A woman holding a book in front of her face. The title of the article is overlaid on the book.

How to Recommend a Book to Someone in 5 Steps

ryanjoseph Helpful Tips

How To Recommend A Book To Someone in 5 Steps

You just turned the last page on that life-changing novel and are now seeing the world in a whole new way. Or as a whole new person. No matter how you’re feeling, there is still one big problem you have.

No one you know has read it.

The epiphany you’ve just experienced is now punctured by the loneliness of your newly-realized point of view. Where is the friend you can converse with about the book’s deeper meaning? Where’s the friend that’ll recognize that beautifully-timed and relevant quote?

Who will know what this tattoo means!

Now you have three options: talk about the book with strangers online (you mean weirdos?), make new friends (but I’m too unique and quietly judgmental), and lastly, recommend the book to a someone you know.

But recommending a book to someone isn’t as easy as it seems. What if they refuse to listen? What if they borrow your book only to hand it back to you weeks later with a shrug and a casual line about not having enough time? What if they don’t like it.

For all of you in this situation, I have 5 steps you need to take to not only recommend that book but actually have that friend read it.

Hands, holding out a bowed gift box towards the camera

Are you really giving someone a gift? Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

STEP 1: Know your Audience

Was your friend more affected by Shawshank Redemption or The Secret? Do they want to identify with the characters they are reading about? Or are they more interested in new ideas and concepts? Start by breaking down the person’s interests in these few ways:

  1. Genre
    • Biographies or fantasy? Do they dismiss stories that aren’t “real life”? Or is real life boring, and they want something more fantastic?
  2. Action vs. Introspective
    • Books can skew heavy to one side or the other and the best use both (The Things They Carried comes to mind). You just have to know which side they prefer. You don’t want them to fall asleep, or conversely, feel like nothing is being reflected on.
  3. Protagonist
    • Notice what they like about their favorite main characters. Are they scrappy up-and-comers? War heroes? Survivors? Upper class, working class, animals?

Now that you have an idea about what they like, use this same list on your now-favorite book and compare the answers. Do the answers match? Are they at least close? Once you have an understanding about your book and the friend who usually likes those kinds books you are ready to…

A pile of books, opened, lying on a table

Who? What? How? Answer at least those questions succinctly before moving on.

STEP 2: Know Yourself

Don’t take this too hard, but some of your friends do not trust your opinion on certain things (they’re totally wrong! But whatever). Be it fashion, movies, relationship advice, at this moment you need to examine your relationship with the friend or friends you’ve identified.

How do you think they will take your advice? Have they shown a willingness in the past to take a chance on that new restaurant with you? Or see a movie they’ve never heard of? Do they ask, or better yet, look for your opinion on things like their Halloween costume, a new style of eye glasses, or seek relationship advice?

The more you find these hints of trust, the easier it will be to recommend the book and for them to actually read it.

A foot mid-step, coming down on a banana peel.

Whether Mario Kart or book recommendations, if you’re too eager, you’re going to crash.

STEP 3: Avoid These Common Mistakes

There’s few experiences that rival the feeling you get when you’ve just finished reading something brilliant, moving, and profound. You’re practically a geyser ready to gush about this book to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately these feelings trick us into making many mistakes that torpedo the chances of someone taking your advice.

Here are a few common mistakes:

  1. Bringing it up right away, all the time
    • Instead of selling the book right then and there (and there, and there, and there…), wait for the other person to show a desire to read, or to ask about what you’re reading. If this is tennis, focus on the volley not the serve.
  2. Overselling the book
    • Jaw dropping? Life changing? Rips-your-heart-out? 10/10? If you find yourself describing the book in these effusive terms, dial it back. People don’t trust perfect reviews. It also adds too much pressure for that person to like it just as much as you.
  3. Saying this book will change their life
    • People don’t want to be changed! Change is scary. If that book really did change your life, tell people it gave you a new perspective on your life and your choices.
  4. Pestering them to read the book
    • So maybe you shoved the book into their hands and ran off. The last thing you should do is ask about it. Don’t ask about it until you see it in their hands or they mention it.

This is not an exhaustive list, but avoiding all these mistakes can be quite an exhausting task.

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A double image of a person smiling in a mirror

Ask, how does this book relate to them? Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

STEP 4: Relevance

So you have the right person, for the right book, you’re a trustworthy friend, and you haven’t hyped it up beyond all belief. Now, you have to show off the book’s relevance.

Yes! You can talk about the book now!

But first…

Find a way for the book to be relevant to a concern, idea, or situation that your friend enjoys or is going through. Obviously, if the book is about learning to love again after a spouse’s death you should hold off on recommending it to your newly-married friend. Instead, wait for that moment when your book can contribute positively to the conversation as a solution, food for thought, or catharsis.

Again, don’t oversell it. Let the moment show how good the book will be to read. The more natural the conversation, the more likely it will get read. After all, you’re not selling them on the book, the book just happens to be pertinent to their current tastes and situation.

Try not to lead conversations into (book) relevant subject matter. It will come across as a sell job if you’re not smooth (which you aren’t) and will build up resistance to the book before they even see the cover. Instead, be a proactive listener and offer out the book when the time is just right…

On a graffiti filled wall, a small, ticking clock

Ultimately, you’re asking for an investment in time. Ask for that investment when they have it!

STEP 5: Timing

Timing, that moment you offer the book, is the last step to recommending a book to someone. But what else can we learn and apply regarding timing?

What about the time it takes for your friend to read a book? Do they read every day or once in a while? If they don’t read a lot then you’ll really have to nail the earlier steps. If they read a lot, try to catch them near the end of the book they’re reading.

A brief warning about book lovers. Though they are usually up for a new title after you’ve covered steps #1-3, they also usually have an ever-expanding to-read list. With them, the challenge is a bit different and you should plan on selling them on the book so that they read it next.

Lastly, timing can be about life events too. Is that friend catching a flight? Going on a road trip? Did their daughter just start dance recitals or join the swim team? These are prime opportunities to solve their inevitable, future boredom. A well-timed recommendation, followed by a book loan, could get your book read-through and back to you after a single weekend.

There you have it! The most successful way to recommend a book to someone so that they actually read it. Going through these 5 steps can be difficult, but ask yourself this, if its too tough to go through these steps, was the book worth the recommendation in the first place?

Happy reading,


 Ryan is a writer and creator of Footprint Mysteries Madison, an outdoor storytelling experience found only in Madison, Wisconsin. When he isn’t waiting for the perfect time to make a recommendation, he is usually enjoying culture with a good craft beer. Check out footprintmysteriesmadison.com and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.