Choices, choices…by Helen Rolfe

The way we read has changed a great deal over the years and unsurprisingly, the way we choose our books has had to evolve to keep up with the constant changes in the publishing industry.

When my daughters were tiny I would escape from the house as soon as my husband walked through the door. I’d walk down to the local shops and into Borders where I’d spend at least an hour perusing the shelves and more often than not I’d come away with a couple of purchases. I was always drawn to a bright cover, sometimes the author’s name in big bold letters, or perhaps reading a blurb enticed me to buy. I would stop in the coffee shop next door and enjoy my new read over a hot chocolate, completely lost in my ‘me’ time.

Like many other people, I am devastated every time a bookshop closes. They are special places that warm me the second I walk in with their endless possibilities for a good story. The ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign operates across the UK and Ireland and is the biggest promotion of bookshops since its launch in 2013. According to the ‘Books Are My Bag’ website, 56% of all book buying decisions are still made by consumers in a bookshop, which is great to hear!

But what happens if I can’t choose my books by browsing at the local bookshop?

I often base my next book purchase on previous experience. I’ll go back to the same author time and time again if I like their voice and the stories they tell and I get really excited when their next book is released.

I personally don’t use reviews or ratings to choose a book but it works for some people. If there is great media hype surrounding a new book or I see it advertised often enough, I can be enticed to read it out of curiosity…perhaps to see if I agree with the comments that are being made about it. I am also influenced by my peers. Thanks to the Write Romantics and the contacts that we all bring to the group, I’ve been reading more widely and loving every minute of it. I’ve discovered new authors and voices that keep me constantly entertained.

Then there is what I like to call ‘accidental book selection’. This can happen via friends’ recommendations: JoJo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ was being passed around at the gym one day and I grabbed it. ‘Accidental book selection’ can happen when you least expect, too, perhaps enticing you into a new genre: at the RNA conference 2014 up in Shropshire I had the pleasure of sitting next to Hazel Gaynor and she was so lovely and friendly, answering many of my writing questions. Historical novels have never been my thing but I bought her book ‘The Girl Who Came Home’ anyway and I was hooked…it kept me engrossed during the flight between the UK and Australia 🙂 It can be uncomfortable to step outside your usual genre, but there’s also so many unique books out there that sometimes, as with Hazel’s book, it can be a lovely surprise.


With a trip coming up from Sydney – Melbourne – Singapore – UK, these are my latest purchases and how I chose them:

Saving Grace by Jane Green – Jane Green is one of my all-time favourite authors so I jumped at the chance to buy her latest book when I saw it in Dymocks bookshop in Sydney.

Amy & Zach by Sarah Louise Smith – The eye-catching cover combined with the blurb on the Crooked Cat website.

Big Lies, Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – I read a newspaper article about Lianne Moriarty, who lives in Sydney. I’d also read her previous novel The Husband’s Secret and loved it.

I’d love to hear how others choose their books…do covers matter, or the publisher perhaps? Do you rely on friends’ opinion, reviews or ratings? Or do you look at book blogs or prize winners to make your choice?

Until then…Happy reading!

Helen R x


11 thoughts on “Choices, choices…by Helen Rolfe

  1. What an interesting post Helen!
    Like you I’ve always adored book shops but I’m not sure I always make the best book buying decisions in them. I kind of get seduced by the whole atmosphere of the place and the rows and rows of lovely covers. Recently I’ve bought a lot more books in ebook format and tried a lot of authors that I’d never have considered previously. I’ve discovered a lot of great books that way and although I still love bookshops I’ve realised that there’s a whole world of books out there that you don’t find on bookshop shelves.
    Hope you enjoy your selections while on your travels xx

  2. Subject matter first of all, which is why it’s so important, I think, to put that in a tweet or Facebook post about the book. The cover doesn’t influence me that much. Then I read the blurb, and if that’s well written I’ll look further, but am immediately put off by even a comma out of place, or something that’s written lazily. Next, I’ll look at the reviews, and read any bad ones first – if they say there are grammatical or punctuation errors I probably won’t buy. Other bad reviews may not matter though; for instance, some people don’t like ‘nasty’ characters, but I actively like them. Sometimes I look at the sample, sometimes not. I only go by recommendations if I know the person has similar tastes to me!

    • I agree Terry…the subject matter can be the first thing to grab me quite often. For example, if I’ve read a few books set in the UK I actively look for a story that is set in another country entirely, or if my most recent read is a mystery I may look for something more light-hearted.
      Helen R 🙂

  3. Thanks Alex and Lynn,
    My paperbacks are great thanks and enjoying my holiday reading when the kids let me 🙂
    Like you, Alex, I can be “seduced” too by the look of a book…dangerous sometimes 🙂

  4. Like you, Helen, it makes me sad to see more and more bookstores closing. I can’t imagine life without bookstores, or libraries, for that matter. While I will not deny the convenience of buying an ebook at midnight on a weekend, or borrowing an ebook from the library while still in my bathrobe, I still love the smell of a room filled with books, the feel of a real book in my hands.

    I have several favorite authors, including Kristan Higgins, Liane Moriarty, and Jojo Moyes. I stumbled on Jojo’s “Hell or High Water” as a result of my library’s book club. Absolutely a must read.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on bookstores, choosing titles, and favorite authors. Read on!

  5. Great post, Helen. I always used to dream of having a combined book and cake shop like the one in ‘Ellen’, it’s a fantasy that would probably be really hard work in reality and even harder to make a profit from these days – but I still love the concept 🙂 As for how I choose my books, umm, probably mainly by recommendation of late. However, if the cover looks like it could have been made by my nine year old on ClipArt, that will definitely put me off! xx

  6. Buying a Kindle has expanded my reading but I will never stop buying books or loving wandering round bookstores. I get drawn by covers but it’s a combination of the blurb and the first page or so that make me purchase. I read the blurb to see if it’s a story that grabs me and then I read the first page. Why? Because I don’t really like books written in the present tense so I would be reluctant to purchase one. Having said that, some writers do it brilliantly (e.g. Sophie Kinsella) which is why I read the full page to see if they have any talent at writing in that difficult tense. If I’m getting irritated by it, I know I won’t read it. It’s just personal preference xx

  7. You’ve made me giggle about the covers Jo!
    And Julie you’ve made me think…I actually do that with the first page too and I know pretty quickly if the style is something that grabs me as much as the story.
    Helen R 🙂

  8. I am so lucky having an excellent local library. I do have favourite authors but regularly take pot-luck and then make a note if I have loved the book. We have a super book shop in our local city but I don’t often buy books as I have run out of space for them. My husband gave me a Kindle so I collect e-books.. I always read the first page before deciding.

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