How to Find a Book Using a Vague Description?

Looking for a book when you don’t know or have forgotten the title or the author can leave you feeling helpless.

It’s hectic trying to desperately find a book from a vague description, and sometimes, the only thing you remember is a character’s name, a setting, or an insubstantial description of the book that someone gave to you.

Sometimes, you happen to have forgotten a book you read a couple of months or years ago, so you scan the deep layers of your memory for something you can use to find the forgotten book title, but you only get bits and pieces.

How do you go about finding that book? The task seems almost impossible.

Luckily and unbeknownst to you, there are plenty of resources to help you find that book. And I made this post to introduce you to some of the resources or ways you can use to find a book from a vague description.

how to find a book using a vague description

How Do You Find a Book When You Don’t Know the Title or Author?

A book search using only the description might seem impossible, but it’s always worth a shot. It will take a lot of your time and wits, but I assure you if you really want to find that book, one of the strategies in this post will prove fruitful for you.

Just make sure that you adapt the strategies and put in a lot of effort.

The best way to go about this—regardless of the strategy you opt for—is to take some time to sit down and come up with a list of details you can remember about the book.

Having the author’ name will get you to the book fast, but if you don’t have that, then character names, genre, subgenre, tropes, similar books to the one you’re looking for, plot details, scenes, memorable quotes, or monologues can be helpful as well.

You also have to remember the place or time you read it or the reasons why you read it. Were you in a public library? At school, during an academic assignment perhaps? At a book club? This can help you figure out what type of book it was.

Let’s get to the tips and steps.

How to Find a Book Using Vague Description in 6 Steps

1. Gather the Available Information

Sit down and grab a pen and paper, then write down a list of everything you can remember about the book you’re searching for. List everything that is seemingly related to the book, like the details I listed in the previous section.

Obviously, you’re looking for a book whose title you don’t know. Scrape your memory for details like:

make a list of everything that appears to be related to the book

The genre of the book

You have to ask yourself some questions about the category your book fits in. Was it a thriller, a sci-fi, or a romance novel?

If you’re sure about the genre, then you at least know where not to look.

Characters names

Do you remember a character or characters in the book? Can you recall their defining features or their personality attributes? Some characters have names that don’t exist in the real world, so they might be exclusively tagged to the book and prove helpful in your search.

What were the key plot features?

Write down details you remember about the book’s plot. Write down everything that you can remember—whether major or minor—because even the vague details can help you fill in some important blanks.

Lines or quotes from the book

Sometimes, you find some enchanting lines in a book and they float in your mind even after you’ve forgotten the title and author of the book. If you can remember any quotes from the book, they can be super helpful in uncovering your elusive title. You don’t have to remember all the lines word for word, anything close to the line can turn out to be the missing piece.

The book cover

Sometimes, the only thing you can remember is the book cover. Can you recall the color and the font of the book cover? What image was used for the cover?

Do you remember the publisher listed on the cover? An ISBN? All of these details are helpful even if your search doesn’t lead to the title or description that you were anticipating. The cover can help you to recognize the book by sight when you happen to stumble across it.

The place you read the book

Did you read it or saw it in a library? When? If you can remember the exact place, then it’s just a matter of going there and asking whoever runs or owns the place to help you look for it.

Other details in the book

If you don’t know the plot or lines, you might remember some scenes, settings, or concepts related to the book’s story. These might seem irrelevant in your search, but cyberspace is replete with information and avid readers, eager to help others find the wonderful stories on their reading list.

2. Google It!

Use all of the information you gathered above to search the book using Google, Bing, or your preferred search engine.

But… you have to understand that SEO rules everything on the internet now. If you don’t know yet, then you’ll quickly find out that there are a lot of other books with similar plot themes, character names, and settings whose authors and publishers have employed various SEO tactics to be at the top of the search results page. So, it’s likely that your book won’t show up in the first few pages of Google’s search unless it’s highly optimized and is among the top-ranked books. You have to be a little bit clever when searching for a book using a vague description on Google. Here are some of the things you can do to improve your search results:

  • Use quotation marks at the beginning and the end (You’re telling Google that you’re looking for an exact match and Google then gives you results with that exact phrase, in the same order)
  • Use the Advanced Google Search Page which gives you filters such as language, region, publisher, publication date, et cetera.
  • Take a look at the images to see if you can see a book cover matching the one you remember.
  • Use Google Books to narrow down your search results to books only. This option excludes other media publications such as movies, graphic novels, et cetera.
How to use google advanced search.

3. Ask Your People on Social Media

There are Facebook groups full of avid readers and indie writers, and you can seize the opportunity to post a question concerning the book you’re looking for.

You can also share a post on Twitter or Instagram to see if someone knows a book matching your vague description. If you have a lot of followers on either Twitter or Instagram, the post will enjoy great exposure and you’re likely going to have some positive feedback.

You can also reach out to specific people like your classmates, your bookworm friend, or your old literature lecturer.

Perhaps you can search for it on social media to see if anyone shared a link to the book’s Kindle page.

4. Ask a librarian

a seasoned librarian with extensive knowledge of the library's collection
A seasoned librarian with extensive knowledge of the library’s holdings.

If looking for your elusive book online is proving unfruitful and unnecessarily tedious, you can ask your local librarian. They literally live among books, they’ve seen more books than most of us and are better equipped to answer most of your book-related questions.

If you have their contact details, send them an email, SMS, or call. Or, simply take a trip to your local library with all the details that you’ve written down and ask if they might help you find the book.

If you have the book’s ISBN, then it won’t be hard for them to find that book if it’s in their library or their library system.   

5. Ask Reddit

Reddit always seems to have that one guy who has the answer to your queries. Even if the question is about some sort of “a terra incognita,” there’s someone on Reddit who knows a thing or two about that.

The good thing about that place is that there are thousands of book lovers who would love to help you find your book. You can get the same type of help from bookworms on Tumblr, Goodreads, and similar forums.

what’s the name of that book group in good reads
What’s the Name of That Book Group in Goodreads

On Goodreads, you can find a group called “What’s the Name of That Book?” and the members pool resources to find your book using the details you’ve gathered on your own.

6. Search on Amazon

Amazon has a lot of books, both in print and digital form. It’s the first place I’d go to search for a book using a vague description.

If you have the key details about the genre, plot, character names, or other important details, you’ll find it if it’s still there.

If you have names of other contributors (co-author, translator, illustrator, etc.) or the name of the publisher, the related books in the search results might provide leads for you.

Use the details you wrote in step 1, and combine them where you think they’re too vague on their own.

advanced search tool on amazon
Advanced Search Tool on Amazon.com.

How to Use the Advanced Search Tool on Amazon

Amazon Books built an advanced search option on its site to help you narrow down your search for a book. To use it, simply move your cursor over the Departments drop-down menu, go to ‘Books & Audible’, and then click Books. On the page that appears, there’s clickable text next to ‘books,’ and it’s labeled as “advanced search.” Click it and enter the required details.

Final Words

Finding a book from a vague description is often a daunting task, it’s like pulling an adult elephant through the eye of the needle.

But if you are looking for assurances, I can tell you that it’s not impossible!

If you use the tips in this post—especially tip number 1—and adapt them to your context, you’re going to make your search for the elusive book using a vague description easier.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.