How Readers Make Decisions What to Buy

I hope you aren’t disappointed in the promise that I appear to make in today’s headline… I do not have the definitive, magic formula to successfully convince people to buy your book.  Like building an author platform, the answer is actually boring and possibly frustrating if you are in a hurry to be a success at writing. (It is always a good idea to lower expectations at the outset of anything (which I learned being a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan).

What I do know is that regardless of other changes in publishing, one factor remains constant for not-yet-known authors or unfamiliar books:

People buy an unfamiliar book primarily based on recommendations from others.

The strength of credibility for that recommendation might vary depending on whether it is a close friend, respected authority or an anonymous online review, but still, buyers do not buy in a vacuum.  They are influenced by someone else.

Unlike last week when I outlined how decisions are made by agents and publishers (quick and subjective), readers make the decision to buy a new book based on what they were told.  While you can’t tell a book by its cover, you most certain will buy it without reading it first. So, we rely on others.

“I heard this was a good book.”

“My friend said I should read this.”

“My pastor recommended this book.”

“I heard the author interviewed”

“This is the best book I’ve read on this subject.”

Consumers are careful with their money. They pay attention to what other people say. Libraries are good for low-risk testing of something, but buying a book is an entirely different process.

An author friend of mine tends to ignore reviews from media and other professional reviewers because, “I don’t pay attention to anyone who gets their books for free.”

When someone puts down their own money to buy a book and still recommends it, greater weight should be given that review.

After you buy a first book from a certain author, whether you will buy their next book or not is based on your reading experience. It’s how any business, TV program, church or anything depending on repeat business grows…you need to make people want to come back and recommend it to others.

Every successful first book from an author is built in the same way. First-readers liked it and mentioned it to friends.  Media or well-known endorsers help to get the ball rolling to an extent, but no marketing campaign carries the power of a trusted friend recommending a book.

Authors who self-publish live in the same world as those traditionally published. They still need to impress a small group of people enough for them to recommend it to someone else.  It is how any business is built, whether you clean rugs for a living or write books.

Furthermore, using a business principle not specific to publishing, but still true, selling price should not be the most compelling argument for someone to buy your product over another.

Do you want to be the best rug cleaner in your area or the cheapest?

Do you want people to read your books and be positively affected by them or be able to say you gave away 40,000 free ebooks?  (Just because 40,000 people downloaded it doesn’t mean that number read it. I am not against “seeding the market” with a price promotion, but it is very limited and should result in increased paid downloads.)

Sometimes the answer to the above questions is “both”, but not usually. In general, you choose one or the other. The road to success in writing or rug cleaning is a slow process of one step at a time. Impress one, which then becomes two, then four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, etc.

There are no shortcuts to success that lasts.


8 Responses to How Readers Make Decisions What to Buy

  1. Jeanne Takenaka September 30, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    Dan, you bring up good points. How much weight does a review carry? I hadn’t thought about a reviewer who gives opinions after receiving a book for free might not carry as much weight with people as the review written by someone who sacrificed money to purchase a book.

    You also bring a big picture perspective to the numbers aspect of books. Of course I’d rather sell fewer books of better quality than be able to say my book got 40K free downloads. You’ve given me good food for thought today.

    As usual. 🙂

  2. Sue Raatjes September 30, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    Your marketing background/expertise comes through. Thanks for educating us about this whole mysterious process of publishing and marketing. I find your blogs helpful.

  3. Christina Banks September 30, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    Good points. As a reader, with little time available to read, I’m more likely to read a book I’ve paid money for. Most of the books I pay for are by authors I have read before or books recommended by trusted friends.

  4. Terri Wangard September 30, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    I often check reviews before buying. Frequently, bad reviews are posted by readers who received a free copy for their review. Often they complained about the Christian message. I don’t understand the reasoning of publishers to send these books to reviewers who are not receptive to inspirational books and give them bad reviews, resulting in low numbers on the like scale.

  5. Jenelle. M September 30, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    Two phrase stuck with me: “It’s always good to lower expectations at on the onset of anything.”


    “People buy an unfamiliar book primarily based on recommendations from others.”


    Dan, this post was another wonderful reminder the power a great story holds. I want to be a quality writer, and if that means it takes X amount of time for the story to sing, then I will stay the course and preserver with patience until it does. Gracias!

  6. Jenny Leo September 30, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    Re reviews: I’m amused by reviews that openly state “I haven’t read the book yet” and give it one star, or those that give it one star for something like “the package arrived ripped,” which reflects on the postal service, not the book. I’ve even seen some glowing reviews accompanied by one star, as if the reviewer got confused and thought that one star meant “great” and five stars meant “ick.”

    I guess I would find those comments less amusing if it were MY book getting the one-star reviews, dragging the whole rating down.

  7. Jean Brunson September 30, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Thanks for the helpful information. It seems exposure to everyone I know starts the ball rolling to get friends and strangers to read my book.

  8. Kathy October 1, 2014 at 4:32 am #

    Such helpful words. Thank you for reminding us to keep this perspective while we work.

    I once sent a free book to a blogger who then reviewed it when she was only half-way through. She told readers how she expected the book to end! And, she was wrong.

    I’m rethinking the unknown blogger review for my next book.

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