How readers select books

Gallup did a poll in 2005 asking readers how they selected the books they read. Here are the results.


What this says to me as an author is that the most important thing I can do to help my career is write the best dang story I can, seeing that almost 60% of what readers select is driven by the experience they or someone else had with the book.

The next most important factor has to do with helping my book stand out for browsers. This would include the cover, store placement, blurbs, flap text, and the opening pages. The only part of this an author can really focus on is the opening pages–again, writing the best dang story I can.

So it seems authors, especially debut authors, can’t do much to affect sales. But not being able to do much doesn’t mean they can’t do anything. Somewhere, somehow the first readers have to be enticed to give the book a go. Robert Sawyer talks about some of the methods to do that here.

EDIT: 4/8/2011

Kris Rusch adds more information that confirms the findings of the poll above in “The Business Rusch: Promotion”. READ HER WHOLE ARTICLE. Notice she does concede that publishers can get some notice for a book. So there ARE things that can be done to make the offer. But I agree with her advice that the best thing to do is get more product out the door. The studies she cites are:

2010 Survey of Book-buying Behavior by VERSO Advertising. The key conclusion on book-buying is that “Multiple factors impact consumer awareness of a particular title, but final purchase decision (online and offline) driven by author reputation, personal recommendations, and price.” If I were you, I’d read the whole presentation.

# Reason % Respondents
1 Author reputation 52%
2 Personal recommendation 49%
3 Price 45%
4 Book reviews 37%
5 Cover artwork/blurbs 22%
6 Advertising (including on-line) 14%

2007 Survey on what motivates readers to by a book by Spier Advertising, reported in Publishers Weekly

# Reason % of Respondents
1 Friend’s Recommendation 49%
2 Familiarity with Author 45%
3 Description on Jacket 32%
4 Reviews 22%
5 Advertisement 21%
6 Place on bestsellers list 17%
7 Reading group pick 16%
8 Cover design 12%
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