Monday, January 25, 2010

Why We Buy Books

I am always interested in how people buy books. Some go out and buy a book just because a friend said it was good. Some seek out books by the same author, no matter what. Some want series, some want variety.

I'm not the only one who wonders about this. Rachelle Gardner recently posted the topic on her blog, and the results weren't too surprising: most people buy books based on word of mouth.

That's certainly true of me. The last books I've purchased have been:
  • Fool: bought because one of my best friends loved it, and we chose it as our first book club book
  • Beautiful Creatures: actually, this one is a loaner from a friend, but I would have bought it based on that friend's recommendation
  • I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President: bought because I saw it on the Jon Stewart show, and because the title made me laugh out loud.
  • The Shifter: bought because I saw the blurb on the author's agent's webpage and it sounded really interesting
  • Ruined: bought because I was in the bookstore browsing, and it had been signed by the author (I'm a sucker for signed books)
Almost all of my most recent book purchases are ones that I can trace specifically to the person who recommended them to me. The one book I didn't buy based on a rec, I would not have bought unless it had been signed. I picked that one up specifically--and solely--because of the "Signed by the Author" sticker on the front. I would not have picked it up otherwise.

Where we hear about books counts. As an author, it's also important to know how your audience hears about books. I found The Shifter from reading an agent blog--but it's a MG fantasy, and most of the author's target audience isn't reading industry blogs. (Fortunately, Janice Hardy has a great idea of marketing and networking and reaching her target audience--so everyone, take a leaf out of her book!)

We can't all be featured by Jon Stewart, no matter how much we may want to be. But don't forget the power of word of mouth. The greatest marketing tool you have as a writer is finding the audience who wants your book and getting them to tell others about it.

And the best way to get others to talk about it? Write a darn good book. After posting last week about widgets and trailers, it worried me a bit about the number of people who wanted to do things like that, but were worried because they didn't know how. On my SCBWI list-serv, there's almost always a conversation about how worried an author is that they aren't reaching their audience because Facebook and MySpace and Twitter are beyond their grasp.

Calm down.

What's far more important that having an online presence is having a good book that people will talk about. Last week, I posted Cindy Pon's great trailer. But I did not buy her book because of the trailer. I bought it because my friend bought it and told me it was great.

If you hate Twitter, don't do it. If you can't see the point in Facebook, don't bother. I'm not saying that social online networking or technical gadgets like book trailers and widgets don't help. I'm sure they've sold books--in fact, I have occasionally bought books based on these things. I'm just saying do what you feel comfortable doing, but know that word of mouth will ultimately be more powerful--and the only real way to garner word of mouth is by having a well written book. Focus on writing first.

PS: I loved the picture Rachelle used in her contest so much that I shamelessly stole it. And I loved the background on it that I stole that, too. As Rachelle credits the picture:
Photo is from the bookstore Le Bal des Ardents in Lyon, France. Photography by punkinmom_{caroline} and Visit The Most Interesting Bookstores in the World if you want to be blown away!
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