What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books?

In this post, I discussed the findings of a scientifically incontrovertible study (of myself) on the factors which influenced me when buying a self-published book.

The findings surprised me (which surprised me, because I was surveying myself). I found that I knew what made me buy a self-published book when it was in front of me, but not what put that book in front of me, unless I was browsing by genre (e.g. today I feel like reading a romance set in Ulaanbaatar: therefore I will now search specifically for such a story).

It was still hard to know what put those books in front of my eyes in order to buy them; to quote one of the commenters on that post – this is the thorny issue of “discoverability”. How will we find these books in the first place?

So I did the unthinkable, and asked some other people. I surveyed readers and writers alike, in online groups for different fiction genres of crime, fantasy and general fiction,  and more than a few other people who just like to talk to other people about reading and writing. I asked them what factors influenced them most when buying books – particularly self-published books and any other books which aren’t pushed by the major houses.

Their answers were duly collected and poured into a spreadsheet, one rainy morning when I was in my pyjamas, and can be split into 2 camps. Some answers relate to discoverability; others to what makes people buy a book once it’s already in front of them.

In this sample, there are 72 answers. Some people cited more than one factor they considered before purchasing, so regardless of the order in which they placed these factors, I gave them all equal weight.

Having said that, it’s safe to say that in the vast majority of cases, if the cover was amateurish, or unappealing, the book would never have made it to the 2nd stage of vetting, be that the blurb or the sample.

Here are some lovely graphs with my findings. In case you didn’t know, I LOVE graphs. (Although take it from me, they’re hard to cuddle when you’re trying to fall asleep.)

First, we have the overall results:

Influences upon readers when buying self-published books

Overall, by far the most important factors were cover, blurb and the sample (for some, this was the first few paragraphs, through Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature; for others, the full chapters from the e-Reader sample download).

Your cover might be gorgeous. Your blurb might push all the right buttons for the hungry reader. But if there’s a mistake in your first 2 paragraphs, or the reader doesn’t like your style, then it’s good night, I’m afraid.

How Readers Discovered Books Online

Several of those surveyed said they had bought self-published books because they had seen other examples of the author online – either from their blog, commenting on other blogs, or articles in magazines or journals. They liked what they saw and then went to see what else was on offer. This is precisely what we mean when we talk about online platforms.

In the case of Twitter (which is the platform most likely to drive me mad when authors simply tweet endlessly “BUY MY BOOK!! SPECIAL ### OFFER!! BUY IT NOW ###  TODAY TODAY!!!!!! (hashtag exclamation point))) – a few people said that they liked to get a sense of the author on Twitter, and then maybe look up their book. So it wasn’t publicising the book on Twitter which sold books: it was the author being engaging on Twitter on a more personal level.

Facebook was more likely to remind those surveyed to buy the book of an author they already liked, rather than introduce them to a book for the first time.

Making The Final Book Buying Decision

Finally, it was cover, blurb and sample all the way. Reviews mattered, but in different ways. An interesting point, made by some of those surveyed, was that they looked at the worst reviews first – 1* or 2* reviews only – because they found it easier to ascertain whether they were authentic, and because they felt they got a better sense of the book from people who didn’t like it, rather than the people who said they did. (Or gave it 5 stars because they are the author’s Mammy. See here.)

Price was also an unusual issue. There were 2 distinct views: those who made impulse buys (without reading reviews or a sample) under a certain price, and those who would never bought books under a certain price point, because they had no faith that they’d be any good.

There were also good indicators on what turned readers off  self-published books. Another post will follow on that. I bet you can’t wait.

Time for you to weigh in: if you haven’t already had your say, is there something glaringly missing from the above graphs which makes your buying decision for you?

Tark and Mara Search For Meaning

In a universe close away from here, Mara was feeling philosophical.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said, knowing without a five-o’clock-shadow of a doubt that Tark would want to hear what was going on inside what was, by far, the heaviest part of Mara’s size zero frame.

“Have you, my platinum preying mantis?” said Tark. He pivoted to face his wife on his bare feet, the trail of the mustard yellow sarong he wore flapping in the breeze coming through the open balcony doors of their twelfth-storey Dublin city centre penthouse. The gardeners had just been in, and one-hundred twenty-six trees and shrubs of varying tub sizes were inordinately grateful. “What about?”

Mara stretched and unwound herself from the 13th century Moroccan day bed under the enormous Jackson Pollock in the living room. “Meaning,” she said. “I was wondering if we had any. In our lives.”

“But of course our lives have meaning, darling,” said Tark. “Didn’t you just get some delivered yesterday?”

Mara wrapped her skeletal arms around herself and shrugged gallically.

“Why all this anguish, my tantalising Tasmanian Devil?” said Tark. “I would hate to think anything was going on behind those cut-glass cheekbones which was causing you pain.”

Something then occurred to Tark; he moved swiftly to close the literal distance between them (which was quite considerable, given the almost unheard-of square footage of their city centre demesne).

He encircled his wife with his left arm, and with his thumb and forefinger, tilted her chin downwards so that her permafrost eyes were held fast by his bald and beady gaze. He spoke firmly, but gently, rumbling with the gravitas of a far larger man than he. “Is it the fact that I’ve been blogging? Because I know you were taken aback by the response. I may have expected a slight uptick in traffic once I’d taken over that dreadful Sparkling woman’s blog, but even I was surprised with a gain of 30,000 followers in just three days.”

Mara The Terrifying“No, it’s not that,” said Mara, even though it was ever-so-slightly that (albeit concealed by the fact that she hadn’t made a facial expression since 1987). She sighed and stopped bothering to stand up, because there was really no need, what with all five-feet-four of Tark doing the work for both of them.

“It’s just that… well, I’m not sure what I’m for, now that you’re writing,” she continued. “You’re just so… so… goddammit, Tark, you’re just so good at it! I don’t know how to follow that.”

Mara’s tear ducts made a heroic effort to ease her pain, but due to cosmetic-grade botulism, failed to squeeze out a single drop.

However, Tark knew that something was very wrong. Twenty years of marital training had not been wasted; he could read his wife’s complete lack of non-verbal signals like a book. Just like her books, in fact, which he made a point of reading every Sunday morning, after their weekly couple’s chakra recalibration.

“Now you listen to me, my precocious pickled shark,” said Tark. “What I do is nothing like what you can do. True, I may have rescued an inconsequential Irish blog in less than one week of guest posts, with my opinions on the personal hygiene of politicians and why poor people can’t afford happiness, but nothing can compare to your unparalleled genius in the world of literary smut.”

Mara sniffed, but deep down, she thrilled to her husband’s compliments. She sat once more on the day bed, readjusting her 19th century silk kimono, and glanced artfully at her husband from beneath her lashes (although, it must be said, it would have been difficult to look at him from any other prepositional angle to her lashes, other than beneath them). “You’re not just saying that?”

Tark and Mara 2

“I would never lie to you, my lightweight love. It would be like lying to myself.”

“I suppose 50,000 e-book downloads a day can’t be wrong,” she said.

“No indeed. Your writing talent – your ability to make the bedroom activities of the ordinary, boring and geranium-obsessed masses interesting – never ceases to take my breath away.”

As Mara arranged her immobile face into the mutually accepted upper reaches of passion for her husband’s kiss, she had to concede that he was right. She was a genius of literary smut.

And just like that, the idea for her next meaningfully enriching bestseller threaded its way through her brain, philosophical anguish forgotten. Whoever said that they had lost their muse, didn’t have a rich spouse.


An Arts Festival Is No Time To Get Creative

writing.ie logo

Writing.ie has published an article I wrote about the fiasco that was my attempt to get writing last week, whilst out west for the Galway International Arts Festival. Go on. You know you want to read it. Go on. Seriously. Your week would be incomplete without it.

If you don’t, you might never know why, ever since, I suffer from tinnitus, and walk with a pronounced limp. Or why the book I was working on, although set in the west of Ireland, is suffused with a pronounced sense of ennui, and really doesn’t care what you think about it.

Link to article here.

Through the Looking-Glass: Power. Money. Baldness

Tark and Mara who? I did warn you. Explanation hereWindow on the rich and, well , just rich

In a universe not far from here, but somehow very like here, Tark was busy writing.

“Darling, what are you doing?” asked Mara, newly transplanted eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement and distrust. Her husband’s industrious expression was severely out of place in their six-bedroomed chrome-and-mirror penthouse.

Tark never did any work at home. Tark didn’t do any work at work. He had meetings with excitable people who usually opened nightclubs – eventually – and she knew their joint earnings had something vaguely to do with turning up at parties. Then she had her book deal, for pin money; that said, the last monthly royalty cheque for her most recent erotic gardener crime novel had been a paltry €70,000.

“I have taken on my own writing project,” said Tark, the tip of his tongue protruding from the corner of his oddly tiny mouth. Combined with the exceptional shininess of his bald head, he made a perfect emoticon. “Remember that blogger I mentioned –”

Mara, reclining artfully on the chaise longue last pictured beneath Oscar Wilde before all that unfortunate business, jerked her head out of its usual swooning position. She had made a career out of Understanding Her Man, and a change in creative divide in their relationship spelled trouble. She was the writer; Tark was supposed to be the bank.

“Who’s that, my love?” she asked with trepidation. “That person with the ridiculous name? Sparkling, or some such?”

“That common Irish person, yes,” said Tark. “She’s asked me to do a guest post on her blog. Apparently she’s caught up with some work thing. Imagine being a writer who has to have a day job!”

Mara reeled back in horror. “How terribly bourgeois! She must come from a very bad family.”

“I believe they’re from the country,” said Tark, wiping a fleck of disgust from his cheek.

Tark & Mara's penthouse bedroom
“But blogging, darling? Is that not, well – beneath you?”

Tark looked up at his wife with interest. “Why shouldn’t I blog, my precious stick insect? I have opinions. Everyone should hear them.”

“I know, my love, but there are some dreadful people out there who may not appreciate your genius, and besides, you were supposed to take me out; it’s Tuesday, and you know I always eat on a Tuesday,” said Mara sulkily. She didn’t like the idea of Tark moving in on her territory. Besides, she hated having a husband who was broadening his horizons. She was having a hard enough time keeping their spending up with their income as it was.

“Don’t be worried, my little sugar substitute,” said Tark, sonorously. “I’ll still have time for us. Blogging, after all, is the refuge of the untalented. 2,000 words should only take me 19 minutes.”

“I could have blogged, if you wanted,” said Mara, a plaintive note creeping into her erstwhile monotone. “I mean, I did read that article on results-driven trolling.”

“And you would have done it so much better than I could even dream of, mon petit boom-time relic,” said Tark, standing up to swoop a mollified Mara, feather-weight since puberty, into his arms.  “But I would never ask you to stoop so low, darling. The day you find yourself blogging, is the day that our bank account dips below seven zeros.”

“Oh, Tark,” said Mara with a sigh. “You crack me up, really. If I were ever to laugh, I do believe you would be the only one to give me cause.”


[P.S. Happy birthday Tark. May you have lots to smile about today. x]

What Makes Me Buy A Self-Published Book?

It’s summer holiday season. Therefore it’s self-published e-book time. I’m currently loading up to my Kindle. But what makes me choose one non-traditionally published book over someone else’s?

It’s tough to know which marketing works, and which doesn’t; as a reader, I have to say that I find a lot of book marketing intensely annoying, and at best unprofessional.

There are many excellent bloggers out there who give excellent advice, based on their own experience, on marketing for self-published books (not least David Gaughran here), so I’m not going to pretend to know anything about that. Book marketing is extremely tough, and I don’t have the answers. But from what I’ve seen, many successful novelists seem to rely most on painstakingly grown mailing lists, for marketing purposes. I’m not on any of those, though. So I wondered, how is it that I buy lots of self-published stuff?

With this in mind, I thought I’d do a little study of my own, based on an extensive sample of a self-published novel reader – myself. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, here we have a scientific study of the most pure and unassailable proportions: a survey of just 1 person. You can thank me later.

The factors which influence my book-buying decision... (and 1 which DEFINITELY DOESN'T...)

The factors which influence my book-buying decision… (and 1 which DEFINITELY DOESN’T…)

As you can see from these comprehensive and incontrovertible figures, the majority of my self-published book buying is influenced by book reviews, which I will only get to read having already looked up a title – which will result from a search by genre. So that’s not probably not much help. (However, if self-published authors do want to take any action from the fact that asking me on Twitter to buy your book will most certainly result in me NOT buying your book, feel free.)

It’s because I’m looking

Because I tend to buy most of the self-published stuff I read when I’m already browsing (apart from the 20% I buy after hearing about them on blogs), this means attracting my attention when I’m looking, not when I’m not looking. So it strikes me that if I was marketing something to me, the most important factor to get right is genre, followed by the blurb telling me what exactly it’s about, followed by an indication of what book or author your work is like. I know that this doesn’t help the very authors I sympathised with in this rant against lazy genre stereotyping - sorry. But if I’ve never heard of you, how else am I going to hear of you?

Finally, kudos to the book bloggers. They’re doing readers like myself a service, in an industry where neither publishers nor authors know their arses from their elbows at the moment. It’s a jungle out there, and most of us don’t want to have to kiss the frogs. If you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors.

Over to you – how did you hear about the self-published novels you’ve read?

What influenced your decision to buy them?

And lastly – has anything ever turned you off buying a self-published book in particular? Why?

This Summer I’ll Be Reading My Ego: The Farce of Holiday Reading Lists

Sun Reading in the SunAll the newspapers are doing their “Recommended Holiday Reads” for 2014. Of the ones I’ve seen, only the one in the Sunday Times wasn’t hilarious. The Sunday Times listed books by genre, giving their picks of the best romance, crime, thrillers, non-fiction etc this year. So far, so sensible. However, every other paper I read went and interviewed somebody famous and asked them what they’ll be reading on the beach this year.

The answers are completely predictable, and the literary equivalent of a selfie in your underwear. You couldn’t imagine more self-puffery than the crap people spout when they say what’s on their reading list, rather than tell you what’s really going to be in their suitcase. People’s public reading choices are as honest as a teenager on Facebook, and just as annoying.

“Oh, this summer I will be re-reading some classics, like War and Peace and The Female Eunuch. I just LOVE having the time to lazily go through my old faves again on the beach! And as my guilty pleasure, I will be going through this book that my friend wrote – she said if I gave her a plug, she’d plug mine in the Irish Times.”

Everyone lies about what they’re reading. It’s 99% of the reason that traditional book lovers, who would get the DTs from not being able to handle a paperback at least once a week, also own e-Readers. We all read stuff we’re afraid makes us look less of what we want to look like – be that intelligent or informed, trendsetting or fashionable, analytical or interesting.

The Holiday Read farce reached perfectly preposterous proportions in the Guardian, which opened with choices from John Banville, who says without any apparent trace of irony “I’m afraid I don’t go in much for holidays”, before droning on about yet another history of the Irish civil war (because we need more of those); an oft-read translation of Nietzsche (he needs to read it in translation? My God, the barbarian), and a plug for Colm Tóibín’s new novel which, because he has the MS even though it’s not published yet, makes Banville somehow sound like a One Direction fan who got an exclusive preview for a band-endorsed line of artificial chest hair.

just a book and her imagination at work, aaahThis sort of journalism is pointless. Do the lies that people tell you about what they’re reading tell you anything you want to know, let alone anything helpful? If I read an article about reading recommendations, I want it to list some books I would like to read. None of the articles bar the one in the Sunday Times did so. (It’s behind a paywall and I read it in print, I’m afraid, so I can’t link it here.)

Anyway, I am interested in hearing what people are REALLY reading when they’re off work. I don’t care if you’re going on holidays or if you only have 1 day off to attend the wedding of a cousin you haven’t seen since 1987. Be honest with me. What’s going to be bringing you on a psychological holiday this summer?

The Cynic’s Guide To Blogging

Tomorrow is my 1st bloggerversary bloggaversary Blogiversary! (Pause. Wait for silence).

It is, though. On 9 July 2013 I started blogging about book sales, writing for money in an environment where there is no pay for writing, and other things generally in the book and writing worlds I felt like poking fun at.

Anyway, I thought I’d celebrate the last day of this blogging year with an episodic “I learned something today”.

There are many blog posts out there telling people about blogging. It might sound like an awful waste of time, but I have found these posts extremely helpful in the past, even invaluable in many “what the hell just happened??” moments. I had no idea what to expect, last July, when I started out, but in the offchance that some of the things I’ve learned might be useful to others, here is:

9 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I started This Lark

1.  Know why you’re here, or go away.

Before you start blogging, figure out what your purpose is. Do you want to engage with people with similar interests in stone walls, cow whispering and old calendars? Fine. Do you want to promote your business, your art, or your appreciation of overpriced food and drink? Grand.

But if you feel like you should blog just because you’ve got some cool opinions, that’s a tough battle. If you don’t give readers a consistent, thematic reason to come back, you’ll never see them again. And if you’re not interested enough in your main theme, you won’t be back either.

2.  Blog statistics are pointless. They will wreck your head, and ruin your creativity.

Some bloggers apparently manage to ramp up 20,000 followers and 100,000 hits within 6 months of starting. They will release multiple blog posts telling you of this fact. You will be tempted to use them as a benchmark. Don’t. Looking at these blogs will only make you doubt yourself, so don’t do it. A few of these bloggers are truly popular. More of them are not, in that only a very tiny percentage of so-called followers will ever actually read anything they write, particularly if they’re posting more than 1 captioned photograph per day.

I’m not for 1 minute suggesting that all such blogs are faking statistics; but there are ways of artificially increasing your follower count. For instance, you could purchase 10,000 fake followers on Twitter and link the count to your blog instantly. You could also spend 17 hours a day throwing around likes and follows on other people’s blogs in a scatter-gun approach, even without reading them (er, especially without reading them), in the hopes they will do the same for yours. But really, I can think of 20 better ways to waste my time, than creating meaningless statistics.

3.  The only respectable way to increase traffic is to blog more often.

I don’t always practice this because sometimes it’s just bloody impossible. But if you’re going to blog, do it at least twice a week. And those who blog more often than this will get even more hits. It’s just logical.

4.  Notice what generates the most interest, then write more of it.

I had the most fun doing jokey stuff, like Book Title Generators and How To Know If You’re In A Literary Fiction Novel, but what most regular visitors to this blog appear to want is stuff about writing and book sales – i.e. the stuff I promise at the top of the page.

Yay, celebration time, woo-hoo, go me, etc, yawn, whatevs

Yay, celebration time, woo-hoo, go me, etc, yawn, whatevs

5.   Link back to related previous posts in your new posts.

Make it easy for your readers to get more of your stuff – if they want. It’s the best non-pushy way to push.

6.  For the love of Blog, use other social media wisely.

Facebook frames posts in a very attractive way, but generates little in the way of traffic. Most people on Facebook aren’t interested in your blog: they’re interested in what you looked like last night and how wonderful you’re saying you are. Only about 10 of your Facebook friends will use your appearance in their news feed to look at your blog. You fell out of everyone else’s news feed a year ago.

Use Google+ to share posts, and use hashtags while you’re at it, but not because anyone’s going to click through from there either – rather, it will improve your rankings in search results, which can mean hits to your blog from such vague queries as “how to stop a family member from writing a misery memoir” (ooh-er) and “service to find Amazon reviews unhelpful” (I kid you not. These search terms actually brought people here).

Use Twitter – or to be specific, get other, more popular users, to share your stuff on Twitter. I’ve had sporadically good traffic from Twitter, but never from my own tweets, only other people’s. I can’t explain Twitter to you any more than I can explain why I end up thinking about Shrödinger’s cat at least once a week. But a tweet’s strike rate is tiny, so don’t rely on it. And also, I do NOT mean tweet 60 times a day, or even 20, because that’ll exclude you from any of the Twitter lists people actually look at. Permanently.

Join Linkedin groups related to your particular field, and start discussions in them by asking questions around the topic you’re blogging about, using your post as a springboard for debate. It will deliver you directly to a huge audience who would never otherwise have known you existed. Linkedin is where I’ve met some of the wisest, funniest and most helpful readers and writers around, and I’ll be eternally grateful for the fact that we were introduced there. Linkedin is also where I’ve encountered many people with about as much of a sense of humour as an ingrown toenail, but they never went near this blog before tearing into any discussions I started, so I can say what I want about them here.

7.  Don’t be afraid of a little rabble rousing…

My most popular posts to date have been the ones that got some people awfully upset: sometimes from the mere title of a blog post. But awfully upset people are outweighed 100-1 by people who will completely get what you’re doing. There are other blogs out there deliberately making contentious statements to stir trouble, but this isn’t one of them. The readers you actually want will get the point.

8.  …but blogging is a slow burn. Give it time, and make friends slowly.

Unless you’re famous, of course. Then just do whatever the hell you want, because 97% of people are just going to tell you what you want to hear anyway.

But – and I don’t have exact stats on this but I may compile them in future for emphasis – 95% of people who visit your blog for the big explosions won’t be back, no matter what you do. Concentrate on the 5% who will, because they are the audience you wanted all along.


Are you having fake fun? Yes, I’m having fake fun too! Hoo-yay!

9.  Have fun.

If you’re having fun, people can tell. If blogging is a chore, people can also tell.

It’s supposed to be fun, remember! The kindest name for this activity is ‘unpaid content generation’ – and whilst that might give you some kudos in a coffee shop if you’re 22 years old, most of us are here for other reasons. Per # 1: figure out what your reason is, and smile.


So, that’s what I’ve learned in the past year. Except for all the things I’ve forgotten. Which is the other 92% of pretty much Everything. Now you out there – what tips do you have for me?