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What makes you buy a book?

The last few weeks have seen multiple articles in the blogosphere about publicity in the book world. The authors are addressing the ongoing question: What causes someone to buy a book?  J.A. Konrath published a tell-all article about The Value of Publicity (of lack thereof) regarding book sales. Konrath admits to being well known in the publishing world thanks to his foray into self-publishing after many years of working with a major publishing house.  But he also knows that the majority of the people following the news regarding e-publishing and self-publishing are writers – not readers.  And readers are the people who buy his books. He says:

The majority of my sales don’t come from people hearing about my self-pub exploits. Nor do they come from my midlist legacy titles, which sold modestly.

Yet, Konrath’s titles are selling extremely well. He made $140K in the last 30 days. If it isn’t Konrath’s infamous publishing choices that are causing the spike in his book sales, then what is it that is pushing readers to open up their wallets and fork over the cash for Konrath’s books?

In Jane Friedman’s interview with author and editor John Warner (Using Word of Mouth [Not Media Attention] to Sell Books), Warner has several poignant statements regarding book sales:

It’s impossible to know what mention or connection will lead to some kind of tipping point, so every single last one of them counts.

For most books like mine, to sell ‘well’, interest has to come from the ground up, rather than the top down, it’s driven by readers rather than by media attention….If any media attention does come from the book, it’s going to be because some reader with those connections made it happen.

Before I was a writer, I was a reader, and the sensation that comes with really connecting with a book simply can’t be duplicated by any other medium. It is true virtual reality, where your consciousness joins another in a deep and inexplicable way, and it is awesome.

After reading these articles, I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates me to buy a book – what is my tipping point?  With so many books out there right now and so many phenomenal writers, what makes me part with my cold hard cash and become the proud owner of a book?

For me it comes down to multiple impressions.  Anyone who has ever worked in marketing knows that Marketing 101 is all about Multiple Impressions.  Hit them with an ad, hit them with a postcard mailing, hit them with a digital watermark.  According to Digimarc, “Repeated user education and use of the technology over time will generate results.”

However, in 2012, when we are all so connected by social media and the vast world of the interweb makes the real world that much smaller, it’s about more than multiple anonymous impressions.  For me to part with my hard-earned dollars, these multiple impressions need to snowball – each impression giving me a stronger picture of the novel and a stronger impression of the person behind the novel.

Let’s look at the most recent book purchase I made – The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

  1. Impression #1 – Several weeks ago I heard Diffenbaugh interviewed on National Public Radio’s  Weekend Edition. This was the first I had heard of Diffenbaugh’s novel.  The passage that Diffenbaugh read during the interview struck me as the type of story and the type of writing that I would enjoy.
  2. Impression #2 – I also loved that Diffenbaugh founded the Camellia Network, whose mission is to activate networks of citizens in every community to provide the critical support young people need to transition from foster care to adulthood. An author with a vested interest in the subject of her book (outside of simply writing a good story) is always fascinating to me.  Her strong feelings about foster care and social issues surrounding those who age out of the system immediately made me love her.
  3. Impression #3 – Then The Langauge of Flowers popped up on three of my friends’ Goodreads accounts as either “To-Be Read” or “Read” with rave reviews.  These are friends whose literary tastes I respect, so I knew I was in for a good read (pardon the pun!)
  4. Impression #4 – Finally, I visited Diffenbaugh’s website and found a link to her Twitter account.  After several weeks of following, I began to see a trend in Diffenbaugh’s tweets.  She seems incredibly gracious – not only supporting other author friends but reaching out to her fans to thank each and every one of them for the feedback they provide after finishing her book.  That sealed the deal for me.  I could wait until the book came to my local library and read it for free, or I could plunk down the $12.99 to support an author who seems like a great writer and a nice person to boot.

Now don’t let this deceive you.  I don’t ONLY read books by authors I virtually know or virtually like.  I was a Literature major – I read everything.  I read because I love to read.  I read because I love good literature and good writing.  I read books by old dead guys.  I read books by authors who are tortured hermits and care nothing about their readers.

But reading books and buying books are two very different things in 2012.  I can wait until the books by the tortured hermit come to my local library and I can read them for free.  If I’m forking over $12.99 (or $24.99 or even $0.99), I want the whole package.  I want a great book.  I also want a book written by a person who cares about the world and cares about his/her readers.  I don’t just want multiple impressions.  I want multiple impressions that wow me.

What about you?  What makes you buy a book?  Jump into the conversation with the poll below or just leave me a comment.


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