What makes readers buy a book?
The answer is a mystery to most writers, but we need to know so we can target our promotional efforts at a time when the selling is seen as our responsibility, not the publishers’. Sisters in Crime set out to find answers in a survey of mystery book buyers conducted by Bowker. The first look at the results, presented October 14 at Bouchercon in San Francisco, reinforced some common beliefs but also provided jolting evidence that a writer needs several different marketing campaigns for each book. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to reaching readers.
The major difference, as you might expect, is between younger and older readers. Older readers are influenced by advertising, bestseller lists, and bookstore displays. To a much greater degree, younger readers are influenced by personal social connections with other readers and with authors, and they find out about books online through Amazon reviews, Facebook, and other sources.
Across all age groups, though, the greatest influence is something writers can’t really control: word of mouth, or recommendations from other readers. Those are the private exchanges that writers simply have to hope for.
The second most important influence is a book’s presence on a bestseller list. If it’s already selling well, more people will want to try it. Reviews online and print reviews are equally important. Next comes the book’s cover, with 18% of survey respondents saying cover art is highly influential and 57% saying it has some influence. (Those fights writers sometimes have with editors over terrible covers are worth the effort, apparently.) Coming in last among all those surveyed was “prominent display in bookstore” – 15% said this is highly influential and 56% said it has some influence.
Those of us who spend a lot of time online do it because we believe it’s an important way to reach readers, but the Bowker survey shows an author’s internet presence isn’t a major influence on book buyers. Only 9% of those surveyed said following a writer on Facebook led them to buy a book, with men and women giving it nearly equal weight. When the data gets down to age groups, though, it becomes more interesting. The under-40 readers are more likely than others to buy books because they’ve encountered authors on Facebook. Even so, only a little over a third of readers under 40 say they’re influenced in any way by the world’s biggest online community. The percentages drop drastically as the reader’s age goes up.
Where do e-books stand with mystery readers? Only 5.3% of survey respondents named e-books as a preferred format. Hardcover is still king, with 35% preferring it. Mass market paperbacks came in third at 34%, and trade paperbacks followed with 23%.
And what about blogs, which consume so many authors’ precious writing energies? Not so important, according to the survey. It’s down near the bottom of the list, along with a lot of other things writers pour themselves into relentlessly. Named as low influences on purchases are author newsletters, promotional give-aways, mailings from authors, signings in stores, online discussion groups such as GoodReads, author blogs, postcard mailings, Facebook, banner ads on websites, publisher websites, online communities such as DorothyL and 4 Mystery Addicts, and, dead last, Twitter. The online activities are far more likely to reach young readers than older ones.
The survey is filled with information, which should become available gradually over the next few weeks, but this first look gives writers information they can use to decide where to put their promotional money and time. If you believe most of your fans are 50 or older, and you’re spending half your day tweeting or updating your Facebook status, you might want to reconsider those efforts. Unless you have a fantastically successful blog, and you know you’re reaching a lot of younger, web-loving readers with it, you should probably think of it as a relatively unimportant supplement to more traditional forms of promotion.
A few other points:
Still most influential in the purchase of a new book is the reader’s familiarity with the author’s previous work.
Series books are preferred by mystery readers.
The majority of younger readers prefer dark crime fiction with strong suspense. Older readers prefer lighter mysteries.
So. What do you think of these findings? As a reader, what influences your book buying? As a writer, do you believe you’re focusing your promotion in the right direction, or are you spending a lot of time on activities that might not be working?