At this point, anyone online should know that algorithms filter and sort what gets presented to the eyeballs staring at screens. The posts and ads that you see on a social media site are engineered to increase or prolong your engagement. Mostly, the algorithm wants to keep you scrolling instead of going elsewhere so that you will be exposed to more ads.
A book retailer, like Amazon Kindle or Google Play, will suggest related books based on your browsing and reading activity in the hopes of generating mores sales. But how does such a system let you encounter topics, authors, or genres that you may not have considered or read before? The computer system can make suggestions related to your reading preferences, demographics, what the company wants to sell, and probably a bunch of things that I don’t know about.
What Is an Algorithm?
An algorithm takes data inputs and translates them into output actions based on the given calculations. Think Automation sums up the definition of an algorithm succinctly as a “series of instructions that are followed, step by step, to do something useful or solve a problem.”
Although the recommendation engines that run online retail are useful, they cannot replicate the old-fashioned experience of browsing a physical bookstore or library. I believe that serendipity is lost when everything that you’re exposed to emerges from a calculation meant to manipulate you.
A similar situation predominates in music discovery. The article Finding New Music in the Algorithm Age raised the question of how up-and-coming artists get found when they would automatically mean nothing to an algorithm? With broadcast radio, print magazines, and blogs receiving less attention, the article asked music insiders how they learned about new artists outside of the algorithmic bubble. Much of what they said applies to book discovery too.
How Can I Find New Books to Read?
If you regularly buy ebooks or books online, then you browse titles often. Do you ever feel like you’re seeing the same books over and over? I have had this experience. I’ll get to the point where I’ve either read something or rejected suggestions.
The solution is to branch out and discover books in places outside of retail ecosystems. Sure, you’ll still be interacting with algorithms on social media and with search engines, but you’ll have more freedom to dig down rabbit holes if you like.
1. Browse Writing and Book Related Hashtags on Twitter.
Twitter is better for book browsing because tweets have clickable links in each tweet so that you can get more information about any title that catches your eye with little effort. Instagram restricts link placement, and you’ll usually have to click through to an author’s profile and then click another link to wherever the profile sends you to see more about the books. Although Instagram has a huge books and authors presence, the literal missing link of easy click through makes it a more cumbersome experience to ponder books than Twitter. Your primary strategy with Instagram would be to identify and follow authors or book reviewers who interest you. Twitter satisfies this purpose as well.
Regardless of which one you go to, hashtags will speed your book discovery at each venue.
Popular book and author hashtags are:
2. Join some Book and Reading Groups on Facebook.
Facebook is packed with book-related groups where authors post an endless supply of links to their books. Groups like these will expose you to an infinite stream of posts about books. You’re certain to find something you would not normally encounter.
Big Facebook Books groups:
3. Word of Mouth
People still like to talk about books. And people who read books are usually delighted to run into someone who wants to talk about books unless of course they are actually reading a book at the time that you initiate conversation.
Ask around whenever the opportunity arises. A social media post asking for book recommendations will usually inspire many replies.
Asking people who work at libraries and bookstores still works too.