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Why that Book? How do readers decide to try a new author?

Unlocking the Gate to Success: Get Your Book Published.

Got Your Platform Handy?

By Dee Power and Brian Hill Copyright April 2004

Fans of bestselling authors make a beeline for their favorite writers at the bookstore, hardly pausing on the way from tables stacked high with the latest and greatest to the cash register. But sometimes another John Grisham, Nora Roberts, or Danielle Steel isn’t quite what you’re in the mood for.

When browsing through the stacks of novels at the local bookstore, how does a customer choose a new author? Marketing research firms spend thousands of dollars trying to determine consumer behavior and ways to manipulate that behavior.

Have you ever watched customers meandering through the aisles, picking up one book, perusing the cover, then selecting another? Why do they select any one particular book?

We conducted an unscientific survey to see if we could find out. Most readers, even when selecting a new author, will stay within their favorite genre, whether romance, mystery or thriller.

Word of mouth,or recommended by a friend was the factor most often mentioned as the number one factor. Some books are simply so memorable that readers become anxious to tell their friends about them. Publishers spend millions of dollars on advertising, book tours, etc., but one of the most powerful forces driving a book’s success is basic grass roots, one-on-one word of mouth.

Readers told us:

“Someone tells me about a book they really like, so I try it. If I like it too, then I pass on the information as well as looking for other books by the same author.”

“I buy a lot of books based on comments made on one or two online book groups where we post our reads for the month. Again, I particularly note comments from people whose tastes I know are similar to mine.”

“How do I select to read books by a new-to-me author? Almost totally from recommendations from people I know. In this case word of mouth sells.  If I hear enough people raving about a new author...I will get the book.”

The cover either entices or detracts. Cover art was most often mentioned in the number one or number two spot. The importance of the cover is reflected in the enormous amount of time and effort publishers and authors devote to designing the cover, often going through dozens of variations before deciding which one is perfect (they think).

Another interesting aspect of covers is how successful ones are imitated. Just look at how many recent chick lit novels feature bright colors, highly stylized lettering and cartoon type characters.

Don’t judge a book by its cover doesn’t ring true with most readers.

They told us:

“First, I look at the cover. If it has a half-naked woman, I put it back.”

“I take my books with me to read while I'm waiting and I'd rather have a nice scene on the cover.”

“If I'm just looking through the shelves, the cover catches my eye first.”

“It's the cover that will attract me pick up the book.”

But not every reader feels this way.

“For me, the cover has no effect on choosing a book.”

“I do most of my book shopping online. I rarely buy in the store.  Having said that, the cover does not sway me at all.”

The infamous back cover blurb overwhelmingly had the most votes, but in second or third place, not in first. The back cover blurb wasn’t the key deciding factor for many readers. Perusing a sample chapter either clinched the sale or resulted in the reader deciding not to buy.

Readers said:

“The description on the back cover is the first test. Then, I read the first couple of pages. If I'm not hooked, I keep looking.”

“I pick the book up and flip it over to read the back cover.”

“Then I read the blurb and a sample chapter if they provide one. If not, I look for the author’s website and see if they have a sample chapter up.”

While many authors valiantly struggle to get reviews and endorsements from well known celebrities and authors, it really doesn’t hold much sway over the majority of readers. Reviews increase the visibility of an author and their books, but it isn’t the deciding factor of whether to read that particular book.

Readers told us:

“I don't go by recommendations generally...such as the pages and pages of book recommendations by newspapers, magazines, people I never heard of.”

“I only take notice of reviews from reviewers I respect, and who I've been reading regularly for some time.”

“I don't even look at the endorsements on the cover/inside the book by other authors.  I once bought a book based on an endorsement by an author that I liked, and I hated the book.  It left me wondering if these authors actually even read the book.”

Of course being selected by Kelly Ripa in Reading with Ripa, or by Oprah Winfrey is the exception to the rule. Carly Philips’ “The Bachelor” went to number one on amazon.com in a matter of hours after being selected by Kelly.  

So it would seem that the main factors in the buy decision are:

Personal recommendations
Cover art,
Back cover blurb,
The writing itself

But there were some interesting comments that really don’t fit in any of those categories.

Readers mentioned:

“I also like to attend local author presentations my library to show support for fellow writers.”

“I rarely will even look at a book with less than 375 pages long-- unless it's a beloved author or the subject matter has influence upon something I'm writing.”

“One of the authors in the anthology had such enthusiasm in her postings about her first published novel, that I wanted to show her that at least one stranger in the whole world cares enough to buy her book.  I felt good doing it, and now I find it was a darn good purchase.  I love that.”

“If it is by a new author I have met online or at the book fair at I felt was nice towards me I'll buy a book from them.  I know this sounds vain but I refuse to support a person who is rude to me.”

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