Books I Bought — And Why

Does social media presence sell books? This is the hot question for today’s authors … and I’m answering it, at least for a market of one. I decided to break down my own book-buying habits. Where do I hear about the books that I eventually decide to buy? Out of the bazillion books released every year, how do I find the ones I want to read?

Let’s make this scientific and establish some parameters, shall we?

First, the time frame. We’ll look at the last year and a half or so*. Beyond that, I can’t honestly say I remember what caught my eye and where. Also, that limitation helps with our goal of evaluating the effectiveness of social media. (Note that I’m looking at my approximate purchase date, NOT the book’s release date!)

Next, we’ll define which books we’re going to talk about.

Inclusions: This part is pretty easy.

-Novels I paid actual money to obtain. This counts books I received as gifts because someone else paid money to obtain them on my behalf. It does not count free ebooks. At this writing*, I have ZERO free downloads which led to a subsequent purchase with real currency. (By the way authors — just let that soak in for a sec…!)

Exclusions: These rules are a bit harder. For aesthetic reasons, I wanted everything to fit on one shelf, so I had to ax a couple of categories.

-Nonfiction. It’s pretty well established that nonfiction authors need a platform. Besides, I don’t read a whole lot of nonfiction anyway, and most of what I do is about writing, so let’s sprinkle the exclude dust on these ones. (Sorry nonfiction authors. No offense.)

-Classics. Oscar Wilde and George Orwell probably don’t care where I heard about them, at this point. (Neither does C. S. Lewis for that matter, but I realized after I took the photo that he’s there in the mix. Inconsistency is such a harsh word. Let’s call it… being flexible.)

-Gifts I bought for others. Sadly, I don’t have those books handy for display. Also, my purchase decisions may have been unduly influenced by impending birthdays or holidays, so we’ll just not count them.

Most importantly, the study question: What influenced my purchase decision to buy these books?

(Click image to view full size.)

All right, let’s look at this. Thirty-three books fell into one of five categories.

18% – Personal Recommendations. “I loved it, and I think you will too.” That’s the spirit of a personal recommendation. Given for the would-be reader’s benefit, a true recommendation is meant as an act of kindness — for the reader, not the writer. Consider the special case of the “bestie rec.” When my best friend suggested reading a book together, I agreed whole-heartedly. Hopefully, you can’t buy that kind of recommendation power.

27% – Browsing Bookstores. Maybe I’m the last of a dying breed, but I like walking around bookstores. If I have thirty minutes to an hour for looking around, I’ll usually find three or four books I want to buy. Longer than that and I feel like I’m circling the same shelves, and I start worrying about how much I’m spending. Does this mean it’s all about elite product placement? I don’t mean to suggest so… but the few of us who still like bookstores buy zero percent of the books that are not there to buy. Food for thought.

9% – Blogs. This falls under social media, so let’s look at each example.

-The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson. This is the only book I purchased as a result of reading a blog post written by the author, but it appeared as a guest post, not as content on his own site.

-The Violets of March by Sarah Jio. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted about this book when it was the pick of the month for online book club SheReads. It sounded interesting, and after all my attempts to win a copy failed, I bought one instead.

-Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce. I read a review that made me think I would probably enjoy this book, so I bought it. I did enjoy it, very much.

See the common thread? What they were doing or not doing with social media mattered less than having a project worth hosting the author as a guest, or worth book clubs picking up, or worth reviewing in glowing terms. The key effort was creating a work that people wanted to talk about.

I’m spelling this out because it highlights something I’ve noticed. Several of the authors of the best books I’ve read in the last year have extremely limited social media presence. I like to imagine that in between their infrequent or non-existent tweeting and limited blogging, they are busy writing gorgeous books that I will love.

27% – Goodreads. Goodreads also qualifies as social media. I don’t really dabble in the discussions section of the site, so it’s not especially social for me. I look at Goodreads primarily as a place to record the books I read and to find out about new books. As such, it took a substantial piece of the book-buying pie, and it did so in two ways.

-Banner ads. Let’s be clear: I never, ever click online ads if I can help it. Never ever ever — except on Goodreads. How brilliant is it that on a web site dedicated entirely to bookishness, the ads are all about books? I have no data on click-through rates, no idea what a Goodreads ad costs, nothing at all in concrete terms to offer but this: I actually do click those ads. Sometimes I put the books on my wishlist. From there, I eventually buy them.

-Recommendations. When Goodreads rolled out their recommendations feature, it took me only a few minutes to realize that for a free web site, the added functionality was going to end up costing me a lot of money. And … I was right.

18% – Fan. This is the target. Loyalty. Authors want loyal readers, and I think readers also want authors they can count on. Years ago, a few of my favorite authors all retired or rebranded right around the same time, and I experienced the oddest period of being a reader without an active favorite author. Suddenly I had no new releases to wait for and no coming-soon books to be excited about, and it wasn’t fun at all. Let’s look at being a fan in detail, too.

-Superstars. I have been a Margaret Atwood fan since 1999, and a Stephen King fan since 1992. (Sorry Mom!) I haven’t read all of their books and probably won’t, but let’s just say that I don’t have to know very much about the subject matter to make a purchase decision in these cases. This is a lot like the product placement issue, actually — great, if you can get it. I hope that you do.

-Friendships. I bought two of these books because the authors reached out to me, established relationships before their respective books came out, and naturally when release day arrived, I wanted to support them. Note the difference between “friending” and making friends. Like the bestie rec, the purchase came from the relationship, and not the other way around.

-Becoming a fan. Sometimes, I read a book and like it so well, I then go and buy another title by the same author. This is the culmination of all other successful efforts — the networking, the advertising, and most of all, the writing. This is the confidence that all the marketing in the world can’t buy, when the excitement of storytelling is shared between author and reader.

It’s your turn! Now you know where I found books to read, and I want to hear from you! Where do you get recommendations? When do you add a title to your To-Be-Read Pile? What are your favorite means of new book/new author discovery?

*Note: I drafted this post in March 2012, so the timeline for book purchases is something like late 2010-early 2012.

4 thoughts on “Books I Bought — And Why

  1. Fascinating graphic! Wow. Nice work!
    Me? I haven’t read a hardcopy book in a while, save some non-fiction I got from my MIL on loan.

    Recent purchases in fiction have been on my Kindle and they’ve all come recommended from people I trust. Goodreads has been an ENORMOUS influence on my recent book purchases.


    • Thanks Sandi! I can definitely see how e-readers change our purchasing habits, though I haven’t taken the plunge yet myself. (I can read Kindle books on my phone, but I don’t enjoy them as much in that format.)

      I love Goodreads so, so much. It’s funny, because I couldn’t get into Shelfari at all, but I’m active on Goodreads at least several times per week. That would be an interesting post, to compare the two… Hmm… :)


  2. Hey, this is great! Never thought to analyze how I buy books, but now that I read your post, I realize I never buy books I get for free either. In terms of social media, I buy if I make friends with an author and like him/her and his book enough to buy it.


    • Thanks! Yes, I think many authors (particularly indie?) feel pressure to release free works to build their reputation. Speaking only for myself, that hasn’t been an effective way of turning me into a fan so far. Though I will say it’s thrilling when a friend releases a book!


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