Tuesday, June 14, 2005

And the Hits Keep Coming...

WARNING: CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC
When I relaunched my website last May 15th, I installed an invisible hit counter to keep track of how many people were visiting.

I'm averaging about 200 page loads a day, which isn't bad considering I'm a newbie midlist author with about 90,000 books in print.

A few days ago, I began checking the hits this blog has been getting, and not counting all the times I re-edit it to correct numerous typos, I'm managing about 50 unique hits a day.

This information begs the question: do websites, and blogs, help sell books?

Let me state right now that selling books isn't the main point of my blog or my website. If it were, I'd have the standard five page author advertisement site, which only exists as a 24 hour link to Amazon.com.

I've tried to make my homepage more user-friendly, with some fun free stuff and some useful information.

But, ultimately, I hope that those who find the site fun, or the information useful, will buy one of my books.

Unfortunately, my hit counter only tracks people who visit the site, not people who visit the site and then run out and buy a copy of WHISKEY SOUR. And if it did, I can't help but think that I'd be disappointed by the stats.

Why are some of the most popular blogs out there written by folks who aren't huge bestsellers, even though their blogs are huge hits? Does blogging, or a good website, actually influence sales?

Even more to the point, does anything influence sales?

We've all seen advertising disasters, where authors with six-figure ad campaigns sold poorly, so clearly advertising isn't a key to success.

We've all read brilliant books that remain unknown, and crappy books that hit the bestseller list, so obviously talent isn't a key to success.

We've all seen authors who are brilliant self-promoters, or who hire brilliant publicists, and still fail to crack the NYT list, and those who do zero promotion and make the List constantly, so how well you toot your own horn isn't a key to success either.

So I direct this question to you, my 50 readers a day. Have you ever bought a book because you enjoyed a blog or a website? If not, what makes you buy a book? Seeing a big ad? Meeting the author in person? Knowing the author has a six-figure marketing campaign? Getting a postcard or bookmark in the mail? Reading a review?

Or does it ultimately come down to if the book is about a topic you normally enjoy?

Why do you buy books?

24 comments:

The Defective Reporter said...

I buy books based on the summary on the back cover. Unfortunately, most of what's out there is garbage. The one I bought last week uses the word "had" so often it makes me sorry I bought it. The author just threw this story together and it shows.

Books have to compete with so many other forms of entertainment, you would think the industry would try harder. They don't and people have stopped buying.

I think from now on I'm only going to buy books others recommend.

Marti Talbott, author and reader.
www.geocities.com/martitalbott/index.html

Bill Peschel said...

You probably can't include me in (as Louie B. Mayer would say, sort of), since a) I'm writing a book, b) I review books, and c) I'm cheap, which means I read library books and remainders. But here's some observations on how my reading habits have been influenced.

* Checked out your book after reading your Writer's Digest article.

* Reviewed John Scalzi's book "Old Man's War" after reading his Web site, even though I haven't read sci-fi in years.

* Read Eloisa James' romances after her NYTimes article was discussed online (she outed herself as a university professor and the daughter of a Famous Writer). Turns out she's a fine writer.

* Got Emma Holly's romances for my wife after reading a discussion of them on Romancing the Blog. She ended up buying two of them.

* Got Lynn Vehil's vampire novel from the library after reading her site (Paperback Writer). Which led me to Charlaine Harris' supernatural mysteries.

* Got another writer's book from library after reading discussion on Lee Goldberg's blog (can't remember the name now, but he writes like six books a year). Lee also sent me his Diagnosis Murder books, which I reviewed on my site.

* I would like to read Charlie Williamson's books, esp. "Fags and Lager." His first is on my amazon wish list when it comes time for the next order.

Observation: I have a number of writers' blogs on my Bloglines list, but very few mysteries or thrillers. Not sure why that's so. Maybe I'm overlooking them.

SeanC said...

A number of things can motivate me to buy a book by a previously unknown (to me) author:

* Recommendation from someone who I think has good taste (the elusive "word of mouth") and from booksellers

* Blurbs by other authors I like (even though I know people are very generous with blurbs)

* A great review (not a good review, but great)

* An interesting author interview or panel appearance

* A great short story by the author

The author Web site and/or blog can also motivate me, but probably not without one or more of the other things I've mentioned. I think Web sites and blogs have less immediate impact, but help to keep the author "top of mind" and may have long-term influence.

-Sean

L.L. Bartlett said...

I've added your blog to my "daily fix" because you're the king of promotion, and as an about-to-be published author, I need to learn all I can.

I have purchased books because I've visited web sites and blogs. In fact, less than a week ago I bought Lynn Viehl's first Darkyn book simply because I enjoy reading her blog every day. It's my way of paying back for the entertainment she gives me on a regular basis. (And I don't usually read romance or vampire books.)

I can't buy every book from every new writer I come across, but I request a lot of hardcover books from the library and when they come out in MMPB buy a copy. I hope my readers will one day do the same.

Sonny Denbow said...

I buy lots of books, probably more than I'll ever have time to read. I choose my books based on the back cover teaser and the first few pages of chapter one. An interesting cover or title may grab my attention, but if the book doesn't sound interesting I'll pass.

I ignore bestseller lists. What a pack of lies.

The only reviews I pay any attention to are the reader reviews on Amazon, and not all of them.

Meeting an author in person or hearing them read at a convention will usually entice me to check out their books. But again, if the book itself doesn't grab me, I usually pass.

If a book is strongly recommended by someone I know and trust I'll probably pick it up. (Does Dancing with the Virgins ring a bell?)

Bottom line, I ignore the hype and rely on the book itself to sell me.

Hope this helps.

JJ said...

I got so tired of struggling through 100 pages of a book and then tossing it aside that I reverted to re-reading books I knew I liked.

Now I read blogs and if I like the author's voice, I check out their books on Amazon, read the excerpt and, if it all adds up, I buy the book.

That's how I bought Whisky Sour.

It has also opened my eyes to authors I would never have come across.

Personally, I think the blogosphere is critical to an author.

As for websites? I don't usually go there. They tend to be static commercials and, like you said, perma-links to Amazon.

B. K. Birch said...

I usually buy non-fiction that piques my interest and fiction based on word-of-mouth (which is Backspace right now), or if one of my favorite authors have a new release.

Nope, I wouldn't buy a book based on an author's webpage or blog.

Not what you wanted to hear, eh?

J A Blalock said...

I buy books for different reasons.

Sometimes it's the blurb on the back or a recommendation from a friend. Other times its reviews.

Your book, I bought because I read your first chapter on your web site and liked it. Now, I found your website thanks to a critique group member on Writers4Writers.

She told me about this new author that she thought I would enjoy reading. Your main character was a cop, and since I'm in law enforcement also, I'm always on the lookout for good cop stories.

What made me a fan for life is your writing style. Love the humor, and you have the cops life nailed.

Something that impressed me and sold me on you as a writer was your website. For those who take the time to read it, it is full of what any writer needs to know about becoming a writer. Your encouragement and support of those of us who are struggling to do what you have done speaks volumes about the kind of person you are.

I think your website and this blog is an asset for you, because it lets others see the guy behind the books. It gives us first hand knowledge on what it's like to be in your shoes.

I know I'd like to be in your position one day. If I ever get that opportunity, I'd like to think I'd handle it with the professionalism, enthusiasm, and support of others that you do.

Deputy John

JA Konrath said...

Many of you mentioned word-of-mouth.

Does blogging help spread word-of-mouth?

Let's use MJ Rose as an example.

Her blog, BUZZ, BALLS, AND HYPE
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/BkDoctorSin/

is the #1 Blog at Publisher's Marketplace, and read by everyone in the industry.

I bought her latest book, The Halo Effect.

But what about you folks? Do you read her blog? And did it make you check out her books?

Lesa said...

I'm a librarian. I usually only buy books for my personal collection when I have the chance to meet the author, and get the book signed (to me, not for resale). Or, I buy a paperback to try a new mystery writer. I buy everything that one mystery writer puts out because I love her work.

But, I do buy books for the library. I buy those based on book reviews, blog reviews, reviews or frequent comments on DorothyL. If books have frequent comments, good or bad, my curiosity is aroused. I have that luxury of obtaining it at the library, or if we don't have it, requesting a purchase at the library when something has aroused my interest. Of course, all those library patrons out there have that same luxury, to request your public library purchase a book.

Lesa Holstine
Glendale, AZ
blog: www.nikkishome.blogspot.com

J A Blalock said...

I think blogging can fit the category, word-of-mouth. Whether it's thoughts from the person who created the blog, or from someone commenting on the blog content. It's all a form of communication.

I hadn't read MJ Rose's blog before, but I did check it out since you mentioned it here.

I also looked up reviews on her book The Halo Effect. Gotta love the murder mysteries. This is one I'll pick up for reading while I'm on vacation.

She mentioned in one of her entries that if a writer is going to have a blog, they should keep it current. I think if someone checks on an author's blog and finds it hasn't been updated in quite a while, it could affect the way the person thinks about the writer.

I'm not saying it should be updated every day, but at least once a week something could be posted to let the reader know the writer wants to keep in touch.

The closer a connection the reader feels with the writer, the more likely they'll be to purchase books.

I think blogs for writers are a positive.

JJ said...

I do read MJ's site, it's chock full of good marketing advice, and it did lead me to check out her books.

I'm not saying you should rely 100% on author blogs for your book purchasing tips, it's just one relatively new way to add to all the others.

There are so many books out there. You need some sort of filter.

Bret said...

After reading your article in WRITER'S DIGEST I checked out your website, which led me to buy WHISKEY SOUR. I've never purchased a book after reading a blog...yet. But I have not been a blog reader until recently.

Blogging must help spread the message (althought I don't have research to back my belief.)

I've never read the MJ Rose Blog, but your mention of it I makes me want to take a peek.

Kim said...

I buy books because... I like the author's voice in the blog, email listserv, or writers' discussion group (online). Or someone I know recommends the books to me, or they get an interesting review in LIbrary Journal or Publishers Weekly.

I think if you're out there in all sorts of ways, you begin to get the ear & the eye of the public & word of mouth begins to kick in.

For instance, I came here because Lee Goldberg (I think that's who it was) mentioned your blog on his blog. Since I like your writing in your blog, I do plan to pick up your books & read them. That's one reader you wouldn't have had without the blog.

nikijo13 said...

i read several books a week. i buy what people recommend, what the store recommends and i keep track of my authors and when the next book comes out. my family all reads as well and we all buy books and pass them around. we have many authors and many different types of books we all read. when i can't seem to find anything i ask people in the bookstore and they help also. i only go to websites after i have read a book and like and want to know more about an author.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I buy books for many different reasons.
What kind of things get me to spend my money on an unknown author?
Recomendations from fellow readers I trust.
Meeting an author and enjoying listening to them.
Sometimes a website, but not by itself.

However I do buy an awful ot of books by authors I've met. And as I meet more I find myself building more bookshelves...



I don't think websites alone will influence people's buying habits, but they do factor into the decision.

Reviews on Amazon mean nothing to me, nor do the ones on Barnes and Noble. Too often the reviewers are uninformed or have an ax to grind. Too many hidden agendas.

Joe, I bought your first book because I liked you, I bought the second because I liked the first book.

Tania said...

I buy quite a few books a year, and for many different reasons. Reviews by people I respect (usually not paid reviewers) and an interesting cover blurb are pretty influential in my buying decisions.

I've recently started going to conferences, and hearing authors speak or read from a book is a great motivator when it comes to buying a book. While an author may come across quite differently in person that he/she does in print, if I 'like' an author, I'll give his/her work a try.

As for websites...I certainly have bought books based on information I've found on websites and blogs. Anytime I hear or read about an author who I'm not familiar with, I search the Internet for a website or blog. Not finding a site will guarantee that I don't buy a book!

If the website is nothing more than just a 'look at me, buy my book', I probably won't buy the book. What does impress me is a site or blog that somehow conveys that the author thinks about his/her readers and wants to give a little something extra. That extra could be excerpts, personal touring stories, photos, backstory, etc.

When it comes to blogs, writing style and voice are key. I've bought numerous books simply based on an author's writing style on his/her blog.

Sonny Denbow said...

If a blog strikes a cord with a reader I definitely think it helps promote word-of-mouth.

Perfect example: MJ Rose. I was not aware of Ms. Rose prior to you mentioning her here. Because of your recommendation, I bounced over to Amazon, read the teaser, and placed her book on my wish list (which I use primarily to track the books and DVDs I need to pick up.)

The trick, I think, is in striking the right cord.

Anonymous said...

absolutely I have bought a book because of blog or website. I have been visiting an authors website that I enjoy but did not get her books because she writes in a genre I do not like. When she wrote a mainstream, I went out and bought it immediately. She also advertised for a friend and I checked out her website and bought her book too. A lot of books I have stumbled on lately are by accident and feel it is a shame they are not promoted more. I wonder how many great books slip through the cracks. I think website are a great idea, the trick is to get the people to visit them.

Steven said...

Interesting thread. I bought a lot of books for classwork in grad school. Now I generally buy books at conferences, often hand sold to me either by the bookstore owner, or some writer or reviewer I meet. Sometimes I buy books based on how interesting an author is on a panel.

I don't think I've ever bought a book just from what I've read whether it be a blog, website or print review. I know people who have.

Rae said...

I buy books for several reasons:

Word of mouth, including websites and blogs, especially from people whose opinions I trust. Hanging around on the internet, I've learned whose tastes are similar to mine, and usually will take their recommendations. There are others who, if they love a book I can be almost sure to despise it.

It catches my attention in a bookstore - if the jacket description and the perusal of a few pages interest me, I'm sold.

I've previously enjoyed an author's work.

I've met the author and I like them, so want to support their efforts.

I tend not to pay much attention to blurbs - I don't trust them.

I pretty much ignore reviews.

Sometimes I'll buy a book because it's controversial, just to see what the fuss is all about.

And, as far as blogs and websites are concerned, I like them to be dynamic. There needs to be new content every couple of days, not every couple of months.

I bought Whiskey Sour based on word of mouth, and Bloody Mary because I like Jack, and the first book.

Cheers,
Rae

Megalion said...

I'm an avid speed reader who rereads sometimes more than I read new books.

Right now I'm in a "new books" phase... I found your book at the library or rather I hid the garish cover from my poor eyeballs by tucking it under my arm and taking it with me to the check out counter. Had the cover not been so arresting... I never would have noticed the book on the shelf.

Anyways... I gave it a read at lunch today and well... lunch ended up being about 2 hours which is how much time it took me to finish your book cover to cover.

I wrote a little blurb for my blog and then realized that I should look and see what else you'd written. I don't often look for author's actual websites because I often find them to be too impersonal/badly designed/not terribly interesting or informative. But when Google kicked out your website as one of the top hits, I decided to take a chance and was really impressed at the amount of content, the layout, the design/look, the zany things like the embarrassing pictures which I haven't actually looked at but I'm impressed/pleased that they're there.

I'd already mentally added you to the list of authors I will read and now you've made the list of authors that I'll do word of mouth on... I'll probably end up likening your work to Sue Grafton because Jack and Kinsey are of kindred spirits though may not necessarily get along in person should they meet. I'll also describing you as the "Kevin Smith" of books because well hopefully you know who I'm talking about and will know what I mean.

I read too fast to make it worthwhile to buy books. I'd spend a fortune if I did. I reserve the honor of buying the books for those authors who I enjoy re-reading. Usually that's in MMPB. Hardcovers are reserved for books I REALLY like. For example, Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth novels... I own probably at least 2 copies of each, 1 HB and 1 or more MMPB. Usually I buy the hardcovers second hand through a used book store or Amazon/Ebay. But I've bought the last couple Goodkind books in HB new along with Jean Auel's long awaited Shelters of Stone. I've also got my favorite two Sheri S Tepper books in HB (Fresco & Gibbon's Decline and Fall). She's an oddity because I actually either hate or love her books and it's usually the former. Mercedes Lackey is another situation where I own the MMPBs and have been buying the HBs when I can... at least once or twice new.

I've moved around a lot so my book collection is scattered throughout several locations in at least 2 states. These books when they're available to me... are what I use for a fix in between borrowing books from the library. When I'm prowling the house for something to read... I hunt in search of a book that hasn't been reread in the past year.

FYI, most of my new author exposure tends to come from recommendations, the rest come from liking the cover/title.

* Mercedes Lackey - several people recommended her Oathbound & Oathbreaker on a Xena email list for something to read for a X & G like fix. Ended up reading By The Sword instead later on and got thoroughly hooked... She's a wee bit repetitive but not too much. Unlike Piers Anthony who I quit full score despite really liking the early Xanth novels and loving his Incarnations of Immortality series. I was thoroughly cheesed to find that a huge chunk of book 5 was rehashing the plots of early books. Cheating! And filling Xanth sequels with tons of puns and hardly any real plot? I've not read Piers in years not counting the occasional re-read of the first couple of Incarnation books.

* Neal Stephenson - an ex introduced him to me... made me read Snow Crash (ooh I'm overdue for a reread of that one). Loved it along with Diamond Age and Zodiac which tie each other as my favorite Stephenson.

* Matt Ruff - an author that is like Neal Stephenson cloned. The ex and I found him in an used bookshop in remote Arcata, CA. A hardback edition of Sewer Gas & Electric in a neon pink & purple design accosted us in the dusty narrow aisles from its favored placement on top of the book shelves at chest height. One of us obeyed the voice in the cover and picked up the book and flipped it over and were floored to find a recommendation by Neal S saying something like not having to write any more books if Matt Ruff keeps up his writing. That was enough for us and though its been a while since I went post stumping for Matt Ruff, I do give his name out to anyone looking for recommendations.

Lastly, I want to say that sales ranking on Amazon means diddly squat to me... I never look at that though I can understand why you would!

I'll look at reader reviews sometimes to try and gauge whether or not the book is worth reading but that's usually only for NONFiction purposes. Reviews that are badly written are ignored and those are usually the negative ones.

In the end, I'm usually either more motivated to read the book or no change. It's rare for a negative review to effect my decision to read a book.

I've no disposable income at the moment but I think a day will come where Jack Daniels will appear on my bookshelves next to Kinsey Millhone and Alex Cross (though I've quit Patterson as of London Bridges... he's starting to phone it in too *sigh*) in MMPB. Grafton & Patterson haven't gotten to HB stage with me yet either except with Patterson's When the Wind Blows which is my favorite.

I'll certainly be telling people about you esp if they like Sue Grafton.

Anonymous said...

Since I started enjoying your website, I've a)read your books b)recommended them to others c)ordered them and discussed them at my local library, and d) recommended your website to several professional writer & journalist friends.

I'd have been at your booksigning in my town if I'd known about your blog before today.

While promotional efforts may not lead to direct immediate sales, you have to know that I'll always remember your name, now, I'll pick up a book of yours if I see it in a store, and I'll talk about it with frinds I think may enjoy it.

I suspect that's how long term careers are made, for authors.

For me, the great information you share on the business of writing keeps me paying attention, and your voice made me get the books. Which are very fun.

Good luck, and keep it up.

Claudia Romay said...

I mostly buy books based on people's recommendations. Sometimes (maybe I should say rarely), I buy based on Amazon reviews. But that's it.

I live outside the US and when I travel there (maybe once or twice a year) I pore over the books at airport bookstores... but in my experience, the books being sold there are best sellers, but not necessarily good books.

I could stay at a Barnes and Noble all day, and I'd end up buying about 10-11 books to last me a while, but most related to professional interests of mine: physiology, teaching, parenting.

Novels, though... I go back to what I said. Recommendations. And once I like an author, I become a fan and buy everything he/she puts out... until they disappoint which--thankfully--not always happens.