For all the time we spend talking about marketing and social media and discoverability, we don’t necessarily have much more than gut instinct to go on. X works, Y doesn’t, prevailing wisdom says, but do we really even know? The one thing we’re all confident of is that word of mouth is effective, probably so much more so than everything else. But every once in a while, I like to stop and think about why I’ve chosen to read something.
The other day a client of mine got a not-yet-revealable blurb that made think, “Huh. I think I’d actually buy a book with that blurb on it.” Which underscores just how little they impact my choices. I think I once bought a book because an intern recommended it to me and it had a blurb by an author I love, but blurbs alone don’t do it for me. I still think they’re incredibly valuable for a million other reasons (the blurber might mention the book later, it helps to grab the attention of people along the chain between editorial and the customer, lends credibility, etc.). But I don’t typically buy because of them.
I do buy books because of Twitter. Usually it’s a critical mass question. If everyone in publishing is reading something, I buy it (and eventually read it, though I’ll admit not always speedily). Gone Girl; The Fault in Our Stars; Code Name Verity; and Where’d You Go, Bernadette? all made it to my house on the strength of the wisdom of the masses/fear of being left out. Occasionally, one tweet reveals a book so perfect for me that I’ll rush out to get it, like My Beloved Brontosaurus, which I came across in a tweet from its editor Amanda Moon (@amsciam). By title alone I knew it was for me. My favorite dinosaur is still the Brontosaurus, and Pluto’s my favorite planet, and no lousy scientists with their knowledge are going to change that. I not only bought it, I pre-ordered it (which I never do out of a combination of cheapness and impatience), and ordered one for a dino-obsessed friend’s upcoming birthday.
As someone who used to license first serial (periodical excerpt) rights for the agency, I always wondered how well magazine coverage translated to sales. The trouble is the newspaper or magazine wants something that works in its own right. But recently I read what was either an excerpt or an article referencing The Age of Edison, and I was really intrigued. When I spotted the book at B&N the next day, I grabbed it. Conveniently, it turned out to be my book club book for DGLM’s next book club meeting.
I do sometimes read the books that hit all the best of lists at year end, but I will admit that it’s an imperfect source for me. It brings books to my attention, but I judge them with a critical eye before deciding whether to buy. I’ll be reading Just Kids this weekend, which I kind of sort of thought about buying when everyone was talking it up, but never did till it became the selection for my book club. Likewise, Beautiful Ruins abounded on the lists in December, but I didn’t read that till my book club decided I had to.
Incidentally, I adore the cover of Beautiful Ruins. It called to me from everywhere. But I resisted buying it because it didn’t sound like a book I’d like so much as it looked like a book I’d like. So I’ll pick a book up for its cover, but it’s not a guarantee that I’ll actually take it home. Until I had to, I just didn’t. And for what it’s worth, I thought it was wonderful and well worth the read.
Word of mouth is really hit or miss for me. It depends entirely on the mouth. And there are recommendations I’ll take from someone and others I’ll disregard, if I think it’s clear the book doesn’t fall in the center of the Venn diagram of our tastes. I have definitely at times chosen not to read something, based on who I know who loves it.
So I guess in the end I’m much more about critical mass than anything else. Given enough reasons, I’ll pick something up, even if I’ve previously decided not to read it. Why do you buy? What works for you, and what decidedly doesn’t?