Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pulling the Trigger on a Book

As an author, I am intrigued by what causes readers to buy and read a book. The vast majority of authors, even those with big publishers, are responsible for marketing their own books. And the old 80/20 rule we often spoke of in business is closer to 90/10 in writing. That is, 90% of books are sold by 10% of the authors. Those of us in that lower echelon (way lower) are handicapped (I am assuming here that I am not alone) in that we can’t figure what triggers the buying impulse. Even a few of my loyal readers often wait months, even years, after one of my books is released to buy it. That confuses me, but I have no right to complain because I can’t figure what triggers my own buying impulse when it comes to books. In my old financial planning days, I used to tell clients that books were investments, not expenses. I still believe that to be very true.
I am a list keeper and always have been. I plead the fifth when asked how many books are on my list.  Think “so many books, so little time”.  And I honestly don’t know what makes me finally pull the trigger to buy. I know I buy when my stack of un-reads starts to get low, but I sometimes make strange selections from the list. Even after I buy them, I sometimes read them in weird order, often giving preference to the newest ones.  
Why? Age on a novel doesn’t take away its luster. I usually put books on my list because I have read about the books or authors somewhere else. Sometimes, it is a referral from a friend or a stranger I admire or a review I have read. Often, they make my list after I read another book by the author that I enjoyed. I also buy many award winners, under the sometimes false assumption that some committee of readers has vetted the book for me. That works only about half the time. Sometimes, it is abundantly clear why the book was selected. Other times, I am confused as to how the book won an award. Some award winners are really tough reads. If I feel that an author has made the book needlessly difficult, I usually avoid his work in the future.
The embarrassing part is that I may not read all the books by an author that I sincerely admire. Why not? I should. If the author is good once, chances are he will be good almost every time. Remember William Gay, the author I admired enough to travel across several states to spend an afternoon with him? When he asked me if I had read all of his books, I had to admit that I had not. I rectified that as soon as I returned, but why had I not already read everything this great writer had written? I think I did not want to be disappointed in case his prior or subsequent work did not hold up to the high bar I had set for him.
I plead innocent to reading books because the author is a household name and I want to be part of the “in” crowd. If fact, I read few best-sellers. Jealousy, you say? No, I admire best-selling authors and seek their counsel. Possibly, I am on an internal quest to find the great undiscovered author. More likely, I probably seek to find the author who really “speaks to me.”
I want to be friends with my books, so I follow Shakespeare’s advice: Neither a borrower nor lender be. I have broken that rule a few times, but not too often. My friend and mentor Dr. Fred Tarpley does not hold books, he caresses them. I look at the read books on my shelves as old friends that I can turn to on a moment’s notice, and the book I am reading now as an intimate friend. My next post will offer a review of two of those friends. In the meantime, what causes you to pull the trigger on a book? Let me know.


Charlotte Hilliard said...

I of course read your books because I like your style of writing the the content. I really think I like your books better than anyone's but there are other authors I enjoy. I know how I started reading your books.'
There is an author from Jasper who's books I really enjoy. I started reading his because of facebook. The first book would not have kept my interest if the setting had not been Jasper and nearby places. But the books since then have gotten better and better. He writes wonderful books about Viet Nam. He was there, did that.
The mystery to my reading I guess is how and why I get introduced to the first book to read by an author. Once I have read that first one I usually read every one of them by that author.'
I hate to start a book and not finish it. I will keep going back and trying over and over but some of them are just impossible.
I like forensic science too, so I guess the subject matter makes a big difference also. Heck, I don't know. ha

Doc Turner said...

There is more than one reason I buy a book. If it is the next in a series I have enjoyed, I grab it. If it is a new book by an author I know and like, I buy it. Beyond those two classes of books, there has to be something to recommend the book to me: a review, a well written synopsis,perhaps a unique topic or setting. I avoid most of the best seller list. I have found many of them are formula books written to appeal to a mass market whose readers don't talk or think like me. I much prefer Elmer Kelton to other western writers. He speaks to me, speaks my language, sees the things I see, and knows how to tell a story. There is no prefabricated plot, no formula. Jim, as I have said, you are cut out of the same old rock as Kelton. You can tell a story I can relate to, understand, writing the way I speak and think. I wish you would get a best seller. But most readers want prefabricated fluff that lacks the "bottom" found in your books. I'm so glad you wrote "Looking," and hope you will continue to share with those of us who know what we like.

J A Hunsinger said...

Like you, Jim, I don't know what "pulls the trigger" to cause a potential customer to pick up one of my novels and read it. Everyone who does loves the book and becomes engaged in my tale, but inspite of trying everything available to sell them I remain essentially where I started, although I have sold hundreds of books. Good article, well-done.