Tara Sparling recently wrote a couple of blog posts about  self-publishing; namely, What makes people buy self-published books, and What Puts Readers Off Self-Published Books. I loved them both, and confess to a tiny bit of envy at her excellent material.  However, being the gracious author and blogger that I am, I will share Tara’s findings with you and urge you to visit her blog, which is filled with interesting posts, beautifully written.

Tara interviewed readers and writers regarding what makes them buy a self-published book, thus giving us invaluable insight into how to better market and promote ourselves.

Graph by Tara Sparling

Heavenly graph by Tara Sparling

  • cover, blurb and sample: I will not go into the known cliché, since we DO judge a book by its cover. From my day job as web developer / web promoter, I know for example that certain colours work better than others (blues, oranges) and that people like seeing faces in ads, for instance.  The sample is a good way for a to-be reader to see the writing style of the author; it’s also an easy method to detect if there are any spelling or other off-putting mistakes, hence revealing the author as a rookie, whose writing is still unpolished.
  • interesting point: reviews matter, but not as we expect them. Negative reviews are what prospective readers want to read.  They want to see what annoyed people or what was wrong and made them give it a one or two stars.  I can identify with this point.  Be it for hotels on Tripadvisor or reviews of a car, I want to read what’s wrong with it.  A hotel might be perfect for some, but I want to see what irritated others.  A car can be very sexy, but I want to read about what exasperated a professional driver.  Same goes for a book:  unless a negative review is completely off and written out of spite from someone who has a grudge against you (aka a troll), you should study what people didn’t like about your book and see whether their points make sense.
  • platform works –if in an unexpected way: readers might hear of a book. Then, they will check out the author and see his/her presence on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and how he/she presents him/her self.  People like to feel a connection with the author, therefore being engaging on Twitter will work much better than bombarding people with ads to buy your book.  A point that I have already realized: Facebook doesn’t work if you want to introduce a new book of yours to readers.  Prospective readers will go into Facebook once they already know the author –which obviously misses the point of introducing a new book on Facebook alone.  As I have said in the past, Facebook has not really worked for me, but it’s a good way to discuss and share book-oriented info (and a few funny cat pictures and dog videos). Also, it means that “buy my book” ads won’t work, but “free book” ones may do much better.
  • genre: people know what they like and they generally stick with it. Preaching to your choir is a good way to sell your book.  I have found that out the hard way: doing promotions on non-fantasy oriented blogs and book-reading clubs simply brought no results.  People who like historic or romantic novels will probably not take a look at my book.  Advertising to them simply means spending money on the wrong type of audience (think of advertising Pampers to an under-20 clientele, pretty much misses the point.).  So, learn who your readers are and focus on them. If in the process you sell to a few other readers that are not part of your standard audience, it’s bonus points for you (or cookie points, as my wife calls them!)
  • recommended: potential readers will read your book if it has been recommended to them (either by friends or, for instance, by Amazon through its recommended list of books based on your preferences and wish list). Again, this means that going up on Amazon’s list is good because you will eventually climb up to reach the coveted ‘recommended’ status.  A cousin of mine –who had already read my book- called me one day and said that she was browsing through Amazon and my book was recommended to her, based on her wish list.  Needless to say, I was thrilled!  Also, selling books (or giving them away during give away promotional days) means that some of the people who read them will hopefully recommend them to friends and relatives.
  • price: Tara’s findings are divided in 2 categories: people that will not buy a book over a price or who have a specific price range within which they want to stay; and people that will not buy a book below a price. The second category thinks that books that are too cheap are bound to disappoint them (I guess in terms of mistakes, lack of editing, lack of plot or generally work that seems amateur rather than professional).  The first category has set a price and will buy even out of impulse books that are within that range.  A few years ago, I had a conversation (which had absolutely nothing to do with books, by the way) regarding wine with a friend, who is a food engineer.  He said that there is no real point in buying wine that is extremely expensive, because wine is basically wine.  At the same time, he would not shop below a certain price either –considering cheap wines unpalatable.  I guess that many people think the same way when it comes to books.

Thank you, Tara, for the fascinating insight!