How Can You Beat A Book Slump? 9 Literary Professionals Share Their Tips & Tricks

By Kerri Jarema
Gaudi Lab/Shutterstock

Ah, the dreaded book slump. If you're a reader, chances are pretty high you've fallen into one at some point. Picture this: You've got bookshelves stacked with exciting unread books, your e-reader is stocked with new releases you've borrowed from the library, you've even got a few audiobooks downloaded on your phone. But... you just can't bring yourself to read anything. Reading slumps tend to happen for some extended period of time (maybe a few days or weeks, but some experience them for months) and they're a pretty universal struggle in the reading community.

So, it only makes sense to turn to the reading experts to figure out how to get out of one, right? For some people, reading is not just a lifelong hobby, it's a job. For booksellers and book editors, book bloggers and literary agents, it's crucial not only to read the projects they work on directly, but to stay on top of all the latest releases in various genres, along with book related news. It can be, well, a lot. But the industry insiders below — who read anywhere from 10 to 300 books a year — fall into book slumps, too, and following their personal tips and tricks will help you recognize and overcome one in no time.

Thao Le, Literary Agent at Sandra Dijkstra & Associates

Thao Le, photo courtesy of Stephen Chong

How many books do you read on average per year?

I average around 75+ books a year for work, which includes unpublished manuscripts that are either from my clients or fulls from query requests, but not including queries or critiques that are shorter. My personal reading will likely be only around 3-5 books a year since I tend to feel guilty if I have unread manuscripts whose authors/writers are awaiting my response. Audiobooks are helping in that regard and I’m hoping to start using them more for pleasure reading.

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

If I’m having trouble reading beyond 15-20 pages, even of a very good book/manuscript, I know I’m probably hitting a book slump. I usually get them when I’m burnt out on queries, edits, etc.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

I try to find indulgent reading, such as fanfiction (give me all the coffeeshop and soulmate AUs!), to get out of my slump. Sometimes I also read things that I would never rep, genres like romance or mystery or thriller that I can purely enjoy without thinking about it too editorially. It helps to turn my brain off and remind myself why I love getting lost in stories again.

Natasha Miñoso, Social Media at Penguin Random House & Book Blogger at Book Baristas

Natasha Miñoso

How many books do you read on average per year?

I try to read at least 25 books a year. Back in school, I’d read easily over 75 books, but time management is just not my forte. Now I aim for 2 books a month. I’ve also become one of those readers who can read different books at the same time (if they are different genres) if only because FOMO is very real to me in the book world, and I want to know what everyone is reading and loving when they are posting about it.

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

I know a slump is coming if I can scroll through my Kindle and nothing really jumps out at me. If I’ve just started a book and keep putting it down to check Instagram or Twitter, it usually means I’m just having a hard time paying attention. I get into a lot of book slumps if I’m feeling stressed with work or if I’m about to travel because I’ll be thinking about an endless to-do list rather than diving into books.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

My own trick to getting out of a slump is to reread something I absolutely love and can skim through, because I’ve probably read it a million times already. It helps me exercise just reading in general, and usually will get me excited to dive into a book of the same genre. My go-to book is The Hating Game by Sally Thorne if I’m looking to read a fun and flirty romance (which is always).

Carla Bruce-Eddings, Senior Publicist at Algonquin Books

Carla Bruce-Eddings, photo courtesy of Kolin Mendez

How many books do you read on average per year?

I probably read about 4-5 books a month, although I've always been a polyamorous reader, so it often feels like much more. But my TBR list is... depressingly infinite. If I had a quarter for every time I wished I could escape to a squashy chair that existed outside of space and time so I could just do some serious catch-up... I'd have a lot of money but still not enough time to read.

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

Everything tends to slow down for me when I'm particularly sleep-deprived, so it follows that my book slumps happen then too. After a long day at work, then taking care of a toddler, then working on whatever freelance assignment I have going on, sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is settling down with a book, especially when I can just switch my brain off and turn on the TV or scroll, zombie-like, through my social media feeds.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

As a kid, riding my bike to the library and borrowing nine to 10 books at a time was one of my absolute favorite things to do. I'd get home, open my backpack, and just work my way through my new books hungrily until I'd finished them all. I think about what that Carla would say if she could see me now, barely able to get through a few pages without checking my phone, and then guilt will compel me to put my electronics in another room so that I can finally lose myself in whatever I'm reading. I also want my daughter to see me taking pleasure in my books; that's honestly the best inspiration that I have.

Rachel Strolle, Librarian and Book Blogger at Rec It Rachel

Rachel Strolle

How many books do you read on average per year?

In the last three years, I've averaged about 320 books per year!

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

If my anxiety is really bad, I usually can't focus on anything for very long, especially a book. Or sometimes if I've been nonstop for a while with a combination of work and reading and blogging and life, I will fall into a slump once I have a moment to breathe, because every time I pick something up, I put it back down and nap instead.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

I have pages bookmarked in different books that have been longstanding favorites of mine, and sometimes going back and rereading them re-energizes my brain for reading. Sometimes the only way for me to break out of a slump is to just not even try to read for a few days, giving my brain a chance to reset a little, and that really helps.

Cristin Stickles, Buyer at McNally Jackson Bookstore

Cristin Sickles

How many books do you read on average per year?

I finish between 85-120 books a year, work and pleasure reading, including audiobooks.

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

It's generally famine-follows-feast. if I've been on a tear where everything I read is great, usually that means I'm about to run into some duds that throw me off track. I've also found that giving myself hard book selection guidelines (saying I have to read one MG book for every three YA novels, or x amount of galleys vs y amount of finished books) is the fastest way to wind up in a slump. Anything that makes reading feel like homework, even though it literally is in my job, slows me down.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

Get out of your genre rut. You don't have to suddenly go hard for magical realism if you've always hated it or doing anything too wildly out of character, but sometimes it helps to take one step over from where you usually read. Get out of your format rut. I listen to audiobooks and read print, so if one of those is failing me I go to the other.

Hit repeat. I have a few "break-glass-in-case-of-emergency" books that I'll reread parts of if I feel like I'm too far off my rhythm, so if I try too many bad thrillers with "Girl" in the title back-to-back I'll reread the first 150 pages of Jurassic Park, just to get back on the beat. It's like rebooting and going back to your factory settings.

Marlena Brown, Senior Publicist at Penguin Random House

Marlena Brown, photo courtesy of Teryl Jackson

How many books do you read on average per year?

Ten to 12, I think? Most reading these days is work/school related. Personal reading has taken a bit of a hit.

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

A slump hits when I would rather do anything than pick up a book. That includes sitting on my couch while staring at the wall. They can hit for any number of reasons, but often it’s I’m overloaded at work and school, and nothing I’m trying to read speaks to my soul at that moment.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

Let it happen. It’s a moment, and like all moments, it will pass. The harder I try to get rid of it, the more it sticks around. Explore a variety of ways to ingest narratives and information [by] watching tv, going to museums, attending readings and concerts, reading newspapers, poetry, and screenplays. Keep work/school reading out of the house. If I’m at home, I’m reading what I want to read.

Joanna Volpe, President and Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media

Joanna Volpe, photo courtesy of Henry Stampfel

How many books do you read on average per year?

SO MANY! Between audiobooks, ebooks, the books I carry around in my bag or have on my nightstand, and the manuscripts I read for work... it's got to be hundreds of books per year. I spent the last few days going over the books I've read in 2019 alone, and I'm already at 36 full books and manuscripts, plus 27 proposals and short stories.

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

I have experienced book slumps over the years, but each time I've never seen it coming since the actual reading doesn't stop for me. No matter what, I need to read for my clients. But I do usually figure out that I'm in the middle of a book slump when I'm reading a client manuscript and I know there is something not working but I'm having an impossible time pinpointing what the issue is. When I'm not consuming enough outside of work, it's like my pool of resources and connections depletes. There's less context for me to pull from.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

Usually it's putting on an audiobook and playing a game on my phone that doesn't require a lot of attention while I listen. I can get easily distracted, especially when I'm in a slump. This phone game + audiobook combination is a multitasking trick that forces me to focus on the story until I'm hooked.

Mekisha Telfer, Associate Editor at Macmillan

Mekisha Telfer

How many books do you read on average per year?

I definitely don't have an exact number for this. For my personal reading, I would say I average around 30 published books a year. For my work reading, my goal is usually four submissions a week to keep my inbox somewhat manageable. And outside of my personal submissions, I also do reading every week for projects my colleagues are interested in pursuing.

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

For me, reading slumps usually coincide with exhaustion. When I'm pushing myself a little too hard, I can become incredibly choosy with what I read. If I don't love and connect with something in the first few pages, I put it down and don't look back. Reading slumps can also be brought on when a trend is taking over the market and many of the submissions in my inbox feel very similar. Waiting for that one unicorn of a project to jump out and grab your attention can be a little draining.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

Read outside of your usual genres. A reading slump can be a sign that you're bored with what you reading and indicate that it's time to try something new. Read with friends. Joining a book club is a great way to pull yourself out of a slump. Take in other kinds of media. Seeing a great movie can definitely galvanize your love of reading.

Read for fun. I don't mean the reading you do to keep up with the current market or to make a dent in the National Book Award longlist. I mean read something that doesn't feel like work and is genuinely enjoyable to you from cover to cover. For me, it's romance novels. When I'm in a slump, a good romance novel can definitely make me fall in love with reading again. I recommend Courtney Milan and Alyssa Cole.

Joanna Cardenas, Book Editor at Penguin Random House

Joanna Cardenas

How many books do you read on average per year?

Most of my time is devoted to reading submissions and manuscripts that I’m editing (and books that will help me edit my books better). As part of my professional life, I also read books published by my competitors to keep up with the children’s book market. I’d say I get to read 2-5 of these titles per month — a mix of picture books, prose, and graphic novels. That usually leaves me with time to read one (maybe two) books per month for pleasure and personal development. It’s not as much as I would like, but you work with the time you have!

For you, what are the usual signs that a book slump is coming?

I read for a living, so I experience book slumps often, and [they] usually coincide with busy seasons at work. It’s hard to get excited about personal reading when I’m stressed out about work reading. I also feel it come on when I’ve read too many titles in the same genre. I’m that annoying person who will fall in love with a song and play it exclusively for days (much to my roommate’s dismay). I get the same way about book genres. If I don’t make it a treat, I’ll end up in a slump.

What are your personal tips and tricks for getting yourself out of a book slump?

In all honesty, these days I’ll look at One World’s website to see what they have coming up. It's a new thing I started shortly after they launched. Their list offers such variety. Listening to authors talk about their books always gets me excited to jump back in. I’ll go to a reading or hear an interview on a podcast that will light a fire.

When I’m feeling slumpy, I’m more likely to read a collection or an anthology, which are easier to pick up and put down without feeling guilty about my commitment issues. Travel gets me out of slumps. It brings me so much joy to figure out what book(s) I’m going to take with me to a new place. And when I can’t travel, I try to create a special, relaxing reading environment at home. I’ll add a few drops of lavender oil to my diffuser, make a hot drink, grab a throw blanket, shut off my phone, and just slow down.