Monday, December 25, 2006

Rant Against Advertising Part 3

As I've said before, I offer advice and opinion based on what works for me. You need to decide for yourself what works for you.

Taking that a step further, you should also analyze what works ON you.

The last few days we've been talking about advertising. I don't believe print ads work. I'm in the minority here, considering advertising is a 200 billion dollar a year business.

I base my opinion on a simple fact: I've never bought a book based on a print ad. Or a radio or TV ad.

Then I decided to figure out why I do buy books. I read all of the mystery zines (and their ads) along with the NYTBR, among other publications. I also get a lot of books free.

I might not be the average consumer, because I spend a lot of time in bookstores, and because I'm in the business. But I am still a fan, and I still buy books, and something must influence by buying.

Here are the last ten books I've bought, how I heard of them, and what led me to buy them:

Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris

How I heard about it: I read Red Dragon as a youngster, because my mother had a copy and said she liked it. I read Silence when it came out and I knew about it because it was reviewed in a magazine I read (a British zine called FEAR.) I knew about Hannibal because I'd been watching for it for 13 years. I knew about Hannibal Rising through Publisher's Lunch and PW Weekly, which I get in my email.

Why I bought it: I hated Hannibal, and hoped this one would be better.

Where I bought it: At Waldenbooks on the day it came out.


Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen

How I heard about it: After reading Silence of the Lambs, I picked up every book about serial killers that I saw. I found The Surgeon while browsing the mystery isle at my local bookstore. I was hook, and became a regular reader.

Why I bought it: Rizzoli and Isles haven't disappointed me yet, so I keep buying the books. Plus I owe Tess forever because she blurbed me. Plus I consider her a friend.

Where I bought it: At Waldenbooks the day it came out. I also bought a copy for my wife, since she didn't want to share my copy and read it second.


Dark Gold by David Angsten

How I heard about it: I moderated a panel at Midwest Lit Festival that David was on.

Why I bought it: I like underwater monster stories, and have since I read Jaws (which my mother recommended when I was young.) But the real reason I forked over the money was because David bought a copy of Rusty Nail first.

Where I bought it: At the Midwest Lit festival, at the after-party.


Marley & Me by John Grogan

How I heard about it: Seeing it on the new release table at a Borders I was signing at. Then I saw it mentioned in PW Weekly and PM.

Why I bought it: My wife is a professional pet sitter and loves dogs. Seemed like a good gift.

Where I bought it: The next bookstore I went to--I didn't make a special trip.


The 2007 Guinness Book of World Records

How I heard about it: I read these as a child. I found one in a thrift shop for a quarter. I saw the new edition at a bookstore on the front table.

Why I bought it: For my nine year old. I thought he'd like it as much as I did as a child.

Where I bought it: A Borders, during a drop in signing--an impulse buy.


Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich

How I heard about it: I knew Janet did a Plum book a year. I'd never read Evanovich before (even though people compared me to her) and I learned about the series through fans.

Why I bought it: I was invited to submit an essay to an upcoming book about Stephanie Plum, so I read the whole series, including this one.

Where I bought it: At Waldenbooks, the day it came out (the essay was due that week.)


Survivor by JF Gonzalez

How I heard about it: A bookseller told me about it.

Why I bought it: The same bookseller highly recommended it, saying he was more warped than I am.

Where I bought it: Directly from above mentioned bookseller.


Book of the Dead by Preston and Child

How I heard about it: I worked at Crown Books years ago, and we got an ARC of The Relic. I loved it, and handsold the hell out of that book. Have been a fan ever since. I knew about BOTD by keeping an eye on their website.

Why I bought it: Preston and Child have never disappointed.

Where I bought it: Barnes and Noble, the day it came out.


Paint Shop Pro 8 for Dummies

How I heard about it: Seeing it at Borders in the computer isle.

Why I bought it: I was specifically looking for a book about PSP8. I've been familiar with the Dummies books for years, having bought a few when I first got a computer. I like their layout. I compared several other books to this one before buying, but decided on this one after 20 minutes of browsing.

Where I bought it: I went to Borders for a PSP8 book, and left with one.


Rain Fall by Barry Eisler

How I heard about it: I met Barry at a convention years ago, and we became friends. I know his work well.

Why I bought it: I was out with a buddy, and I made him come into a bookstore with me so I could do a drop in signing. As I was leaving, I saw a Rain Fall hardcover in the bargain bin (sorry Barry!). I bought it and gave it to my friend, telling him it kicks ass.

Where I bought it: The store I signed at. It was an impulse gift.


Conclusions

Three of these purchases were series I already follow.

One was work-related.

Two were gifts of books I've read before.

One was a gift that related to my wife's job.

One was a bookseller recommendation.

One was because I met the author.

One was because I needed a PSP manual.

None were because I saw ads. And since I read Mystery Scene, Deadly Pleasures, EQMM, AHMM, Crimespree, PW, Library Journal, BookPage, Kirkus, and the NYTBR, I see PLENTY of ads. I also see them in conference booklets, and I went to many cons this year.

Now perhaps I'm an atypical book buyer. But as I've said many times before, I do what works for me and on me.

I've bought dozens of books because I've met the author, and dozens more because booksellers or friends recommended them. Many of the books I buy are books I buy intentionally--I go to the store for a specific title. I've bought books in the past by browsing, and I've bought books as gifts and as impulse purchases.

But I've never bought a book, or even been made aware of a book, from a print ad.

As I've mentioned in the threads: ads that announce a book to an already established readership do work, even though they aren't the most cost-effective form of announcing (hell, any fan of Evanovich or Preston and Child or Gerritsen knows to watch their websites and Amazon for release dates or go to the bookstore and ask "When's the next one coming out?")

I've also mentioned that simply being aware of an author's name doesn't mean much. I know hundreds of author's names. That doesn't mean I buy their books.

But that's me. How about you?

List the last few books you've bought, and how you heard of them. Tell me if print ads for books played a part.

What made you aware of a book, and then what made you buy it? Did you make a special trip to the store? Did you use Amazon? Was it an impulse purchase? A gift? A recommendation? Did you know of the author beforehand?

Spill. Show me why you buy.

72 comments:

Ty said...

The last 10 books I have purchased:

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
This one was a Christmas gift for the wife, and I specifically sought it out after seeing Obama on Oprah a few weeks ago. I picked it up at my local Borders while I was at the mall Christmas shopping for other items.

Cary Grant: A Biography by Marc Elliot
This one too was a gift for the wife. I had never heard of the book, but saw it at the store, and my wife loves Cary Grant. Again, bought it at Borders while at the mall shopping for other gifts.

World War Z by Max Brooks One of my staff was talking about this book at work, it sounded interesting to me, so I specifically made a trip to Empire Books and News to pick it up for myself.

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks I loved World War Z so much, I went back to Empire and bought this book.

Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake Since one of my writing interests is in fantasy, I've felt for a long while that Peake's Gormenghast trilogy was something I "had" to read, a classic of the genre of which I should be aware. I was surfing around eBay one night, found this book, bidded on it and won. A week later I got it in the mail and started reading.

Cell by Stephen King It's Stephen King. I always read Stephen King. Snagged this book at the grocery store while waiting in line at the register.

Whiskey Sour by JA Konrath I've been paying attention to Konrath's Web site for six or so months now, mainly because I'm working on a trilogy of novels and am as of yet an unpublished writer. Joe's site has tons of interesting material and advice. So, I thought I'd pick up one of his books, since I was familiar with his nonfiction work on his Web site; I wanted to see Joe's particular style, and to read a good story. Haven't read it yet, but it's in my pile of books to be read.

Flashing Swords E-Anthology by pitchblackbooks.com This is actually an ebook. Some folks I've become familiar with over at the sfreader.com forums edited and wrote this one. So, I bought a copy online to show support and to read some stories by people I've gotten to know.

Eleven on Top by Janet EvanovichJA Konrath had mentioned her name on his Web sites, and I've seen plenty of her books in stores, so I thought it was time I give her a chance. Picked it up at my local grocery store. This is another one waiting to be read.

Lisey's Story by Stephen King Again, it's Stephen King. I bought this one at my local Borders while shopping for Christmas gifts.

Bill Peschel said...

I bought Laurell K. Hamilton's latest because my wife loves the series and I read on her Web site that the newest was out.

I bought books on peak oil and building solar ovens for my wife based on Amazon links. I'm doing research for a future-history book in the post-peak oil era, and my wife followed up by looking into it as well.

I bought a survival guide for gardening because of a note in our newspaper's gardening section (a kind of "just received in the office" column, not a book review).

I bought a bio of Shakespeare based on a book review, and because I checked the book out of the library and wanted a copy of my own.

Fiction? I think the last author I picked up was Terry Pratchett, and that was because of recommendations on the Straight Dope Message Board. And even then, I read a few of his books from the library. Of course, I then went and bought the entire line (30+ books).

I can't say that I've ever bought a book from a new author based on an ad. I think in part because the ad does not convey the experience of reading the book. At best, it would implant the name in my head, to be called up later by other means (this happened years ago with Martha Grimes, in part because her book was so evocative I still remember it -- "I am the Only Running Footman").

Jude Hardin said...

I buy a lot of books, mostly used. These are among the ones I've paid retail for in the past couple of years:

Whiskey Sour by JA Konrath. I was working on my first novel, and saw the interview in Writer's Digest.

Dead of Winter by PJ Parrish. I was scheduled for critique in their Sleuthfest workshop, and I wanted to have something they could sign.

Cell by Stephen King. I'm a longtime fan.

The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen. I first heard about Tess through Stephen King's reading list in On Writing.

The Roofer by Erica Orloff. I met Erica on this blog, and asked her which of her books she would recommend I read first.

Cross by James Patterson. I'm a fan of the series.

Mask Market by Andrew Vachss. Recommended by a friend.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A gift for my mother, who had never read it. The 40th anniversary hardcover edition.

Arizona Dreams by Jon Talton. Recommended by a friend.

Down The Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams. Abrahams is also on Stephen King's reading list.

spyscribbler said...

I discovered the world of blogging this fall, and that has influenced my buying habits a ton. Also, recommendations (on blogs or in conversation, not blurbs; I don't trust blurbs) by authors whose work I admire, and fellow readers whose opinion I often agree with.

Other than that, the front tables mostly, and browsing through aisles, too.

Anonymous said...

The Harsh Cry of The Heron by Lian Hearn.
I saw the first Otori trilogy on a bookstore shelf; liked the covers, poked around inside to investigate and got hooked. Paying attention to Hern's website alerted me to the new book.

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud.
Rave review in the NYTBR. Good opening page: sale.

Lisey's Story, by Stephen King
It's King. Self-explanatory.

The Last Days of Il Duce by Dominic Stansberry.
Professor at MFA program; duty read, but it was excellent, so that worked out well.

In the Unlikely event of a Water Landing by Chritopher Noel
16 Categories of Desire, by Douglas Glover
Ditto. Great faculty, brilliant books.

The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
Book store owner reccomended The New York trilogy; then I read everything else. This the most recent.

The Traveler By John Twelve Hawks.
Blurb in Time Magazine--fun books of the summer. But as always, it was the first few pages that closed the deal.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Friend's reccomendation

Talk talk, by TC Boyle
Ditto.

Not an ad in the bunch. But it could happen.

Anonymous said...

1) Knowing the authors work and not having been disappointed by said work yet
2) Blurb and synopsis on the cover
3) First page

Need two out of three to buy.

Joshua James said...

I usually buy a lot of books at Christmas and so I thought I'd participate. I'm a good balance for you as that I'm an avid reader. Here's the latest purchases, since December 20th, and why . . .

THE CELL by Stephen King

Big fan of King, first read THE STAND when I was nine and reread ON WRITING a couple times each year. The Cell was on my list and I got it through one of my book clubs online.

SCHOOL DAYS by Robert B. Parker.

Was a big fan of Parker (and Spenser) for years, since I was 20. I haven't been as pleased with his work the last few years, but saw the paperback and decided to give it a shot. Impulse buy.

YOU'RE LUCKY YOU'RE FUNNY by Phil Rosenthal.

I'm an aspiring TV writer and so I vaccum up books about film and television writing by the pound. I ordered it online, through one of my bookclubs.

I heard about it through a review in one of the city's papers. No ad. I don't think they did ad's for it.

NEXT by Michael Critchon

Big fan of Critchon for years, up until a year or so ago he was a personal hero (when he went off his rails and become pro-Bush) because he wrote film, television and novels and because of his non-fiction book TRAVELS.

I knew when this one came out due to the reviews and picked it up from a discount buyer off the street. I'll read him because I think he can write with real ideas, but I'm sad about his politics as of late.

Prisoner of Trebekistan - by Bob Harris

Heard about the book via Jane Epensen's website and planned on getting it for awhile. Ordered it through Amazon and I'm so glad. Wished I ordered it when it came out, it's that good.

THE PUNCH by John Feinstein

Impulse buy at a factory outlet mall. I'm an NBA fan and the blurb on the back looked like something I'd like. I did. Plus it was discounted.

ONE GOOD TURN by Kate Atkinson

Don't know anything about it except that it's the lady who wrote CASE HISTORIES, and I liked that book so I ordered this one as well. CASE HISTORIES I had bought because I'd read many people blogging about it and thought I'd like it. I did. Which led to the next step in the relationship, her new book.

I have a few more books on my wish list. Plus, a few authors (Tess, etc) who have new books out I picked up right away, before the holidays.

I never buy a book because of an ad. Never. In fact, when I see a commerical for the lastest James Patterson aberrition, I sneer.

I buy books because I hear their good or about an area that I have an interest in.

Most of the books listed above are authors I have "relationships" with (been reading for years) though I will take a new book from a new author on if I read a good review or a good friend tells me it's right up my alley.

I'm a member of QPB and will read the blurbs to see if something looks good. If it does, I'll buy it.

Mostly I'll get a book through word of mouth, which is why I read THE KITE-RUNNER. A woman on a plane was reading it and recommended it to me.

I think people do want to know about books, good books, and that's why they join book clubs and watch Oprah. It's simply hard to know what will catch your eye and keep it. I've got a number of books I bought and they didn't make it three chapters.

I do not buy books because of ads. I buy because of what they're about and how good they are at that . . . in which case, reviews or friends who've read them factor in more importantly than anything.

I wrote about this last year, you might be interested I Love Books!

For me, word of mouth is so important. I only heard about THE DA VINCE CODE because a couple friends were reading and talking about it.

The only thing I can think to add is that I'm reluctant to spend the money on brand new hardcover books. Not that it's not worth it, but when you buy a lot of books, you tend to aim for the bargains.

Ten brand new books would cast almost three hundred dollars.

Ten quality paperback books, much less.

I guess I'm a bit cheap. For people I know (Tess, Barry) I buy the big book they have just out, to support them.
But books have gotten really expensive and that also affects how I make my choices.

MJ said...

Okay last time on this.

The point isn't for the ad alone to make you buy the book. The point is the ad is one more thing on a list of things that will help make sure you are aware of the book so you'll even conisider it.

And I don't sell print ads so I'm not pushing them for my own profit.

But they do work. Just like any other ad works. TV ads. Internet ads. Radio.

No, print is not the only way to reach the consumer. And no, I wouldn't put my whole budget into print. But please, can we stop using ourselves as the testing ground.

That's false logic.

We are not the consumers print ads are going after. And while we're at it - can we stop degreading our publishers by saying what they are doing is stupid and not effective.

Are there better ways to sell books than what our publishers are doing now?

I'm sure there are.And we're all working on them.

But right now the problem is simply this. It takes money to market a book effectively and there is not enough money to market every book effectively.

And all the people above listed things like reviews and books on tables and mentions in magazines- all those things take a lot of money on the publisher's part to make sure they happen.

Ads matter also becuase they influence the media - when a publisher is serious about a book they take out ads and that sends a message to the media that the publisher thinks this one is important and that translates to attention.

And to make it worse we can't rely on meida. Reviews are down more than 50% over the last five years.

Books and authors are not what they report on or want to cover or devote pages to the way they report/cover celebrities/music/movies.

So publishing has to work harder to get less media attention.

Also - asking this group to evaluate purchase patterns isn't going to help you figure out the ad question.

A group of writers/booksellers/revieweres who live and die by books are not going to give you a fair sample of wether or not print ads have any power.

Authors/booksellers etc are not typical consumers.

By virute of being authors/booksellers etc you are reading industry related magazine/websites/blogs/ etc so you are aware of books way before they are even published.

You know about the books coming out.

The question is not how do we reach us - but how do we reach hundreds of thousands of readers, if not millions of readers and let them know our new books are out?

You can't meet them all.

You can't even meet the booksellers who sell them since the smallest percentage of books sold are sold in stores where there are handsellers.

You have to do some kind of advertising.

And please don't say you don't believe in advertising but you do believe in word of mouth or a positive reading experience with the author - and that's how to sell books.

Because that's putting the chicken before the egg.

It's really simple.

No one will buy it, no one will then read it, no one will then talk about it anyone else - - if no one knows it's out there.

And the bookstores won't give the big coop to books that don't have some advertising/marketing push behind them.


So for a book to really suceed there has to be some form of advertising.

And advertising includes promotion and exposure and publicity in as many media as possible. And there are only four to pick from: Internet, print, tv, radio.

IN ORDER FOR A CONSUMER TO REGISTER A NAME OF A BOOK IT HAS TO BE SEEN OR HEARD 3-5 TIMES IN 3-5 MEDIA OVER A PERIOD OF TWO WEEKS.Becasue the average consumer is inundated with over 500 messages a day.

So how are you going to get the average consumer to hear about you and your book fifteen times in two weeks?

And the very last point.

What I'm about to relate has been tested. Any marketing student has read these tests. And like it or not we are all victims of this consumerism. (IPod, Nike, Coke, McD, Tiffany, on and on and on - brands are made via advertising. Dan Brown, James Patterson etc.)

People are not always aware they see the ads but the ads influence their buying patterns.

It's very easy to say an ad has never influcend you to buy a book, but we've tested this with every client we ever had in the agency including the publishing client we had.

To reapeat. The point isn't for the ad alone to make you buy the book. The point is the ad is one more thing on a list of things that will help make sure you are aware of the book so you'll even conisider it.

BOTTOM LINE: IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE BOOK EXISTS YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BUY IT.

Christine said...

Howl's Moving Castle and Will of the Empress.
Saw both on a dealer's table at Philcon. Howl's I had heard about from others and Will otE, well, I love Tammy Pierce. I saw the book had come out on her website.

Many books I get when I see them at the bookstore, mostly because they look good. I read the back, they sound good.

Some, like Princess Academy, won an award and I saw it on the bargain table, hardcover.

I have never bought a book based on a print ad. Ever.

Lisa said...

No, I'm sure you haven't.

From what my agent and my publisher have explianed.

A reader isn't supposed to buy the book based on an ad. The ad is supposed to help the reader notice the book when he or she sees it in the store. And to make sure the store takes the coop.

Signed,
An author who has benefited from ads.

JA Konrath said...

Hi MJ! :)

The point isn't for the ad alone to make you buy the book. The point is the ad is one more thing on a list of things that will help make sure you are aware of the book so you'll even conisider it.

I understand the point of print ads. I question their worth.

I simply don't believe that they help in relation to what they cost. That's my whole point.

But they do work. Just like any other ad works. TV ads. Internet ads. Radio.

I'm sure sky writing works too. That doesn't mean it's wortht he money.

Can we stop using ourselves as the testing ground. That's false logic. We are not the consumers print ads are going after. And while we're at it - can we stop degreading our publishers by saying what they are doing is stupid and not effective.

How are we not the consumers that print ads are going after? We're immune to them somehow?

And the purpose of this blog is to help authors. I'm saying they shouldn't buy print ads.

As for publishers, perhaps they should take a closer look at the money they spend on print ads and where it might be spent elsewhere.

It takes money to market a book effectively and there is not enough money to market every book effectively.

This is false logic. It infers that any book can make money if enough money is put into marketing.

If that were the case, why wouldn't publishers market the hell out of every book? You mentioned before that publishers allow some books to fail. And we've all seen examples of books that aren't given much help from the publisher.

Does this seem like a smart business model? And yet I shouldn't speak of this for fear of angering publishers?

Unelss there's some mob laundering/tax write-off thing going on, don't businesses exist to make money? Isn't maximizing profit and earning for the stockholders the reason businesses exist?

And all the people above listed things like reviews and books on tables and mentions in magazines- all those things take a lot of money on the publisher's part to make sure they happen.

I agree. That's all money well spent.

Ads matter also because they influence the media - when a publisher is serious about a book they take out ads and that sends a message to the media that the publisher thinks this one is important and that translates to attention.

Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. And how many books get media attention without ads?

Media attention, like becoming a bestseller, is largely the result of luck. Sure, publishers push certain books. Sure, some books have larger promotional budgets than others, and these seem to sell better than those with smaller budgets. But it ultimately comes down to word of mouth.

And to make it worse we can't rely on meida. Reviews are down more than 50% over the last five years.

So why don't publishers buy reviews, like I'd mentioned? Pay Stephen King to review my book in the NYT. That's an ad I'd pay for myself.

Also - asking this group to evaluate purchase patterns isn't going to help you figure out the ad question. Authors/booksellers etc are not typical consumers.

I agree, and stated as much.

But all I've got to go on is what works on and for me. And I share that with other writers.

As I'd mentioned, advertising is a huge multi-billion dollar industry, but I believe it is the 21st century equivilant of a rain dance. Everyone wants it to work. A lot of time and energy is spent justifying it. And sometimes it rains, and everyone pats themselves on the back.

That doesn't mean it works.

The question is not how do we reach us - but how do we reach hundreds of thousands of readers, if not millions of readers and let them know our new books are out?


I'm not sure I agree with that statement.

It's almost 2007. People don't like ads. They don't like being sold. They already have a pretty good idea of what they like and don't like.

Advertising informs everyone, and influences a small percentage (if that). That's using a sledge hammer to kill an ant.

In the age of the internet, I don't think selling is about finding people who like your books. I think it's about being easily available to people who are looking for your books, or your type of books.

A subtle difference, but an important one.

You can't even meet the booksellers who sell them since the smallest percentage of books sold are sold in stores where there are handsellers.

I have over a dozen booksellers who have each handsold hundreds of copies of my books from their single location, both indies and chains. I have many more who have sold dozens of copies.

Any bookseller can be a handseller.

And any reader can be a handseller.

You have to do some kind of advertising.

And please don't say you don't believe in advertising but you do believe in word of mouth or a positive reading experience with the author - and that's how to sell books.

Because that's putting the chicken before the egg.


Ha! I already said it. :)

No, it isn't chicken/egg. Ads don't sell books. People sell books.

They sell books through communication; recommendations, gifts, knowing the author, reviews.

They sell books through placement; new release tables, end caps, face out displays near the register.

But most of all, they sell books through repitition. People want to relive good experiences. So they buy the same authors and the smae types of books.

I don't believe ads do any of these things.

It's really simple.

And the bookstores won't give the big coop to books that don't have some advertising/marketing push behind them.

Then print advertising should be used in new ways, such as paid for reviews or paid for excerpts.

So for a book to really suceed there has to be some form of advertising.

And advertising includes promotion and exposure and publicity in as many media as possible. And there are only four to pick from: Internet, print, tv, radio.


I wouldn't put my money into any of those. Nor would I encourage my publisher to.

Give me the $5k and I'll make a bigger splash and sell more books by hand than any ad campaign would sell.

IN ORDER FOR A CONSUMER TO REGISTER A NAME OF A BOOK IT HAS TO BE SEEN OR HEARD 3-5 TIMES IN 3-5 MEDIA OVER A PERIOD OF TWO WEEKS.Becasue the average consumer is inundated with over 500 messages a day.

So the answer is to inundate them even more?

This doesn't seem like smart thinking to me.

PEOPLE DON'T WANT MESSAGES.

We don't want commercials. We don't want pop-ups. We don't want ads.

We have Tivo to save us from commercials. We have spam and pop-up blockers to save us from internet ads. And for print ads, we can just skip them--and I believe most people do.

So how are you going to get the average consumer to hear about you and your book fifteen times in two weeks?

Why two weeks?

This is something else I don't get. I expect my books to stay in print for years. Sure, everyone cares about the big sales push after a book is released, but I'd much rather sell 200,000 copies over five years than 15,000 copies in two weeks.

I'm in this for the long haul. Each person I'm able to reach has the potential to become a lifelong fan, or even a megaphone to recruit other fans. If I can survive long enough, my career can become self-sustaining. Bookstores automatically reorder Whiskey Sour. I hope they'll do the same for my successive books.

This isn't a result of advertising.

What I'm about to relate has been tested. Any marketing student has read these tests. And like it or not we are all victims of this consumerism.

Then I beseech any marketing student to point me to some of these tests and show me the cost effectiveness of ads.

A book isn't Michael Jordan selling gym shoes. A book is a different animal, and must be sold in a different way.

As I mentioned, I know advertising works, because I go shopping with my son and he wants to buy everything he sees on TV.

I question the value of print ads for books.

People are not always aware they see the ads but the ads influence their buying patterns.

It's very easy to say an ad has never influcend you to buy a book, but we've tested this with every client we ever had in the agency including the publishing client we had.


Then please share how you've tested this. You can't say that advertising produces results without sharing some results.

And why will your results be valid, when I poll some random readers of this blog and their results are considered invaild?
Isn't testing your methods on clients the exact same kind of bias?

To reapeat. The point isn't for the ad alone to make you buy the book. The point is the ad is one more thing on a list of things that will help make sure you are aware of the book so you'll even conisider it.

And it's an overpriced, ineffective thing.

BOTTOM LINE: IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE BOOK EXISTS YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BUY IT.

I agree. But if you look at your own buying habits, and see where you found out about a book, you'll realize it had nothing to do with print ads.

I believe catalogs work. And I believe if print ads were tweaked to contain more content, they might be more cost-effective.

But if you are an author, I don't recommend you putting your marketing budget into ads. And if you are a publisher, I recommend rethinking your attitudes toward print ads. They are a lot of money that could better be spent on other things.

Hi Lisa! :)

The ad is supposed to help the reader notice the book when he or she sees it in the store. And to make sure the store takes the coop.

This posits two coincidences--first, seeing an ad, and second, seeing a book in a store and connecting the two.

As opposed to a review, that a reader rips out of the magazine, takes up to the info desk, and asks where the book is.

Ad=big money. Review=free.

A good cover will make someone pick up a book. So will a good title.

Name recognition will not make a person pick up a book. I know hundreds of author's names, and don't pick up their books.

We need more than an ad to become interested in a purchase.

As for coop--I'm guess if the publisher had a big marketing budget that went to places other than ads (such as dump boxes, a big BEA launch, 10,000 ARCs, etc.) the bookstore would take the coop.

Joshua James said...

Interesting fact, Joe . . . the Jordan shoe ads were themselves, at that time, something new in advertising that paid off big time.

Nike put all it's money into one star, Jordan, and did it before he'd even proven himself. They created a line of shoes for him, named after him and spent big bucks to get the brand name out in the universe.

Before, shoe companies paid a bunch of the top athletes the same and reproduced the same ads and endorsements for each.

Nike went the other way, hired an independent filmmaker (Spike Lee) to do the first commericials, which were done with a humor and wit not seen before ("it's gotta be the shoes," Mars Blackman claims) and got people's attention because they were unlike anything that had come before them. Nowadays, many commericals do that, but Spike got there earlier.

It changed fortunes for everyone, even though Jordan spent his second pro year injured, anyone could see he was special and the shoes took off.

And it kept on growing and growing.

The decision to put all their money behind a rookie who hadn't even played yet, to hire an unconventional advertisting firm (out of Portland) to promote it and an unknown black filmmaker to do the commericals are all decisions that someone in nyc advertising would have said NO to and the very thing that made Nike into the billion dollar industry it is today. (that and the India children making the shoes for twelve cents a day).

So I think you're doing the right thing by asking questions and making folks think outside the box.

There is no doubt that advertising works on some level, but the one thing that is always forgotten is that life always changes. What was once never done yesterday becomes common happenstance today. Conservative business folks resist change because of the riskiness of the unknown . . . but change is inevitable, whether one welcomes it or not.

Joshua James said...

My source for the above info: PLAYING FOR KEEPS - MICHAEL JORDAN AND THE WORLD HE MADE by David Halberstam.

Nike truly did something unconventional with the ads and the shoes.

For my part, I'd like to see something that the public could read / watch, like a television show devoted to books.

I know Oprah does it (and that pays off for booksellers) but I've never agreed with her taste (A MILLION LITTLE PIECES was a terribly written book, which is more unforgivable than the fact it was mostly fiction) and what I would really like to see is a place that does the same, gives the stamp of approval for books that a panel of readers approve of.

You could even do genre panels. Crime fiction, horror, romance, fantasy, etc.

Each book that passes gets a label, like Oprah's does, and a write-up / interview / discussion thingie.

I'd like that. I'd buy books if I knew the taste involved. That's why my reader friends are so important to me. We've shared book titles we like and know we're all in the same boot on certain types of books.

People just want to know, before buying a book, what kind of book is it and do other people like it? And who are these people who do like it and what else do they like?

That's it. That's all we want to know.

That's what I think, anyway, as an avid reader.

M.J. Rose said...

Joe, you insult every publisher (including your own) and writer (including many of your friends. when you say becoming a bestseller is luck.

Becoming a bestseller is not luck.

It's a lot of very hard work which includes:

1. Writing a good book

2 Getting a whole publishing house behind the book

3. Getting the bookbuyers to go along with the publishers plans

4. A combo of PR, marketing & advertising via print, radio, the internet, tv including interactive, paid placement, interviews, excerpts etc.

5. Coop placement

6. Reviews

7. Author identification

8. Catchy or visible cover

9. Sales incentives for booksellers.

10. Yes, and then all those things in place - then you need some luck too.

There is not a single book in the last five years that became a bestseller without a combination of at least 50% of those those things.

Period.

Happy New Year everyone, please visit me at my own blog where I'll be inviting a host of expertes in new and old media to discuss what works.

I just hope readers here realize there are other ways to look at this other than Joe's way which is anecdotal. Many of us have sales numbers to back it proof of thngs that work. And no I won't post them here but I will at my own blog in the near future.

And for every one of you writers if you publisher tells you they are going to do ads for your book, please don't tell them not to.

They may not be the only things, no one ever said they were and tney may not be the most creative things - no one said they were, but they are very important for many reasons especially that they are required for certain levels of coop

PJ Parrish said...

Interesting conversation.

MJ makes some important points but one in particular jumped out at me:

Authors/booksellers etc are not typical consumers. By virute of being authors/booksellers etc you are reading industry related magazine/websites/blogs/ etc so you are aware of books way before they are even published. ...The question is not how do we reach us - but how do we reach hundreds of thousands of readers, if not millions of readers and let them know our new books are out?

We tend to forget this -- that there are two distinct audiences out there for our work, a fact that is unique to genre fiction.

One group is the cognescenti who know the names and keep up with the trends.

But there is another great mass audience of readers out there. These folks are are NOT frequenters of blogs, Dorothy L, conferences, or specialty bookstores. (Shoot, a lot of them don't even have a chain bookstore in their town). They don't read "Mystery Scene" or PW. They don't give a rat's ass about the cachet of an Edgar, Shamus or such.

They are just looking for a good read, a diversion on a plane, or a great new character they can invest their time and money in. They buy books at Costco, in used bookstores, at yard sales, on whim after browsing the Just Published rack at Borders. Sometimes they pick up a book because they see John Sandford blurbed it and they love John Sandford. (I still get emails based on a blurb Sandford gave me seven years ago). Or they read a book because someone passed on a paperback and said, "Try this, you might like it."

It seems to me that it is relatively easy to get the attention of the first group of mystery readers. It's not hard to preach to the choir. It's that vast amorphous second group that is the toughie. And we need them to survive.

I suggested this once on DorothyL and got taken to task by some folks, I guess because they thought I was looking down my nose at this "mass audience." But I'm not putting these readers down. From from it. I respect this audience because I know I need it to survive. I just wish I knew (or my publisher did) how to get its attention better.

MJ said...

sorry for the typos in the above- I hit preview and it published it instead.

Anonymous said...

Mephisto: Tess Gerritsen

I bought this book because Tess talked about it on her blog. I enjoyed the book.

Moon Called: Patricia Briggs

I was made aware of this book while I was looking for some fantasy on Amazon.com. I decided to try her out. I was very pleased with this purchase.


Jim Butcher's series... I discovered this series on Amazon.com. I bought the first book and went back for the rest (almost). I am still saving my money so I buy about two a month.

I have bought a lot more, but I didn't keep them. I only keep the books that I read more than once.

Sometimes if I need my paper fix (love that smell) I will go to the local bookstore and browse the tables. I used to go to the libraries, but the town that I am in does not buy newer books. I go there if I want a Zelazny fix or older classics.

Anonymous said...

Also, for years I did not listen to the ads because my taste in books have been eccentric and electic. I would also have a very small book allowance (I made very little). So I would buy 4 books every two weeks.

First I would hold the book. Then I would look at the back cover and then read the first two pages. If I liked the it, I would buy it. Also, I had a friend (bookstore owner) who would recommend some books. She was the person who introduced me to Douglas Adams books.

I may impluse buy, but only after I read the first few pages. I don't want to be disappointed in the writing.

JA Konrath said...

Joe, you insult every publisher (including your own) and writer (including many of your friends. when you say becoming a bestseller is luck.

MJ--If it wasn't luck, then every book would become a bestseller.

All a publisher has to do is everything you've said, and the book will be a hit. And there would be NO reason not to do everything you said for every book a publisher acquires, because every book will make money if only they follow the rules of bestsellerdom.

We both know that isn't true.

As I stated previously, a book is an unreproduceable phenomenon. It is impossible to predict sales, no matter how much money you invest. No matter how much the publisher likes the book. No matter how many good reviews it gets. No matter how good the book is.

Books still lose money, even with big marketing budgets.

I've never discounted hard work (obviously) or any of the things you've mentioned, other than advertising.

I do question a business where a 50% sell through is acceptable, where returns are encouraged, and where marketing money is IMHO wasted on things like print ads and author tours.

That isn't me insulting my peers, my publishers, or anyone. It's me questioning a system that produces a lot of waste and a lot of failure.

If your publisher wants to do ads for your book, I see no problem with discussing it with them. It's a partnership, after all.

I also see no problem with trying some of the alternative forms of print advertising I suggested, offering content in the form of a review, and interview, or an excerpt.

Blindly following orders, trends, advice, or tradition isn't good for anybody.

Do what works on you. It's how we make choices as consumers.

Next time you buy ANYTHING try to understand why you are buying that particular item rather than something else. Try to figure out where you heard of it. Try to analyze your buying habits, and then ask other people about theirs.

What makes YOU brand loyal? What makes YOU go to the store and buy things? What makes YOU chose X over Y?

Everyone should ask themselves these things. Everyone should question why we do the things they do, or why we have the opinions we have.

Find out why you buy things. And then figure out how to use that to sell things.

Advertising is big business. It's very good at justifying its own existence.

And yet, if you could have commercial free television, spam free email, and magazines that had more content and less full page ads of toothpaste, wouldn't you want that?

There's a disconnect here. When we're consumers, we hate that stuff. But when we become sellers, we jump on the bandwagon and want to advertise. Who wouldn't want a full page NYT ad, or a color splash in People Magazine? It appeals to our egos. It's what everyone else is doing. It's what we're told works.

Yet I've seen thousands of cigarette ads and never been compelled to rush out and buy a pack of smokes.

Isn't it odd how cigarette companies can hardly advertise anywhere anymore, and everyone knows it kills you, yet tobacco is still a billion dollar industry?

That's because ads don't make people smoke. Friends make people smoke.

No one had their very first cigarette walking into a store and buying a pack. They were at a party, someone said try it, and another addict is born.

I question advertising like I question everything. As we all should.

And any industry where they admit half of their efforts don't work, any industry that spends a lot of its time and money justifying its own existence, any industry that produces something that people truly don't want---that industry should be questioned more than most.

That industry is advertising.

Anonymous said...

How fun!

1)LOVE, LUCY by Lucille Ball. My daughter is doing a report on Lucy and this seemed like the most kid-friendly of the books on her.

2)THE WORST HARD TIME by Timothy Egan. For my dad, who loves history-National Book Award Winner.

3)CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson. Had read some incredible reviews.

4)WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass. For a friend who is working on a book. Despite the cheesy title, I think this book (and its accompanying workbook) are good tools for people who want to make their already-existing novel drafts better.

5)COUPON GIRL by Becky Motew. I know the author and this was the perfect gift to the director of my daughter's community theatre production.

6)SKELETONS ON THE ZAHARA, 7)EVERYMAN, 8)THE SEA'S BITTER HARVEST Gifts for my dad. Based on reviews and the knowledge he likes adventure stories

9)THINK LIKE A PANCREAS; 10)PUMPING INSULIN These were needed to refine my knowledge of how insulin pumps work. These were recommended to me by my parents of children with juvenile diabetes support group.

11)MEDITATION: A Simple Eight Point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals into Daily Life; 12)WORDS TO LIVE BY: A Daily Guide to Leading an Exceptional Life both by Eknath Easwaran. I became attracted to Easwaran's spiritual program and these were the books that were recommended to me.

So
one school-related
six based on awards/reviews
one based on personally enjoying the book
one based on knowing the author
two health reference, based on friends' advise
two based upon recommendations and having read excerpt on a website

I hope this is helpful to you, Joe!

Rob in Denver said...

Some thoughts on this series of discussions:

1. Back when I was selling records for a living, everybody who'd been in the business for a while knew that it wasn't the ad in Rolling Stone that sold an album. It was a combination of radio/video, in store play and us music nuts in the stores selling. But, mostly, it was us music nuts working in the stores. I saw it time and again: Counting Crows, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Hootie/Blowfish.

But, at the same time, the ads that got placed in big magazines, like others have said is the case with books, weren't for the casual listener. They weren't for even the fanatics (a population that represents the top one percent of the record-buying public) because those people get their information about upcoming and hot releases from other sources.

The ads were little more than a display of the labels' commitment to the product. If a label rep says "We're taking out a full page in Billboard" it tells retail buying execs a lot... which usually influenced the initial buy of the release. Is this cost effective? Like most anything else, it depends. Did you hit a home run? Then, probably yes. (Although I'd argue that if your marketing plan requires you hit a home run to be successful then your plan and/or product is suspect.)

2. I'm not convinced that simply because the success rate of advertising is "only fifty percent" that it's necessarily an indication that it doesn't work. Keeping with the baseball metaphors, the best of those guys are considered successful when they get a hit just thirty percent of the time.

Look at sales conversions. In the online world, rates at five to nine percent are considered astounding... in a good way. When I was in retail, success was in the low-twenties between January and October; it was in the low-thirties for the holiday season. And in all cases, performance improvement is measured in hundredths and thousandths of a percent.

What I'm saying is that everything is relative to itself and the benchmarks of success are defined accordingly. I looked back on some of your posts, Joe, about the sales numbers of yours and some of your colleagues. To be honest, I read them and thought, "That's it?" But then I figured it's all relative to the industry... an industry that, presumably, sets a standard based on historical performance for similar works. Is that flawed? Yes. But not more than other industries, really.

3. All businesses lose money on some products. Believe it or not, there is value in that pursuit for companies and consumers alike. It's not as if these companies are run by machines. They're run by people.

4. Is the business model flawed? I think so. But I also think the answer is for books and music to sign FEWER artists. I don't see that happening, though. And I KNOW I don't want that to happen.

5. I disagree that people don't want messages. I think what we want are valuable messages and we each define what's valuable. I, like everyone else, ignore ads every day. I also remember lots of others because I've determined that some of them are valuable to me for any number of reasons.

6. An ad is nothing more than another tool in the box. You wouldn't want to use it when another tool is right for the job. But there are times when it is right for the job.

7. All of the discussion has been a great read!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I misspelled a few things. Like MJ, I tried to preview and it published by mistake.

I meant to add that CASE HISTORIES was also an award winner, and that Eknath Easwaran's books about his meditation program are the ones from which I read web excerpts.

Mark said...

I find this back-and-forthing between Joe, MK & PJ to be pretty interesting.

It reminds me of an e-mail exchange I had with my editor at Midnight Ink, when she asked me who I thought my readers were. We were more or less discussing this in the context of promotion and my blog and honestly, this is a question I find a little tough. I ran through some blah-blah statistics and thoughts to her and said, "Who do you think my readership is?"

She shot back: "Busy people who want to be entertained who don't have the time or inclination to spend time reading author blogs."

That said, I've sold a few copies via my blog or because of my blog, but I don't honestly think blogs or listservs should be your major sales/marketing technique--I don't think you should rely solely on anything, including ads.

If my publisher were to spend the money to put a big ad for my next book in the New York Times or Publishers Weekly or USAToday, hey, good for them and me. Would it earn back its money? Um, hey, I don't know. It would definitely help sell a few more books, but earn back its money???? Hmmm...

I kind of doubt it. But it might pay dividends down the road. It might be that big seed that gets planted to increase awareness of your as an author.

And on this same topic, I'm reminded of something Janet Evanovich said about not making readers her biggest marketing focus, but TV watchers "...because there's more of them."

It was a little flip--Janet was probably trying to be funny and entertaining--but I think there was some truth to that, too. As authors we can have blogs which are going to tend to attract bloggers interested in writing and authors, and we can get reviewed in the trades--PW, Kirkus--and we can get reviewed in newspapers (NYT, LA Times, et al)--and in fan mags (Mystery Scene Magazine, etc), but those tend to reach book buyers who are really on top of book sales.

[or as a writer friend once commented, "They estimate there's about 10,000 hardcore mystery fans out there, and you can't possibly reach all of them." But if you want a larger readership, you're going to have to appeal to more than the hardcore fans.]

Book store tours might broaden our reach, as well as library tours. I did a bunch of talks last year at Rotary Clubs, which was a different kind of experience, and I've done...

The point here is you have to be both focused and broad to try and hit slightly different demographics.

Cheers,
Mark Terry
www.markterrybooks.com

Ty said...

Well, I'm not particularly crazy about advertising, but let's look at it from another perspective.

If tomorrow every company and business person in the world decided to stop running all forms of advertisements, what would happen?

A newspaper would cost $10 a day.
A magazine would cost $50 a month.
Local television would immediately disappear.
Cable television would cost you $500 a month.
The cost of your Internet connection would skyrocket (one, because of lack of ads; two, because of a sudden lack of competition from other media "they" think they could get away with it).

Thus, there would be no place (or no place cheap) for the reviews Joe is talking about.

I think it's a cycle, maybe a vicious one, but advertising is here to stay.

Will an ad for a particular book earn its cost? Probably not. But advertising does support the overall publishing industry, and many other industries, in a less direct fashion.

As for an an individual author ... I leave that up to him or her to decide. Me? If I had a publisher spending the money on an ad, I'd want to discuss other options, but I wouldn't shoot down an ad altogether.

Linda Adams said...

Eyes of a Crow by Jeri SMith-Ready
This is one that lead to a lot of other books. I saw it here, in this blog, by the author's comment. Since it looked like it might have a kick butt heroine, I looked it up on Amazon. The recommendations that came with it lead to:

Greywalker by Kat Richardson

Magic Study by Maria Snyder (I had read the previous one, Poison Study, when I spotted the cool cover in the grocery store). I had to work hard to find this one--the cover text was poorly designed and hard to see when it was on the bottom shelf, tucked against the divider.

When I was picking these up, I walked past the Border recommendations shelf and spotted Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong. Dime Store Magic was so good I had to get the next in the series Industrial Magic.

Anonymous said...

I seldom buy books unless I'm going to meet the author. I'm a librarian, so I'm lucky enough to have access to most books I want to read. I may order a book for the library based on a print ad, but I don't buy it for myself.

The last books I have purchased:

A group of books on American history for my husband, bought at the library booksale.

Dolled Up for Murder by Deb Baker
Purchased at Borders so Deb could sign it, and I gave it as a prize on my book blog.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
Purchased with our tickets from Changing Hands Bookstore when we went to hear Obama speak.

The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer
Purchased as an anniversary gift for my husband when we both went to hear Meltzer speak at The Poisoned Pen Central as part of our anniversary celebration.

Thriller - anthology - Purchased at Thrillerfest so I could get it signed by a number of the authors in attendance.

The Saddlemaker's Wife by Earlene Fowler. Autographed when I went to hear her speak at The Poisoned Pen Central.

And, two books by Lee Harris - Murder in Greenwich Village and The Cinco De Mayo Murder, purchased at Borders because I buy everything Lee Harris writes.

Joshua James said...

I notice there are no advertisements for marijuana, either, but it's the most profitable crop in America, a billion dollar industry.

All on word of mouth.

I wouldn't say advertising is wrong or bad or any of the above. All publicity is a good thing, as the saying goes. But money spent on it is either well-spent or not well-spent, right?

So we're not arguing over whether or not advertising is good for books. We're arguing on how well-spent the dollars are which go into advertising, specifically, print ads.

I don't read PW or any of the trades. I'm an avid reader and primarily read books based on word of mouth, mainly, and depending on reviews and this and that. But rarely because of ads. I read if I know it's good and I mainly know that from friends or reviews . . .

Jim Michael Hansen said...

The best advertisement for a book is for it to be physically located in bookstores and libraries. Much of the road to getting a book in these venues is free, i.e, author blurbs and good book reviews. I was recently shocked at the clout that Library Journal has on sales to libraries. Following a good review of Shadow Laws by that journal, sales to libraries literally exploded, with some purchasing 30 copes or more and actually almost totally depleting the first printing of that book. Would an ad have done this? No. But an ad may have caught the attention of the eye of one of the reviewers for LJ or another review organization. You never know. Everything builds on everything else that precedes it.

Lisa Hunter said...

I buy non-fiction books all the time based on ads. I've bought a bunch of university press books advertised in the New York Review of Books -- books I'd never have heard of any other way. I also buy just about every book about the art market -- often because I've seen ads in art magazines or on art websites.

Since I also write book reviews, I routinely trawl "coming soon" notices for new books, which are technically a form of advertisement. I always end up taking out my credit card.

Again, though, these are non-fiction books, where the subject matter is the selling point.

anne frasier said...

i think an enormous amount of this business is luck. of course the book has to be good to begin with, but so much of what happens after that is luck including one of the most important things -- cover art.

it's luck when a marketing person with clout happens to like the kind of book you wrote, and happens to have been at your book's marketing meeting. it's luck when a publisher who didn't like your book moved to another house and the new publisher loves it. and bad luck when the opposite happens, which is more often the case. it's luck when it's time for a budget meeting and a book similar to yours just hit high on the NYT list. bad luck when a similar book with a ton of backing just bombed.

and then there's timing -- hugely important and also tied to luck.

word ver: ackkke (hairball)

E.C. Morgan said...

Another factor, which may or may not be the case for books.

When I worked at an ad agency, one of our clients was a manufacturer of car audio parts - speakers, amps, etc.

One hundred percent of their sales were through authorized dealers. However, the manufacturer itself took out print ads in consumer magazines.

Why?

Certainly brand recognition was one factor. The same as an ad MAY help to build author name recognition.

Another important factor to them was to show the dealers that the manufacturer (publisher) is behind it's product and doing it's part to help the dealers be more successful.

Now, their efforts certainly did not end there. They aggressively pursued product reviews, feature stories and were very active on the show scene. That didn't even include their web presence, give away t-shirts and window decals, etc., etc., etc.

They did not rely exclusively on advertising, but it was a big big big part of their overall marketing program.

Now, does this translate into some useful expenditure of books when it comes to advertising? I have no clue.

Consumer confidence is a critical factor in a consumer's purchasing decision. Some studies suggest it may be more important that price. And there are plenty of studies that show that a big factor is consumer confidence is brand/name recognition.

Excederin can outsell generic asprin at a higher cost. Why? Because people know the name. When you know something you trust it - consumer confidence.

And advertising plays a critical role in developing name recognition - which leads to consumer confidence - given that, advertising may not be such a waste of money after all.

Of course, it comes back to the question...can it work for books?

Ron said...

Hi Joe,

I'm a believer in the print ad. I see them most often in USA Today and I bought a Vince Flynn book for no other reason than I saw the ad and went to B&N for the book. I also picked up Jesse Kellerman's latest, again based on a print ad. Maybe I'm in a minority, but I wish there were more of them and they were more prominent in display. They seem one of the most interesting avenues at the moment to reach people in a broad media that aren't regular readers and might not bother with a review and that would seem to be the audience that's needed most. Depending on demographics there might be other options others are aware of that could offer an equal or better return. I tend to notice them more often if they are placed out of their typical environment, maybe a sports section. To me they are no different than mini-movie posters which draw my attention and guide me to something I might like. Granted I wish more of them had the flair and the punch of a good film poster but for me they still work. So, much as you, no science to back me up, just my view on how the ads work for me.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Jim Michael Hansen about how reviews are often the key when it comes to new writers. Chasing the Dead got a starred review in PW and Ballantine had to go back to press twice before the book was even released, largely, I think, due to libraries buying the book based on that review. My publisher did buy some ads for the book, but they bought them on different blog pages, and were able to manage exposure a little better as well as paying less than they would for print ads. It was chosen as a holiday "breakout book" at Target stores, which was a big shot in the arm. And the most creative promotional decision was, I think, sending 250 copies of the book to be distributed for free at Aint It Cool News Butt-Numb-A-Thon gift bags. None of this counts as traditional advertising but it all got the book visibility that it wouldn't have otherwise had, and by requiring less money for print ads, the book didn't have to explode through the stratosphere to qualify as a success.

Anonymous said...

The Christmas season undoubtedly affected my choices, but:

- a new edition of A Christmas Carol, published by Candlewick Press in Cambridge, with multiple and wonderful illustrations by PJ Lynch. A gift for myself, which I sought after seeing a pre-publication copy on a co-worker's desk. I collect any beautiful edition of A Christmas Carol.

Jan Karon's final (supposedly) novel about Mitford, Light from Heaven, for my mother - who loves its characters and positive slant.

Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope, for my husband (and because I want to read it), whose interest in politics skyrocketed with this year's Democratic races. Obama is, at this point, a fascinating person to watch.


The NASCAR Vault, Branham & McKim, for my racing-fanatic spouse. Why that one? Reproductions of a lot of original memorabilia that's interesting to see.

D. Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, based on a review I read in a newspaper that called it a modern classic in the vein of Jane Eyre... well, it's good anyway, and nicely written.

Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, pb, on the recommendation of a friend. It IS a modern classic.

The Devil Wears Prada. Not my usual type of book, but it was on sale and I gave it a try. Loved it.

The Tenth Circle, Jodi Picoult. Saw her at a book signing and bought it for her to sign, and because I will buy anything she writes.

A Barnes & Noble classics copy of Dickens' Bleak House, because I mean to read it and couldn't find second-hand.

A beautifully illustrated (reproduction) volume of fairy tales I had as a child - possibly Rackham illus. It was old already in the 1950s. I bought it on impulse but immediately upon seeing it, for my grandchild. Turned out my daughter saw it too, and did the same thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by the people who claim they've never bought a book from an ad, but then say they buy famous writers like Stephen King. He's so well known, no one can really remember how they first heard of him, but I'm quite sure I first heard of him because of ads for movies made from his books.

Same with Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, Janet Evanovich, Danielle Steele, etc. I don't read them, have never met them, and have never been hand-sold one of their books -- but I certainly know all their names and the genres they write. It can only be from ads.

If someone is famous, you've seen ads for his or her books. You have no way of knowing how much that may have influenced your buying decision. Saying you're not influenced by ads is only credible if you buy little-known writers who don't get any advertising from their publishers.

Anonymous said...

Print ads do not influence me at all.

Generally speaking, I choose books on the following:

1. Part of a series, known entity or author.

2. Personal recommendation--sometimes I get these from genre websites, blogs.

3. Bookstore Hunting:
a. I begin with genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Thriller.

b. Procede to cool covers.

c. Read blurb. Is there a hook?

d. Read first page. Is there a hook?

If any of the above, I may buy the book. The hook usually gets me.

Jude Hardin said...

Anon:

Movies are a whole different ball game. If you're lucky enough to have your book made into a major motion picture, then that's the best advertisement of all.

Stephen King: Carrie

Dennis Lehane: Mystic River

Thomas Harris: Silence of the Lambs

The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, an author has absolutely no control over whether this happens or not.

It's an entirely different set of circumstances than what is being discussed here, and really isn't relevent.

Lisa Dempster said...

Hi there,

Really interesting blog post (and the several preceeding this one too!)

As an independent publisher these kinds of thinking are really important to me. I guess from an indie publishing perspective, advertising is important because a person needs to be urged to make an effort to make a purchase - without a large distro, there is limited opps for impulse purchase or bookshop purchases... so a person needs to hear about your book, and then be galvanised into action to buy it - and all on a very limited budget. Print ads I don't think work (though in Australia even our top Book Review mag is 100% ad-funded - even the content and cover) but advertising as a whole I think does... when you include that an author on a speaking tour is directly advertising her book, etc...

I have made some comments here - including my last 10 book purchases!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I buy for a number or reasons. And while I wouldn't say that print ads have ever convinced me to buy, they've made me AWARE of books I may not have known about otherwise.

I buy books based on their premise and their writing. That first paragraph is crucial.

Anonymous said...

JA writes: If it wasn't luck, then every book would become a bestseller.

Agreed.

And those grapes that the fox couldn't reach? They were sour anyway.

(Me, I prefer to beieve that hard work, talent, wisdom, and skill matter.)

JA Konrath said...

Me, I prefer to beieve that hard work, talent, wisdom, and skill matter.

Of course they do. Visit your local library. Look at the 500,000 books on the shelf. Check to see how many of these books--written by hard-working, talented authors with heaps of skill--are still in print.

There's your wisdom for you. Ignore it at your own peril.

Maria said...

I can say that print ads don't affect me because I don't see them. I don't get the newspaper and I only buy magazines here or there to study the short story market. I skip the ads, as in not even glance at them. I buy 3 magazines (1 issue each) per year and not always the same magazine; usually to investigate a new market.

I guess the ads really are to convince the booksellers that the publisher is behind the book. :>)

Last few books I bought:

Trick of the Eye - Jane Stanton Hitchcock Bought it as an impulse buy after reading a review by Orson Scott Card. My library had the first book in the series, but Amazon had the book for a penny. Got the book...and the first from the library..neither one has enticed me to open to the first page.

The List - JA Konrath. It was free. I had some time so I downloaded. Wasn't sure I'd get around to reading it. Read the first page. Didn't stop reading for the next two hours.

Goblin Quest Jim C. Hines Came across this author name when he posted to a blog I read. Followed his profile back to his home page to see what he wrote. Read the blurb. Went to library and had them order it. They couldn't order it for 2 months. Went to the bookstore on the day it came out and bought my own copy. Author sent me a bookplate. :>)

Monkey Man, Steve Brewer-- Read on a blog that it was nominated for the Lefty Award. I know that Evanovich has won this award and I have tried books that were nominated before and enjoyed them so I have it on order through the interlibrary loan program.

47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers, Troy Cook (Capital Crimes Press) Same as above--in addition I found a review on one of the blogs that I frequent and now I can't WAIT to get this book. It will be immediately read the second it arrives.

I think Stacy Cochran? wrote something about using those Buddy/buy ads on Amazon and I'd have to say that I have investigated many a book that was a part of the "buy this one and this one" thing. I don't usually buy, but when I'm browsing for something interesting, I do check out the buddy book, sometimes going three or four deep using the buddy book or the "people who bought" or other amazon suggestions.

Maria said...

One more that I didn't read: Friend Highly Recommended The Glass Castle. HIGHLY recommended. I investigated on Amazon, read the review, read what it was about. Not my thing. I will read just about anything that borders on my interest, but this book was not even on the border for me--just not something I would even be willing to try. I'm sure it's an excellent book and readers that like memoir will probably love it, but even if she lent me the book, I wouldn't read it.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure most of you have noticed this, but nobody has mentioned it. On Amazon, they've started printing guest reviews of books by celebrity authors sometimes reviewing a different genre. I read Nora Roberts review of the newest Stephen King. Though I am sure he doesn't need her help, he might get a few extra thousand new readers who only read romance. I wonder who puts together these reviews, who contacts the authors, do they pay them, or is it done out of the kindness of their own hearts. Is it set up by the publishers or by amazon? Anyone know?

Mark said...

Here's a point I haven't seen come up here yet.

How many of you have heard or voiced this complaint: newspaper space for book reviews is shrinking?

Any idea why? Is it because book buyers just don't read reviews in newspapers?

Maybe, but here's a real legitimate reason:

Publishers and bookstores don't advertise much in newspapers.

Car companies do, don't they? So we won't see the car section disappearing any time soon. Movies? Oh hell yes. Both theaters and movie studios advertise in newspapers and newspapers run tons of feature articles on actors and the industry. Would they if do this if theaters suddenly stopped running movie listings in the paper every day and movie studios stopped running ads for the local paper every day?

I wonder.

Yes, it's a vicious cycle.

Sariah S. Wilson said...

I'm only counting the last ten books I bought, not the last ten I read.

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig - I picked it up in the airport a couple of weeks ago because I wanted something to read. The cover was pretty and I liked the mixture of chick lit and historical romances, with a dash of "Possession."

Book of Mormon and King James Bible - bought new copies for my husband for Christmas.

Previous to that - the last, oh, I don't know, 50 or so books I bought were for my kids at a Scholastic warehouse sale. They got quite a few for Christmas and the rest are sitting upstairs for their next birthdays. I chose some based on their likes (certain cartoon characters or Magic Treehouse series) but mostly I just bought a bunch because they were cheap.

Previous to that, I would say that the last chunks of book buying were historical reference books (Maya) for research for my writing.

My complaint with print ads is this - I am sick to death of reading quotes from various reviewers. I want to know what the book is about, not a one-liner review.

I'm also another one who buys based on word of mouth and brand loyalty, but will also buy if a cover catches my eye and I like the back cover. I don't read pages. I also do read a lot of reviews from various magazines, and I either circle or tear out the reviews of books that I think sound interesting. Again, this is not based so much on the reviewer's opinion as it is what the book is about.

Ty said...

Mark, speaking as a newspaper editor, newspapers have cut back on reviews of all types in the last dozen or so years because there is not generally any great cry from readers for such reviews. And because advertising of ALL sorts is down.

Newspaper circulations are shrinking because they can't compete with modern technology. There's little growth. This is why there are also fewer professional full-time columnists, food critics and even movie reviewers. The money's not there for these positions as many newspapers are struggling just to keep basic positions of reporters and copy editors filled.

Ross Alexander from Maine said...

OK, for this Mainer's money, JA and MJ are BOTH right. And it's a big enough tent for all midlisters.

Like Branch Rickey said "luck is the residue of design...".

Julia has been blessed with a lot of luck, great free-lance marketing support, reasonable distribution and lots of old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness. She's had almost NONE of the Manhattan Big House support, until VERY recently, but thanks to her belief in Konrath-style up by the bootstraps guerilla-marketing she's been holding her own. And its making a difference in taking her writing to the next level ommercially-speaking.
Thanks to you JA, and you MJ, for inspiring and supporting her from the git-go. And the best holiday greetings to you both!

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to a Time magazine article on James Patterson that talks about marketing and tv ads and whatnot. Very interesting and was linked from James Patterson's website.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1172251,00.html

Anonymous said...

sorry try this link
here

JA Konrath said...

Aren't newspaper reviews down because more people are getting their news from the Internet?

I'd take that a step further and say that the Internet is also changing the way people buy books. Not Amazon per se, but the ability to gather information on potential purchases with just a few mouse clicks.

gregory huffstutter said...

The different POVs on this thread boil down to whether you favor top-down vs. bottom-up advertising (and what you can afford).

JA champions bottom-up advertising. He champions turning booksellers into advocates… someone who can hand-sell ‘Rusty Nail’ to mystery fans already inside their bookstores.

Other folks – particularly ones, like myself, that have worked in advertising -- have witnessed top-down advertising be effective for our clients… and we’re more inclined to see the millions of people OUTSIDE the bookstore as potential readers. As PJ Parrish put it, there’s a great mass of people out there looking for a great read or plane ride diversion.

Bottom-up advertising (grassroots, word-of-mouth, touring) is more targeted, has a lower cost, and requires more effort. Top-down advertising (TV, Radio, print, internet) is more costly, has more waste, and requires less effort to reach a wider audience.

If you read to the end of this post, I have an idea for JA to merge the two.

JA sez: “I understand the point of print ads. I question their worth. I simply don't believe that they help in relation to what they cost. That's my whole point.”

If an author/publisher pays $50,000 to run a half-page ad in USA Today expecting to directly sell 4,000 hardbacks to offset the cost of the ad – I think that’s a recipe for disappointment.

But here’s another way to think about the long-term value of a print ad -- or any other kind of mass marketing vehicle:

When you buy that particular USA Today ad, you’re putting your message out there in front of 2.2 million eyeballs. A certain percentage will notice the ad. A smaller percentage will be mystery readers. An even smaller percentage will actually remember your name the next time they’re in purchase mode (odds that should increase with other good reviews, PR campaigns, additional advertising, being an established name).

By starting with 2.2 million potential readers, if your ad works for 0.01% of the people that read that day’s paper, it could still result in a couple hundred sales.

Talking hypothetical numbers, if you only make 300 direct sales instead of the 4,000 needed to break-even on the $50,000 cost… does that make your effort a miserable failure? Not necessarily.

Let’s say 50% of those 300 people are new readers who liked the book so much they’ll be in line for your next one, and the one after that. And let’s say 30% of those 300 new buyers *really* liked it – become advocates -- and over time they mention your book to an average of 4 friends.

So now you’ve helped start a chain that winds up introducing 360 second-generation readers to your brand (30% of 300 sales x 4 friends = 360). And a certain percentage of those friends will tell other friends… If you can keep up that word-of-mouth cascade, after enough generations you pay off that original investment, all the while creating demand for your next offering.

That’s creating a brand… and it takes time and money.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of advertising my own book, but I think the overall marketing principles would be the same as opening a new restaurant. Get new people to sample your menu, convert a certain percentage into repeat customers, and allow time for positive word of mouth. If you have the financial resources to keep afloat for a few years, it takes less money and effort to replenish the pool of new patrons.

The question then becomes how to best start that chain for new/midlist authors. Is print necessarily the best way? If I had $50,000 to spend, would I honestly use it to run an ad in USA Today?

Maybe not that specific publication, because I know there are other mass-marketing vehicles that have a lower CPM (cost per thousand people viewing my ad). But I would still focus on top-down methods, trying to reach as many people as my budget allows.

So here’s my idea for JA:

Since you’ve used signed coasters in the past as a calling-card, and since they match so well with your brand identity… what if, as you’re promoting your upcoming book, you were to pay to have logo ‘Dirty Martini’ coasters handed out in bars?

Picture it. A market like Chicago with 200,000 ‘Dirty Martini’ coasters used in various watering holes over a 6-month period. That would be taking something you’ve used for bottom-up advertising (bookseller hand-outs) and adapting it for a top-down brand campaign.

Yes, you’d be reaching thousands of people who aren’t book fans… and thousands of people too drunk to read the coaster… but if you blanket a city with them, I believe a certain percentage will be interested enough to check out your website and ultimately give your book a try.

You could even use a unique URL (dirtymartini.com instead of JAKonrath.com) so you could track how many of your visitors were a direct result of this campaign. And you could test it in a few markets… see if your sales spike vs. previous books or vs. markets that aren’t receiving the program.

I know of vendors who can arrange bar sponsorships. And I could probably get you a rough cost if you’re interested.

[And, by the way, to answer your question in Rant #2, even though I work for Suzuki Auto, I drive a VW Passat. Sometimes brand loyalty only goes so far.]

JA Konrath said...

I'm enjoying this discussion, Gregory.

If an author/publisher pays $50,000 to run a half-page ad in USA Today expecting to directly sell 4,000 hardbacks to offset the cost of the ad – I think that’s a recipe for disappointment.

I agree. But it would take 10,000 hardbacks sold to offset the cost of the ad (or 16,000 if the author paid for it)--and these are books that would be sold above and beyond what would have been sold without the ad. Extra books, so to speak.

When you buy that particular USA Today ad, you’re putting your message out there in front of 2.2 million eyeballs. A certain percentage will notice the ad. A smaller percentage will be mystery readers. An even smaller percentage will actually remember your name the next time they’re in purchase mode (odds that should increase with other good reviews, PR campaigns, additional advertising, being an established name).

I understand that. I just don't believe that remembering the title of a book or an author's name has the value that you think it has--unless the potential buyer already has an opinion about said book/author.

Ads don't allow buyers to form opinions, and because of that they are largely ignored.

By starting with 2.2 million potential readers, if your ad works for 0.01% of the people that read that day’s paper, it could still result in a couple hundred sales.

Ouch. That's a huge waste of money.

Talking hypothetical numbers, if you only make 300 direct sales instead of the 4,000 needed to break-even on the $50,000 cost… does that make your effort a miserable failure? Not necessarily.

10,000 to break even. :)

Let’s say 50% of those 300 people are new readers who liked the book so much they’ll be in line for your next one, and the one after that. And let’s say 30% of those 300 new buyers *really* liked it – become advocates -- and over time they mention your book to an average of 4 friends.

So now you’ve helped start a chain that winds up introducing 360 second-generation readers to your brand (30% of 300 sales x 4 friends = 360). And a certain percentage of those friends will tell other friends… If you can keep up that word-of-mouth cascade, after enough generations you pay off that original investment, all the while creating demand for your next offering.


This is the part I agree with. But I don't believe this snowball effect ever begins with an ad.

I would still focus on top-down methods, trying to reach as many people as my budget allows.

I just don't believe that top-down works well, especially for books.

If an ad for a new energy drink is seen, people who buy energy drinks might very well remember it. The next time they're in a store, they'll see the new energy drink next to all the others, and might give it a shot.

This may work, because an energy drink is a small investment of time and money from the consumer's POV. You plunk down two bucks, and a short sip later you can decide if you'll every buy it again.

A book is a different animal. It's a larger investment of money, and a much larger investment of time.

An energy drink quenches thirst. A book provides hours of entertainment. Or a book fails the reader, wasting their time and money, and making them more cautious next time around.

One of the problems with advertising, which we haven't touched upon yet, is that many times it turns out to be false. The consumer doesn't have the same experience that the ads claims they'll have. Once bitten, twice shy.

That's why ads get ignored--they don't offer anything other than the same potential lies we've all become immune to.

If an ad makes a reader remember an author's name, that's still a loooong distance from a purchase. A much longer distance than with energy drinks.

As I've mentioned, I can name close to 1000 authors. I only read a few dozen. Why? Because I know what I like. And when I want to take a chance on something new, I need information about it before I commit to buying it. Because I'm wary. Because I've been burned before. Because I know ads, blurbs, and review excerpts all lie.

So reading a book ad doesn't make me run to the bookstore. It doesn't even make me look at the author's website, because this is too many steps removed from the time I saw the ad until the time I acted upon it. And this assumes I even stop to read the ad rather than skip it in the first place.

I simply don't belive ads work for books. And I'm not a huge believe in top-down advertising (thanks for that definition!) for books either.

Too much waste of time and money. Too little affect on sales.

Since you’ve used signed coasters in the past as a calling-card, and since they match so well with your brand identity… what if, as you’re promoting your upcoming book, you were to pay to have logo ‘Dirty Martini’ coasters handed out in bars?

That's an idea I've considered and rejected.

Even in huge volumes, coasters cost about 6 cents each.

I earn 60 cents per paperback.

So for every ten coasters distributed, I'd need to sell a paperback.

It doesn't work out that well even when I'm targeting my audience using bottom-up marketing. I give out thousands of coasters to mystery readers, book buyers, and booksellers. They don't come close to covering their own costs.

I consider coasters an ice-breaker or a reward.

Handing out a coaster in person is a tool to engage that person in conversation. Perhaps a small number of people who don't buy my book may come back and buy it later. Or they may keep using it as a coaster and a visitor asks about it which leads to a sale. But I don't use coasters to sell books. They're a loss for me.

I send out coasters when I'm mailing out promo stuff to people, as an extra little bonus. But these are people who have either requested material from me, or they are libraries and booksellers--my target audience.

I've been to a few bars in my day, and have seen plenty of coasters. None of them have made me buy anything (even the beer they advertise.) I certainly don't remember any of them.

That said, I have no doubt that if I printed up 200,000 coasters and gave them to bars, I'd sell some books. But I'm sure it wouldn't be nearly enough to cover the cost. And with the little amount of money I have to spend on promotion, it's important to make every penny count and try to maximize returns.

The future of advertising isn't about reaching the most people possible and hoping a few become buyers. I believe the future of advertising is about personalization. Spending money to reach the people who want to hear your message, rather than shouting it out to everyone and hoping a few want to hear it. And then spending more money to make sure they stay happy customers.

On another note, I was driving home from Indiana yesterday, and noticed two billboards.

The first was for McDonald's, saying it was coming up next exit.

The second was for Lasix eye surgery.

I want Lasix. I've been researching it for a while, reading a lot of articles, talking to friends who have had it done. That billboard was specifically for me.

But I drove past without getting anything from the billboard (I didn't have a pen on me, so I didn't get the URL or phone number.)

I believe that billboard was a huge waste of money. And I continued to believe that, as I pulled of the highway and went to McDonald's to feed my family.

I have no doubt that some ads work. Just not for books.

The point of my rants against advertising was to make authors really consider where they put their promo dollars, rather than blindly follow past trends.

Know what you want to get out of it, and what you expect in return. Don't do it simply because people tell you it works. Analyze it. Consider what works on you. Use your money wisely.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever been to Janet Evanovich's website? It really is godawful and amateurish, but I think it appeals to her target audience of mostly woman. Let's face it women buy and read the majority of books today. She also had an audience she brought over from her days as a romance novel. And she knows how to write from a female point of view. Not that you don't J.A., but she definately has an advantage. And I wonder if her plum books would've been a big hit if she made her a detective catching serial killers as opposed to a bounty hounter. Not sure where I'm going with this, but becoming a bestseller does have alot to do with luck and what the general (not specialized) buyer is in the mood for at the moment. For the time being serial killers are out of vogue with the general buying public. If that's your thing you just gotta keep plugging away until the mood changes again. That's an interesting Patterson article, by the way. Interesting that they teach a course in his marketing style at Harvard. Would like to meet someone who has taken that course.

Anonymous said...

JA writes: If it wasn't luck, then every book would become a bestseller.

This reflects a whopping misunderstanding of basic economics. One thing sells more than another for a variety of reasons, among which are distribution, quality, price, reputation, and so on. To reduce all of these to luck as JA does -- some books are "lucky" enough to get good distribution, etc. -- is to deny the realities of this or any marketplace.

The best way that we can improve our "luck" is to write better, more timely, more marketable books. Insisting that this is a process beyond our control is an admission one's failure as a writer.

Ty said...

Serial killers are out of vogue?

I guess I don't need to buy "Hannibal Rising," then. I also guess I can stop watching Dexter on Showtime. And I'll tell my wife to quit tuning into "All My Children," which I've been told currently has a serial killer plot.

JA Konrath said...

This reflects a whopping misunderstanding of basic economics. One thing sells more than another for a variety of reasons, among which are distribution, quality, price, reputation, and so on.

Quality is subjective. Price among genre books is standardized. Reputation is indeed a result of luck--first books need to be read before they can develop any sort of reputation. Distribution is also luck, to the degree that it depends on which publisher you signed with. Besides, all of the big publishers are avilable to any bookstore that wishes to order it.

Big box stores and number of copies ordered come down to luck.

To reduce all of these to luck as JA does -- some books are "lucky" enough to get good distribution, etc. -- is to deny the realities of this or any marketplace.

Here's how distribution works, and how sales works in publishing.

The publisher has sales reps for various accounts (libraries, chains, indies, big boxes, etc.)

These sales reps try to get their accounts to order books. They do this in a variety of ways, including catalogs, discussing marketing plans and budget, estimate of print run, personal recommendations, and so on.

The book buyer may or may not be swayed by sales. They are most certainly swayed by previous sales numbers of authors, name recognition, personal taste, cover design, trends, competing titles, guessing, and so on.

After the pre-orders come in, the publisher decides on a print run. This, coupled with the size of the author's advance, determines the marketing budget. The marketing budget isn't based on how good anyone perceives a book to be.

The best way that we can improve our "luck" is to write better, more timely, more marketable books.

Did you know that the buyer from Borders (and it is a single person who buys all the thrillers) has the power to change book covers and titles?

Do you know that the sales team can consult their accounts before a publisher even makes an offer on a book?

Did you know that if an author tries to be timely, the book won't be published until 18 months later when the trend has likely passed?

Did you know that "better" has no meaning? Taste and opinion are subjective. Many bestselling books were rejected by other publishers, by editors who had a lot of experience behind them.

Can you explain what a "more marketable book" is?

Insisting that this is a process beyond our control is an admission one's failure as a writer.

Insiting that all you have to do to succeed is to write better, more timely, more markeable books is the same as saying that all you need to do to win the lottery is pick the right numbers.

Anonymous said...

Joe,

This is an interesting topic regarding how personal book buying habits are influenced. I am someone who has a weakness for books, and when I enter a bookstore it is difficult for my sales receipt to be under $100. However, upon reflection due to this post I realized that over the last several decades, I hardly if ever am in the market for just "good reads."

It seems like I'm always doing research and so my buying/reading habits are predicated on what I am currently reseaching/writing. I wind up walking directly to those shelves in the bookstore and don't browse for leisure reading unless I'm looking for gifts. I enjoy novels, but I find that most of my reading is purposeful rather than for enjoyment.

I read book reviews almost every Sunday, and I read reviews in "Entertainment Weekly," but I cannot recall the last time I bought a book based on a review, whereas I can distinctly tell you whether or not I went to see a movie based on reviews.

There are some titles that I've heard multiple friends recommend in glowing terms, and still haven't taken the time to read. I have found that I am more predisposed to read a novel if I have interest in seeing a movie made from it. This comes from my interest twenty years ago at becoming a screenwriter and I did a lot of analyzing of scripts, plot structure, etc., and so I enjoy comparing the two versions.

Recently I almost bought a novel based upon an advertising campaign. Almost. I have a B&N membership card and received an email promoting the book The Thirteenth Tale. The description sounded great, and it was their first B&N Recommends title. They had a discount of 46% off the cover price. I printed out the coupon, but when I was at the store I had forgotten all about it when I wound up going to my targeted shelves. Weeks have passed and the impulse to buy has passed. I suppose if I hear a friend raving about it, I may decide to go back and read it then.

Since you detailed your recent purchases, and asked for others to share their thoughts, I will do give you my own analysis of my recent book purchases:

Gifts:

1. My mother called and said my father had been interested in a documentary he watched on cable about a book from the Apocrypha called the book of Jubilees. I did a keyword search on Amazon.com and chose one based on editorial review and customer reviews.

2. I have a nephew who recently bought an old house and who plans on renovating it and then selling it. I did a keyword search on Amazon and chose Renovating Old Houses: bringing new life to vintage homes based on editorial and customer reviews and hoping my nephew didn't already own a copy.

Neither one was chosen by word of mouth, it was purely based on trying to find something to match someone's interest.

3. The Worst Person in the World by Keith Olbermann. I bought this book because I love Keith Olbermann. Not as much as Stephanie Miller does, but still...I am a big fan of his.

I had watched him in the early 1990's when my husband and I lived in Southern California and he was a sportscaster on KCBS television in LA. We affectionately referred to Keith as "The Slimy Dude" because of his seemingly over-reliance on Bryll Cream.

I had watched "Countdown" and enjoyed it, but I wasn't a regular viewer of his until I heard Keith interviewed on Al Franken's radio show and later on "The Colbert Report." All due to a dust up with Bill O'Reilly threatening to send "Fox Security" after a caller to O'Reilly's radio show who dared to mention Keith Olbermann by name.

You can't buy that kind of publicity.

It was after that brouhaha that I began watching Countdown regularly. I watch it while making dinner. I heard of Keith's book when he shamelessly plugged it on his show.
I now make it a part of my routine to watch Keith every night while making dinner.

So, that's part of a long term fan relationship, and it was rekindled due to the stupid acts of a right winged blowhard. That kind of media scandal is wonderful, but not something easily arranged.

I bought a personal copy and I also gave one as a gift for my dad. Both were purchased from Amazon.com

4. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, I bought two copies as gifts. One for my husband and one for a nephew.

I first saw Barack in 2004 when he was featured in a segment on CNN's "Inside Politics." (A show I no longer watch.) It was after he had secured the nomination, and he was considered to be someone to watch. I was fascinated to see old white male farmers sporting Obama buttons on their overalls and gush when talking about a skinny black man from Chicago. It was a juxtaposition that I found very intriguing.

A month or so later I read an article in "The New Yorker" magazine about Obama which detailed his life story.

Then when I read he was one of the headliners in the Democratic Convention, I made it a point to watch his speech.

:sigh: I loved it. He gives good speech.

I bought Obama's biography when it was re-released. I started to read it, but never finished it. I left it downstairs on a table hoping to pick it up at another time. Instead, my father found it on a visit and took it back to his home on the plane.

There's no way to quantify the Obama factor into a standardized equation. You can't duplicate it. No one can.

I bought one copy in a Barnes and Noble store, the other from Amazon.com.

5. Blizzard of the Blue Moon by Mary Pope Osbsorne -

My son was introduced to her Magic Tree House series two years ago when he was given a couple of the books as a birthday gift. He loved the books and we have read the entire series thanks to our library and our local bookstores. We own most, but not all of the series. I had gotten an email notification that a new book in the series was available from B&N.com, but I bought my copy at Cody's Books when I had some time to burn in San Francisco and would much rather spend the time in a bookstore rather than Union Square looking for clothes or shoes.

So yes, word of mouth, enjoyment of series. All I needed was a "heads up" that a new volume was available.

6. For One More Day by Mitch Albom - I am a longtime fan of his sports columns in the Detroit Free Press. I grew up in Michigan and I read his columns whenever they appeared because it was always entertaining. He knows how to fill a column with words that flow with cadence, pacing, passion and humor.

My husband and I would listen to Mitch give sports update in the mornings on WLLZ Radio with JJ and the Bruiser. We came to think of him as a friend even though we only knew him through the media.

I would read almost anything Mitch wrote except for his books on the University of Michigan and the cult of Bo Schembechler. That's because I'm a proud and partisan alumna from Michigan State University and I cannot stomach the hero worship of The Other School.

When I first read that Mitch had written the book Tuesdays with Morrie and that it was on the NYT bestseller list, I was thrilled for him. He is one of the hardest working writers around and he is deserving of all his success. I knew I would love Tuesdays and I needed several boxes of Kleenex and several sittings to read it.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is the most elegant novel I have ever read. There is nothing extraneous. It is tight and everything works together perfectly.

I haven't read For One More Day yet, but I know that I will need Kleenex nearby and that it'll be a good read.

I bought it at Cody's for my husband, but plan on reading it as well. Another sale due to a long term fan relationship.

7. The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.

I had heard many people rave about his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I even heard an interview with Berendt on NPR's Morning Edition when it first came out. This was during the period of time when I was working at a B&N Superstore, but I still didn't pick up a copy and read it. The book was breaking all kinds of longevity records on the hardcover bestsellers list and the release of the paperback version kept getting pushed back and back until they finally removed a date as to when they planned on releasing it in paperback because it was still selling well in hardcover.

It wasn't until I had left the bookstore and was trying to find a birthday gift for my mother-in-law when I thought, "well how about this book? I've heard great things and with that kind of sales record it has to be good."

I remember at one point being at home with the book and I was standing when I opened the front cover. I had intended on reading only a paragraph or two. Fifteen minutes later I decided I should just sit down and make myself comfortable.

The book on Venice was bought solely because my whole family enjoyed Midnight so much. I purchased it at Cody's.

My recent purchases for myself:

I have been writing an historical novel set in the time of Charlemagne. So these titles reflect my current targeted research.

8. Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society by Bridget Ann Henisch - I found the title while reading the bibliography in the back of the book Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman. Both books were in my local library. I read them, and decided that I wished to have them as reference on my own book shelves and so I ordered used copies from Amazon.com's vendors.

9. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy I did a key word search on Amazon regarding medieval food and came upon this title. My library had it, and I enjoyed it so much I ordered a new paperback version from Amazon.

10. Heloise and Abelard: A New Biography by James Burge. I came upon this browsing at Cody's. I had bought a book at a used book store entitled The Voice of the Middle Ages: in personal letters 1100-1500 edited by Catherine Moriarty which included a few of the letters from those two lovers. I decided to add this to my collection.


11. Soldiers of the Faith: Crusaders and Moslems at War by Ronald C. Finucane. Half of my characters are Muslim, and even though my story takes place centuries before the Crusades, it still provides some worthwhile historical information. I found it browsing the books on world history at Cody's.

12. No god but God: the origins, evolution and future of Islam by Reza Aslan.
This is to help me better understand Islam. I had considered picking up a copy of this book after seeing the author as a guest on Bill Maher's show "Real Time" on HBO, but it wasn't until I read a recommendation for the book by a new friend of mine who is Iranian that I picked up a copy. I read it first from the library and then ordered a copy from Amazon when I decided I wanted it for future reference.


That shows my habits are predicated on past history with an author, personal recommendations and also my current research. The shelves I target for scouring has changed over the years depending on what topic I'm currently investigating. That shows up in the eclectic mix of titles on my shelves.

Advertising in a newspaper or magazine has had little if any impact on me. Heck, I didn't even respond to that kind of stimuli when I worked at B&N for two years when I had ARC's and copies of PW floating around the break room. I was slumming while working on my Master's thesis, and just didn't have time for anything else.

Just one more data point for you.

Linda

Anonymous said...

JA writes: Quality is subjective. Price among genre books is standardized. Reputation is indeed a result of luck--first books need to be read before they can develop any sort of reputation. Distribution is also luck, to the degree that it depends on which publisher you signed with. Besides, all of the big publishers are avilable to any bookstore that wishes to order it.

Big box stores and number of copies ordered come down to luck.


In truth, all of the above come down to a strong working relationship with a good publisher who believes in your words. This has more to do with writing a good book than with having good luck.

JA writes: The publisher has sales reps for various accounts (libraries, chains, indies, big boxes, etc.)

These sales reps try to get their accounts to order books. They do this in a variety of ways, including catalogs, discussing marketing plans and budget, estimate of print run, personal recommendations, and so on.

The book buyer may or may not be swayed by sales. They are most certainly swayed by previous sales numbers of authors, name recognition, personal taste, cover design, trends, competing titles, guessing, and so on.

After the pre-orders come in, the publisher decides on a print run. This, coupled with the size of the author's advance, determines the marketing budget. The marketing budget isn't based on how good anyone perceives a book to be.

Did you know that the buyer from Borders (and it is a single person who buys all the thrillers) has the power to change book covers and titles?

Do you know that the sales team can consult their accounts before a publisher even makes an offer on a book?

Did you know that if an author tries to be timely, the book won't be published until 18 months later when the trend has likely passed?


All true. Except the sentence about how a marketing budget doesn't depend on quality. It sometimes does. It doesn't always. But it sure as heck can. A great book can get marketing people and marketing dollars shaken up like nothing else.

JA writes: Did you know that "better" has no meaning? Taste and opinion are subjective. Many bestselling books were rejected by other publishers, by editors who had a lot of experience behind them.

Can you explain what a "more marketable book" is?

Insiting that all you have to do to succeed is to write better, more timely, more markeable books is the same as saying that all you need to do to win the lottery is pick the right numbers.


We disagree. I believe in "better." You do not. We can leave it there.

Christine said...

I can tell you the exact moment I first saw a Stephen King book, and read it.

In my High School library, on the shelf. After that, I was hooked, and nary was I near an ad.

I discover most of the authors I read either at the bookstore or the library. Once in a while based on a review.

But, I do agree that print ads (as I think I said before on another post) that if nothing else, print ads satisfy the bookstore buyers, and that gets the book into the stores, where people can really find them.

If that's what I gotta do, that's what I gotta do. I don't believe it works, but that's what the chain buyers want. And they make the decisions.

It sucks. Actually, I have an advanced uncorrected proof of Jeff Rovin's "Conversations with the Devil" right here in my hand. On the back is a little blurb. "Marketing plan" (this book is from Tor Forge.)
Beneath that...
*Extensive print advertising in science fiction/fantasy and horror publications
*Publicity
*Library marketing campaign.

Do I think print ads have a bigger impact in a market like SF/F/H mags? Sure. Romantic Times is the place to be for new Romance writers.

If I'm gonna do print ads, it's in these specific market publications, where the people who read them specifically DO look at the ads, because they are looking for new stuff by favorite and new authors.

But print ads in newspapers, USA today, or generic markets? Nah. Too scattershot.

JMO, of course.

Devon Ellington said...

I tend to buy books in batches, so I'm listing the last ten purchases I made -- which total over 60 books:

Herbal Folk Medicine: an A to Z Guide by Thomas Squier and Gerard’s Herbal: John Gerard’s History of Plants by John Gerard.

How I Heard About Them: I was searching for more herbals and found them via Strand.

Why I bought them: Study/research

Where I bought them: Strand Books


Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields

How I heard about it: I saw it in a bookstore one day while browsing, but didn’t purchase it right away.

Why I bought it: I like To Kill A Mockingbird; I admire Lee’s refusal to conform either in life or to “the business”.

Where I bought it: Border’s, using a gift card.


Rocky Road to Romance and Smitten, both by Janet Evanovich

How I heard about them: They were mentioned in other Evanovicah books I had collected over the past few months as research for an anthology essay I was contracted to write.

Why I bought them: gifts for my mom, because she enjoyed some of the other Evanovich books I lent her.

Where I bought them: Border’s.


Choice Centered Tarot by Gail Fairfield

How I heard about it: It’s the one tarot book I’ve found useful and I recommend it whenever I teach workshops. I’d originally come across it on New Year’s Eve in an odd little shop in Seattle in the mid-1980s.

Why I bought it: A Christmas present for a friend who is just starting to learn tarot.

Where I bought it: Amazon.com – and they tried to extort extra charges from me. I had to threaten to file a complaint against them to get the book on time, even though I ordered it in November.

Standing Next to History by Joseph Petro and Confessions of an Ex-Secret Service Agent by George Rush

How I heard about them: searching for books on the topic

Why I bought them: research for the rewrite of a novel

Where I bought them: Strand Books.


Off the Leash by Helen Husher

How I heard about it: I was in the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, and picked it up while browsing and talking. Unfortunately, I put it down and forgot to retrieve it.

Where I bought it: Strand Books got it for me.


52 books bought on a trip to Niantic

How I heard about them: I was browsing through the half a dozen buildings or so that make up the complex.

Why I bought them: Because I’m working on various projects, or I’m interested in various topics. Most are out of print history, biography, and memoir. Some are out of print novels.

Where I bought them: The Book Barn, Niantic, CT


Anthology of Vermont Writers, Volume III by various authors

How I heard about it: I was browsing in the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT for local authors, and the owner suggested it.

Why I bought it: I wanted to read local writing and support local authors.

Where I bought it: Flying Pig Bookstore, Shelburne, VT


The Age of Conversation by Bernadetta Craven

How I heard about it: I read the review in the NYT Book Review.

Why I bought it: It sounded interesting, on a topic and a time period in which I’m interested.

Where I bought it: I had trouble finding it, so Strand tracked it down for me; Strand Books.

JA Konrath said...

In truth, all of the above come down to a strong working relationship with a good publisher who believes in your words. This has more to do with writing a good book than with having good luck.

Not really. I've heard (firsthand)about many celebrities who were hell to work with and fought with their publishers and their ghost writers and turned in crap.

Guess who got the big marketing budgets?

A great book can get marketing people and marketing dollars shaken up like nothing else.

If the preorders warrant it, then yes.

If there are weak preorders, a "hot" book can cool off before it's even published.

We disagree. I believe in "better." You do not. We can leave it there.

You're putting words in my mouth. I've never said that you can write crap. I have said that crap sometimes gets published, and sometimes does well. But I've never endorsed writing crap.

I teach writing. And even though this blog isn't about writing, there are many entries about writing here, as well as a lot of tips on my website.

What you don't seem to grasp is that there is no agreed upon definiton of "better."

Taste differs from person to person, from editor to editor, from publisher to publisher.

You can't define "better, more timely, and more marketable." And even if you think you have defined it, there is no guarantee that book will perform to expectations.

No one has the answer, because a book is an unreprduceable phenomenon, and success is largely the result of luck.

I can't define "better." I can define "luck." It's being in the right place at the right time.

More more you do, the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Jude Hardin said...

One man's "good book" is another man's "aberrition" (whatever the hell THAT is. Whoever wrote it can claim typo, but even aberration doesn't make much sense. I think the writer was probably trying to say "abhorence," but no matter...).

I happen to like James Patterson. To me, a "good book" is one I enjoy reading. It's absolutely subjective.

Does James Patterson write "quality" fiction? I don't know. I doubt he'll ever win a Pulitzer for his lovely prose, but he sure sells a shit load of it. I don't care if anyone else thinks it's quality or not. I enjoy it, and apparently so do many others.

So, Anon, please define "better." We would all love to hear, so we too can make 40 million a year with our next "aberritions."

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

I'm just passing through quickly on my way out of town (again) but I wanted to add my two cents to this fabulous discussion.

I pick up new books by authors I've read and enjoyed, sure. But I also buy plenty of books by new authors I haven't read. I am attracted to these books on the basis of one thing: The cover. I judge a book by the cover. Isn't that crazy? But I do. If I like the cover, I'll read the jacket copy and that's that.

Maria said...

BTW, thanks to the person that linked to the Patterson interview/article. I've never read Patterson, but after reading the interview, I thought, "He sounds like an interesting fellow" and I picked up one of his books at the library this morning.

That reminds me--the first Konrath book I read was because I saw an interview with Konrath on Bankrate.com.

nir said...

Hmm.

I bought a book today at Wal-Mart :)

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Why? Because I just got done writing a serial killer story during NaNo and about fifty people told me I HAD to read Silence of the Lambs. So I bought it and liked it and today got the sequel (er, prequel, I guess).

Before that, I got a book called Deliver Us From Evelyn by Chris Well, who's a guy on a forum I frequent.

This year I've also bought several non-fiction books because I had a need for that kind of book. I went to Amazon and looked through the book and at the customer reviews and selected the ones I thought would be good.

One of them was bought at a B&N, as I passed by a rack of them.

I also bought several more books for my daughter this year, all art/anime books. Not sure if that counts.

Not once did I see an ad for any of these. I never read reviews, and any book on a "bestseller" list I generally dismiss as not something I'd want to read, out of years of perusing such lists and finding them full of things I don't normally read.

Oh, I did also buy StarDoc by SL Viehl this year, again, because I know her from a forum I frequent. I went to the store looking for the book.

And I asked for (and got) A Feast For Crows by George RR Martin for Christmas. My husband came home with the first book of the series several years ago and told me I HAD to read it. Now it's one of my favorite series.

I'm a big believer in word of mouth.

Allison Brennan said...

Nir, I loved RED DRAGON even more than SOTL.

I think in this debate I'm siding with MJ, and I'm only going with my own personal experience.

Marketing liked my book and came up with the idea to launch me back-to-back. Having the publisher behind the book meant all the difference in the world between being "just another" romantic suspense and being something different. I wasn't the first back-to-back trilogy out there, but I believe I was the first debut author.

I can't say what specific things happened that enabled my books to hit lists. I don't think anyone can point to ONE thing. Like MJ said, 50% of the things need to happen to make a bestseller, and I know at least 50% of those things happened. Along with Tess's proverbial fairy dust--luck. But without the publisher being behind it, I don't think that a genre book like mine would have done so well. I don't think there were tons of ads, but there were some--in the Borders magazine, in RT, in USAT, and probably in more small venues that I don't know about. All the bookstore ads are part of coop--the bookstores don't give them to the books "for free".

I believe STRONGLY in word of mouth, but people have to pick up the book first--and getting the books out early to key people costs money. But the books need to be on the shelves for people to buy, and that's distribution. Having 2-4 PBOs on the new release table is dismal compared to 8-16, which means the publisher/sales reps really pushed the booksellers to order books, usually by offering incentives.

I have no idea why my books did so well, but I know it was a combination of writing a good book that fit a defined audience and having the publisher behind it. But even they were surprised when the first book hit.

BTW, regarding how we buy books--my book buying habits have absolutely changed over the last few years. Before 2002 when I seriously started writing, I bought books primarily by authors I'd read before, or books that were recommended to me by a few people who I trusted, or by the cover/book description. When I started seriously writing, I pretty much learned what was coming out and I rarely go into a bookstore today where I haven't at least heard about virtual every book on the NR table. I buy far more books now, especially debut authors because I want to support them, but I read far less. I give the books to my mom first to read them (she reads faster and doesn't have five kids eating into her time) and if she dubs them worthy of my time, I put them on my list to read. I read must broader now than I ever did, though I read less non-fiction when I used to read it all the time.

Julie Garfield said...

I started buying your books after reading about you in The Writer's Digest. I was interested in following a first time writer. I read about Jack Kerley the same way and bought his books for the same reason. Right now you are tied three for three.
The last books I bought were, Dirty Martini at B&N reason above, and read it right away. Excellent as always, Jack Kerleys book, A Garden of Vipers, still on my to read list. and Tom Harris' new book Hanibal Rising. I purchased that book at Walmart as a gift from my brother. I check your site all the time to see when your new book will come out. I love your books. Advertising isn't a reason for me to buy books. I go to book stores all the time and wander around until I find ones that I like. I do read The Writers Digest all the time though and do get some book ideas from them.

Julie Garfield, Missoula MT

Allison Brennan said...

"For the time being serial killers are out of vogue with the general buying public."

I disagree. My serial killer books have done well. I've had three published and three more coming out next year.

Julie Garfield said...

Allison, I thought since you disagreed with me that I would check you out. I went into your site and liked what I saw. I will pick up your books since you write about serial killers and that's something I like to read about. I like new writers and I will start at the beginning and follow your books like I do with Konrath and Kerley. I think that you will be someone to watch. This is how I find authors to follow. Thanks for the intrigue and I will let you know what I think about your writing. Good luck with your endeavors. Someday maybe you will pick up one of my books. First, of course, I have to write them. Thanks again.

Julie Garfield

Allison Brennan said...

Thanks Julie! I hope you like them. They're not a series like Joe writes, but each trilogy is loosely connected.

And make sure you announce to the world (or at least send me an email!) when you sell. I love reading debut novelists.

Anonymous said...

I, too, read books by authors I have met, given as gifts, and recommended by friends. How do you parlay that into sales for your own novel?

I am the author of a novel entitled Threads. It's a story of a woman's journey to herself as told through the eyes of her "threads" who are the people who had a significant impact on her life. Reader reviews have been great and face-to-face sales work well but bookstore sales are much more difficult. I have heard the same comment about advertising so I have stayed away from using anything other than free local press. How else do you ge the word out??