People judge a book by its cover. However, as every author knows, that’s not the only thing that makes them buy a book. Tucker Max recently explained in The Writing Cooperative what else influences their decision in a post we should all bookmark. As he points out,
Almost every potential reader will judge whether or not to buy and read your book before they have read one single word inside the book.
He then continues to explore the unconscious process of choosing whether to buy a book or not, breaking it down into a handy list, listed in order of what readers will consider, from first to last:
- The title of the book
- The recommending source
- The book cover
- The book description
- Editorial reviews
- Customer reviews
- The author bio and picture (depending on where the picture is placed)
- The length of the book
- The book text itself (the “see inside” function online)
- The price
What’s the key takeaway from this list? That the price only features last in it! So, let’s expand a bit on this:
The title of the book
Most people think the cover is the first thing someone judges. That’s only true if they’re browsing a physical bookstore, which is rarely the case anymore. Most books are now discovered either by in-person word of mouth or online, and in both cases, what is the first piece of information they receive? The title.
Let’s be clear: A good title won’t make your book do well. But a bad title will almost certainly prevent it from doing well. So many potential readers stop considering buying the book once they have heard the title, and nothing else.
The recommending source
If Marc Andreessen or Bill Gates recommends a book, then thousands of eager readers of theirs rush out to buy it. But if a discredited drunk with no followers on Twitter recommends it, no one buys it. This is because the credibility of the source is a hugely important piece of the recommendation puzzle. In fact, in most cases, people will transfer the credibility of the recommender onto the book.
The book cover
If the reader is still interested after hearing the title and taking the referring source into account, they will now go to Amazon, or to a bookstore, and look at the cover. They make more judgments about its relevance and their interest based on this information. The most important thing at this point is that the reader is not repelled. Most people are looking for reasons to NOT buy the book, and you have to not give them any so far.
The book description
At this point, if the cover hasn’t repelled the reader, they will look next to the book description on the Amazon page (or flip over to the back of the book in a book store). This is the book description, and it should give a good idea of what the book is about, while making it interesting and not giving everything away.
If the reader is still interested, they will now look at endorsements (sometimes for a physical book, they will do this prior to reading the book description). Note that most readers look more closely at who they are from rather than what they say. They assume that the blurbs will be positive, so they want to see what level of social status its author is, and whether it’s someone they know and respect.
If the reader is on Amazon (or B&N.com or GoodReads, etc, but not in a bookstore), they now read the customer reviews. They will usually first note the number of total reviews–as a gauge of popularity–and then look at the average rating, and then possibly browse the content of the reviews. If they do, they normally read (more likely scan) one or two of them. And if they are like most people, they skip the positive ones and read a negative one first, before going back to a positive one (if they even do that).
The author bio and picture (depending on where the picture is placed)
Sometimes, but not always, people will look at the author bio. This is usually in situations where they have not quite made up their mind, are hesitant to buy the book, and need more information. Looking at the author page is about understanding the credibility and relative status of the author.
There are cases where this is one of the first things the reader looks at (when they’ve never heard of the author). Some people immediately want to know about the author.
At this point, the vast majority of people have made their decision. Note that this is before they interact with anything inside the book. They have yet to read one single page, and they’ve already decided whether or not to buy the book.
The length of the book
This is one of those things that seems to be generational or divided by socioeconomic status. Some people, generally voracious readers, never even think to check a book’s length. Other people always do. They don’t want to commit to a 300+ page book.
There’s not much you can do here–your book is the length it is–but books that are between 100 and 200 pages sell the best and are read the most.
The book text itself (the “see inside” function online)
There are some people who actually use the “Look Inside” function on Amazon to check out the first few pages and engage the content of the book itself. If they’re in a bookstore, they flip the book open and read some of the inside. They might even do more research to find more articles online about the book.
These are the informed buyers, but they are a distinct minority. Probably less than 10% of your buyers do the thing that everyone says they want to do: judge a book by the content inside, and not the cover.
Some people will look at the price. For some reason, it appears that people are far more price conscious for ebooks than they are for physical books, because of value perception. And free books or books on offer always have a head start here.
However, the simple fact is that price for many people is not the deciding factor, even if it is the reason why they went to check out the book in the first place.
You can check out the full post on The Writing Cooperative.
See, for me it’s title-cover-length/description (almost tied for third place.) I don’t like buying short books, if I like them then the enjoyment finishes too quickly, and if I end up not liking the book, then I will be sorry I bought it in any case, whatever its length. If I’m on the fence about buying a book, or trying to decide between two books at the bookstore, it very often comes down to which one is longer.
Thank you for that, Anna! I always love reading a reader’s perspective 🙂
I’ve read different opinions about this, based on different research I suppose.
As a reader, I do recognise myself in many of these research, maybe because the way we choose books is changing and shifting so fast.
We’re living in such uncertain times…
You’re not just talking about books, are you? 😉
Thanks for sharing this valuable information
Thanks! I hope you find it useful 🙂
Interesting and very thought-provoking. I’m curious to know the criteria of how Tucker Max came to these conclusions. He says “Based on loads of empirical research and decades of experience in the book business.” A little vague here for me. He doesn’t specify fiction or nonfiction, which I think probably is important. There have been surveys on this and many name that knowing the author as the first thing, and the Look Inside feature at the top part of the list. How does he know that buyers look at the See Inside feature and view the price last? I view the See Inside feature and price right after I read the blurb, so it’s third for me. I don’t mean to be contrary, but without naming the “empirical research” values, how can we know what he’s claiming to be true? Did he do a survey of readers or examination of Amazon statistics?
All great points! It sounds like his gut had a lot to do with the prioritization. Which is not to say he’s wrong, of course, just that the list has to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Yes, I figured. And I’ve seen “empirical research” used to make claims before, but they usually have support to make the claims credible like they reviewed surveys or did a questionnaire from clients, etc. and cite the authorities. Making all these claims from exploring the ‘unconscious mind of the buyer’ is taking quite a leap. Max makes specific claims like buyers “read the negative reviews first” and “less than 10% of your buyers … judge a book by the content inside, and not the cover.” 10% is very small so how could he claim that value without knowing it from a legitimate source? I’m just raising questions here on if he’s guessing on all this or if there’s accuracy behind it.
Interesting! I know word of mouth is really important so a good pitch line (or whatever it’s called) really helps. As a reader, the cover art actually is more important to me than the title. Secondly, it’s the blurb, then the first few pages. But the price is the deciding factor. I won’t buy a book unless I’ve heard from a trustworthy source that it’s good.
I know what you mean!
Your article is spot on. I was interested in seeing in what order readers make their choice.
Thank you, Kelly 😀
Bookmarking this one.
Yay! Glad you found it useful 🙂
Thank you for sharing what prompts readers to buy a book. All of the factors above influence me to buy a book. The cost of an e-book sometimes makes me hesitate to buy it, particularly if it is above $4.99. If it is a best seller that I want, I’ll buy the printed version which seems a better deal.
$4.99 is the cutoff point for me, too, unless it comes highly recommended indeed! Having said that, most of my buys are for $2.99 or less.
Such valuable information. I am so surprised that price is the last thing they use as criteria to buy or not.
I was shocked about that one myself. I suspect it’s not always the case (people love a bargain) but I guess it makes sense, all other things being equal.
That works for a certain type of discovery: word-of-mouth.
Discovery in Amazon search results, also boughts, inline advertising, and such can put – for example – cover in first place instead of title.
However, the underlying rule holds for them all (apart from perhaps recommender): readers are much more likely to be put off by something that doesn’t suit than drawn in by something that is.
Very true. I see that with me all the time. I have so little free time for reading I don’t want to spend a second of it reading something I don’t enjoy…
Fascinating. I had no idea that the author’s bio was of such interest. Hmm. And I rarely look at editorial reviews. Two areas to revisit. Thanks for sharing, Nicholas.
A pleasure! Looks like, no matter how well we think we’ve done with our book page, there’s always room for improvement!
I would cite ‘favourite authors’ as my first choice when it comes to buying a new book. If I have really enjoyed the work of someone previously, I am much more inclined to buy their new book without other considerations applying.
I am still influenced by cover art, even electronically, and would be unlikely to buy a book (even at 99 p) if it had an awful cover. Where this is concerned, the ‘Cozy Mysteries’ come to mind.
Price is indeed a factor, especially as I still have a preference for hardback copies. That’s why I tend to buy used books, in good condition.
Best wishes, Pete.
Thank you for sharing your preferences, Pete! Back in Edinburgh, we used to buy used books from bookstores for a few pennies each. Loved that 🙂
When I look for books to read I: search under book categories (paranormal romance, business, etc.), the book cover and title at the same time, read a sample (I’ve learned this the hard way), and check out the author’s bio and/or website. Reviews have become less important to me as “opinions vary”; however, I pay attention to them if there are many 1 and 2 stars. Of course, recommendations prompt me to check out books, too.
Many thanks for sharing that, Pamela 😀