Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why We Read What We Read

My new novel is has been released. I’ve been spending the past few weeks, and will spend the next several weeks, trying to get the word out. I’ll be doing as many personal appearances as I can arrange and as I think will be useful. But my first post-publication in-the-flesh appearance won’t be until next week. Until then, I’ve been spending hours a day in front of the computer setting things up - workshops, signings, guest blogs, etc.

Just kill me now.

If there is anything more boring than shilling over the internet hour after hour after hour I don’t know what it is. After a while I’d be happier cleaning the toilets. At least I’d know for sure that I have accomplished something tangible and immediate.

The common wisdom among authors seems to be that publishing and publicizing through electronic media is fast becoming the way to go, and we’d all better jump on board the bandwagon or be left in the dust. Yet I have a strange, niggling feeling that this is not necessarily the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In her Jan. 3 entry, Vicki noted that many of her friends do not read blogs by or about writers or read online reviews of books. They get information about new books either through the printed newspaper they read or from the What’s New shelf at the library or by talking to friends.

When I read that, I said to myself, “Donis, this strikes a chord.” I consider my own habits. How do I decide what books to read? First, if I know and like the author, I’ll almost always give her books a try. Second, I am an inveterate browser. I’ve discovered innumerable titles that I’ve loved simply by browsing bookshelves both in bookstores and in libraries. I am more prone to read a book by an author I don’t know if I see it in the library. Third, I’m very much influenced by the recommendations of friends, especially friends whose taste I know is similar to mine. The only internet sites that influence my buying and reading habits tend to be a couple of review sites that I like, such as Lesa’s Book Critiques. If I read a book I like by an author who is new to me, I’ll look up his website, read about him, and see what else he’s written.

I have never bought a book online. If I’m going to buy a book, I order it from one of my local independent book stores if they don't have it in stock. This is not to say that I wouldn’t buy a book from, say, Amazon, if I was desperate to read it and absolutely couldn’t find it anywhere else. Obviously I don’t own a Kindle or other electronic reading device. I’m not at all against them, and probably will have one some day, for it seems to me that they might be very good for travel. But if given a choice, I’d rather have a physical book to read. When I’m done with a book, I can either return it to the library or resell it or give it to the local nursing home.
“You are hopelessly uncool and out of date, Donis,” you may say. “and will very soon be left far behind as all readers flock to the digital world.”

Aha! I’ve got you there.

It seems that Sisters in Crime has recently issued a major research report entitled “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age.” The publishing industry data in this survey was gathered and interpreted by the book sales analysis division of Bowker, which division provides business intelligence to publishers, retailers and authors. The purpose of the survey is to provide an up-to-date picture of the reading and purchasing habits of mystery readers in the U.S. What the data shows is that things have not yet changed as much as we may imagine.
What is the number one factor that the reader considers when she buys a mystery novel? According to the survey it is that she knows and likes the author. Second is that the book is part of a series she enjoys. Third, the reader saw the book on an in-store display. Next is that the reader got the book through a book-buying club (this surprised me), and then the recommendation of a friend or relative.

Other revelations:

The cover of the book is very influential in persuading a reader to consider it.

Most mysteries are bought by women older than 45 (though a third of them are purchased by women 18-44. That’s not to be sneezed at.), and more are bought by women in the South, closely followed by the West, than in other parts of the country. More mysteries are bought through stores than online, and personal recommendations “are the major driver of reading choices.” Even younger mystery readers, who are more familiar with e-readers and use them more than older readers, say they prefer to read physical books.

So this old mystery-reading Southern woman isn’t as out of step as one might think.
If such a marketing survey were taken for thrillers or science fiction or romance, the results might be very different. It seems to me that what we as authors should learn from this is to know our audience and create our marketing strategies to suit. Which means that somehow I’ve got to figure out more personal ways to get that word-of-mouth going, because if anybody ever wrote a series made to appeal to other mature (let us say). mystery-loving. women of the heartland, it is I.

What influences you to read a book, and in what form do you prefer to read it?


Lesa said...

Hi Donis,

I have the best of all worlds - the chance to meet new authors at Poisoned Pen and the library, to discover their books from reviews or browsing, and I do read reviews and DorothyL. But, yesterday my sister recommended a book I wouldn't have picked up, so I borrowed it from the library. And, my entire extended family from my mom & sisters to aunts and cousins read my blog and pick up books from there. (And I have a BIG family. I even have a book column in the family newsletter.) But, darn that SinC survey is right. If I'm browsing, and it's an attractive cover, I'll pick it up. If not, I'll never look at it. And, I'm 53. So, probably first - friend's recommendation, book reviews & browsing - attractive book cover. But, I read authors I know before ones I don't. Great post! And, thank you for reading Lesa's Book Critiques!

Hannah Dennison said...

I haven't had a moment to read the SinC report yet so I love that you summed it up so brilliantly! I mostly read books by recommendation. The late--and greatly missed - David Thompson was wonderful at suggesting authors I'd never tried. It's hard to keep up with the volume of releases though! I'm also slowly reading through the top 100 mysteries of all time. I could read all day long and be happy as a clam if I didn't a) have a job and b) write myself!
Great post, Donis!

Donis Casey said...

Lesa, your column is my go-to place for discovering new books I want to read. And Hannah, I sometimes think I can read or I can write, but one or the other suffers if I try doing both at the same time.

Vicki Delany said...

I'm pretty much in the demographic here. First reason I choose a book is if it's by an author I like. Second might be book reviews in the newspaper. I also like Lesa's blog, but there are a lot of review blogs out there that seem to have rather strange tastes. I browse bookstores and the number one reason I'd buy a book just off the shelf is that the cover or title indicates that it's my type of book. Then if the blurb matches the imact of the cover. I've had people at booksignings read the first page or read a page at random to decide. I walk right past the front display in chain stores to the racks at the back, but that's only because I know that front space is paid for advertising. Therefore meaningless. For that reason I will never buy a "Heather's Pick" book (if you're Canadian you know what that means) unless I already know the author.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I tend to read by authors. If I have read something by someone and liked it I'd be likely to read another. I also get books on tape and if I don't like it no harm no fowl. I also as friends what they are reading. I have found some books simply by taking them off the shelf in the library and they sounded interesting. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I really don't have a method.

Cyndi said...

I'll always look at a new book from an author I've read and liked. I read the reviews on DorothyL and if the description intrigues me, I'll check it out whether or not the review was a good one. I do buy books from Amazon, so sometimes I'll look at their recommendations. I have a two-page list of books to get, so I am rarely browsing aimlessly, but in a bookstore I will sometimes look at a title that catches my eye. I keep meaning to look at more blogs and sites, but I'm already too good at wasting time on the PC.

Donis Casey said...

That's my problem, Cyndi. Once I get online, I'm pretty much done for the day. That's why I sometimes don't even check my email until eveing.