Sunday, August 26, 2018

What Makes You Buy a Book?

Zoë Sharp

Last week I read a very interesting article by indie author Maggie Lynch on the Alliance of Independent Authors website about what makes readers buy books.

Maggie has clearly gone into a great deal of depth on this subject, including doing a questionnaire with her own email list. If you want to read the full study, follow the link above to the piece.

She also quotes from a very scientific survey done for the Australia Council of the Arts in 2016, which covers all kinds of genres, including non-fiction, and a lot of details on how else people spend their leisure time.

Maggie mentions various other surveys and studies, from which the answers vary quite a bit as to what are the main points of influence for book buying. A good deal of it seemed to revolve around what questions were asked and how they were phrased, although generally, we didn’t get to see that part.

Among Maggie’s own readership, the most important factor was how well known the author was to the reader, closely followed by the cover, if the book was recommended by a friend (as opposed to being recommended via social media, which rated much lower), the description, and if it was part of a series. Way down the list was apparent bestseller status, literary prizes won, or who the book was published by.

In the Australia Council of the Arts results, however, the subject matter was by far the most important aspect, although it doesn’t specify fiction or non-fiction here. That the reader had read and enjoyed previous works by that author was second (the reputation of the author was sixth) and third was that the book was available in the format the reader wanted – something that didn’t make it into the top ten on Maggie’s list. Number five was the price of the book.

Other interesting information that came up was that type size was quite a factor, which applies only to print books. People were far more influenced by prizes, and by reader reviews rather than by professional reviews. Recommendations by librarians or booksellers were also taken seriously.

Just as a point of clarity, on some of the results, ‘blurbs’ were listed as a factor. It was not always clear what was meant by that. To me, a blurb is an endorsement on the front of the book by another author or a quote from a review. The brief synopsis of the book’s subject matter I would always refer to as ‘jacket copy’ or ‘flap copy’ as it’s found on the back of the paperback, or the inside flap of the hardcover.

Mark Dawson did a survey of his readership last year, although it differs from the others because, as Maggie points out, it was asking what influenced people who had already purchased Mark’s books. He asked how people found him, for which advertising, such as BookBub promotions and Facebook ads ranked top, with Amazon Also Bought suggestions next, and a very low incidence of personal recommendation.

Mark also found that the blurb (and reading the transcript of the podcast he did on the subject, which you can find via the link above, meant the jacket copy description) was most important, followed by reviews, the Look Inside excerpt, and then the cover a distant fourth.

I know my own reasons for buying books have changed a lot in the last few years and they vary a lot depending on the format of the book. I buy physical books using different criteria to ebooks, and I buy them for different reasons.

If I’m buying non-fiction research books, then if the price is not too steep, I’d far rather have a physical copy. It’s much easier to flip back and forth and stick Post-it notes in a ‘real’ book than an ebook. But if it’s something that may only yield one or two pertinent facts, or if time is a factor, an ebook would be fine.

I receive a daily digest from BookBub of books on sale, so there’s an incentive to buy them there and then, before the offer window closes. In this case, the brief couple of sentences about the story has to really intrigue and appeal. The number of five-star ratings have no effect on my choice, nor do review quotes unless they particularly mention an aspect of the story that grabs me.

The cover doesn’t sway me except in a negative way – a really poor cover will put me off. If I like the sound of the plot, I’ll go and read the full jacket copy description on the book page, and if it still sounds good, I’ll do a Look Inside to see if I like the sound of that writer’s voice.

I keep stressing this – the writer’s voice is what keeps me coming back to an author time and again. When I see adverts that say: ‘If you like Jack Reacher or Mitch Rapp, you need to read…’ they don’t inspire me to check out the book, because even if the character was a carbon copy of Reacher, the writing style would not be the same as Lee Child.

In print, I’m far more fussy. There are authors whose books I will buy automatically as soon as they come out, like Lee. But having far less space for books means I have to be very hooked in order to want to give up precious bookshelf space. If I know the author personally, I’m far more likely to buy a physical copy and have them sign it for me, which makes it more special.

So, what influences your book choices?

Here are some of the reasons mentioned, in alphabetical order. Are any of these a factor?

·            Author familiarity or reputation
·            Advertising
·            Bestseller status of author or book
·            Book trailer video
·            Cover design
·            Endorsements (blurbs)
·            Format
·            Indie vs traditionally published author
·            Jacket copy description
·            Length of the book
·            Literary prize-winner or nominee
·            Look Inside segment or website excerpt
·            Price/offer
·            Publisher
·            Recommendations from family/friends
·            Recommendations from librarian/bookseller
·            Recommendations on social media
·            Reviews (professional)
·            Reviews (reader)
·            Series character
·            Setting
·            Subject
·            Type size

This week’s Word of the Week is cly-faker, meaning a pickpocket, using fake in its nineteenth-century slang sense of to rob or steal, and cly from claw or possibly from the Dutch kleed meaning a garment.


  1. Cover design and title first, setting second, story line third, then I sample the writing to see if there are descriptive passages or only action.

    1. Hi Harvee, thanks for that. It was surprising that cover design didn't top the list more than it did. I think you're right about the author's voice drawing you in.

  2. I find it hard to place any particular order on what makes me buy a book, as different factors work in favor (or against) at different times and places. In my youth (several centuries ago), I read almost entirely science fiction and fantasy, so other genres didn't stand much of a chance, and being youthful, I was open to trying just about any book I came across.

    In my ...more mature years... sometimes the title will catch me, sometimes the cover art will catch me, sometimes a particularly 'artful' recommendation (verbal, blog, review, etc) will catch me, sometimes a "look inside," sometimes etc.

    Back around 2009/2010, I got an advert email from Amazon for thrillers/mysteries. I normally ignored most all of those emails from Amazon, but for some reason that day, I scanned down the titles, and for whatever reason, "The Queen of Patpong" caught my eye. I'd never heard of Timothy Hallinan, had no idea what a 'Patpong' WAS, so curiosity grabbed my nose, but the ebook price ($14.95) was ridiculous for an ebook (in my eyes of the time), and in a rare burst of irk, I wrote an email to the publisher to let them know that their pricing scheme had lost a sale. A half-second before clicking SEND, I thought to see if I could find the author's email, I did, and included him as a cc. I never heard from the publisher, but I DID hear from the author, one thing led to another, and I'm now a devoted fan.

    Series are a double-edged sword. Many of my favorite novels are stand-alones, the author puts EVERYTHING they've got into that book. Many series start off with a bang and then become tired retread after tired retread. GOOD series don't tread water, the characters grow and progress, and each novel is new and different (to some degree), while retaining enough similarity to keep milking the reader's joy juice glands.

    The hook can come from any and all of the things you list, so it's important to focus on each and every one, crafting the best presentation you can, be it cover, title, jacket copy, blogs. The only thing that I almost always completely ignore are cover blurbs from other authors. Far too many lie for their friends (understandably) :-), and I've also found that just because I like an author's work, it doesn't mean that I like that same author's reading taste (at least, not all the time, or even most of the time).

    I HAVE found a lot of good books reading THIS blog... :-)

    1. Hi EvKa. Thank you for such a long and thought-provoking reply. I have to say that, mostly, I agree with you about blurbs. I've read too many that make me wonder if we've read the same book, as their comments are so different from my experience. I'm trying to mix it up a little more at the moment, by producing standalones (or at least books that start *out* as standalones) as well as my series. And I do try hard to present fresh challenges to my series protag as I go. Writing good jacket copy is really hard, and often not best done by the author. I've worked on 2-3 line book descriptions for the series books, too. Just enough to intrigue someone who hasn't read the book, or remind someone who has. We'll see.

      Oh, and I agree with you about Tim Hallinan's work. He's a terrific writer and a great guy.

  3. "Cyl-Faker and the Oxymorons." How's that for a catchy title? When I know nothing about an author, I admit to the cover drawing me in--being the superficial guy that I am--but then I do the Ford Maddox Ford Test: read page 99, and if that doesn't grab me, I put it down.

    By the way, it was an honoring sharing that SH-SI bin with you pictured above.

  4. Zoe, for me it's who wrote it and what it's about. Everything else is a distant third or fourth or six hundredth reason.