Would You Buy Your Own Book?

by Steve Laube

buy-bookWhen I ask a room of writers if they would buy their own book if they saw it on the shelf at a major bookstore I am met with a variety of reactions. Laughter. Pensiveness. Surprise. And even a few scowls. How would you answer that question?

But the question is meant to ask if your book idea is unique. Whether it will stand out among the noise of the competition.

It is not a question of whether your book is important or valuable or even well written. It is ultimately a question of commercial viability.

You may heard it said that piracy is a problem for writers (and it can be). But I would agree with those who say that obscurity is an even greater problem. If no one knows about your book no one will steal it…and no one will buy it either!

This is why that competitive analysis portion of your proposal is so important. Help the agent help the publisher to create space on the physical store shelf but also on the virtual Internet store shelf. Help them position your book so that it rises from obscurity into viability.

This can be as “simple” as a dynamite title. Or it could be a strong platform that stand out in the crowd. Or the skill in the writing is so amazing that the book creates evangelists who will tell the world to read it.

So. Would you buy your own book if it was on the shelf next to an über-famous author on the same topic or in the same genre?

36 Responses to Would You Buy Your Own Book?

  1. Avatar
    gwyn weyant November 14, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    If I ever get to the point that I have a book for sale. I’d be guilty of buying a copy. Then I would donate it to the local library. (To quote my mother-in-law. Its a pretty poor dog who won’t fend for himself.)I always felt that meant if you can’t support your own writing. Why would expect any one else to support you.

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    Timothy Fish November 14, 2011 at 4:30 am #

    I’m surprised that any author would answer that question in the negative. Maybe one or two, but a room full? The thing is, there is not a book I’ve written that I didn’t do so thinking “I wish there were a book like that.” With non-fiction in particular, before I do more than write a few pages to explain the idea, I peruse the books on Amazon.com that are related, looking for gaps in the coverage of the topic, so when the book is finished it is adding something to the conversation.

    I don’t use quite the same approach with fiction, but still, I write stories that I want to read. The book Mother Not Wanted started with the idea: A destitute woman dies and leaves her child in the care of a friend. After years of raising the child as her own, the friend decides she must take the child to the woman’s family, but she doesn’t want to give the child up. It was a story I wanted to read at the time, so I wrote it. Even today, if I saw a similar story on the shelf, I might buy it.

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    Kathy Fuller November 14, 2011 at 4:59 am #

    I’m of the mind that you should always write a book that you want to read. So the answer will always be yes, I would buy my book. And then give it to someone else, who hopefully will give it to someone else, etc. That’s how you get out of obscurity. But I do think this question does relate to whether the book is well written (it’s “importance” isn’t that important). If your book isn’t well written, it won’t go beyond obscurity. No one says “I read this badly written book and I can’t wait to pass it around and tell all my friends about it and recommend it to everyone.” So it has to be well-written and something you as a writer would read.

    • Avatar
      TC Avey November 14, 2011 at 6:04 am #

      Funny Kathy,
      My first smile of the day. Thanks!

    • Avatar
      Timothy Fish November 14, 2011 at 7:31 am #

      Interesting. Certainly, it helps if a book is well written. If a book is very poorly written, it won’t get its point across and will fail, but I would love to see what you’re basing your claim on. I don’t see it. I’ve seen plenty of poorly written books that have done very well in terms of book sales. What you don’t see are people saying “Here’s a book with an ordinary story, but the writing is great. You should read it.” Instead, you hear people saying, “The writing is a little rough, but you really need to read this story.”

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    Jackie Castle November 14, 2011 at 5:49 am #

    I read mainly YA and children’s stories since that’s what I write. I recall reading that many of those more famous writers were those who wrote the story first for themselves and then it gained in popularity. So yes, any one who creates something, be it literature, artwork or even some kind of craft, needs to ask themselves if they would be in line to purchase it first?
    This is a very good question. Thanks for asking it.

  5. Avatar
    TC Avey November 14, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    Good question. Yes I would buy my book, I think I have a pretty unique idea and I pray it is well written (I know I have worked really hard, but what writer doesn’t?). Between the idea and the style of writing I believe it will grow in popularity even though I don’t have a huge platform and I am definitely not known.

  6. Avatar
    Shawn November 14, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    “You can’t judge a book by its’ cover.”

    As a retailer with 25 years of consumer selling and wholesale buying experience, I am always amazed as how authors allow their publishers to put a lousy cover on their book. I wish I could say that all buyers and subsequently all readers buy books because of content alone, not so. A bad cover can hurt a book. If they can’t get beyond the cover, absent an employee handselling your book, sales will struggle unless there is an groundswell of commercial or public support.

    (By the way, SuzyQ says there is no such thing as a bad booksigning. If no or few readers show up, use the event as an opportunity to win the staff over and turn them into your personal sales force. After a positive experience with the author, the staff will sell more of your books when there is traffic in the store.)

    To reword Steve’s question “When I ask a room of writers if they would buy their own book if they saw “ONLY THE COVER” on the shelf at a major bookstore….”

    Authors better ask this question, because potential buyers are everyday!

    • Avatar
      TC Avey November 14, 2011 at 6:57 am #

      Wonderful advice! I remember a book I bought completely off the cover. I was delighted to find it was a good read as well.

    • Avatar
      Timothy Fish November 14, 2011 at 7:53 am #

      Cover design, like writing, is very subjective. But you make a good point. When I buy a book, I’ve already made a decision before I look at the actual content of the book. The whole point of the book cover design is to communicate what is in the book so the reader doesn’t have to read the book to find out.

      So many people think the first page of a book is important, but to me, it has little importance because the cover has already sold me on the book. Unless the first page is terrible, the cover has already told me enough for me to read several pages in search of the story it promised. Sadly, some authors spend a long time working on the first page, but they give little thought to the back cover.

  7. Avatar
    Judith Robl November 14, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    Yes, I would buy it. And yes, I sometimes give it away. As I just did to a young lady who didn’t know I was an author, and she was thrilled. She had been abused and had come out of a bad relationship. So I shared my grandmother’s wisdom, and she can share with another friend who is coming through a bad time. I was mightily blessed.

  8. Avatar
    Sundi Jo November 14, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    I sure would. The title itself would catch me. I’m not saying that to be conceited, but from the reaction I have received from others before I even tell them what the book is about, they are intrigued.

  9. Avatar
    Jane Mohline November 14, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    Each of the books I’ve written is unique, one of a kind, with very helpful content, and well written. My problem is not knowing how to go about acquiring the help I need in marketing.

  10. Avatar
    Jane Mohline November 14, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Yes! I would buy each of my books. The books are unique, one of a kind, with very helpful content, and well written. My problem is not knowing how to go about acquiring the help I need in marketing.

  11. Avatar
    Steve Laube November 14, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Each of you have really posted some GREAT comments! Very interesting response. In retrospect I should have asked the question differently. To emphasize the point I was trying to make, answer THIS question:

    “Would you buy your own book…if it wasn’t written by you?”

    That gets to the heart of the viability of book. If it were on the shelf next to Famous-Author or Dynamo-Good-Looking-Cover book…would you still buy it?

    You don’t know the author. Never heard of him or her.

    Now answer the question.

    • Avatar
      Deb Kemper November 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      I would most definitely because I stopped reading romance when I turned 40. Romance has been written primarily for the young adult, as though those of us with a little gray aren’t eligible. How very wrong you are, if that’s your opinion. Love isn’t fabulous, romantic, and funny until you know each other. Nothing like the passage of time gracefully ripens love. It’s almost impossible to find a romance written with the subjects over 40, or heaven forbid, 50. Yet I’m working on one and have another with an editor. I’ve interviewed about 100 women over 40 to share my theme. Each one has shared a story and all are enthusiastic about the release.
      I write romantic adventure with real people who have real problems. There are even a few men in my circle who can’t wait to critique the next chapter.

      • Avatar
        Gina Gates November 30, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

        Deb, I was intrigued to see your post because my new book, “Falling in October” is about finding love again in midlife. It is not fiction, but has some very romantic elements. I’d be interested to hear more about your book.

    • Avatar
      Catherine Painter June 14, 2012 at 7:39 am #

      I would buy it because of it’s title explains exactly what’s inside: So, You’re a Christian! Now What?

      It’s a 12-week Bible study comparing 12 ways of spiritual growth with identical steps of physical growth.
      For example, Lesson One:
      The physical baby must first be born.
      The spiritual baby must first be born-again, and so forth.

  12. Avatar
    Janalyn Voigt November 14, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    Yes and yes and yes. :o) I write from my passions, but with an eye to what readers will want. I would never expect a publisher to put money on a book that I wouldn’t fund myself, if I were a publisher.

    Advice I live by: Never spend your precious time on a project that wouldn’t be worthy of five years of your life. I wish I could credit the originator of that piece of wisdom, because it shapes how I do things.

  13. Avatar
    Timothy Fish November 14, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    Even with your clarification, I think I tried to answer your question before, but as I think about it, it isn’t an easy question to answer. Take my book For the Love of a Devil for example. Around the time that book came out, I did a search for all the books that are based on the story of Hosea. I found four or five of them. That surprised me because it is such an amazing story. I figured I’d find several. One of them was Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. That one is the one by the Famous-Author with the Dynamo-Good-Looking-Cover. I actually bought that one because I was curious to see what she’d done with the story. I waited until after I finished my book to read it because I didn’t want to be influenced by the choices she made. It turned out that her approach and my approach were so totally different that they don’t even look like the same story, so there was nothing to worry about. But I didn’t purchase any of the others. I’m not sure if I can or should make anything of that, since one appeared to be targeted at an African-American audience, one was out of print, and one was so loosely based on Hosea that I wasn’t even sure if I should include it, but it does make me wonder if I would’ve found a similar excuse for rejecting my own book.

  14. Avatar
    Laura Christianson November 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    “Would you buy your own book…if it wasn’t written by you?…It is ultimately a question of commercial viability.”

    Thought-provoking question, Steve! It brings up a host of reasons why people buy — clever title, stunning cover, enticing back cover copy, having a personal connection with the author.

    But ultimately (in my mind) it boils down to the “What’s in it for me?” question. Does this book help me solve a problem I’m having or address a burning question I have? Or, in the case of most fiction, does the book transport me to a different world for several hours?

    I’m teaching a class on Facebook business pages tomorrow night, and I’m going to “borrow” your question, as it also pertains to the types of content we write for our social networks and blogs.

    • Avatar
      Timothy Fish November 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

      There’s much truth to that. In the first book I wrote and the one I’m writing now, I would want the book for the Appendix alone. I’ve actually used my first book for the information that is back there and I expect I’ll do that with the one I’m working on. But while I can say that my novels will transport someone to different world several hours, that is true of so many novels. I don’t know that that is enough for my novels to stand out from the one by the Famous-Author.

  15. Avatar
    Rachel Wilder November 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Yes, I would buy it if I hadn’t written it and it was on the shelf next to a big-name author. I’m writing in a setting no one else has done in the last 15 years, with an aspect of Louisiana culture no one writes about. Not in the CBA anyway.

  16. Avatar
    Jodi Aman November 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm #


  17. Avatar
    TC Avey November 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Yep, I would still buy it. So far I haven’t read anything like it. Now to get it out there!!!

    Thanks for getting us to think!

    • Avatar
      Timothy Fish November 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      I heard that saying “I haven’t read anything like it” is deadly for a book deal.

  18. Avatar
    Shawn November 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    This is a great question to ask authors. I think the author needs to ask is this book commercially viable? By the way, just because someone is willing to publish your book does not mean it is commercially viable. I have supported my family on remainders and closeouts for many years. At that point your book is commercially viable for me, for you not so much except for getting market exposure.

    • Avatar
      Timothy Fish November 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

      As the saying goes, that’s a good question.

      Unfortunately, I only know one person who can answer it and he only answers when he is ready. Publishers might have a better idea than author, but even they don’t know for sure until the books are on the shelf.

  19. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan November 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    For the articles I write, I never know whether or not I am pleased with it until I see it in print. Most of the time I am proud of what I see, but occasionally not.

    I sure hope that doesn’t carry over into the books I am writing!

  20. Avatar
    Gina Gates November 15, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Funny you should ask. Actually, I searched for a book like mine after a painful divorce. I didn’t want a silly “how to” about starting over, but intelligent information and positive encouragement. I wanted it to be about real life, but I also needed to find some romantic inspiration to dream again. As I wrote my way out of my own experience, I thought it would be helpful to share it. So I wrote “Falling in October: A Season of Hope, A Time For Love”. I hope someone else can find a friend on the bookshelf when they need the faith to believe in love again.

  21. Avatar
    Anita Mae Draper November 16, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    No matter how much I want to give an emphatic yes, I have to be honest… it depends.

    I’m shallow when it comes to book buying. I buy on 3 criteria:
    1) the author
    2) the cover
    3) the back blurb

    All 3 criteria have to be a yes or I won’t buy it.

    I’m with Shawn on this one. If my publisher puts out a cover I didn’t have any say in and I totally dislike, how can I proudly flog it as my creation? Because no matter what is inside, the public is going to associate me with that cover. If it’s my tenth book and I have a following, they’ll likely look past it. But if it’s my first…

    I’d rather wait until the rights revert back to me and resell it in a different package.

    On the other hand, if it’s a totally horrid cover, I may buy every book I can get my hands on and burn them.

    JMHO as a pre-pubbed, unagented author.

  22. Avatar
    Terri Thompson November 16, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Absolutely. Many times I think how great it would be if I found this book on the shelf. And honestly, as I’m rereading it for editing (having forgotten most of the story) I’m sucked into the story again. I’m not saying my writing doesn’t need improvement, I know it does, but the story is unique and involves other cultures as well as ups and downs and romance, of course. I hope I can express all this to an agent in my query in one paragraph. lol

  23. Avatar
    Hettie Ashwin November 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    I purchase on the cover and the blurb. If it is attractive and sounds like a good read only then do I flip to the inside and pick a page at random. My books? most definitely. They are attractive and intriguing enough to pique my interest. I research the colours in the airport bookshop before settling on my colours.


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