Thinking like a reader Part One: why I buy what I buy

This is Part One in a three-part series about what motivates THIS reader to buy books. This is only one person’s opinion –mine – and it’s possible I’m very weird and nothing I say applies to anyone else. That said, Part One covers what makes me buy a particular book. Part Two on Wednesday will discuss what author promotional activities don’t work on me, and on Friday in Part Three I’ll reveal promotions DO catch my attention.

Before I ever became an author, I was (and still am) a voracious reader. Because I write erotic romance, I read primarily erotic romance. The books I’ve read this year are listed in the upper tab called ‘Reading List.’

Buying a book is a three-step process for me. First, I must become aware that a particular book exists. Second, I must be enticed to take a closer look at the book. Third, I make the decision to buy the book.

The elements that get my attention and factor into my decision-making are:

Title. The number one, top-of-list item that stops me and makes me take a closer look is the title. The title of a book is critical, critical, critical, critical. Did I mention how critical it is? A title must not only be accurate and descriptive of what’s in the pages, but it must have a hook — it must be intriguing, there must be some mystery to it. A title can be perfectly descriptive, but boring and bland. Or it can have a hell of a hook, but mislead as to what the book is about. Certain words always will catch my attention. I’ve blogged about that before. A title should also hint to the genre or the subgenre.

Blurb. Once the title has hooked me, the blurb starts to reel me in. I make my decision if I want to read more of the story based on the blurb. I’ve seen a lot of books on Amazon in which the blurb did not give me enough information for me to determine if I wanted to read the book. If there are good reader reviews, I’ll decide from that. But if it’s a new release, there are no reviews yet and the blurb is blah or nonexistent – you lost me. If the blurb hooks me, then I read a sample.

Kindle Samples. Since I got my Kindle, 99.99 % of the books I buy are ebooks and I almost never buy a book without reading the free sample/excerpt first. Of the books I sample, I’d estimate I buy 50 percent. Occasionally, I’ve downloaded a sample that does not offer an excerpt. The sample ends after the title page and acknowledgement. Bad. Very bad. I delete the sample from my Kindle, cross the book off my TBR list, and forget it ever existed. Out of hundreds of books, I’ve only made one exception and purchased the book after getting a “bad” sample. And then it was only because I knew of the author and the book was inexpensive. Authors have no control over how much of an excerpt their publishers choose to release, but this is a word of caution for indie authors. Even when I ultimately buy a book from another source, I still get the sample from Amazon for Kindle.

Price. The less expensive your book is, the more likely I will try it. A 99 cent book is almost a sure thing – provided I like your blurb and sample. Under $5, it’s a probably. Inch close to $10 and you’d better be one of my favorite authors. Again, authors don’t set the price of their books, unless if they’re self-published.

Familiarity with the author. Once an author becomes one of my favorites and I know what to expect, I bend these rules all the time.

Cover. “Everybody” says covers sell books. If I were browsing in a bookstore, yes, an attractive appealing cover would grab my attention. But here’s my confession: I haven’t been in bookstore in years. Even before I started buying ebooks, I bought the vast majority of my books online. So it’s the title that catches my attention and the cover is merely a screening device. The cover, in conjunction with the title, gives me an idea of the subgenre and the heat level (since I read primarily erotic romance). For instance, I don’t usually read sci fi romance so a book with an intriguing title but a space ship on the cover would be screened from my list.

I’ll close today’s blog with a comment about a recent book I finished. It was a paranormal romance with a very classic, compelling story line that turned out to be one of the most romantic vampire stories I’ve read in a long time. But if it hadn’t been called to my attention by an author I know, I would have never noticed it if it was right in front of me. The title, while descriptive, was bland and not particularly intriguing, and the cover, while attractive, gave no indication that story was a paranormal about vampires. I only took a second look because the other author had pointed it out. Once I read the blurb, I knew immediately I wanted to read the book. But I still downloaded the sample first. Had I run across it on my own, it wouldn’t have made a blip on my radar screen.

Part Two on Wednesday: Save your money. Promotions that don’t work on me.

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12 Responses to Thinking like a reader Part One: why I buy what I buy

  1. Cara,

    Tons of great points in this blog post. I always wonder if I title my books well, but I love my titles and hope my readers do too. I can’t wait to read Wednesday and Friday’s posts! Be sure you Tweet the blog links so forgetful people like me can see it!


    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Cassandra. So many of these things are outside of an author’s control, but where we have input, we should consider them carefully. And for indie authors, it can make a big difference.

  2. You missed out reviews, Cara. I do like to see thoughtful (but short) comments that are not from the author’s daughter (guilty as charged, Your Honour).

  3. Alix says:

    Great post. I’m looking forward to the next two installments, I think your incredibly right about thinking like a reader, which of course we all are!

  4. Ranae Rose says:

    This is a great post. I’m a voracious reader and I make buying decisions much like you do. The blurb is super-important and I absolutely love the Kindle sample feature. I have to admit though, I’m really drawn to cool covers! I’ll almost always look into a book if the cover is awesome.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It would be interesting to see the choices one would make if one just had the covers and no words/titles from which to choose.

  5. Looking forward to the next two parts of this. Especially interested in your comments on the cover. I agree that, in the act of choosing which ebooks to purchase, cover matters little. However, a striking cover that I happen to see as a promotion might stick in my mind later when I’m shopping.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Yes, if you’re shopping, covers matter. And they matter on author web sites and blogs. In fact, my advice to any writer looking for a publisher is to check out the covers of the books they publish. Go with a publisher that does good covers.

  6. Sharita Lira says:

    Excellent blog Cara, I look forward to the next 2 as well!


  7. Great post. I agree about the title and also about recommendations. Most of the books I read are recs from friends whose tastes follow mine. Samples are also a big deal for me. If a sample bores me so much that I struggle to finish it, I know that the book is likely to do the same.

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