Saturday, May 28, 2016

#4 and #5 Reader Motivations for Buying a Book


MUST READS and IMPULSE BUYS Reader Motivations

This week I've been talking about reader motivations for buying a book.  I've hypothesized these as the top five internal motivations for buying a book.

Top 5 Reader Motivations for Buying a Book
1.     Instant gratification of entertainment
2.     Hooked on book idea, buy and save for later
3.     Teach me something
4.     MUST read
5.     Impulse buy

My previous three posts talked about #1, Instant Gratification of Entertainment, and #2, Hooked on book idea, buy and save for later.  and #3 Teach me something. Today I'm discussing the final two motivations. #4 MUST READ reader motivation and #5 Impulse Buys. I'm putting these two motivations in one post because these are the two in which the author has the least marketing influence.

MUST READ: These books fall into several categories. My personal “must read” books are ones assigned by a book club I participate in. They read across all categories from fiction to non-fiction, popular best sellers and local authors. 90% of the books chosen are books I would have never picked up on my own. The second group of "must read" books for me are non-fiction books that I believe will help move my career forward. These tend to be about the business of being an author and publisher. There is always something new to learn: a new technology, a new marketing approach, a new trend. 

Many readers are motivated to purchase a "must read" when there is social pressure to read something.  In other words, books that everyone is talking about—the latest bestseller, the latest critically-acclaimed or award winning book. I equate this to the need to socially participate with other readers, or not to feel left out of the conversation. These books will get purchased quickly (50 Shades of Grey is a good example of this). Whether the reader finishes the book or not, she wants to have read enough to be part of the conversation, to have an opinion. These books get a lot of velocity and, if it generates significant controversy, can have a long tail for a year or so. This applies equally to fiction and non-fiction. 

Another book type  that falls into the MUST read category are what used to be called the “coffee table book.” That is the book that makes you look smart or hip. The book that you want everyone to know you read. This might be a Pulitzer or Nobel prize book. It might also be the most revered book in your career field or political circle or religious environment.  These books are called “coffee table books” because they often aren’t read but are there for show. Or, depending on the readers social circle, are read enough to give an opinion like the example of a popular book above. 

Authors writing the “must read” book have little control over whether their book takes off.  If publishers knew what needs to happen to make this book, it would be all they buy and something they do every time. I think it is a combination of great premise, controversy, acceptable prose style, right topic at right time in the zeitgeist, and a good marketing budget. In any case this book requires best-seller status or multiple revered awards. 

IMPULSE BUYS:  I include this because almost everyone I talked to admitted that a couple times a year they buy something for no reason other than it fit the mood or need at the moment. I suspect that the impulse buy might happen in any of the five reader motivation categories. What makes it impulsive is that it is outside of the reader’s normal purchasing habits. For example, if I normally purchase “beach reads” to take on vacation, my normal habit is the instant-gratification-entertainment buyer.  However, if on my vacation I’m are hit with three days of lousy weather and will be cooped up inside a cabin, I may go looking for something longer and more complex. I may end up buying a 400-page thriller or a 500-page epic fantasy. 

In the reverse, if I’m normally a fan of books with cross-genre leanings and complex worlds, I might choose to buy several “beach reads” when I go on vacation as a backup plan to days I’m not running around doing things. These books may not get read at all if all my days are sunny and I come back to the hotel exhausted. In this scenario my instant-gratification short books could end up never being read and lost in the bowels of my e-reader.

My latest impulse buy was The Best Places to Pee, by Kelly Melillo. I was at an author reading, supporting a friend and Kelly, a beautiful and well-dressed woman, was one of the five authors there. I was struck by the topic, the fact it was delivered by this very classy woman, and that it was about bathrooms in Portland, Oregon. I just couldn't help myself; I had had to have it. 
In many ways this book meets several of my reader motivations: 1) It's quick and fun, instant gratification; 2) The topic was so outrageous I had to have it; and would probably refer to it again and again; and 3) It is a teach-me-something book. I live in the Portland area. Choosing restaurants and bars based on their interesting bathrooms is an interesting take on the world in a very Portlandia sort of way. 

Like the teach-me-something and must-read buyers, authors have little control over regularly capturing this impulse-buying reader. This is not someone who is likely to be a rabid fan for your genre. This is not someone who would normally be looking for your book. The only way to grab this reader is to make sure you have all the right discoverability elements in place—great cover, good blurb, accurate metadata, good reviews, so that when the mood strikes they can at least find your book. Oh, and a catchy or quirky title helps.

What is your latest MUST READ or IMPULSE BUY book?

Friday, May 27, 2016

#3 Reader Motivation for Buying a Book

Teach Me Something Reader Motivation


This week I'm talking about reader motivations for buying a book.  I've hypothesized these as the top five internal motivations for buying a book.

Top 5 Reader Motivations for Buying a Book
1.     Instant gratification of entertainment
2.     Hooked on book idea, buy and save for later
3.     Teach me something
4.     MUST read
5.     Impulse buy

My previous two post talked about #1, Instant Gratification of Entertainment, and #2, Hooked on book idea, buy and save for later. Today I'm discussing the #3 Teach Me Something reader motivation. Though it would make sense that this reader is really looking for non-fiction, there are also a number of fiction readers who fall into the teach-me-something category. Let's discuss each of them.


Non-fiction Readers

This reader wants to learn something to justify the time spent in reading.  With so many media opportunities--Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat, Movies, Live videos, and a variety of video training sites, the teach-me-something non-fiction reader tends to be in a hurry to learn. In most non-fiction, teaching is a key element of the book. Non-fiction is successful based on how well that learning need is met, and how easy the learning is acquired based on the book.

Non-fiction books need to be accessible, easy-to-follow, and have descriptive chapter titles and/or a great index. It is not at all unusual that this reader will purchase a book solely based on the Table of Contents. She looks to see that the topics covered are sufficient to meet her needs and justify the price. Furthermore, this reader is highly likely NOT to read the entire book. Instead she will go directly to the chapters that appear to provide the learning she desires. If those chapters meet her expectations it may be all she reads. If they do not, she might read a chapter before or after. But if the desired learning does not occur, the book is then forgotten.

However, IF the desired learning occurs quickly, the book is kept and may be used again when a new learning need is identified. Or, in the case of technical learning, the book may be used again to re-familiarize the reader with the steps.  The best feedback I've received on my DIY Publishing book has been by people who state things like: "This is my self-publishing bible." OR "My book pages are tattered because I go back to this every time I publish."  



The most successful books in this category are business books. Books that provide instruction on any aspect of business from technology to marketing to management.  Even though business books are rarely finished and almost never read from cover-to-cover, they tend to be purchased to solve a particular problem/need for the reader. It is not uncommon for someone to purchase a $20 book to learn how to do something that is covered in only one chapter. If that need is met, the person is quick to recommend it to others even though they only read a small part of the book.  The second popular category in this group are self-help books, ranging from DIY to physical, psychological or spiritual help.


Fiction Readers

Many fiction readers also fall into the teach-me-something group. One of the reasons historical fiction, across all genres, is so popular is because readers enjoy learning about another time and way of life.  Science Fiction readers tend to be teach-me-something readers as well. They love learning about new possibilities of scientific invention or discovery in the future. They also love intelligent extrapolations of socio-economics, cultures, and politics in the future. 

Teach-me-something readers can be found in all kinds of genres that are specific to a niche. Fiction based on popular careers is a great example. Readers flock to protagonists who are doctors, lawyers, police, military, and firefighters not only for the hero factor, but also to gain insight into the actual career.  They love learning about the training required, the actual on-the-job things that happen, and the emotional trials and triumphs of living in this type of career. Novels based on specific sports can also find a great niche audience. I remember speaking with a romance novelist who focuses on hockey players as her protagonists. Her readers are all hockey fans and love the attention to detail where they can learn even more about the game, the politics, and the perceived inside scoop. The same has happened with fiction books about baseball, football, soccer. This can fit into all types of genres from romance to thrillers and mystery.



The books displayed above are a good example of the many genres this motivated teach-me-something fiction reader can include in her choices. Included above are the following: 1) a brief book teaching something about Buddhism in everyday life through a short story, 2) examining the varied roles of women in American pioneer days, 3) a noir detective story based in the 1920's; 4) historical women's fiction novel about a singer in the roaring '20s gangster days; 5) a contemporary romance with firefighters as the heroes; 6) a historical literary novel about the depression; and 7) a sports romance with baseball at it's core. 

Of course, to be successful these books must still be entertaining but they speak to a particular audience who also wants to learn something. The great thing about these motivated readers is that they aren't necessarily wedded to a single genre. In their desire to learn about different times, people, culture, experiences through fiction, they are willing to try more than one genre. 

However, finding these readers is not easy. Like the buy-now-read-later books, these books tend to go on the to-be-read (TBR) pile and aren’t selected above the instant gratification entertainment choice. Thus, the teach-me-something book—particularly fiction ones—require the author to build the niche audience into a strong fan base. These books will get purchased again and again if they deliver on the promise of being interesting and subtly teaching something. Books that fail to sell in this category tend to be books that don’t deliver on that promise. 

Are you an author who includes teach-me-something details in your fiction? If so, is your marketing reaching out to this motivated reader?




Thursday, May 26, 2016

#2 Reader Motivation for Buying a Book

Hooked on Book Idea, Buy and Save for Later

This week I'm talking about reader motivations for buying a book.  I've hypothesized these as the top five internal motivations for buying a book.

Top 5 Reader Motivations for Buying a Book
1.     Instant gratification of entertainment
2.     Hooked on book idea, buy and save for later
3.     Teach me something
4.     MUST read
5.     Impulse buy

My previous post talked about #1, Instant Gratification of Entertainment. Today I'm discussing the #2 reader motivation for buying a book. This is the area where I believe the vast majority of fiction books fit. 

Though most genre fiction writers would state they write to entertain, they would caveat their statement with other descriptors around themes and purpose, cross-genre influences, and the books would be larger in scope. That is not to say the books falling in the #2 category are "more serious" or that the books in the #1 category are less well-written. All good books  have great characters, thematic presentations, good locations, and good writing.


#2 Hooked On A book Idea, Buy and Save for Later

This kind of book is one that matches genre expectations, meets all the discoverability criteria, and does generate a click to read more. Of those clicks, perhaps 50% purchase. This type of book is NOT the easier purchase that the instant gratification entertainment enjoys.

The reader purchases the book because she believes it will be entertaining BUT not instantly. It might take more time (longer book), more mental energy (more characters, locations, or plot points to track), or require a specific mood to read and enjoy it. That is why it gets put in the "save for later" or the to-be-read (TBR) pile.



For example, I may enjoy the complexity and excitement of a good thriller, but that type of book requires more concentration for me to keep all the players straight. Sometimes the intensity of emotion or the jeopardy of the characters is more than I want to feel after a long day at work. But I know I enjoy it in the hands of a good author and I'll buy it when it comes out but save it for when I have the time to enjoy it.

These buy-and-save-for-later books do get a good number of purchases but they don’t get read quickly—often waiting for weeks or months in the reader's TBR pile.  If the reader is not already a fan, the chance of getting picked up from the TBR pile lessens with each passing week as that book competes with all the other books in that pile. 

Because these books don’t get read right away or get lost in the pile, they don’t get reviews, and they never generate good word of mouth. Eventually, these books fall into the discoverability black hole as the next 50,000 books are released the following month.


I understand this category really well, because this is where most of my fiction books fall. The only way to consistently increase sales on this type of book is to embrace your niche and work on growing a rabid fan base (5,000+). Once you get TRUE fans on your mailing list you can count on consistent sales. These true fans will buy your books, talk about your books, and beg for more. 

It can be done, but it’s not instantaneous like the instant-gratification group. This applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Many people do make a great living writing these books. It just takes a lot more work in finding and keeping fans, and the author finds her bestseller status eight to fifteen books later instead of in the first three or so of the books that meet the #1 motivator.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#1 Reader Motivation for Buying a Book

Over the past three years I’ve taught a lot of classes to indie authors about marketing.  I’ve also continued to take workshops myself. The majority of marketing workshops focus on the technology side of marketing—optimizing metadata, the numbers of posts you make in social media, pressuring (I mean leading) customers to buy a book, and overcoming various obstacles in the sales cycle. These are all important AND needed to be successful. However, one of the reasons these are taught so often is because they are easily quantifiable. With the right tracking and technology you can tell where a customer fails to move forward in the sales cycle. However, what this does NOT measure is what is the initial motivation for a reader to get online and look for a book.

Most authors agree that the primary buy decisions revolve around: 1) a great cover; 2) a blurb that hooks them to read more; 3) good reviews; and 4) price. There is quite a bit of good data to back this up. However, it still doesn’t tell us WHY they came. Why certain books consistently do better than others. If you know of data around this I’d love to see it!

Here is my list, based on a lot of anecdotal data from discussions with authors and readers, blogger’s take on this topic, and my own hypotheses on internal motivations. One day I might survey people on this. But it would take significant energy, research, and survey design to be meaningful from a statistical inference standpoint. So, take it for what it is. I’ll be talking about one each day on this blog.

Top 5 Reader Motivations for Buying a Book
1.     Instant gratification of entertainment
2.     Hooked on book idea, buy and save for later
3.     Teach me something
4.     MUST read
5.     Impulse buy

#1. Instant Gratification of Entertainment – This is the desire to spend some period of time (usually shorter rather than longer) escaping into a different world than we inhabit. These books are usually consumed within 24 hours of purchase. This is true for both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction it applies to romance, mysteries, thrillers, contemporary fantasy. In non-fiction it applies to anything celebrity-driven.



When I look at instant bestsellers, this desire for instant entertainment is definitely evident in sales. I think it also drives the current market of shorter fiction works (novella length, or short novels up to 55 or 60K); as well as the celebrity memoirs or self-help books that also tend to be in that same word count range. Because these works are purchased and read quickly, they tend to have high velocity in sales and reviews and then drop off the sales cliff as the next “instant entertainment” is released.


I know a number of fiction authors who write these type of books and are making a good living at it. They have it down to a science of regular releases (every six to eight weeks), book and series branding, and joint cross-promotion with others writing in the same genre and length. It seems clear that to continue making that income they have to write five to six novella-length books every year because of that income cliff. Most of them quote that the rankings hang on for only 2-3 weeks, which means something has to happen to boost it back (e.g., a new release, a re-packaging of a set of books) into continued sales.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the #2 Motivator, the Buy Now and Save for Later Group.