What Makes You Buy a Book?

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What Makes You Buy a Book?

Your book?I’ve been discussing covers lately. You see, the first crop of books I sold will be hitting shelves next summer, which means the authors and I are dealing with the fun stuff that happens nine months before publication, like reading potential flap copy, talking about follow-ups, and, of course, looking over cover concepts.

Covers are obviously important. A great cover can stand out and draw in a book buyer; a lousy cover can do just the opposite. However, when it comes to my own book purchasing (or at least what I used to do before landing in the industry), I found that a good cover was never, ever the deciding factor for me. Sure, sometimes a particularly striking cover could catch my eye, but, being a poor graduate student, I had to be incredibly picky with what to buy, and the cover typically didn’t hold much weight for me if I didn’t know more about the book.

If anything on the cover was going to sway me to buy a book I’d never heard of, it was likely going to be awards. Pulitzer? Cool! Newbery? Awesome! Flint, Michigan Top 15 Novel about Ponies Award…super!

My stupid habits aside, I’m curious as to what really matters to you and to your children (if you have them) when it comes time to buy books. To make it a little easier, let’s only consider books by writers you’ve never heard of, so we’re not saying, “Well, it’s the new so-and-so and I just had to have it.”

What does it for you? The cover? Reviews? Blurbs on the jacket? Awards? Other factors I’m not thinking of? If you say all of the above, what rank do you put them in?

  1. First thing for me is content, there are just some situations in books I shy away from. (The real first thing is the cover, but since I scan the shelves book by book, this isn’t a deal breaker.)

    Then comes the premise. If the blurb on the back sparks my interest, I’m 99% sold on buying the book.

    The last thing is opening the book itself and taking a dip in the words and voice the author uses. This one is the deal breaker for me. The voice and tone need to be engaging enough that they leave me hungry for more. I’m a sucker for humor and beautiful phrases.

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  2. For nonfiction: author creds

    For fiction: an eye-catching cover, intriguing blurb, and good reviews from authors I like

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  3. Okay, so maybe this isn’t fair since I’m a writer (yes, you have my query). Surely I’ll have to take selection “F” for all of the above, which is no fun for the marketers, but it’s a reinforcement of the strength of the total package. Ranking? If the “sponsors” of the book didn’t care enough to make the book cover appealing, and I’m just B&N browsing, I’ll move on for better designed pastures. Even the spine is important. If I pick it up, it’s like a flow chart: does the title grab me? If yes, open up and take a random read. If no, do I know the author? If yes, turn over and read the synopsis. If no, how are the recommendations? Awards? Is there any reason I should read this book with the well-designed cover (which, by the way, doesn’t mean “fancy” or “glossy”)?? If no, I move to another. The whole process takes about as long as it maybe takes to review a query, so it’s definitely the total package. Thanks for asking!

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  4. Before I started working as a bookseller, I had a hierarchical system. The cover or a clever title were first to get my attention. If the flap copy was intriguing, or the book was blurbed by an author I like, I’d read the first page or two. If the writing style appealed to me, I’ll probably buy.

    Now that I work with books all day, my system also involves reviews, recommendations from trusted coworkers, and occasionally customer raves. I still put my own interest in the story and feel for the writing above other considerations, though.

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  6. I tend to research books online before I determine to buy them. So, besides a gorgeous cover, I’m essentially drawn to the story.
    Of course, if there are blurbs on there from authors I respect, that will sway my decision as well.

    *Sidenote: I often check it out from the library. If I love it, I end up buying it.

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  7. Covers are very important. If there’s a cover that I don’t like, I won’t turn it down, but the book definitely has to prove itself. Whereas if I love the cover, I read the back blurb with a smile and am automatically more open to the premise.

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  8. I’ve bought one book based on the cover alone: Elsewhere. LOVE that cover! And the story was good too;)
    Covers are a really interesting topic. Several writer friends of mine have had their covers completely change (before the book’s release) based on feedback from buyers of major bookstores. One in particular said he’d by 1,000 with the original cover but would buy 5,000+ if they changed the cover. (The first was an artist’s rendition – stunning, imho.) Of course, the cover was changed – to a simple photograph. So, obviously, the buyers think there’s something to this cover business…
    I think a cover’s job (combined with the title) is to tempt someone to pick up the book. Then it’s up to the flap copy to further tempt the reader. Lastly, the first page will seal the deal (or not).
    I was surprised by the cover my publisher came up with for my book. It will be interesting to see what readers/reviewers have to say about it.

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  9. I’m assuming your question is about reading for pleasure.

    Endorsements and prizes used to catch my attention, but I’ve learned that they rarely guarantee enjoyment. Now I buy on a three step system:
    1) The title intrigues me
    2) The premise/blurb intrigues me
    3) The first chapter (all of it) has an appealing voice and a good hook.

    The cover art only influences me in that the easier it is to read the title, the less time I have to invest in deciding whether or not I want to pick up the book.

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  10. Cover draws me in, flap copy gets me hooked, and a good first page means I’ll buy it.

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  11. Blurbs on the jacket, by far.

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  12. Not just the cover, the texture of the book cover!

    A recommendation from someone I trust.

    And like Kristy, I often check out a book from the library first. If I love it, then I buy it. This is true of most of the books I buy for my children.

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  13. 1. Recommendation by trusted readers
    2. Awards (Newbery in particular)
    3. Jacket flap blurb and reading of pages
    4. Cover and title

    A resonant title and cover will make me crack open the book, but I always read at least a few pages if not the entire first chapter before I decide to buy it. But still, capturing the voice of a book in the cover is important! And I’ve seen some covers really blow that part.

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  14. The first thing for me is the cover — and the title — these will convince me to pick it up and look further. But before I buy any book, I always read the first page (and the last — don’t shoot me!). Word of mouth by other writers/readers I trust also will convince me to buy a book.

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  15. In picture books, it is the illustrations that attract, then I read the first page or two for the language. In YA it’s the back cover or flap explanation of the story. Cover art should be pleasing but it is never a factor in my taking the book.

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  16. First, it’s the title that would make me pick it up to explore further, or not. From there:

    1) Blurb on inside or back cover.
    2) I read the first paragraph for tone.
    3) Cover itself

    I never even look at reviews unless it’s from an author whose work I like. Deciding factor is almost always the first paragraph.

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  17. My kids (boys, 9 and 11) look at the title first, then the cover, then the back copy to see if there’s anything “cool” to read about. It’s mostly about the title if it’s a book by an author they’ve never heard of.
    Or they go right to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and read one of those yet again…

    🙂

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  18. I avoid reading flap copy. In many cases, they give away a major plot development that was meant to be a surprise. I understand that those developments are what can hook in a potential reader, but I love surprises, and I’d rather experience the story the way the author intended. So, I base my book-buying on an intriguing title, the cover and the first page.

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  19. We judge books by their covers all the time, and I have actually skipped over purchasing books by authors I love, books I wanted to read, because the cover was so heinous and embarrassing. (Sorry, Jack Womack’s Heathern, but I was never able to make myself pick up your Tor edition, and so don’t have any idea of your quality.)

    Everything but everything is about making the browser pick up the book: Titles matter lots, as does the package design. In fact, I’d weight those things at 75-80% of whether a new author’s book works in a bookstore or not. Reviews can counter bad design, but not to the degree of creating a runaway bestseller.

    Only problem is, of course, different designs play to different audiences, and matching the right “look” for a book to its ideal audience is more alchemy than science.

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  20. I find it a huge advantage to shop at independent bookstores where the employees are usually familiar with what they carry. They can tip me off to a good book in the genre I’m scanning and give me a review as well. From there I read the first page, and possibly the first chapter before making a decision. A good cover is nice, but not a deal maker. I rarely pay attention to blurbs.

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  21. In the bookstore: If the cover and title grab my attention, I pick the book up and read the flap/back cover copy, and if I like that, I turn to the first page. If I love the first page, I’ll keep reading. If I like the first chapter or two, I’ll buy.

    On the Internet:
    If I come across a favorable blog review by a blogger I trust, I’ll search for the first chapter online. If I love the first chapter, I’ll buy. I don’t ever think about what the title or about what the book looks like.

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  22. One more thing–I never pay attention to celebrity or “Joe Reader” endorsements.

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  23. Word of mouth. If I hear about a book on a blog or from a friend I trust, I’ll buy it. For my middle grade son, it’s similar. One kid brings Calvin and Hobbes to school, suddenly they all start reading it. They did it with Bones, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Percy Jackson series, etc. Book bandwagon thing. I’ve only ever picked up one book because of its cover(Girls in Trucks), but the jacket copy sold me. Incidentally, I just bought your client Martha B.’s grammar book after reading her web site. I clicked on that randomly while looking for something fun for my students.

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  24. If I hear trusted people talking about a book, I’ll be curious/prompted to buy. Those little stickies at indie bookstores have sold me on books more than once.

    If an author is coming to town and I can buy a signed copy, I’m in. I love my collection of autographed books.

    A good cover almost always sucks me in. I bought a book yesterday mostly because its cover looked like a painting and I like pretty books.

    A great concept well teased on the jacket will surely suck me in.

    And if someone has written a book I loved, I tend to buy everything else by that author, which can sometimes be an interesting challenge if the author isn’t based in the U.S.

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  25. For kids’ books, covers are HUGE for me, because they reveal the illustrations within (my daughter is 2). I can’t stand reading our copies of The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs because the illustrations are so awful (paper cut-out style for the first, overly realistic and creepy animals in the second).

    For older-age books, cover and title are an attention-grabber, but the book summary on the back is the deciding factor.

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  26. I use covers to judge genre – tattooed heroine in leather? I may hate the cover, but there’s a greater shot I’ll like the story than one with a pastel pier by calm waters. Since the Kindle, covers matter less since I won’t be stuck looking at it while I read.

    I check the title, which is frequently too generic to be meaningful, but right now I’m reading Eekhout’s Norse Code which I picked up entirely for the title.

    Then it’s reader reviews. If it has lots of good reader reviews and I like the genre, I may pick it up immediately or skim the plot blurb to make the final call. If it has mixed reviews, I’ll read a few and see if there’s a particular prejudice or objection people had that may or may not bother me.

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  27. My 11 year old says he hates “shiny covers.” I gotta say, I also like the matte look…seems “classier.” Which sounds really stupid.

    He also reports that he definitely does NOT like real people on the front, mainly good drawings, if that helps any.

    And for what it’s worth, if it says “newberry award” anywhere on it, the parents might be jumping, but my students (6th grade) can’t put it back on the shelves fast enough. We require them to read a Newberry selection each quarter, but it’s not easy. Not exactly always in touch with today’s kids.

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  28. For books that I haven’t heard of before, cover is key. If the cover doesn’t appeal to me, chances are, it won’t hit my radar when I’m in the store, and it needs to hit my radar to get me to pick it up and read the back copy to find out what it’s about. Awards don’t really influence me either way (and when I was a kid, the shiny gold circle was almost always a sign that I wasn’t going to like the book), but blogs by people who seem to have similar tastes to mine definitely do.
    This cover issue has become a problem for me, because there are plenty of books that I have enjoyed that I would not have picked up just by looking at the cover. A shiny cover with a scantily clad, large breasted woman in heels and a sword doesn’t make me want to pick up the book. I’m a mid-twenties female, brought up on Buffy and Charmed, obviously the target audience for a book about female witches kicking butt, which is what this book was, but a cover like that is an automatic turn-off, and if I hadn’t heard about this series through various blogs already, it would have been a lost sale.
    So to answer your question, here’s how I would rank my influences toward buying books:
    Blogs (including Goodreads) or friend recommendation
    Cover (store placement is an issue here – books up front show you the cover. On the shelves, it might/might not. I love that many stores are making an effort to show the covers face out now.)
    Back Copy
    Random Page read in book (I almost always buy in a physical store, because the flip test is key for me)

    At this point, I usually end up with about 5 books in hand, but can only afford 3. So I compare pricing, what I’ve heard about the story/author, and make a decision based on which kind of book isn’t already on my to-be-read bookcase or what kind of book I’m in the mood for.

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  29. I’m a merciless snob when it comes to jacket covers, wine labels, and movie posters, because to me it’s a quick and dirty acid test for how discriminating the minds behind the products are. And on that note, may I say that I’m just a teensy bit burned out on all these mystical/magical jacket covers and titles. Mind you, I’m as imaginative as they come, but if I see one more fairy I’m gonna lose it.

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  30. Word of mouth is where I hear of books (when you write books you know a lot of authors who have interesting books coming out…). But the same thing that sparks my interest through word of mouth is the same thing that makes me interested when I see a book in the store or listed on PM: the content/what it’s about/jacket copy. Endorsements by famous authors don’t do much for me (although I do notice them), and award stickers definitely don’t matter to me (scarred as a child from being forced to read too many Books Middle Aged Librarians Think Are Good for Kids). Then of course I thumb through the pages and see if the writing holds up to the hook.

    Random House and imprints don’t often put any flap copy on their library editions of children’s books (not sure about their trade editions; I haven’t bought many of their books lately), and again, for people who just want to find out what the book is about and can’t, this is the fastest way to shove that book right back on the shelf. I watch kids do it all the time…

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