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What Makes You Buy a Book?

Philip Overby

Article Team
I wasn't entirely sure where to put this discussion, so I put it in Publishing.

There have been surveys, books, and blogs about how to sell a book to someone. Everyone has different opinions on what works, but I'm not sure if there is a definitive reason that people buy specific kinds of books over others.

So to add on to the pile, what makes you buy a book?

I read a recent blog post about this topic here: The Business Rusch: Promotion « Kristine Kathryn Rusch

One study featured in the blog suggest these factors tie into reader decisions in order of importance:

1. Author reputation

2. Personal recommendation

3. Price

4. Book Reviews

5. Cover/Blurb

6. Advertising (including online)

So according to this, advertising your book is the less likely cause of someone buying your book. I would agree with this list for the most part as far as the way I buy books.

1. Author Reputation-I typically buy books from authors I already know, either personally or from reading previous books. One thing mentioned is that writing your next book is the best way to build author reputation. If you just write one book and bank everything on that, readers may love your first book but forget about you and find other books to read if you take too long.

2. Personal Recommendation-This is a big one for me. Either from people I trust or from other authors I trust. I guess that's why getting a good blurb is important. Forums like Mythic Scribes also help a lot because you can find lots of recommendations for various books and authors.

3. Price-Price isn't too terribly important for me, but I'll probably consider something if it's on sale. I'm like any consumer: I enjoy a good bargain.

4. Book Reviews-I often read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I prefer a balanced, critical review more than a shill review. If I feel like the review gives me a good idea of the style, characters, plot, etc., I'll be more interested in checking it out.

5. Cover/Blurb-Blurbs influence me more than covers, but a shoddily made cover may discourage me from buying. Even if the cover is poorly made though, I'll give it a look if all the other factors align together.

6. Advertising-This is a tricky one and I think one that plagues a lot of writers once they're published. For me, advertising has to be done creatively. I very rarely find interest in a book that is just link spammed all over the place. I'm guilty of this myself sometimes, but I'm trying to figure out different techniques. Creative promotions get my attention more than a link with no context connected to it. If I'm in a good mood or looking for a book, I may buy something randomly, but it's very rare that I'll buy something this way.

Free samples of your work, a fun promotion, or something similar get my attention more than other methods.

That said, what influences your buying decisions? And for those of you who have had some success with your books, what method do you notice has worked the best for you (good reviews, advertising, good cover, recommendations, etc.)?


1. Author reputation. I used to buy books from authors whose work I know, but most of them are dead by now :). Also from authors I know personally and whose work interests me. I firmly believe the keep on writing-idea.

2. Personal recommendation doesn’t mean a thing to me. Tastes differ.

3. Price isn’t important in itself, if I really want a book.

4. Reviews are, like nr 2., not important in themselves. The average opinion does. I probably wouldn’t buy a book with only 1-star reviews :)

5. Covers draw me; those generic undressed male/female/whatever covers don’t, a great (old-school) monster fight does.
Blurbs aren’t interesting other than as information. Not as a sales pitch.

6. Advertising.
Twitter: I’m a member of Independend Authors Network. They email my books every week to their subscribers. It was an experiment, as I didn’t know what it would do. Up to now (3 months), effectivity nil.
Book Tours: I tried a small book tour for Rhidauna, but the good people thought Fantasy was a form of romance. Their bloggers were mostly unsuitable. Response nil. October 1st I’ll try another one with Shardfall, a professional one, that offers some 30 stops with ca 18 reviews (also on Amazon/Goodreads) and promotion on Blogs, Facebook and Google+. That sounds and the contacts feel much more solid.
Giveaways: I’ve done several (on GoodReads and BookLikes) and in general the exposure seems rather good. Up to now they gave 2 nice reviews.
Book Blog Reviews: I’ve contacted several bloggers and netted several reviews.
Various: I’m having a Shardfall book trailer made, I offer my Nadril novelette for free (starting in Smashwords), I regularly do Giveaways, have an author website, etc.

Overall no tangible results yet. The point I’m most uncertain about, is whether my covers fit the market. Some reactions are very enthusiastic, others say they don’t dig them at all.

And to answer the question, none of the above things would pull me in, but I’m not really a good marketing subject.


1. Author reputation

Surely an author I know something about has a head start vs someone completely unknown to me. It's not the determining factor here, but helps on the competition.

2. Personal recommendation

I take recommendations seriously and I consider "recommendations" the comments people I know the comments they do about a book while they read it. E.g.: Someone in this forum started to read a certain book and hated it, truly hated it. This weekend he was asked how was the book and he told "it's awesome, one of the best books I've read!". That means something. =P

3. Price

An expensive book won't make a good job in prompting me to buy it, heh.

4. Book Reviews

...nah. I don't trust random reviews from random people I don't know, they only mean that someone have read the book.

The only case the nature of the reviews matter a little is when it's a self published book. Probably I won't know someone who has read a work by the author, however, even in this case I believe the author reputation has a heavier weight here.

5. Cover/Blurb

An ugly cover will make me not want to buy the book. I will wonder if the story is as badly written as the cover was badly done, if I should bother about the story if the author couldn't bother to deliver the best product he could.

Don't get it wrong: Simple covers aren't bad covers, I would happily buy a fully typographic cover!

Now, a really pretty cover might make me feel a bit more tempted than the usual, when buying a pretty book I'll be all "I've bought a good AND pretty book! :D"

6. Advertising (including online)

Promotions may tempt me when it's a book I'm already tempted to buy... but advertising itself? I'm trained to ignore them.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Not to question anyone's rankings, but it's worth noting that things which don't rate as important in surveys are often more important than people give credit for.

For instance, cover art probably makes a solid impression on a subconscious level that might get discounted in a list like this. That is, if you're promoting your work, don't count things out because they're getting rated 5th or 6th.
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Philip Overby

Article Team
I think good cover art does help me make decisions sometimes simply because it catches my eye. Bad cover art catches my eye in a bad way. To me, if I can tell something was hastily thrown together, it makes me think the book may have been too. But I've been told not to judge a book by its cover. :)


Myth Weaver
This list tracks with my habits pretty well.

If I read something and like it, I'll search for that author's other books. If I find one that sounds remotely interesting, I'll buy it.

If a person I know tells me, "Brian, I've read this book and, from my experience having listened to you talk about the books you like, I think you'll dig it," then I'll probably buy it. If a random person says, "I liked this book," it doesn't mean much.

Price will prevent me from buying a book, but it will do little to entice me. I won't take a book for free if I don't think I'll enjoy it. I will refuse to buy something even from a name brand author whose work I like if the price is too high.

Reviews are important. I was all set to buy John Ringo's latest in the Ghost series until I read the reviews. Apparently, he has someone else "cowrite" it with him, and it's not nearly as good. Three different reviews of people saying, "I'm a huge fan of this series, but..." stopped me from buying it. I'll get it eventually, but only if it's cheap. Star rating make no difference at all; people saying "I liked this" and "I didn't like this" give me the information I need to make an informed decision.

I think a good cover can draw my eye and make me pay attention to a book I might have skipped otherwise. Other than that, doesn't do much for me. The blurb needs to make me want to read the sample.

I can't say there are many, if any, books I've bought because of advertising. I have found out an author I like has a new book out via advertising and bought it. That just sped up the sale, however, not caused it.


After 1,2,4,5,6, I will also pull the free sample up and check and see if the book interests me.

At that point if I want the book number 3 may or may not come into play, as in do I want to wait and see if it goes on sale.


Myth Weaver
I actively avoid books and authors that I think are being advertised at me. That probably has more to say about my prejudices about advertising than anything else.
I have real problems take risks/the time with authors I don't know. I have a shelf of books that I got 50 pages into and didn't want to read more. That is why I love my local library; you can read books for free and see if you like the author's voice... They now have a local authors section and you can "donate" books to it. It's a good way for them to gt free stock and while there are some of the more obvious names [HG Wells and AC Doyle to name two], there are also people I haven't heard of [and are still alive] to try out...


1. Author reputation

There are a handful of authors where I'm happy to buy/read pretty much everything they write. Other than that, it's not a consideration. I've tried some of the big-name authors, and a lot of them just don't agree with me.

2. Personal recommendation

Usually works inversely for me. I've never found anyone whose tastes were anything like mine, so I might take a look at a recommended book, but I'd never, ever buy on recommendation alone. Does anyone???

Price is the last thing I look at, the deciding factor. If it's cheap, I'll take a punt on an unknown author. If it's silly-expensive, forget it, whoever it is (even a favourite author).

4. Book Reviews

I'll skim through them, but I'm fairly cynical about them these days, especially if they're all 5* or if there's too many of them. A long, thoughtful 3* review might tip the balance.

5. Cover/Blurb

Not usually a deciding factor. A good cover might draw me in, but other factors are more important. A bad cover won't put me off. A single typo or misplaced apostrophe in the blurb will put me off. Certain keywords in the blurb will also put me off (vampire, werewolf, zombie, chiseled jaws...).

6. Advertising (including online)

No. I take no notice of advertising or hype or what's hot on the blogs or anything of that type.

The big deciding factor for me is the sample. I always give it at least three or four pages, but I'll keep reading until something puts me off. If I'm still reading at the end of the sample and the price is reasonable, I'll buy it.


i'd have to say that author and cover influence me the most i usually read the first page too, if the story grabs me in the opening paragraph then i'll buy it... though im not immune to shiney advertising... :cloud9:
1. Author reputation
2. Personal recommendation
3. Price
4. Book Reviews
5. Cover/Blurb
6. Advertising (including online)

I just want proof, not hype.

I follow #1 for authors I already like, or failing that any more general #1 reputation I hear about the author, or #2, #4 or #6-- but only if I think that under the "I liked it"s they're saying the book's done something particular I like. But, I don't even glance at reviews on Amazon (especially their stars), because I'm already in position to sample the book itself.

Then it's #5, the description, but not someone else's blurbs, and then I look at the first pages, or sometimes a random middle spot. Let the book do its job. (The cover? well, on a bookshelf the more the cover makes it look like my kind of subject, the more likely I am to get to the description.)

For #3, I'm with Pauline, I check price last to see if a decent book is too expensive. And I do sometimes grab a Kindle bargain (or click over to a freebie I hear about) if it seems intriguing but not quite to my taste on its own.

C Hollis

1. Personal Recommendation - My close friends know what I like, and I know what they like. So, if one of them tells me I would enjoy (even if they hated) it, I will pick it up.

2. Author reputation - There are certain author's out there that I will grab their books without reading the blurb.

3. Book Reviews
3. Cover/Blurb
These two are a tie for me. If I am perusing books in the brick and mortar, the title grabs me, the cover holds me, the blurb sells it to me.
Throw that all out the window when I am looking for a book for the Kindle. The rating will pull me in first, then the blurb, then the specific comments in the reviews. I pay zero attention to the cover art when shopping online.

4. Price - An established author not so much, except for the fact that I will NOT pay full hardcover/paperback price for an electronic copy. Never have, never will. But that's a different thread altogether.
For Indie author's, price is probably more like a solid on-its-own number three. Simply because if your self-published work is out there for more than $2.99, I won't even give it a second glance, even if I liked your previous work.

Advertising - doesn't even rate on my scale. I have never bought a book because of an add, or billboard sign. The only time I've ever watched a book trailer was after I read the book.

Philip Overby

Article Team
In discussion in another community, I came across this conundrum:

How do you spread the word about your book if no one knows you?

It's the chicken before the egg problem. Or the "how do you get a job if you have no experience?"

Sharing a link is pretty easy. I've done it and I don't see anything wrong with it now and again unless it's like ad nauseum. There are times more and more often that I'll check out a book based on a simple link. I'm more tolerant than I used to be to that. However, it definitely doesn't rank on my top ways to share or find something.

From reading what everyone has mentioned thus far, almost no one buys books based on advertising and if they do it's a last consideration. So why does everyone advertise their books anyway if it's not really tipping the scales? Well, as a new author, what other options do you have?

The only things I advertise at the moment are some anthologies I'm in and my blog. I push my blog more probably, but I'm not getting any money from that. Plus, I hope my blog can form some kind of community at some point because I'm encouraging others to contribute.

With the anthologies, I find sharing a link is the only way I (currently) know how to share them. However, there are no big name authors in these anthologies (yet) so there is no name recognition. There are no reviews because it's a new anthology. There are no personal recommendations except from the people that contributed.

So where do that leave it?

1. The blurb/cover
2. Cost
3. Advertising
4. Sample

See how this can be a major problem for any new author? They're not getting the benefit of probably the top three things people consider (author reputation, recommendations, reviews).

So what does this mean new authors have to do? In my opinion, something like this?

1. Write a really awesome blurb. Perhaps sharing the blurb instead of sharing link spam may help potential readers connect. I had found people in other communities just link their book and that's it. No context, no further information, just a link. Not sure how effective that is.

2. A great cover. While this is probably on the bottom of my list, a great cover can't really hurt.

3. Advertising seems at the bottom of almost everyone's list. What helps for me when advertising DOES work to get me to buy something, is when an author seemed to put a lot of thought into their ad campaign. Creative promotions, interactive promotions, etc. Not to say these always work for me, but if I think they're executed well, it may encourage me to at least check out a sample.

4. Samples. To me, this is probably the truly best way to hook in readers to an unknown author. To actually see his or her writing. This could mean sharing samples of your work online or relying on Amazon's "Look Inside" feature. I think everyone has a different view on how to do this, but I think letting the actual writing speak for itself might be a new writer's best asset to lasso in potential readers.

5. One other thing: advance reviews. Giving away review copies of your book is another way to hopefully get the word out. It's the same way almost everyone else tries to sell products: get some people talking about it.

I'm pretty cool about doing this for other people. If someone says "Hey, could you review my book?" then I probably won't say no. Unless I'm super, super busy.

Does anyone have any thoughts about what I mentioned above? How do new authors break through if they have some of these things working against them from the get go?


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Does anyone have any thoughts about what I mentioned above? How do new authors break through if they have some of these things working against them from the get go?

You've covered the marketing. And that leaves sales. You break through with a personal appeal to people who might help you. That's it. That's all you've got. You can scream into the void and wonder why nobody's listening. Or you can find a few people and ask them to take a look at what you're doing. Network. That's how every game is played.

Philip Overby

Article Team
Makes sense. Screaming into the void doesn't seem to work for most people. I haven't really gotten to a point where I'm actually marketing a book or even trying to get one published, so I'm just curious what others have done.
I read a lot of YA fantasy, and adult urban fantasy. I think my reasons are pretty typical. The cover pulls me in, if it is too beautiful I will read the back, and the first chapter. If I like those I buy it. If the cover is compelling I write down the name of the book, and then look up the rating on Goodreads. If I'm simply looking for something to read I check out recommendations from people like me - female fantasy readers.


Author reputation: Some authors are guaranteed buys for me whenever they put out something new. For example, whenever the late Iain M. Banks put out a new space opera, I knew I would enjoy it and I knew it would be better than the vast majority of SF out there.

Price: The only time price is an issue is when there are multiple versions of the same book. For example, I'll buy the Penguin copy of Plutarch's Lives before I'll buy some $35 leatherbound version that's just meant to look impressive on a coffee table or shelf.

But...I have noticed people on this forum discussing e-book prices, and how they seem to make a difference in sales. I realize e-books are a different ballgame, and I'm here in part to learn about the e-book market because I'm not very familiar with it. Those discussions are of interest to me, for sure.

Cover/blurb: Very rarely, but I've found some good stuff over the years by randomly browsing bookstore shelves.

Advertising: Never. I can't recall seeing much book advertising except for big names like Tom Clancy or J.K. Rowling.


Myth Weaver
What makes be buy a book: Reading something by the author that I liked. That is getting harder to do. My local libraries now have fewer books and open at less convenient times so I go there less often. They had a local authors section for a few months but that seems to have gone...
For some reason I can't read a book on an e-reader [maybe I haven't found the right one but after about 15 minutes I want to stop reading and go and do something else]. I like reading from paper so if I find a story I think I'll like I print it out in to an A5 booklet to read... that takes a bit of time...
Things that stop be buying a book... TV ADVERTISING. Foolish I know but I want to feel I've discovered something when I pick up a book and take it home to read. I want to the first one to get to see this story.