Thursday, July 15, 2010

What drives us to buy books?

by Jessica

Last week I discovered that many of you who responded to my post about blurbs don’t actually place much stock in them, so now I’m offering up another of publishing’s sacred cows to see whether (and how) it’s barbequed. I’m curious about the publicity or promotion that is most likely to convince you to buy a book. NYT Book Review, appearance on The Daily Show, Oprah segment, Salon, Slate? Although I ought not play favorites, the book publicity to which I most respond has to be the NPR interview, in particular, Fresh Air’s long form, in depth, almost-always-memorable conversation with an author. Somehow, even more than a lengthy review, this format—which is capacious enough to allow a writer not only to discuss her thesis, but explore her ideas in detail—succeeds in piquing my interest.

I listen when I can, and download the podcast for times that I can’t tune in. This past Tuesday’s interview was with psychiatrist and author Daniel Carlat, whose new book Unhinged, The Trouble with Psychiatry, has just been added to my to-read list. My fondness for NPR in general and Fresh Air in particular may border on the unhealthy, but mine is a functional addiction, and enables me to participate willingly in any number of otherwise tedious chores/activities: running on a treadmill, folding laundry, doing dishes, even, on occasion, cooking. My husband refers to NPR as “the drone” and teases me mercilessly regarding its dangerous propensity for inducing catatonia, but as far as books are concerned, and sometimes music, I find NPR tremendously convincing.

What sort of promotion/interview/feature captures your attention?

15 comments:

  1. The past two books I bought have been from recommendations of people I don't know. I bought The Knife of Never Letting Go a couple weeks ago because a New Yorker article said it was better than The Hunger Games. Usually I love dystopian YA, but I still haven't read it.

    The second one (The Year of Secret Assignments) I bought because someone I follow on Youtube said it was her favorite book. I read that one right away, even though that is not the type of book I'm typically interested in. Apparently I really trusted this Youtube person to give me a good book recommendation. (Small aside: it was awesome. I have now forced all of my friends to get it.)

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  2. The most respected author, in my book, is the one who takes time to connect with his/her readers. I'll be more likely to read (even buy!) their books, and I'll take their endorsements very seriously.

    The best promotion is actively interacting with fans and treating them well. :)

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  3. I would have to say:

    1) Friends
    2) NYT
    3) NPR
    4) Blogs I read
    5) Books of friends who are writers
    6) New books by authors I've read and liked
    7) Recs from friends on Facebook
    8) My book club
    9) Literary prizes
    10) Books by short story authors I like (e.g., New Yorker)

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  4. I read about 200 books per year, and don't read the NYT or watch Opera or the Today Show. And I actually find the blurbs on the back of books really annoying, I don't care if someone from the Chicago Times liked the book, I just want a three paragraph synopsis so I can decided if I think I'll like it.

    So how do I pick which books to read? Word of mouth from people I know is definitely #1.

    Second is probably the Amazon feature when they say "People who bought this book also bought these other books." I am a kindle reader, and do find a lot of good books via that service.

    Third is probably co-op space in bookstores. If there is a book I've heard of from a friend or is by an author I like and it has a big display, I'm more likely to get it than if I have to hunt for it.

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  5. * books by authors I know
    * suggestions from friends
    * going through the new releases of publishers I like and looking for new books

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  6. Hate to admit how low-brow I am, but #1 is friend referral, and after that is visibility within the bookstore or on Amazon, whether that means the front table display or Amazon suggestions. After that - the cover art. Ridiculous but true. I buy books with pretty covers.

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  7. Mainly, I listen to the literary critics, and a few critics in particular. And I also keep track of literary prizes. And I browse a lot.

    I think I'm a minority, however. It's a real shame that the idea of a cultural authority has become so debased in our society.

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  8. lol, I was going to post then saw that Jenn Marie beat me to it... For me:

    #1 books by authors I've read & liked
    #2 suggestions from friends or bloggers
    #3 covers that grab the eye, and then, FIT THE STORY. It's a bit disconcerting to pick up a book based on the cover, read the blurb, then realize that the cover & blurb don't quite mesh

    I don't listen to literary critics, neither do I know what book won which awards. I don't listen to npr (though I do wish I did) or read the NYT. And I ignore all best-seller lists, almost religiously. I guess I'm still trying to rebel against the status-quo...

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  9. Jessica, I will join you in your Fresh Air support group. I listen to podcasts to get through all those tedious chores you mention, and I especially like the author interviews. A couple other shows you might enjoy are Bookworm from KCRW and Book Lust with librarian Nancy Pearl.

    Several times I've had the experience of hearing or reading a review of a book, or maybe a brief interview, and thinking, "Yeah, that sounds kind of interesting, but not enough to add to my list." Then a week later I'll hear one of these longer interviews and be dying to run out and buy the book. So for me, this kind of author promotion is what hooks me.

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  10. None of those things drive me to buy a book: not a blurb, a literary prize, a best seller list, etc., and I say noprah to oprah! More often than not a recommendation is disappointing, latest case in point, The Shack.

    If I read a review and the story sounds interesting, I'll go to a bookstore or online looking for that book, but I want to read the first page.

    Otherwise, what works for me, besides buying a new book by an author that I love, is browsing a bookstore and picking up a book that catches my eye because of the cover or the title. Of course that's not enough. I'll read the back cover or jacket and if that has my interest I'll read the first page. It's that first page that becomes important because if I don't like the writing style, or I'm not hooked, to want to go on to the next page, back down it goes. If I am, most likely I'll end up buying the book.

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  11. Beyond browsing or recommendations from friends, I rely on interviews (usually on agent blogs but mostly on genre sites) and book reviews (to which I am usually linked, or of which I find excerpts on Amazon). I rarely seek out reviews in their source publications; it's almost always looking at Amazon or the cover/first few pages of a book, if reviews are printed there. I know, that must seem strange since I don't care about blurbs, but I trust the book reviewer's authority more than another author's most of the time. (Author blurbs can be a little overwrought, and I know some authors are paid to write blurbs, so I don't know how much to put stock in many of them.)

    And of course, I often read books by authors whose other work I've enjoyed. I think that's a given.

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  12. Browsing in a bookstore overwhelms me (and the books on display I've normally either read or heard about), I don't watch Oprah (or much TV) or read the NY Times or listen to NPR, and I never read the blurb on the back of a book. When I crack open a book, I want to be surprised. 95% of the books I hear about on goodreads, from friends in real life, or see the buzz on publishing/author websites (and even then, I check them out on goodreads). I do pay attention to awards and best seller lists (and the reader's choice display in the library), but it's not usually where I hear about a book. I rarely buy books (blasphemy, I know). I read so much that I check them out from the library (at least I make a lot of recommendations for purchase to the library) and if I love them enough that I would read them again (rarely) or at least want to share them with friends, then I buy the book. I guess my number one source is word of mouth and I try to pass that along. I'm very conscious of the types of books my friends read and am constantly recommending books to them that fall into their genres of choice.

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  13. Interviews, definitely--Fresh Air, in particular. I rarely walk into a bookstore without finding something new to buy. (Those tables at the front all have my name on them and if I find an independent bookstore in a place I'm visiting I never get out for under $100.) I also look for recommendations for sites like Powell's and read the New York Times Book Review, buying maybe 10-12 books based on NYT reviews and those from other publications.

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  14. 1 - recs from friends (RL or goodreads)
    2 - authors whose books I've consistently liked
    3 - summary

    2 and 3 are interchangeable; 2 is more of a guide when I'm looking for books, and 3 tends to be a little more valuable when I'm debating whether or not to purchase a particular book.

    Also, sometimes if I'm waffling I'll go read customer reviews (goodreads, amazon, bn primarily).

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  15. For me, it's all about my past experience with the author. If I enjoyed his or her first novel, I tend to become a fan. But for new discoveries, I listen to reviews and friends.

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