing ploys, but even when they are from trustworthy sources, people who usually like the same kinds of books as I do, I’ve been sorely disappointed. And even when I’ve read and enjoyed other books by the same author, I can get a huge letdown.

Almost nothing can reliably tell me whether I will like a book, it seems, except for actually reading it. If after about 50 pages my interest is still not sparked, I now tend to drop the book and move on to other things.

There have been a few times when after pressing myself further my opinion turned around, but that is rare. Usually, if the style or subject matter grates on me from the beginning, or if I feel hopelessly befuddled or bored, it’s a sign that things are not going to get much better — for me, anyway.

What are your go-to ways of telling whether a book is going to be worth your time?


Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!



32 responses to “How do you know a book is going to be good?

  1. I think a book’s synopsis can give a quick idea of whether there’s any chance I’d be interested in a book, but obviously, it can’t tell me everything. There’s still a chance I just won’t like it, and I don’t think there’s a way to know for sure except by reading it.

    One thing that I think affects me more than it should is covers. There are some covers that push me away from books even if everything else tells me that I might like it, and I hate that because I know it doesn’t necessarily say anything about what’s in the book itself. (One example of this is that I really don’t like covers with pictures of people, so I tend to be averse to books with people on the cover despite knowing it doesn’t mean anything.)

    • I didn’t get into the cover discussion here, because it adds another layer — but I have been led to read (or not read) books for their covers as well!

      I would say that a beautiful and appropriate cover makes me enjoy a book I like even more; it adds an extra dose of aesthetic satisfaction. For those poor books that are worthy of reading but have ugly covers, I have to just try to block them out as best I can. And if the reverse is true – great cover, terrible book – I can admire their design but that does not make the reading experience any better. Even though I know this, the cover design does have a strong pull on me, as I know it does on many of us.

  2. I usually use the synopsis to see if it’s something that I’m interested in and would even consider picking up. I can generally get past covers, unless they physically make me ill (like there are some that make me feel motion sickness!). If I’m not sucked in or interested or am really struggling through the first 50 pages, I will put it down. There are way too many other books out there for me to read.

    • Yes, the synopsis usually gives a decent indication of whether there is even a chance I will be interested. But I’ve noticed that there are many books that seem to have all the ingredients that I would love, but when I delve in further, they are not for me. And I agree – too many books out there to spend time on these.

  3. It’s all about impressions with me — it could be the blurb, or the cover, or a quick glance at the opening; equally it could be a recommendation, repute, completism (I’ve read others in the series or by the author).

    But mainly it’s a sample of the writing: do I like the style, the content, the poetic language; does the opening sentence grab me or do I spot a witty conversation? And of course, though I don’t know from the off if a book is going to be really good, I try to be generous and find something positive or of note even if it’s not perfect!

    • Sometimes I think it’s not good to have any expectations, they get in the way of my appreciating something that may be just fine in its own way. But it’s pretty impossible to avoid them!

    • I also rely heavily on reviews by people who like the same books I do, but when I don’t like the book they raved about I somehow feel I’ve BETRAYED them, adding another layer of guilt to a book I didn’t enjoy. Silly, but that’s how my mind works!

      With blurbs I don’t have that personal connection, so I simply have to remind myself to take them all with a grain of salt. Of course they are deliberately written to make the book sound fantastically enticing.

  4. The synopsis and then if I know anyone else who has read and reviewed it whose opinions I trust. They usually get it right – I’m lucky I have a circle of real-life book friends (sometimes it’s even better for someone to save you from reading a book they know you won’t like, right?) and good quality blogs that help with this. I used to say it being by an author I love helps, but a few let me down (Douglas Coupland went off the boil for me, Anne Tyler had a dip …).

    • I know, it is so sad and disappointing when a reliable author becomes less so. I have to remember they are human beings and have “off” days (or books) as well. Sometimes the magic comes back!

  5. I too have suffered from being suckered by enticing blurbs and descriptions! I don’t know if there’s anything I can really depend on. Some books sound PERFECT and then turn out to be duds for me, like The Secret History or that book about walking, The Old Ways, which sounded completely ideal and then had such self-consciously poetic writing that I couldn’t enjoy it. But usually, on the whole, I trust my bloggy friends whose tastes I understand, and a description/synopsis is helpful…just not guaranteed.

    • Self-consciously poetic wriitng really turns me off so though I had The Old Ways on my list maybe I will leave that one…on the other hand your definition of s-c. p. w. may be very different from mine, so who knows? It goes back to my conclusion – I have to read it for myself to be sure!

  6. This is truly an age-old question, isn’t it?

    For contemporary novels I find at the library, I will read the inside cover and if I am interested I will go to goodreads for comments. That doesn’t always sway me though, even if the comments aren’t all that positive. If the subject matter interests me I’ll read a bit then, like Jeanne above I might read the ending. Why do I do that? I really need to know if reading this book is going to be worth it to me. There are soooo many books….

    • I do of course still use the methods listed above — I just have to remind myself that they are not a reliable indicator of a book’s goodness, for me, and not get TOO excited when they sound promising. And yes, the point is to waste less time reading books that are not worth it!

  7. This is tough. I have been caught a few times, trusting in the 3 things you say don’t work. It has even happened with authors I had so loved before that dreadful book. So I try to be more and more careful before requesting a book, because then I will I have to finish the book. I only DNF what I haven’t requested.
    Though if I do spend time to read reviews by bloggers I follow on goodreads, it tends to help

    • This is why I started requesting fewer books — even if they sound amazing! I also feel obligated to finish books I specifically request.

  8. I’m right there with you – the only sure-fire way to tell is to read the book (or, as my mother would put it, “suck it and see”). Usually, I find if a premise makes me go “ooooh”, I’ll enjoy the book, but that’s not foolproof – there have been a few books lately with really great/interesting premises that have let me down, while others that sound a bit dull have actually blown my mind. I do put some stock in other reviews and recommendations, naturally, too.

    • Oddly enough, reading negative reviews is more helpful to me. They don’t always convince me not to read the book; sometimes I can tell what bothers the reviewer would not bother me. But it’s good to know about the book’s weaknesses going in, rather than being blindsided by excessive praise.

  9. Combination of cover, synopsis, and author have the biggest impact on me. I know what I tend to like, and I have become very good at picking out books I know I will enjoy. I have seen a lot of people, who say they need the negative reviews to help them decide. Positive reviews can sway me, if the things the person say they liked are also things I enjoy or if the positive review is from an blogger, who’s taste jibes with mine. But, other authors blurbing it means nothing to me.

    • I know those author blurbs are notoriously unreliable but I still tend to get sucked in when it’s an author I really admire – “If Ursula K. LeGuin praised this book, I HAVE to love it!” But even that is not a guarantee of success. I should just learn to ignore them as well.

  10. Synopsis and impression if it’s a new-to-me author, or just the author’s name if I like them (because my preference is to know as little as possible about a book going in, but I don’t want to waste my time!). An attractive cover is what makes me pick it up to take a look in the first place, and while I don’t like to read reviews before I’ve read something myself, I do find a lot of possible books through blogs and Goodreads just based on, “I love this book!” from someone I trust or “Here’s an awesome #ownvoices title that’s fantasy” or something else that rings my bells.

  11. Ah, yes, author blurbs – it took me awhile to learn that if Neil Gaiman loved a book, I probably /wouldn’t/, haha. I think now, as a book blogger, one of the clearest signs I will enjoy a book (before I’ve actually picked it up) is the number of reviewers with similar taste to me who enjoy it or compare it to other books I’ve loved. But I will still try a book just because I like the description, even if no one else seems to have liked it. (I will also DNF about 50 pages in, or even sooner, if I’m not into a book.) Style or narrative voice is the main indicator of whether I will keep reading. I’m very particular.

    • I think style is also the main criterion for me. That is why I have to read the book to see if I’ll like it! Subject matter, whether someone else has liked it, plot summaries, character descriptions and so forth are immaterial if the style does not grab me. A good insight that I will have to remember.

  12. I barely manage to keep track of basic statistics about the books I read, but in theory, I’d love to track my recommendation sources, etc to see if anything is predictive of my enjoyment. I’m guessing nothing is though, especially since the range of ratings I give is pretty small – mostly 3-5 stars. Interesting question!

    • I am terrible at tracking things but doing some kind of survey of recommendation sources/reasons for picking up a book, and the results, would be very interesting.

  13. Hi! I Finding books you’ll acutally enjoy is so tricky! But at this point I’m loving 90% of the books I choose to read, so that’s good. For me, it’s a mix of a lot of things. I know there are certain phrasings, book titles, and cover styles that have spelled disaster for me in the past, so I stay away from them. I could be missing out on some great books but, what can I do? For example, I love romance books, and I know I love enemies to lovers trope, but I hate anything about the brother’s best friend and the little sister shenanigans. It also helps that I’ve discovered a few bloggers whose tastes are so similar to mine, so I read almost everything they recommend. It’s a blessing!

    Once a book they recommended didn’t end up being my cup of tea, but that happens.