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.