How Much Do You Research Before You Read?

reading research

I’m always a little shocked when I hear about people going into books completely blind, just because it’s so different from the way I approach my reading. It made me wonder just how varied those methods might be across the board.

If I’m scoping out books several months ahead of publication, research can be hard. There may be one or two reviews available, but most of my desire to read is based on the book description and comparative titles. When it comes to a book that’s close to or post-publication, I definitely do a bit of researching before I read. Though I don’t trust the aggregated ratings on Goodreads, I do like to look through ratings and reviews from my friends. I tend to know which bloggers and reviews I can turn to for spoiler-free opinions, so I’m not someone who’s afraid to do some digging before I pick up a book, though I tend to be selective.

I very, very rarely pick up a book unless I know something about it. I would love to be the type of person who could ignore blurbs and reviews, but…I just can’t. Though I’m sure my methods have turned me away from books I would have otherwise liked, I think it’s helped guide me toward many more I love.

How much do you want to know before you read?


  • Laura Frey

    Before blogging, I always went in blind, and I kind of miss it. I’m like you, always always check Goodreads friends and try to stay away from *too* much else, though following so many “book people” on Twitter you can’t help find out more, if the book has any buzz at all. Sometimes i wonder how much of my reaction to a book is just a reaction to the expectations that were set by media etc.

  • Another Night of Reading

    I do a lot of research after I have read a book, because I’m always curious to see what other people think. I don’t want to know their opinions beforehand, though, because I’m afraid it might influence my own.

  • I usually hear about a book and then check out the blurb. I don’t want to know much more than that. I’ll I’m still unsure after the blurb, I’ll read a few reviews on goodreads.

  • Interesting question! I usually like to go in what I call “blind”, but after reading your post, I think I use the term a little differently than you do. I do like to know the overall synopsis (but, not too many plot details, which I think publishers have been going overboard on in their blurbs) and read some reviews by people I trust if they’re available. But, I really don’t like it when too much is given away in reviews. If I hear the slightest in

    • I definitely do some skimming of plot synopses lately, some of them have gotten horribly spoilery. I usually bolt at the first hint of spoilers, too!

  • Oops-I hit post before I meant to! Slightest inkling that there are any huge surprises or twists, I’ll stop reading reviews if I already know I want to read the book. All this being said, there is one time when I regret not doing more research and that’s The Shore. I wish I’d realized they were interconnected short stories before starting so I could have avoided spending the first few chapters totally confused.

  • For me, it depends a little on WHY I am reading a book. If I know I am going to review a book, I tend to avoid any kind of review until AFTER I’ve read the book and written my review. (Although I will have read at least the synopsis and ratings before ever agreeing to review the book). Once I have a rough draft, I will sometime skim a few reviews from trusted reviewers just to see if they nudge me as in ‘oh yeah, I meant to mention that!).
    Even if it is not for review I tend to avoid other reviews, if I KNOW I am going to read a book I will wait to read reviews until after I finish the book. I DO read reviews ahead of time is if the book is new to me, or I’m on the fence about reading it.

    • Ah, that’s a good distinction, too! I usually don’t know ahead of time if I’m going to review a book, but I try to avoid reading too many reviews for the same reason.

  • Because my reading time is precious, I do like to feel pretty confident that I’m going to like a book before I read it. I don’t worry to much if I’ve read more than I should, because I find I just forget the details after I’ve read reviews, etc., and am left with just an ‘impression’ of whether or not I want to read the book. Even before blogging, I would at least read the synopsis or get a recommendation.

    • So with you on your reason for wanting to be confident going in, that’s the same for me. I’ve found I’m not a great judge when it comes to picking at random ;)

  • For fiction, I like to know as little about the plot as possible. I like a one or two line summary, just so I know what I’m getting myself into (especially so I can avoid topics I don’t like to read about, unless I’ve decided based on other people’s reviews to make an exception). It’s almost enough for me just to know that trusted friends or bloggers liked a book – that’s enough for me to feel confident in picking something up. Reading insightful reviews about why a particular book worked well or is special is also wonderful.

    For non-fiction, I’m a little all over the place. Sometimes I just see something that catches my eye in a store or on Audible, and I get it. I do very little research, except possibly checking Goodreads or Amazon star reviews (and of course taking those with a grain of salt). But if a non-fiction book has a blurb from an author I trust, that’s enough most of the time for me to buy it. Other times I learn about a non-fiction book through a blog review, and add it to the TBR then.

    Over the past 5 or so years, I’ve noticed that I sometimes buy things that I lose interest in reading – and end up donating a few years later. I’m not 100% sure what amount of research when into the majority of them, but I’m pretty confident they were impulse purchases. I’m trying to do less of those now, and get things from the library instead. Returning those unread is much less painful.

    • I hadn’t thought about the difference between fiction and nonfiction, but I think I’m much more forgiving with nonfiction…definitely more willing to grab something randomly.

  • Interesting question. I love reading author interviews, learning about the process of writing the book and how the book came about, etc. Also, I get really excited if I read a great review of a book that I’ve been thinking about. But for mystery or suspense, I usually don’t read a lot about those books because I like to go in not knowing too much.

  • It honesty depends on if I’m planning on buying the book, borrow it, or pick it up for free. If I’m buying the book, chances are good I’ve either already read it, I trust the author completely, or it’s a combination author I know and a good plot. If I’m borrowing the book from the library or picking it up for free, I generally just need a quick look at the cover and basic description.

    Though for all books I haven’t read yet, I will do a test where I open it up to a random page and start reading. If I’m engaged, I’ll get it. If not, I’ll put it back on the shelf.

    • Ohh, I like that distinction, too…I think I’m with you on that. I’m definitely more forgiving with books from the library.

  • Oooh, interesting discussion topic. I guess for me, it really depends on why I’m reading + what kind of book it is. If I’m reading a new release for the purpose of reviewing it, I try to stay away from other reviews so that I can go into it with a clean slate. If I’m reading something for a challenge, like the Classics Club, I’ll read A LOT about the book and the author to give me better context before, during, & after reading. But if I’m just browsing shelves in the library or bookstore, often just seeing a previously-enjoyed author’s name or a nice cover will get me to pick up a book. Yes, I just confessed to judging books by their covers, haha.

    • Totally with you on judging books by their covers! I rarely go in and browse anymore (too much temptation!), but can definitely be drawn in that way.

  • Amanda

    Maybe not surprising because I’m generally all over the place with what I read, it depends on the book. I’m trying to be much pickier in what I request to review. Nonfiction I definitely check out reviews first.

    But there’s something about just grabbing a library book based on a blurb and the cover and just a good feeling. Doesn’t always work out- but I still do it.

    • I don’t let myself go and grab things from the library all that often, because I’d come home with 20 books!, but it’s totally tempting.

      • Amanda

        Also why I walk to the library :)

  • I definitely don’t understand how one can go into a book knowing nothing about it – not even a synopsis. If you don’t know what it’s about, how do you know you want to read it?? I at least need to know a vague synopsis + genre before I pick something up, especially if I’m going to buy it. However, I don’t rely too much on reviews. I really like to go with my gut instead – it’s served me well thus far.

  • Interesting question. I do very little actively. If I’m in a bookstore looking around I look at cover, author and synopsis. I don’t read blurbs, I don’t read reviews or look up ratings (unless it’s an author I’ve never heard of). I very, very, very rarely read the first sentence or two. However, lots of information comes to me passively via blogs, friends, social media, etc… Again, I’m highly influenced by cover, author, synopsis. I don’t then go look it up to see any reviews or ratings unless I’ve never heard of the author. Apparently, I’m quite lazy and depend on my cover-gut. It doesn’t steer me wrong all that often.

    • You’re so right about info coming passively, especially through social media. Sometimes it can be hard to avoid, even when you’re trying.

  • Lindsey Stefan

    I always read the synopsis and then if that hooks me, I usually poke around the internet a bit. I appreciate what you wrote about skipping reviews in favor of readers you know and trust. I think that’s one of the advantages of being a book blogger – we hear the chatter, both good and bad, and can ask other bloggers what they think!

    • It’s definitely nice to be in the little blogger bubble. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that everyone isn’t hearing all the chatter we are!

      • I’ve definitely gotten a few blank looks after bursting out over how excited *everyone* is about a book. Oh, right, “everyone” = the several dozen bloggers I follow.

  • I like to know a very brief synopsis of a book and then comments on what people or authors or critics are thinking about it. I like to get a vibe for it and if it’s in my wheelhouse.

    • It’s definitely important for me to know if it’s something that fits with my tastes, too. I tend to have a pretty specific wheelhouse, so knowing something fits in it is a plus.

  • I generally like to read the synopsis, look at the comp titles, check out who provided blurbs (because the names of the blurb writers are far more important to me than the blurbs themselves), and look for ratings/reviews from trusted bloggers. It’s a difficult line to walk, though, because I hate going into a book with TOO many other people’s opinions already in my head.

    • It’s definitely tricky, especially if those other voices turn into hype…that can lead to some serious disappointment.

  • I’ve never really thought too much about this! But now that I am, I actually think I fall into the non-research camp. I think, because for years I didn’t take recommendations from people at all, I got used to just kind of making up my own mind. Usually this was not much more than reading the blurb on the book or if I liked an author before. Now a little more effort goes into it, but not much. Maybe I need to work on this a little harder. I feel like I’m in a bona fide reading slump right now. I’m not excited about anything that I have on the docket, so to speak.

    • Ugh, slumps are the worst! I wonder what it would be like to do a bunch of research if it’s something you really haven’t done before…if it would change the reading experience drastically (good or bad) for you.

      • I’m wondering if it was a combination of being sick and not having energy? I’m reading White Teeth right now and I like it but I’m not obsessed. I want to be obsessed with a book. Maybe I need to dive into some non-fiction – the cooler temps always make me want to read more seriously.

        • White Teeth took time to get into. From someone who loved it, don’t give up hope! :)

          • It really did! I’m on the last 60 pages now and I do like it. I’m not sure that it’s blowing my mind? Undecided.

  • I’m one of the blind ones. I tend to get a book based on the synopsis and by the time I get around to reading it, I’ve forgotten what the book is about. I kind of like going in blind because I enjoy the surprise in it all. I refuse to look at reviews about the books anymore unless it’s one of my trusted three or four reviewers (you’re one of the trusted) because I’ve had too many books spoiled for me.

    • Being spoiled is the worst! That’s the reason I only look at certain blogs and reviews, too (I refuse to look at the NYT until after I’ve read a book – they always spoil!).

      • Ooh, good tip on NYT. I hadn’t noticed that before and I’d have been mighty salty if I walked into a review of one I really wanted to read, though I usually wait on reviews for ones I’m super excited for.

  • Julie @ Smiling Shelves

    Pre-book blogging, I was a blind reader. I would go to the library and come out with an armful of random books that just happened to catch my eye. Now, I do a lot more research and review reading. But sometimes I miss the other way…

  • JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    Never, ever in my life have I gone into a book blind… just not wired that way ;-)

  • Deb

    I prefer to know almost nothing about the plot of a book, but like you I definitely rely on reviews. I agree you can’t trust the numbers at all, but you can tell a lot from reading reviews. I also download sample chapters, although the beginning of a book can be misleading. A lot of times I’ll avoid books that are really hyped, but when I see glowing reviews on multiple blogs that I trust, then I put a book on my list.

  • Alex (Sleepless Reader)

    Interesting! I also tend never to go completely blind into a book, but often I know only the author or trust a couple of recommendations or interesting reviews. I’m also known to buy winners of certain Awards without knowing much about the book (is that considered blind?). When I go to a bookfair I always buy a wildcard, just based on the blur or even just the cover and have had great experiences.

    • Ohhh, I didn’t think about the book award thing, but I definitely fall prey to that, too (though I usually do the library route instead of buying them).

  • Great topic! I wouldn’t say I go into totally blind, but there have been many times I have misunderstood the synopsis only to discover when reading the book that it’s completely different from what I expected.

    • Oh, yes!! That definitely happens to me, too, even after reading reviews sometimes!

      • Yup, just had this happen with a nonfiction book. The subtitle and blurb made it sound much more like an exploration of a question, and instead I got almost entirely memoir. Blergh.

  • You won’t be surprised to hear that I like to know a lot before I start reading. But it varies widely: With nonfiction, I’ll pick up anything at a moment’s notice from the new-nonfiction shelves at the library, if the topic sounds interesting. Most of my fiction comes from blogging recommendations, though, and if it’s a buzzy book that the blogosphere has been talking about a lot, I’ll often know quite a bit about it before I start reading. I like it that way! Expectations: REGULATED.

    • I didn’t even think about how I approach nonfiction/fiction differently when I wrote this, but I’m definitely more freewheeling with nonfiction. I don’t know what that is, but it seems like simply being interested in the topic is the most important thing when it comes to nonfic.

  • This is such a great question, Shannon; I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who’d like to know a little about what I’m getting into before I dive in! It’s definitely tough when I’m looking at galleys or titles that have not yet been published; like you, I have to rely on the often-unreliable marketing blurb and I’ve been known to judge a book by its cover. For others, I go back to see what some of you have said without reading the ENTIRE review; for example, I skimmed through your posts on Fortune Smiles before picking it up and I often check with Sarah’s Book Shelves because we often have similar tastes. I’ve gone in blind plenty of times, but the odds are against me… :)

  • Super cool topic! I will occasionally go into fiction fairly blind (just the title, cover and blurb), but I’ve gotten burned by too many poorly-written/-researched nonfiction picks to make the same mistake again. This does, however, make reading nonfic ahead of its publication date very difficult!

  • Jade Louise

    What an interesting topic for discussion!

    I’m very much mixed when it comes to how I approach my reading choices. A lot of the time, probably the majority of the time, I go in to a book blind knowing only blurb. It’s a really hit or miss way of reading, but I have discovered some great gems from doing that as well as discovering books that had I known more about probably wouldn’t have read as they were outside my comfort zone.

    When it comes to reading reviews and such, if I know I intend to read a book some time in the near future I actually kind of avoid reviews as I feel like it could sway my opinion on the book. I find going in with a clear mind really lends to my reading experience.

  • Interesting topic! Usually when I find a book that piques my interest, I usually read around a bit to read what other people thought of the book (while avoiding outright spoilers; very tricky, that), fellow book bloggers and friends as much as I can but sometimes I do browse the Goodreads reviews a bit too for a feel of what other readers thought. Occasionally I will pick up a book on the whim, but I try not to as much as possible.

    Agreed re: the difficulty of getting information/reviews on books not out yet; those usually end up hits-or-misses depending xD

  • if it’s something that’s already published, I like to check out what my GR friends have said about it OR I read a few reviews on both ends of the star spectrum. For ARCs, I base my selections mostly on description, but sometimes on author recognition. I still go to GR and see what people have been saying, but I don’t trust the average ratings anymore!!

    Sometimes, if it’s a well known book or classic I haven’t read, I will go in completely blind. I did that with The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year. I figure there’s a reason why it’s a classic, and I’ll get to discover that reason along the way!

  • Karen

    I don’t do research like this myself. Typically I’ll hear about something via a blog or newsletter and decide them of its some thing I want to read myself. Or I’ll just go along to the bookshop and browse. For me they’d part of the fun since I’ll make some unexpected finds

  • There’s a higher chance that I’ll pick up a book if I’ve seen other bloggers buzzing about it, but I don’t necessarily do a ton of research before picking up books! I actually avoid reviews of books I haven’t read sometimes, especially if I am going to review them because I don’t want to be influenced in any way – if that makes sense.

  • I’m one of those people who picks books blindly. I read the synopsis, and if that piques my interest, I’ll read the first page. If that’s still kept my attention, I’ll take the book home. This is how I’ve always picked books though. And now that I’ve been using the library more and more lately, it’s okay if a book is a flop. Now that so many blogs put books on my radar, I do try to pick up at least one book that everyone has raved about though.

  • Nice post! I agree with Jade and Karen and others–I want that “clean slate” upon which to build as I read. I read to be taken on the ride the author intended (hopefully…). I find reading others’ detailed reviews beforehand gives me too much information and that, in turn, influences me as I read, because it is always in the back of my mind:
    Oh, I don’t agree with him/her at all!”
    “Oh, how could s/he say that about this book?”
    “I LOVE this book, how could anyone diss it like s/he did?”
    I find it distracting and disruptive to a degree. So, I rely on my gut to a great degree, especially for fiction. There are certain genres/subgenres I totally avoid, however, no matter what anyone else says! :) However, as with many here, I do tend to research non-fiction to a much greater degree and tend to rely on authors much more so, simply because my reading time is limited and I really prefer fiction to a great degree.

  • Like a lot of other commenters, I like the clean slate approach. I am a judgemental person (a great failing) and the more I know the more I will either expect or dislike. On the other hand, if I am desperate for something to rea – one of those cravings where nothing seems to do – I like to know exactly what I’m going into to ensure I keep reading it.

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  • Jennine G.

    I guess it depends on the topic. I always like to know at least the subject. If I hear time travel, I’m usually good with that and I’ll read it. Other topics I want to know a little more…like family secrets interest me, and I’ll go reading around a little to see how worth it, it might be.

  • I’m more like you! I never go into a book blind.

  • It’s a mood thing for me. Like you (and most bloggers) I am looking at titles ahead of time and so can’t always find reviews. In that case, I’m reading the publishers’ blurbs which means I have no way of knowing the value of the book but at least have an idea if the subject will be something I like.

    Then there are the times, I pick up a book, like the title or cover and start reading.

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