31 Readers Answer One Question

It occurs to me that if we want to start promoting our work, we should find out how many readers find books. So I took an informal poll with a terribly skewed sample size. I emailed friends and posted a question on Facebook.

What did I ask?

How do you choose a book from a living author?

The answers are kind of fascinating, but they make a lot of sense. Readers, after all, don’t want to work too hard to get their material. Why would they? I don’t spend days doing research on music or movies. It is up to the writer then (and the publisher of course) to find ways to reach them.

So here are the answers given to me about how different people choose authors, and let’s figure out the trends.

Tyler Dilts, author of A King of Infinite Space: Mostly from recommendations, either from reviewers whose writing I've come trust, or from friends and colleagues. To be honest, I also judged many, many books by their covers, which is a lot less reliable than the method above.

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Don Kingfisher Campbell, author of Theater of Life: If I've met 'em, I'm buying

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Pao Wo, Student: word of mouth :] or NY Best Seller

Katie Formosa McMurray, poet and faculty at Long Beach City College: Here's how I choose (in order):
1) I take recommendations from my trusted friends, particularly Jhoanna.
2)I listen to podcasts that include book recommendations.
3) I keep a list of books I've always wanted to read, but couldn't get to in the past.
4) When I can, I read book reviews in magazines and online.

That's it.

Anna Badua, artist and poet: Everything Tyler Dilts & Kathryn said and KCRW's Bookworm. Also, don't think anyone's mentioned it yet, but there are publishers I'm more inclined to trust like New Directions and Vintage Books!

Andrew Turner, writer: Knowing a lot of writers, I try to choose writers I know. I also look for authors whose writing I've enjoyed in the past. Reading recommendations by people I trust, or by a source I trust is good enough for me. I look for prize-winning authors as well. They had to have done something right, and I can learn from that.

Jeremy Hight, writer and photographer: from their weary bones , tired synapses and dark cinder of a heart amongst a moment of self doubt....I mean ..amazon.

Roy Anthony Shabla, author of Eating God, artist, editor of Tequila Tales: the cover, the first sentence, and if the author pic was taken in the shower.

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Lauren Candia, librarian: As a librarian, with as many resources I have available to me, the number one way I pick out a book by a new author is still because of the cover or the title.

Michaelsun Knapp, poet, writer, and editor of Creepy Gnome: Recommendations more than anything, though sans recommendations or any knowledge of the writer, the title will get me to pull it off the shelf, the cover will get me to flip it over to the synopsis, and if the synopsis rears enough interest I'll buy it. I haven't found a reviewer who's reviewed the books I like, and has liked them for the same reasons as I do, so until then I don't trust reviews. If I buy a book I don't like, I'm stuck with it. I don't have enough money to spend on pleasure reading to pick up a book that I don't cotton to.

Lloyd Aquino, poet, writer, and Mt. SAC professor: Mostly recommendations from friends and other sources I trust, like what other writers I like to read are reading.

Mark Olague, writer and CSULB faculty: I thought about this question a lot. Hate to get mystical about it but it's sort of intuition, a combination of geography (is that writer from a place where the stakes for literature are higher), imprint (all dalkey archive stuff I’m interested in), word of mouth/blurbs (mostly from published writers), and blind exploratory browsing. Subject matter that is too contemporary or "funny" or satirical writing turns me off. Also plot heavy or derivative stuff. I use to like the podcast marketplace of ideas (where I got turned on to Alexander Theroux) and only occasionally Silverblatt. I find bookworm to be too fawning and usually his most inarticulate and uncomfortable guests interests me. Again, I'm pounding bookstores three times a week and it's mainly intuition. That probably doesn't help. For shortcuts: quarterly conversation and the millions are blogs/sites for access to the highest quality literary fiction being written today.

Laura Whatley, poet, reader, and writer: When I was young and had tons of money, but not as many bills, I would randomly grab a book, read the first page, then the back, and if I liked it I bought it. Now I based it off threats: "seriously, Laura, if you don't read Hunger Games RIGHT NOW I will tie you to a chair, sew open your eyes, and force you to read it to me."

Natalie Morales, poet, reader, and writer: Definitely word of mouth.

Timothy M. Moriarty, student: I pick by genre and short description on the back of the book. If that grabs me and I'm in the mood for that genre, I'll give it a go. Artwork on the cover can be dangerous as it might screw up that perfect image I receive while reading the short description.

Carly McKean, artist and science teacher: usually recommendations. I'm less likely to read it if it's blown up in the media

Shalanna Collins, author of Dulcinea:  So far, using these rubrics, my obscure works are pretty much out of luck. If I could get word of mouth going, that would be the answer. I suppose the ways I choose books include all of the ways mentioned, although now that bookstores have become mostly virtual, it's tougher to run across a book and pick it up to read the blurb and a few pages from the middle. I'm just glad no one said, "The free ones." LOL

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Vicki Stevenson, librarian: Writers festivals, libraries (I hang out at a few of these ;), word of mouth.

Kyle Van Sant, writer, grad student, and founding president of Mt. SAC’s creative writing club: First, recommendations , which I often ignore. Second, going to bookstores and talking to the workers about their favorites...see recommendations. Then I spend years reading what I want from famous dead people and wake up one day remembering a recommendation from years ago, and all of a sudden I've got a new book (that's how I finally read Cat's Cradle, 6 years after you told me to). Another cool thing is to go to readings. I read some of David Foster Wallace after seeing him do a reading at Mt. SAC. I'd never heard of him at the time, but really was impressed by his work. Sadly, so many of my favorite writers are now/recently dead (Vonnegut, Foster Wallace, Robert Jordan, Bradbury). So, I'm going to say readings. Final Answer.

Lorna Lund Collins, author of 31 Months in Japan: the Building of a Theme Park: First, I pick authors I know and like. Then I pick books recommended by people who share my taste in books.

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Jennifer Olds, author of Good Night, Henry: Book reviews--I read a lot of book reviews; live
sampling--1st paragraph, last paragraph, and page 73; loaners from like-minded friends; word of mouth.

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Patricia Gligor, author of Mixed Messages: First, I read mystery/suspense novels (my genre of choice) by small press authors I've met online. I have a TBR list the size of Texas! Second, I read every new novel by Mary Higgins Clark and Joy Fielding, my two favorite "big name" authors.

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Marta Chausee, author of the Maya French series, coming soon: I buy books that I hear reviewed or mentioned on NPR that sound interesting (same w/ music purchases).

Also, when I read articles in magazines about a specific topic (eating disorders, for example) and there is a blurb at the end of the topic re the expert that mentions a book written by said expert, I'll look up her/his work on Amazon and frequently order.

Word of mouth from trusted friends works.

John, yesterday's presenter at Sisters in Crime (Pamela Samuels young, I believe) mentioned a site that gets books reviewed on prominent blogs (I have the name at home on my ipad). One pays for the service and she says it is worth every penny, as after she uses that service, her book sales always spike like crazy. This is an "insider's" or "writer's" tip, so I don't know if you'll count that.

Lesley Diehl, author of A Deadly Draught, Dumpster Dying, Angel Sleuth, Poisoned Pairings: I'm trying to read books by writers I've met who are published by the small publishers who publish me.  I like many of the Oak Tree Press writers.  I also listen to friends of mine who recommend books. I have my favorite name writers.

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Augie Hicks, award winning writer and blogger: I used to stroll through the bookstores and libraries and picked up titles that interested me, I started reading Riordan on a lark as well as Ewing who are fantastic writers. Mainly mystery genre interested  me (those free books from Jaffrain, Sefton and others at the ALA didn't hurt, now I have other authors to follow), Now I'm reading non-fiction since school is back in session, so Dr. Kreger , 2012 & the Mayan Prophesy is on the table. I also read many of the SPB. I'm doing book reviews that I read over the Summer over at my site.

http://augiecorner.blogspot.com/ (Please check it out after reading my blog!)

Sally Carpenter, author of The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper: I start with other writers who are with my publisher (Oak Tree Press) and those who belong to my writers' group (Sisters in Crime). I support writers with whom I have a connection. These two groups provide me with enough good books that I don't need to search much further.

I should amend my statement that I don't limit myself to only SinC or OTP books. I'll also read free books I get at conventions and consider novels I see promoted on a blog that sound interesting.

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Marja McGraw, author of Old Murders Never Die and Bogey's Ace in the Hole: I agree with your answer, Sally, but word-of-mouth has caused me to read books far more frequently than anything else. Also, I have been reading more books because of blogs I enjoyed.

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Sunny Frazier, author of the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries: I will definitely pick a book from a series that I've been following, no questions asked. I already know I like the author's work. How do I pick a book from an unknown author? Either by subject matter or personal recommendation, although I gotta admit, sometimes the cover lures me in.

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Jim Barrett, Daisy Chain Killers, Ma Duncan, Steady Your Spooky Horse: Name recognition.
Cora Ramos, Writer and Blogger: I now have gotten to the point that I will only read writing that grabs me and pulls me through the story. Every time I try reading something someone says was good, I'm often disappointed in the writing. 

I find new authors on Twitter, through my on-line social network, from perusing the books that are on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and trying free books that appeal to me that are featured anywhere (Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes, blogs, etc) --I always read the excerpts to see if the writing is good, the story is interesting, and, as I noted on my blog today http://bit.ly/O971WI, that the emotion is real and valid. With so many good books out there, I just don't have time to read the mediocre stuff.

http://coraramos-cora.blogspot.com/ (Check it out after you've read this post!!)

Melodie Campbell, author of A Purse to Die For: I am in the same position, as Exec. Dir. of Crime Writers of Canada.  I am always getting requests to review books, and would probably never need to buy another.

However, I'm remembering back to when I was just a short story writer, not too many years ago.  I really did look at newspaper reviews.  I would look particularly for those reviews where it said, "if you like Janet Evanovich, you should like this."  I mean JE just as an example.  But it is the way I found Lisa Lutz.  I also looked at cover blurbs (endorsements) from writers I liked.  It would entice me to at least read the back blurb.

As far as Amazon reviews: I haven't found those as useful. Too many of them gush or stab.

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What emerges quickly and most obviously is that word of mouth is the big trend. The second is that I need to send all of my books to KCRW and NPR in general. We all do. It seems to be where some key readers have been getting their recommendations.

Most people seem to get them from recommendations online as well. The Amazon reviews are not high on the list.

Reading over these answers, my wife had an interesting and practical insight. There are really about four different ways people are getting their books, but each writer is different. The writer then needs to spend as much time exploiting what he or she is comfortable with rather than spending equal amounts of time on all methods.

How about any new insights from you? Do you see different trends here?