A few days ago, Written World Media (WWM) published the results of a survey on what readers really want. The company has five reader-facing brands such as Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, and Red Feather Romance, that allow authors and publishers to reach the right readers, with each of these brands catering to a different reader profile and demographic.
With over 20,000 authors, most self-published, and over one million readers, WWM’s survey offers great insight into what kinds of books readers prefer. Do they like series or standalone? Why do readers stop reading a book mid-way? Are reviews really that important?
Here are some key takeaways.
Do Readers Prefer Books in a Series or Standalone Books?
Authors like writing in series. Marketers like marketing series. But how do readers feel?
The overwhelming majority of readers are indifferent with 60% of respondents saying that they have no preference between series or standalone books. 14% said they prefer series while 26% said they prefer standalone books.
For authors, this is good news. It means that whichever way works for you, will work for a majority of readers. Besides, offering the first book in a series for free or low cost is a great way to hook a reader, and then draw them into your series.
One frustration that readers voiced with series books is the inability to find the other books in the series. That means that readers will gladly read your entire series, but only if it isn’t difficult for them to find the next book. When you are setting up your books in KDP or another retailer, make sure you keep series information consistent, so your readers can find the books they’re looking for.
Additionally, there were lots of comments about cliffhangers. Readers hate them! It’s okay for your book to gently lead into the following book, but wrap up the story so the reader is satisfied by the last page. Cliffhangers lead to unsatisfied readers, and unsatisfied readers lead to bad reviews and a decline in follow-on sales!
Why do some readers love series? For most, it’s the characters. One reader summed up the fear of falling in love with a character but only having a small amount of story about them: “I want to invest in the characters and know I’ll be seeing them again.”
Another reader said that reading a series reminded them of “visiting beloved friends.” A series is a great way to build a connection between your characters and your readers, and turn readers into fans.
What Makes Readers Put Down a Book?
In the era of Kindle Unlimited, where authors are paid by the page read, every page that a reader reads counts. With this in mind, WWM wanted to find out some of the biggest story no-nos according to readers, so they asked readers what makes them stop reading a book. The most common theme among responses was the word BORING.
For authors, this means plot and characters need to be a primary focus. It is critical to have a plot that progresses quickly to hook the reader and keep them reading. If you find there are slow parts to your story, try workshopping these scenes with an author friend until you’re confident readers will get hooked and stay engaged.
Reading through the comments, another big takeaway was that readers like reading a book that is in line with their expectations. If there are going to be explicit sex scenes, make sure that’s clear upfront. Do the same if your book has a lot of violence. If it’s part of a series, make sure to tell the reader that, so they can expect that some plot threads will be left untied at the end. Readers want to be surprised by how a story unfolds, but not confused by a book that is different from what they expect.
Make sure your cover and book description give the reader an accurate picture of what type of book they will be reading.
Do Readers Want to Interact with Authors?
When WWM asked readers if they would want to interact with the author of the book they are reading, the responses fell into relatively even groups.
The most common answer from readers was “not sure” at 37%. Close to that was “yes” at 36%, and 27% of readers surveyed said they wanted no interaction with authors.
For authors, this is helpful in setting expectations for engagement. Only a third of readers actively want to interact with authors, many other readers just aren’t sure, and a solid amount also doesn’t want to interact, even if they love an author’s work.
So, if you are focused on engaging with your readers, know that some just won’t want to, and that’s not a problem.
WWM then asked readers what their preferred interaction method is, and the responses were overwhelmingly digital. The top choices were email (75%) and social media (52%). That said, many readers would be interested in more intimate types of interaction like texting (32%) or in-person meetups (47%).
Which Social Media Platforms do Readers Use?
With so many social media platforms, it can be overwhelming to try to post to all of them. So, if you’re trying to decrease your social media workload, focus on where your readers are.
The most popular platform among readers surveyed? Facebook, and it’s not close. Yes, authors love Twitter, and it’s a great place to meet other authors and engage with the wider author community. But Facebook is where the readers are. A full 69% of respondents chose Facebook as their preferred social media platform. If you are pressed for time and need to spend time updating your social media presence, focus on Facebook first.
Do Readers Care About Reviews or Price?
WWM asked readers to pick a book based on just a few limited factors to try and understand how reviews and price impact the decision-making process. The answer to this question was dependent on the type of audience you are after and your goals for the book. Readers that subscribe to WWM’s different brands answered this question a little differently. Readers were asked to choose from the four options below:
- As expected, readers on Freebooksy love free books. They are happy to choose a free book with no reviews over all others. In fact, 50% of them would pick a free book with NO REVIEWS over any of the other options pictured above. The next most popular option was the $0.99 book with 2 five star reviews. And the third most popular option for Freebooksy readers was the $2.99 book with four stars on 20 reviews.
- The Bargain Booksy audience enjoys freebies a great deal but understands that good books often come at a price. That audience still liked the free book with no reviews, with 37% saying that would be their top choice, but the $0.99 book with two 5 star reviews was almost as popular.
- A takeaway here is that in the early days of a book when it does not have a lot of reviews, you may need to lower your price in order to attract readers. If you don’t have any reviews on your book and your goal is to get those first few reviews, try running a free days promo. It will drive free downloads of your book which will get it in the hands of lots of potential reviewers.
- Another takeaway is that reviews and price both matter to readers. When your book has more reviews you can begin to attract readers at a higher price. If you aren’t getting traction at $4.99 or $3.99 try lowering your price and running promotions to boost those reviews. After you get more reviews, you can start raising your price.
Your Book Description Matters
When asked to rank the importance of several factors when choosing a book, 57% of readers surveyed said the book description was the most important factor. Next most important was price at 37% and author at 23%.
Another finding was that the readers surveyed view review rating as more important than the total number of reviews. In fact, the number of reviews was mostly likely to be ranked as “least important” by readers.
I hope this has helped you gain some insight into the minds of readers. The major takeaways from WWM’s reader survey are:
- Readers do not have a strong preference for series vs. standalone books. If you are writing a series, make all books in your series easy to find and avoid cliffhangers at the end of books.
- Make sure your book is not boring. Keep the plot moving quickly and spend time developing your characters.
- Be honest about your book. If it’s a series, be upfront about it. Sex scenes, bad language, genre fit – make sure all those things come through on your cover and book description, so readers are not surprised by what they find inside your book.
- Interact with your readers through digital channels like Facebook and Email newsletters. Readers want to hear from you when you use their preferred communication channels.
- If you have to pick, spend your time promoting and engaging on Facebook as opposed to other social sites.
- Reviews matter. As you get more reviews you can charge more for your book and run successful bargain promotions.
Read the full results on Written World Media’s website and subscribe to WWM’s newsletter for more information like this.