Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Half Works, We Just Don't Know Which Half

by Marcus Sakey

Our regularly scheduled broadcast by Sean Chercover will return next time; today he's stuck on the road, so you're stuck with me.

And I'd like to put you to work.

Last week I asked you about Twitter, and whether you thought it was a helpful marketing tool. The results were interesting--and impassioned--and gave me a lot to consider. This time, I'd like to broaden the question.

What makes you buy books?

A softball, I know. Okay, so first of all, let's assume that the most common answer is "knowing I like the author," followed closely by "reviews or word of mouth." For me at least, those are the clearly leading contenders. After that I suspect we have "a great cover, with great reviews / blurbs / flap copy."

The thing is, the first two of those are not under our control as writers. For the third, I'm fortunate to have a publisher who does bad-ass work in that department, and who is open to my thoughts. But that's not actually marketing--it's packaging. It's also wrapped at this point.

My new book is out on August 6th, which means I'm heading into the promotional period. And as I do, I'm wondering where I should spend my time and money. And since people like you are the people I'm trying to reach, I'd really appreciate your thoughts. Should I focus on:
  • Touring?
  • Contests?
  • Facebook advertising?
  • Google advertising?
  • Book trailers?
  • Promotional swag?
  • Book clubs?
  • Blog tours?
  • Literary festivals?
  • A bigger, better web site?
  • Email blasts?
  • Something else? Digital or real world?
If I could ask all of you a favor, could you take one minute, just one, and think of the last thing that made you buy a book you were unfamiliar with? I'd really appreciate it.

As an incentive, I'd be happy to send a signed hardcover of THE AMATEURS to whomever presents the best-reasoned, most compelling suggestion.

36 comments:

abbourgoin said...

So I pretty much buy my books on Amazon strictly because of the convenience factor. I'm not quite sure how their "Vine" program works but that may be something to look into. Basically, they have a select group of people read books prerelease and then have them review them on the website. That way, it gives people a good idea on weather or not they want to preorder it and it also gets the juices flowing for when it is formally released. I will keep my gears turning and try to come up with other ideas as well but I think that would be a great program to try and get into. I look forward to the release Marcus!

beauvallet said...

The last thing that made me buy a book I was unfamiliar with was my indie bookseller handing me a book, saying I think you'll like this.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Usually it's the things you mentioned especiall the NYTBR. But there's another thing: if I pick up the book at a store or a library and feel an affinity with the writing and voice-if it's lucid and compelling and character driven, I am likely to buy/borrow it.
This, of course, is not something you can alter at this stage.

v said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
v said...

I agree with your initial ideas - I usually judge a book by its cover. I don't usually read the blurbs because they are all fluff and I assume that they are paid to make those remarks and probably never even saw a copy of the book they are repping.

If the cover is good, I read the title, if the title is good, I'll open it up and read the dedication and then the first few lines and first page, if it goes well.

Recently though, I have been buying books off of Amazon and of course the 'Look Inside' feature isn't quite as romantic as cracking it and feeling the pages in a local bookstore, but it is cheaper.

One of the last books I bought was "Eeeee Eee Eeee" by Tao Lin. The reason I made that purchase was because Amazon recommended it based on the Miranda July title, "No One Belongs Here More Than You", which I bought because David Sedaris, author of "Me Talk Pretty One Day", recommended it in a book reading, which I think I bought because I heard about it on NPR. Now that this is written down, it is strange for me to think about this long chain that took several years and random connections.

I didn't enjoy "Eeeee Eee Eeee" and wouldn't buy another Tao Lin book, but he still got my dime. For me to buy a book instead of looking for it in the library, they have to offer a full package. I researched his website, found him on twitter, read his wiki, and several articles on Gawker.com before I clicked 'Add to Cart'. He has a very large internet presence that seems to be working for him. I would say that a really strong internet presence is huge for me. If an author's website looks like geocities crap, I'm not going to buy anything from them - my reading time is too short to waste on junk and there are libraries for books like that. I look at the author's bio and their wikipedia - a full sized wiki article means that someone cares about them and finds them interesting - I want to know where they went to school and what they studied (to see if they are credible or a snob). A twitter, a blog, etc, are nice and I may skim them to understand the attitude of the author. The 'Look Inside' feature on Amazon is also very important - I don't understand why some books don't have it. After all this research, only if the first few pages are compelling will I buy it. I think this is probably a typical process for many internet people. Hope this entry wasn't all fluff.

Dana King said...

I guess I'm Patti's league here. The specific things that will get me to try a book is if I have heard somewhere--a blog, review, Crimespace, whatever--that an author has some characteristic I like. That's why in interviews I often ask authors to complete this sentence: If you like _______________, you'll like [author name].

It can be another author ("reads like Elmore Leonard") or a characteristic ("It's a procedural more interested in character and dialog than hi tech.")

Dana King said...

I got so wrapped up in answering the specific quesiton, I forgot to include my peeve. It seems that publishers expect more marketing from their authors all the time. Every new thing that comes out (facebook! No, wait, Twitter!!) becomes imperative. I'd be happy to do a lot of things if a publishers would just show me some empirical evidence of what works. I've not seen any.

(It would also help if some publisher would offer me a contract, but that takes some of the righteous indignation away from the previous statement.

Dana King said...

I got so wrapped up in answering the specific quesiton, I forgot to include my peeve. It seems that publishers expect more marketing from their authors all the time. Every new thing that comes out (facebook! No, wait, Twitter!!) becomes imperative. I'd be happy to do a lot of things if a publishers would just show me some empirical evidence of what works. I've not seen any.

(It would also help if some publisher would offer me a contract, but that takes some of the righteous indignation away from the previous statement.

Marcus Sakey said...

Good feedback so far, keep it coming. Thus far everyone agrees that the best things are the ones I can't control, so the field is wide open for a compelling promotional idea.

Abbourgoin, thanks so much! Hope you enjoy it.

V, one thing you ought to know--blurbs are never paid.

Is there some nepotism, some favors for friends? Sure, definitely. But far less than people think, and none of it for money.

Dana, I hear you, but that also tends to be overhyped. My publisher suggests things for the same reason I look at 'em--we both want to sell books. And for most people, the game has changed. Promotion is part of it.

Of course, as a long-time writer for advertising, I'm comfortable with that whorish side of myself...;)

Kelly said...

I read a lot of book blogs, and if the same book keeps getting good reviews, I tend to snag it. I also read People and Entertainment Weekly's reviews.

Obviously once I like an author, I tend to buy all their new releases. I also tend to review books on my blog and give books as presents. (For example, a lot of my friends got Good People for Christmas or birthday presents and then got a note about your other two books. I'll let them know about The Amateurs, too--in good drug dealer fashion, only the first hit is free.)

Rob said...

I'm one of those rare folks who is actually swayed by blurbs. In fact, I just bought a book from Amazon based on blurbs by other authors I enjoy.

As far as what you can control, I'm a big sucker for meeting authors in person and getting a signed copy of their book. Now, I'm a nerd like that. Not exactly a collector, but someone who gets a kick out of meeting the person behind the story. If I wander into a bookstore or go to a book festival (love these) I might be persuaded to by a book by an unknown author simply because I had the chance to say a few words to him/her and get a signed book.

I remember the first time I attended the LA Times Festival of Books. I nearly got a hernia lugging the bag of books I took home--a number of them from authors I'd never read before.

I guess that's a vote for touring. But I do have to wonder how many new readers you can actually gain that way. You still have to get the people in the door. And unless you're crazy Joe Konrath and visit one million stores in three months, the amount of new people one author can meet is a real physical limitation.

How's that for a non-answer? ;)

Michael Dymmoch said...

The last book I bought author unknown was Dream House by Valerie Laken, which happened to be near a book I went into the store to get. What made me pick Dream House up was the cover art--not a Century 21 model. What made me buy the book was that the first paragraph made me see a house and grasp implications of great trouble from a deceptively simple description.

I haven't read the book yet, so I can't say if the rest lives up to that paragraph's promise, but I parted with $24.95 + tax to find out.

Doug Riddle said...

Great question Marcus. First for me is do I know the author, have I read other books by him. This works for and against the author depending on what the last reading experience was. Second, it is more the title more then the cover, and then the flap copy. To me the flap copy is probably the biggest factor, since if it got my interest.....cool plot idea, interesting sounding characters, etc.....I then skim the first couple pages. Third, is reviews and blogs. Basicall all I want from them is the same thing I want from the flap copy....give me an idea of what the story is and who the characters are. To me a reviewer can hurt a book more often then help it in regards to a sale. Again, if they have done their job, I will seek the book out and skim the first couple pages.

Now the skimming of the first couple pages is where the author actually gets to make their pitch and the sale is determined. Does the author live up to the promise of the flap copy....sadly this is not always the case....does the author have a readable style that I went to spend the next couple days with.

So those are the things that make me buy or pass on a book

Naomi said...

I choose quite a few books based on title, cover material and a quick look-through in a bookstore or library. As mentioned by M.D., I will go in for one thing and pick up another on impulse. I don't think it hurts at all to get a prominent placement.

I've noticed lately that the B&N near me is tinkering a lot with display of new books. Mystery used to have one bay for new books; now (within like a month) it has two or three. I am sure most decisions about which go where are made from on high at the corporate level in those big-box stores. I wonder, do store managers have some leeway as to displaying local authors etc.?

pattimccoyjacob said...

Every now and then, I will buy a book after I've seen the movie version of it, obviously only if I loved the movie. Books are always better than the movies, so if I the movie was great, the book is a safe bet.

Mostly, though, I go by the advice of book critics I respect. The only way I grow to respect them is if their opinions are unbiased. Critics who consistently give good reviews simply because they are either friends with the authors or WANT to be friends with the authors are eventually exposed for being phonies. They end up continuously recommending books that had no business being published in the first place, and only were because the authors were well-known. Might get these critics invited to a party or two if they give the thumb's up. Thing is, even the best authors put out sucky novels at times, but when a critic who is into ass-kissing still applauds those novels, I'm done listening to him. Or to her. And like a bestselling author, reputable critics are also going to mess up a review every now and then. They're human. But if, by and large, they are consistently right on with their critiques, regardless of their relationship or desired relationship with the authors, then I'm all theirs.

pattimccoyjacob said...

Oh, so I guess I forgot to give my suggestion after telling you what gets me to buy an unfamiliar book.

My suggestion is to send an ARC to a book critic whose opinions people listen to because he/she has earned their respect by giving consistently unbiased critiques.

Like, say, David Montgomery. :)

Patti

Lori A. May said...

I have to vote for the personal connection, in whatever form that comes. It’s hard to be personal when you can only be in one location at a time, but I do like to visit as many author readings, signings, appearances as possible. That may be at bookstores, festivals, galleries, or what have you, but if I take the time to go see an author unknown to me, chances are I am buying the book(s). In fact, I think that’s what drives an audience to an appearance in the first place. If a reader hasn’t heard of Joe Author, but Joe’s in town at the library/bookstore/art gallery, there’s incentive enough to get outside, meet a new author, hear some new words, and make that personal connection.

I realize that time and time again we hear how few people show up to appearances and how they can be a drain on time and finances. But word of mouth, hand to handshaking, and being physically confronted (in a nice way) tends to sell books, in my opinion. Even if only ten people show up at the mom & pop bookstore on a Tuesday night, that’s ten people who have family, friends, and co-workers. Chances are they’ll strike up a conversation with someone, somewhere about some new author they had the pleasure of meeting.

I think having an updated website, e-newsletter (Laura has a great one), and promotional gains like book contests is a sure winner. But being able to stand face-to-face, author-to-reader, has my vote hands down.

Bethany K. Warner said...

Quite frankly, I can't think of the last book I bought that I was unfamiliar with. I read so much that I can't afford my own habit.

The more familiarity I have with a book (hearing good reviews, other readers talk about, seeing it all over at the library and bookstores), the more likely I am to eventually pick it up.

The last book I picked up from the library stacks totally by chance attracted me because of cover art and the skim test -- it had short chapters and an interesting POV so I decided to read it. And it was good.

So, I think the answer to the question is do make more people familiar with an unfamiliar book. I think blog campaigns and face-to-face is the way to go because the people that get hooked there will become the ambassadors for you, carrying on the work of making the book familiar to more people.

And freebies don't hurt.

Sean Chercover said...

I think you should tour, and arrive at each of your signings without pants. When anyone mentions it, shout, "No pants!"

This will generate buzz.

Larry said...

If I buy a book by an author I've never read it is usually because of the authors writing the blurbs. It doesn't really matter what the blurb says because they always say the book is exciting and you should buy it. In my mind the authors would not put their names on the blurbs unless they felt strongly about the book or the author. If I see a list of blurbs from author I enjoy, that's enough for me.

RaB said...

I haven't pondered a lot of the options you lay out for self-marketing. I can say that I almost always notice the ads on Facebook, and in a few cases have looked into the product a little more. I use the "weRead" application on there and frequently add items to my "would like to read" or wish lists. I also read lists of books from indie books stores on there, mainly W&CF, and I haven't noticed if that causes specific ads to pop up. I'd give it a try!

New book sounds good!

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