books · Publishing

Personalized Book Recommendations and the Penguin Hotline

Penguin Hotline 1.png

I recently took quite the hiatus from this blog, but I found just the thing to get me back into the swing of things.


I’m kidding.


The season between October 1 and January 1 fills me with an absurd joy. It begins with “Give me pumpkin decorations or give me death” and culminates with “Is wearing a tacky holiday sweater every day in December too much for the office?”

Rest assured, we are in prime tacky sweater season right now; my shirt’s sequins have sequins.

Amidst all of this sparkle, I gain the most pleasure from finding and giving gifts to people. There is something inexplicably wonderful about hunting for an object that suits a person perfectly. Because of my own proclivities, I often end up giving books.

This year Penguin Random House is helping out with that process by setting up its Penguin Hotline. The Hotline is intended to give bookish gift ideas for the various people in your life. The process is simple. After filling out a form containing some demographic information as well as likes, dislikes, and hobbies of the reader in question, a “Penguin” will email a book recommendation or two.

Of course I had to try it.

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On 11/29/17, I submitted some info based off of a person in my life. This reader loves dystopian novels, science-fiction, YA, and romance. Though it was tempting to capture the full spectrum of this person’s interests, I tried to stay mostly focused.

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I waited with far more excitement than anticipated, and a day later, I received the following email filled with book titles from Seoling, my recommending penguin.

Happy holidays, Kristen! 

Thanks for writing into the Penguin Hotline! You mentioned that the person you are looking to gift likes dystopian novels. Well, I definitely have a few recommendations for you. I think you should take a look at any of Marie Lu’s series — LegendThe Young Elites, or Warcross. Her writing is phenomenal and there are definitely nuances of government and social justice that the characters are strongly aware of and are entwined in throughout the entire series. And there are some romances that are subtle and really fit into the story without overloading it in an out of place romance.

One of my favorite social justice YA books is Neal Shusterman’s Scythe. It’s about a utopian world where no one dies, but in order to keep the peace and keep order (and population under control), scythes are chosen (think…The Giver) and they glean those who…potentially sin. It definitely puts our society into perspective and is a great counterbalance to all the dystopic novels out there. And yes, there it a little romance! It also gave me A Handmaid’s Tale vibes.

Happy shopping! 
Seoling, Penguin Random House 

I’ll admit, this response was better than I expected. I’m sure that Penguin has a list of books that it is encouraging its staff to recommend, but Seoling chose some great books to share. (And I love the email’s tone. It may be part of a marketing campaign, but it has enough warm fuzzies to keep even the Scrooge-iest of hearts happy.)

But the Penguin Hotline makes me think of other issues as well. Because I work in a publisher’s marketing department, I can’t help but wonder how Penguin plans to store and use the information I provided.

Extrapolating from my own experiences, participating in the Hotline will put people on an email list. Whatever demographic information and interests they shared will get entered into a customer tracking database. In the next several months, Penguin will likely send participants emails based on this data. For example, I may receive some targeted to a woman who likes YA and science fiction. Because of the way spam laws in the US work – three cheers for legal protections! – I will be able to unsubscribe from the emails whenever I like. However, the information I provided to the Hotline will probably remain in that internal tracking system.

I knew all of this when I filled out the Hotline form, so I don’t mind that my information will be used this way, but it is a reminder that especially in the digital era, information about ourselves is one of our most valuable resources.

But I’d still use the Penguin Hotline again. It was a fun process, and I love hearing what books people think I should read. If you decide to test the legions of reading penguins as well, let me know how it goes! I certainly won’t refuse an extra book recommendation or six.

One last thing, confidential to the person whose reading interests I used in this little experiment; you should pickup Scythe. Then you should loan it to me. It looks really good.

17 thoughts on “Personalized Book Recommendations and the Penguin Hotline

      1. So grateful that I am once again am able to see you on your WordPress blog. I have been missing you, as you are one of the blogs that always has the best suggestions, as you do here.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks so much for this suggestion!
    I’m certainly going to use, for myself to start with ( hey, what’s wrong with a girl giving herself a treat from time to time?)
    I see what you mean about how the data is to be used but if it’s all in the cause of good reading I’ll accept that I may receive book recommendations forever more. Bring it on!
    Regards. Maríe.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh Kristen! I was really taken by this great idea from Penguin ! But now I’m so disappointed!
    I just got started filling in the form to apply for the Penguin Hotline for daughter’s Christmas gift…. when I go to ‘enter postcode’ ( for me it’s UK postcode) and I read “penguin hotline only available in US.” What a surprise and what a pity… but why?
    Regards. Marie. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, no! That is horrible. And now I’m tempted to fill a form out on your behalf. Is that odd? Possibly.

      Still, if you are interested in receiving an email from a penguin, feel free to tell list a few of your favorite books here or via my contact form, and I’m happy to submit it for you. After all, it is entirely possible that I need book ideas for some fellow bloggers.

      Liked by 1 person

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