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!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

The bookstores! The bookstores! OMG, I can't believe those stunning places. I feel like traveling the world just so I can walk into each of those stores. But don't books deserve a cathedral? Yes, indeed. Thanks for the virtual tour, Beth.

Robyn Campbell said...

Ah, lovely books. Where would we be if we couldn't read books. I buy books based on recommendations from friends sometimes. Usually I flip through them at the bookstore and that tells me whether or not I will love it or leave it.

Super post my writing partner.

Nisa said...

There are some authors I will always buy. Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen Lawhead, Tamora Pierce, to name a few, but word of mouth is definitely big. My husband and I stumbled into the YA section of the bookstore over the summer thanks to a friend's recommendation. Now we're having trouble getting out of the YA section. lol!

Elana Johnson said...

Oh, very true! I buy or read the books I do because of what someone somewhere says. Usually someone I trust, or an industry pro, but sometimes just whoever.

MeganRebekah said...

Recently I've been buying mroe books from word of mouth and recommendations, but that's due to blogging and getting involved with other readers.
Previously I would just go into the bookstore and browse (sometimes for a really long time) and walk away with books that looked promising.

And I *love* that picture too. I told me brother-in-law I want him to build me a bookshelf that wraps around the door :)

Corey Schwartz said...

Definitely rely heavily on recommendations from friends and family.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I buy books because someone's told me about it or I've read about it, like the Shifter, on Janice's agent's blog. Another way is if I read an author interview or see a book review on one of the blogs I read. I try to mention some books I like on my Facebook page so people who don't know about the book might read it. But I agree with you, most of our readers aren't buying books because of the blogs.

Heather Zundel said...

Kudos. You basically nailed it.

Kaylie said...

I buy books differently as a writer for sure than as a reader. But I agree with only doing what you want to do in terms of marketing. Richard Peck, for example, doesn't do anything online. He doesn't need to.