Those Curated Books

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Curated books. That’s how we discover books we love. Let me explain.

In this day, discoverability of books is the issue everyone in the publishing community is discussing. With the avalanche of books available today from self-pub or do-it-yourself publishing to small indie presses to traditional independent publishers, all the way to the Big  Five Publishers— there are more more books coming to market than any army of readers can ever discover.

So how do books get discovered, let alone become bestsellers?


The simple answer we always give you is word-of-mouth. We buy a book because someone recommended it. If we love the book we keep buying from that author. But in this changing climate it’s a little more complicated. I think book curators are rising to the top. Just as in a museum or a zoo, the curator is the person in charge– the person who decides what makes it in and what is outside the collection.

Traditionally the publisher has been considered the curator of books. With so many unedited, uncurated books coming to market, readers have begun to realize that a publisher’s name on the spine stands for quality. Having a traditional publisher is often an important indicator of curation. When I submit a client’s book proposal to an acquiring editor, the level of scrutiny given to that book sets the bar high. A book that comes from a publisher has gone through an army of dedicated book curators before it ever reaches the shelf. That’s not to say that self published books are not quality– some are, some aren’t– I’m only saying they are not curated by the tough standard of a known publisher.

Bookstore owners and personnel are also curators. The bookstore buyer is very selective in choosing which books go on the store shelves— his very survival depends on it. The bookstore sales staff are also curators. Just ask them to recommend a book and you’ll see. I used to love the way our independent bookstore put tags above a book, saying which staff member highly recommended that book.

Another form of curation is a book club. I recently saw a Facebook post by one of my FB friends, announcing which nine books her hometown book club selected for the coming year. The comments were interesting. Several commenters decided to read the same books. After all, those books were curated by a group of book-loving readers.

Reviews have always been another source of curation. With shrinking print media it’s harder and harder to find professional review vehicles but a positive review is a valuable boost to a book. Amazon, Goodreads and Christian Book Distributors reviews are still more forums for book curation. I find I often go these places even after I finished a book to see what others think of the book.

And my favorite curators? My reading friends. I have several friends who have very similar tastes and I’ll often ask them what they are reading. Some of my best recommendations have come from fellow readers and writers, or favorite editors, or my good buddy, Janet Grant. And many of my clients are the perfect book curators for me because, after all, I loved their writing enough to offer representation. It stands to reason that we often have similar tastes.

So how about you? Who curates books for you? Are you a curator? Where? And how do you choose which books to read?

18 Responses

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  1. Since most of what I read now is research for books I hope to finish, the curatorial watchword for me is ‘accuracy’.
    * An example – my WIP ‘Lady Stonewall’ requires an understanding of how the Confederate Navy worked, from broad strategy to the lower decks. I therefore have to first find the recognized experts, and then follow their recommendations…while cross-checking, because even experts can be wrong.
    * What’s interesting is that first-person narratives are NOT necessarily reliable. We all write from a position of agenda, and unless that agenda is clearly understood, reliance on the “I was there!” narrative can lead one badly astray.

  2. I confess, I am a backlist binger, so most of my reading list is made up of author’s I already love. But when trying an author for the first time, I generally rely most heavily on reviews. Because I buy nearly all my books, it would start getting expensive if I chose random new authors without any curation. (Okay, who am I fooling? My book-buying habits are already expensive!) I myself don’t leave a ton of reviews, but I will for books I really like (and predict text just tried to throw one of my favorite author’s names into that sentence, so I apparently talk about her a lot online). I more enjoy sharing my recommendations through word of mouth though or including reviews in my newsletter.
    Final note: If above post was too rambly, I blame it on the fact that it’s after 2am here. Goodnight!

  3. Wendy, I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read because they were recommended right here, by the agents or in the comments. Lots!

  4. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    With Shirlee on this one; I can’t believe how many favorite books & authors turned out to be represented by Books & Such!

  5. Absolutely word of mouth! If a friend recommends a book, I’m much more likely to risk it. I also pick a book a month to get each of my three sons and so I look at lists and awards and ask the bookstore owners of our local shop.

  6. My favorite authors came recommended by a friend, Jennifer Major, whom I met right here. I am totally devoted to 3 authors right now–Laura Frantz, Sarah Thomas, and Becky Wade. They each give me a different quality, one that I admire and aspire to reach. I will pay full price for their new releases, because I know I will get a beautiful story and learn a great deal. I will branch out a little, especially when friends release their debut novels. *I wish ABA books were rated like movies. They aren’t, are they? I haven’t purchased a book outside the Christian market in ages, mostly because I’m afraid of what I’ll stumble across. And I’ve just remembered that Focus on the Family’s Plugged In provides book reviews. I’ve always used them for movies but never for books.

  7. Wendy, I agree with your list of ways and who’s of reliable book curation.
    One I’ve recently discovered is to make note of the editor and/or agent of a book. If an editor or agent I admire and respect has been listed in the credits, I know it’s likely a good read. I enjoy reading writing that’s deep and literary–such as Ann Voskamp’s; so I’ve begun reading one of her editor’s blogs. It’s quality chocolate to my writerly soul.
    By the way, I appreciate the recommendations on Books and Such. And Shelli’s mentions are always wonderful; I’m reading one of her favorites right now.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
    P.S. If you’re curious what editor I am referring to, check my latest blog post.

  8. I’ve never considered all the curators for books that are out there. Publishers, definitely. As I read new authors, if I’m not thrilled with the writing, I find that I check if it was published by a house or not. Some self-published books are amazing. Some published by a house have not been amazing. So, I find that I take my reading friends’ suggestions seriously. If someone highly recommends a book, or tells me they didn’t particularly enjoy a certain read, that has a lot of sway in whether or not I hurry out to get the book so I can read it.

  9. When I’m in a research phase, I read riveting (to me, anyway) books on the flora and fauna of Northern Arizona, or the traditional Navajo interpretation of the constellations visible in North America.
    I just finished Francine Rivers’ latest, The Masterpiece and LOVED it. But sometimes I want to read something I’ve read before because I want the enjoyment of a great story, without having to like, you know, think.
    I love knowing about a new to me author, and I trust my friends’ judgment.
    One of my favourite curators is Rel Mollet, of RelzReviews. She told me about Ronie Kendig and Tamara Leigh, and Dorothy Adamek, and on and on…
    I’m looking forward to reading some of the books by writers that I met at Mount Hermon, and I already ordered a hard copy of Allan Arnold’s The Story of With.

    • Ooooh, we could trade books, Jennifer! I have a wonderful one on the flora and fauna of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico and two volumes full of Ancient Assyrian contracts translated for our reading pleasure from clay tablets! These are of course full of highly creative curses (an important part of any legal document of that time period) “May the outside of the wall be his protection and the urine of asses his drink!”

    • I need to read Francine’s book. I’m going to do that. 🙂

    • Peggy Booher says:

      I enjoyed The Story of With. It’s a bit on the unusual side (for me) but I could (and will) read it over and over. It’s a book I can get lost in and read way past my bedtime.

  10. Before I entered the world of online reader—who knew Facebook would be the tool to introduce me to so many authors/reviewers—it was mainly myself and my library. I trust my librarian’s suggestions and by examining book blurbs and scanning books I decided what I read on my own. Now a lot of my word-by-mouth friends are online and my world has blown up with new to me authors of all kinds. It has gotten to the point that, except for the rare occasion of reading a personal friend’s book, I only read Christian historical fiction. It is what I love and enjoy, and even in that genre there are so many authors I am missing out on. Book blogs have also been a curator for me. The Big 5 still have an impact on my choices, but I am learning smaller publishers have lots of quality stories and that smaller doesn’t equal lesser stories. Self-published I am still more hesitant and rely completely on word-of-mouth.

  11. Loved this post on curating books since I have never thought about it in that manor, but have realized now that I have been a curator of books since I was a small child that loved the books of Dr. Seuss, books from the series of the Bobbsey Twins, Box Car Children, and Nancy Drew Mysteries. My mother also was a curator of books, as well as my father. We had books of all kinds in book shelves and on the tables in the living room. Every week we were taken to the local library and every night we listened to my mother read with perfect character voices stories which have left imprints on our minds. There were five children and we all love books and have our own curated collections. Even my two brothers are voracious readers.

    My selections come from a variety of sources, recommendations from friends, radio or television shows, magazine articles or on line websites. BUT, my very favorite way to curate a book is to go to the local bookstores and wander among the stacks and table of books, being drawn by topic, cover, author, or just a feeling. I then move to read the back copy, then the flaps or cover jacket (if hardcover), and to the contents and inside list of those recommending the book and why.Then I will think about other books on my list I want to buy, and I weigh out where this fits in terms of practical need (God knows I love my books on “how to” on the writing craft, utilizing social media, and other subjects, including history, cooking, and gardening…etc.

    Sad to say, in 2014 after I was in the hospital during the summer, we had to move to a town home, and much less space. We HAD to downsize, and most of my books had to go. I still am sad over that…but God knows. I have found ways to put book shelves in our new space, and have curated another wonderful, albeit a much smaller collection, of books.