I read a lot. Which is not to say I buy books a lot. I probably buy more books than the average person, but I don't buy everything I read. (Libraries rock!) Figuring out why a reader buys this book, but not that book, is, most days, a scream-inducing riddle for book sellers. Because, let's face it, every reader is different and every reader chooses whether or not to buy a book for their own, very personal and very different reasons.
I am but one obsessive reader in a sea of obsessive (or not-so-obsessive) readers, so I can only reveal the mysteries about what makes me choose to spend money on a book instead of just borrowing it from the library or a friend. But I like to think my reasons will resonate with other readers and might offer insight to those in the throes of book marketing.
Here goes. I buy a book for one reason and one reason only:
Because the story interests me.
That's it. Mystery solved. Simple.
And completely frustrating for anyone trying to sell a book.
An author can give interviews, write a blog, tweet 100,000 times a day about the awesome adventures waiting for me inside their book, and it won't make me any more likely to buy than if they had just sat quietly rocking in a dark corner.
The book can win a slew of awards, garner thousands of 5-star reviews on Goodreads, and have prose so beautiful it makes me cry, but I still might not buy it.
A cover could be the most stunning work of art I've ever seen. The title might get stuck in my head for days, but that doesn't mean I'm rushing to a bookstore.
See, the books I buy contain stories I want to return to again and again. Stories that keep me up at night. Stories that make it hard for me to breath. Stories that resonate with me on a deeply personal level. More specifically: stories about sisters, mothers and daughters, death, grief, animals, ghosts (real or imagined), wild things and dark places, savage wildernesses and surviving; stories that might not have a happy ending, but I won't know until I read to the last page. Other types of stories will obviously resonate with other types of readers, but the bottom line is: readers want good stories, and we are willing to pay money for stories that have the potential to speak truth into our lives, to change us, to make us laugh and cry and feel alive. If readers don't see any potential to connect with a story, we probably aren't going to buy the book. And no amount of promotion or marketing will get us to change our minds.
Now, I don't want anyone who is trying to sell a book right now leaving this post feeling frustrated and hopeless, confused, terrified. I don't want you throwing in the towel and saying, "What's the point?" Because all that promotion and marketing and getting the word out...all of that is still important.
If you don't tell readers about your story, we will not know it exists. And if we do not know your story exists, we will never be able to decide whether or not it resonates, whether or not we want to spend our hard-earned money to find out what happens next.
So yes, marketing and promotion are important. But in the end, it is still the reader's decision. And, really, there's not a whole lot you can do about that side of things. Except perhaps...sit down, shut up, and write another story.