Why Do You Buy Books?
Flip it Around To Figure Out How To Sell Yours
For the purposes of this newsletter, please assume it is Tuesday. Thank you for your cooperation.
Why do you buy books? I mean, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you love books in some capacity—because you love to read them or write them or both (or collect them without reading them even though you intend to, no judgement). To answer this question, you might say you love literature or words, you want or need to be transported to other worlds, that you want to learn new things. You might love books because they help you discover things about yourself or because of how they make you feel or because they make you smarter (or look smarter, again, no judgement). These are all fantastic reasons. They are true! But that’s not what I’m looking for when I ask why you buy books.
*Here, too, when I say “buy” I also mean check out from the library. Libraries buy books for you! They all count.*
I could more accurately say why did you buy the last book you bought? I mean the specific last book. My guess is you didn’t only buy it because of one of the abstractions above, like love or learning or escape. You probably bought it for a real, identifiable reason. Here is my unofficial, not exhaustive, list of Reasons To Buy Books:
Someone famous told you to
That could be a celebrity endorsement or placement (i.e like when Obama posts what books he buys on Indie Bookstore Day), a blurb, or a high profile book club. It could also be a review in a newspaper or similar, and in that case, if the reviewer isn’t already famous, then the venue could be. An EW review can be just as if not more powerful than Sarah Jessica Parker walking around with a Franzen galley.
Someone you know told you to
When a friend said they liked a book and the power of their enthusiasm and/or reasons for liking a book leads you to buy that book, that is the most powerful form of marketing.
You need to know a thing
Most often, when we need to know a thing, we google it. But when we need to know more, or if we want to spend more time with A Thing than just a website, we go buy a book. There is a difference between what people want to know from a website or article than they want to know in a book. (This is a very important thing to wrap your head around if you’re writing or planning to write non-fiction. Is your book a book or an article?)
You want to look cool
We buy lots of things just to look cool! This is not a bad thing! I hope it makes you look cool! Keep buying books to look cool!
You aspire to be/do the thing in the book
Even if you may never achieve that thing, you still may buy the book! There’s always a chance!
Sometimes a book is akin the band t-shirt at a concert. Great! Buy the shirt! Buy the book! Enjoy your fandom!
It does the things you want it to do
Does the book scare you or titillate you or keep you guessing about whodunit or show you what it looks like on Mars? Fabulous! I’m glad you found the kind of book that does the thing you want it to do. Chances is are there are a LOT more of them. Enjoy.
Why did I give you this list? Because the problem is us writers think readers buy books because they are GOOD. Because they are ART. They are art! They are good! But readers don’t really know that until they get to the end of the book, and while every reader says they want to read good books, they want those books to do other things as well. So, what does your book do? Does it Do The Things the Reader Whats it to Do?, i.e. a genre like Romance, Mystery, Fantasy, etc? (Remember, the art is also in there.) Does it Tell the Reader A Thing? And are you an authority on that thing? Is your thing people generally go to books to learn about, as opposed to other venues like websites/the internet? Or is your book the kind of book that rests on word of mouth marketing, heavy-hitter blurbs, good reviews? You can’t control much of that, if at all, at the pitching stage, but along side your pitch you can include your connections to those various people and places to help move the needle (i.e. talk about your platform).
When you think you’ve pegged how someone might buy your book, center your pitch around that concept. If your book is an Inspirational Romance, put the plot in the pitch, making sure you focus on the inspirational part. That might mean leaving out other details you think are good. That’s ok. The reader will figure it out when they read it. If your book tells A Reader a Thing, pitch the short version of your Thing AND why you’re the right person to do so! If you’re writing a literary novel that probably hinges on blurbs and reviews, tell readers what happens in your book but also include anyone you have connections to for these things! (If possible.)
You’re not going to be perfectly lined up with relationships to Reese Witherspoon’s book club and 100 blurbers or whatever. But even a modest amount of angling your pitch toward how people buy books could help those evaluating it see the light. I know it sucks to think about art and commerce. But, I mean, don’t you like buying books? Don’t you like the excitement and promise and feel of a new book? Don’t you want to make it better/easier/more fun/more accurate for people to do this for your book, too? Pitch your book to agents and editors in ways that mirror how you, and readers broadly, shop for a book.
Wear and mask and vaccinate your children as soon as you can (if you can).