What Makes Me Buy A Self-Published Book?

It’s summer holiday season. Therefore it’s self-published e-book time. I’m currently loading up to my Kindle. But what makes me choose one non-traditionally published book over someone else’s?

It’s tough to know which marketing works, and which doesn’t; as a reader, I have to say that I find a lot of book marketing intensely annoying, and at best unprofessional.

There are many excellent bloggers out there who give excellent advice, based on their own experience, on marketing for self-published books (not least David Gaughran here), so I’m not going to pretend to know anything about that. Book marketing is extremely tough, and I don’t have the answers. But from what I’ve seen, many successful novelists seem to rely most on painstakingly grown mailing lists, for marketing purposes. I’m not on any of those, though. So I wondered, how is it that I buy lots of self-published stuff?

With this in mind, I thought I’d do a little study of my own, based on an extensive sample of a self-published novel reader – myself. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, here we have a scientific study of the most pure and unassailable proportions: a survey of just 1 person. You can thank me later.

The factors which influence my book-buying decision... (and 1 which DEFINITELY DOESN'T...)

The factors which influence my book-buying decision… (and 1 which DEFINITELY DOESN’T…)

As you can see from these comprehensive and incontrovertible figures, the majority of my self-published book buying is influenced by book reviews, which I will only get to read having already looked up a title – which will result from a search by genre. So that’s not probably not much help. (However, if self-published authors do want to take any action from the fact that asking me on Twitter to buy your book will most certainly result in me NOT buying your book, feel free.)

It’s because I’m looking

Because I tend to buy most of the self-published stuff I read when I’m already browsing (apart from the 20% I buy after hearing about them on blogs), this means attracting my attention when I’m looking, not when I’m not looking. So it strikes me that if I was marketing something to me, the most important factor to get right is genre, followed by the blurb telling me what exactly it’s about, followed by an indication of what book or author your work is like. I know that this doesn’t help the very authors I sympathised with in this rant against lazy genre stereotyping – sorry. But if I’ve never heard of you, how else am I going to hear of you?

Finally, kudos to the book bloggers. They’re doing readers like myself a service, in an industry where neither publishers nor authors know their arses from their elbows at the moment. It’s a jungle out there, and most of us don’t want to have to kiss the frogs. If you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors.

Over to you – how did you hear about the self-published novels you’ve read?

What influenced your decision to buy them?

And lastly – has anything ever turned you off buying a self-published book in particular? Why?

  55 comments for “What Makes Me Buy A Self-Published Book?

  1. patfitzpat
    July 17, 2014 at 11:35 am

    That’s a great read Tara. I was beginning to suspect might be annoying people with buy my book tweets. Now I know for certain!


    • July 17, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Hi Pat. I didn’t really sugar-coat that one now did I! I suppose I divide authors into 2 camps: those I know or whose work I know well, whose tweets might remind me to buy their book in rare cases, and those I don’t know, whose increasingly desperate tweets turn me off ever buying the book. In either scenario, I don’t need the tweets, because I’d be buying a book on the basis of blog posts (either from the author themselves or a book reviewer) or reviews of the book. I don’t know if there’s any data on Twitter effectiveness – maybe I’m an oddball – but I would be very surprised if Twitter generated any real return on its own.


    • July 17, 2014 at 11:48 am

      P.S. Pat – just for your own information (although we’ve never met and you didn’t ask for it!) – your book is on my to-read list because I know your work in journalism and you’ve made me laugh a lot, for many years now. Therefore I read your blog and will buy your book. Not very scientific, but that’s the truth.


      • patfitzpat
        July 17, 2014 at 12:13 pm

        That’s great Tara, delighted to hear I’m on your to-read. You know what, I don;t think you’re an oddball. I think twitter reminds people to buy something they already have in mind. I know myself that a “Free now on Kindle” doesn’t do anything for me, unless I had already planned to buy that book.


        • July 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm

          Yep-especially for the people you’ve never heard of – it’s all just noise.


  2. carolannwrites
    July 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

    The 5% kinda scares me… that you generally don’t read something else from the same author?
    With my self-published choices, I’ve kissed more princes than frogs lately. Reviews are the only way to know! I have kissed a few traditionally published frogs though.


    • July 17, 2014 at 11:50 am

      That figure is low, Carolann, because I’ve only been buying self-published books for about 2 years, and new authors haven’t had the chance to come out with stuff quickly enough in that time. It’s all very new to me – I’ll have to update my incredibly accurate graph in another 5 years 😉


  3. July 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I have to confess that I do tweet about books I’ve bought or other people’s books but unless I’m the butt of a joke (eg good to read and has other uses: paper is suitable for sceptic tanks) I try not to mention my own books. There is a book which the author plugged all over the Amazon forums when I posted there regularly. It may be wonderful, it’s certainly won awards, but there’s no way I will ever read it because of the author’s relentless spamming when it first came out. I loathe having things sold to me in a pushy way so I don’t knowingly push my book on others.

    I go on book blogs, personal recommendation and then when I get to the retail page (not always Amazon) I read the reviews.




    • July 17, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tweeting about other people’s books – that’s more what Twitter is for – short, but honest opinion. And you can tell when people are plugging rather than sincere. I’m right there with you on pushiness – nothing will turn me off more. Some authors just get a bit manic, I get that, but I can’t stop being turned off by pushiness nonetheless.


      • July 17, 2014 at 2:36 pm

        There’s no excuse for the levels of mania this bloke sank to. On the other hand, a bloke kept plugging a thriller on a fantasy thread I hang out on. He was obviously just going through doing all the threads every couple of days. I made a comment along the lines that it was a fantasy thread and asked whether he’d like to can the spam and chat and also if there were fantasy aspects in his thriller. He apologised and deleted it.

        If I read thrillers that much I probably would buy his book.




        • July 17, 2014 at 4:52 pm

          That’s interesting, how bad behaviour remedied can eventually have the desired effect! Not sure I’d be as patient! But fair dues…


  4. Sally
    July 17, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    That’s interesting, Tara. I have bought self-published books because of Twitter – not because the author told me to, but because I am following someone whose tweets I enjoy (and therefore assume I will enjoy their books, too). I bought Pat Fitzpatrick’s book because I read and enjoy his articles in the Sunday Independent and I read and enjoy his blog; I bought Lorna Sixsmith’s book because she responds to Pat’s blog and so I took a look at HER blog (and now also follow her on Twitter). Today I bought Piers Alexander’s book because I liked an article he wrote, which I found through Twitter. Authors that keep TELLING me to buy their books, though, soon get unfollowed or muted.

    I read and am influenced by Amazon reviews, but I am also very wary of them – too many family members and mates are posting 5-star reviews, especially in the early days of a book’s life. I always go to the low-starred reviews first and see what people didn’t like about a book, before I compare them with the higher-starred reviews. I don’t think I have ever bought a book through Amazon by browsing genres – and I have bought many, many books. Although, I do sometimes get seduced – much to my annoyance – by Amazon’s suggestions when I look up a book.

    I don’t tend to follow blogs, as generally I find book blog reviews too long. But if I found a reviewer I particularly liked I would follow up on their recommendations.

    Having said all this, I think the vast majority of readers don’t even know they are reading a self-published book, and so reaching those readers requires avenues other than social media – Polly Courtney is really good at this.


    • Sally
      July 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      I also bought Tom Cox’s books because I like his tweeting; same for Damien Owens and George Mahood. But none of them push their books particularly hard – I come to them by their other types of writing.


      • July 17, 2014 at 12:41 pm

        Sally, you’re a reader after my own heart! I couldn’t agree more – those things are exactly what pushes me to buy a book too. If I had a book out myself, I would be pouring through that for research purposes – often, I think that authors just aren’t listening to readers. If they did, their marketing might be a bit more effective.

        Overall, it seems to me that the best way of getting people to buy your books is to supply them first with what they like – be that by blogging, entertaining tweets, journalism and the like. That’s the only way to drum up trust that your book might not be awful.


  5. July 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Interesting post Tara and very interesting comments. I know I have read two self published authors because I enjoy their blogs (and both have commented here – Pat and MT McGuire) and it’s interesting to see that Sally found me via my comment on Pat’s blog. I have to say twitter is also an influence for me but I usually get a sense of the person first and have usually had a conversation before I click the link to look at the book.
    I purchased a book yesterday (published not self ) because of the author’s facebook page.


    • July 17, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      Can I ask you how you found the author’s FB page? Did they invite you to like it, or did you know them / of them already?
      I think these comments are brilliant. Keep them coming and I’ll summarise them in a post soon. It’s still not a huge number of people, but I’m pretty sure this information is what self-published authors are looking for!


      • July 17, 2014 at 1:07 pm

        Gosh, I can’t remember how I found that particular one – I’ve liked it for ages but only got around to buying the book yesterday. I wanted to buy a hard copy rather than an ebook and spotted it on a shelf in a bookshop!


        • July 17, 2014 at 1:10 pm

          Ah, I get you – is it an author you liked anyway, whose FB page reminded you to get their new book? Yep, I do that too, although it’s usually for traditionally published authors. Twitter can work the same way for me: as a reminder, but not for the initial impulse.


          • Sally
            July 17, 2014 at 1:36 pm

            Which reminds me … I bought (and it’s on the list to read) MT McGuire’s book because I saw her comment on Lorna’s blog, and I now follow MT on Twitter, too. So, authors, commenting on other people’s blogs gets you noticed. That’s Pat -> Lorna -> MT – three books bought … and I’m not really a blog follower.


            • July 17, 2014 at 4:33 pm

              There for you now! How to sell a book through blogging… Duly noted 🙂


            • July 17, 2014 at 4:58 pm

              Yay – I tell people it works and here’s proof! I loved the K’Barthan first two and have the second two on my list to buy for August 🙂


          • July 17, 2014 at 4:56 pm

            But I suppose I first liked the page cos of her book but it just took me about 8 months to get around to buying it. WAnted to hard copy as I think my dad will enjoy it too but never wanted it enough to go and get it asap.
            I found twitter to be the best tool during the crowdfunding campaign for my book btw 🙂


            • July 18, 2014 at 12:59 am

              Now there’s something which needs a whole other post – which I believe you’ve already done. Crowdfunding on Twitter successfully should deserve a whole baker’s dozen, in fact…


  6. July 17, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    I tend to find most self-published books from other bloggers and book blogs, then I go search for them and read the reviews. That tends to be the way I buy most books now to be honest 😀

    Great post!


    • July 17, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Thank you Harliqueen. This is really valuable stuff – I’m torn between keeping it for myself, in the event that I ever self-publish, and releasing it to the WORLD… oops, too late 😉


    • August 7, 2014 at 3:17 am

      I do the same. I read a lot book reviews posted by book bloggers and based on that, I go to Amazon and read an excerpt with the Look Inside feature. I’ve discovered a lot of wonderful authors this way, both self-published and traditional. 😉


      • August 7, 2014 at 9:44 am

        The Look Inside feature was the tool which first attracted me to online book buying. It seemed to make sense of the whole thing, even though I’m still not keen on the online browsing experience.


  7. Ali Isaac
    July 17, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Great in depth research there Tara lol! Just what we need to know! Twitter is only great for connecting with other authors or people working in publishing. I found my cover designer through Twitter. I dont believe we reach readers that way. I have found readers for my books through blogging about related subjects I discovered through my research, and through posting and commenting and generally behaving like a human being on Google+. I find my indi pubbed books to read by word of mouth ( not always reliable) or getting to know the author first via blogging and google+ . I read good and bad reviews, but my main buying tool is the look inside feature. Poor writing stands out a mile… and so does good writing!


    • July 17, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      I forgot about the look inside feature… That’s an absolute must, and though I’ve been conned by great opening chapters for godawful books before I blamed myself rather than the author!

      You do great related posts yourself- I adored your Iron Age cookery experiments. Superb idea which I hope was fruitful for you.


      • Ali Isaac
        July 17, 2014 at 4:46 pm

        It was… more on that soon… cant say too much right now!


      • Ali Isaac
        July 17, 2014 at 4:47 pm

        But glad you liked it! Thanks!


  8. July 17, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Book buying, Indie or traditional: My buying decision is based on the preview. I only buy paper. Reviewing: I hate reading books on screens, but will review an electronic ARC. I write technical critique reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and they are “liked” and voted “helpful.” My own book promotion: Primarily via blogging. I try to offer content of value to readers and writers, by analyzing how my novel was written, which is as much of a revelation to me as to anybody else, because I wrote it entirely by the seat of my pants: Everything that’s in it came as a complete surprise. It sells poorly, because it’s about highly controversial people and events. I attempt to make direct appeals in my posts funny or satirical (the comment I left about it here the other day was a synthesis of past blog remarks: normally long-winded*, I wanted to see if I could manage a 30-second, 100-word “commercial” pitch in the same spirit as your blog post). Otherwise, I just provide links to retailers and previews, and my only Twitter and Facebook activities are automatic links to my blog posts. (*This comment is in fewer than 200 words!)


    • July 17, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      I hope you saw my reply last time in the same vein! Seems that readers respond best to indirect approaches, such as your engagements with other blogs. I know it’s an uphill struggle but there doesn’t seem to be any freewheel in this job 😦


      • July 17, 2014 at 6:46 pm

        That bit about the re-runs could strike terror into the soul. A true vision of Hell. Dante, eat your heart out!

        BTW, your n=1 selfie-statistics could conceivably get into some peer-reviewed journal, as a “case study”. As for other studies, the size of a statistically significant sample is surprisingly small: n=6 will do it. You might consider doing a bit of number crunching on your blog post and its responses (just be sure to mention self-selection bias, and that base will be covered), and then start submitting! 😉


        • July 17, 2014 at 11:41 pm

          Yes indeed- I already have my white lab coat, & am poised to fly the flag for the new dubious science the world over!


  9. July 17, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    I had a good laugh at your graph as that is pretty much what i think as well. Yet at the same time it is all true; if someone tries to foist a book upon me then it will be the last book i ever buy. If there are good reviews for a novel of course i will give it due consideration or if i have read something by the same author and liked it. Strangely i have never bought one that has been blogged about even though i do about my own books.
    Oh and some can be just too pushy. I had one tweeted every three mins or so as well as direct mailing me and turning up on every book conversation in linked-in trying to sell me(and others) his teen vampire book. One of the threads was about the great french writers. I was just thinking to myself, Voltaire, Maupassant,Rousseau and a good teen vampire book, they go together well


    • July 18, 2014 at 1:04 am

      I love that, Raymond! Great example… trying to square-peg a teenage vampire romance into the great literary tradition. I call this the scatter-gun approach… fire enough tweets out, enough buy-my-book comments into unrelated discussions, and you’re sure to get 3 book purchases out of 1,000 views. It might be effective in some small way, but it’s a sure-fire way of ending up on my “will-never-read” list.


  10. July 17, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    You know, before people can BUY books, they have to DISCOVER them where at that time they’ll read the reviews and make a decision on purchasing. I think twitter is a great forum for letting readers know about books so I see nothing wrong with authors (not just self-published) tweeting about their books as long as that’s not all they’re doing day in and day out. They have to tweet about other things and other author’s books in order to make tweeting worthwhile. It’s the me me me stuff that will eventually turn people off. It’s the same with Facebook and other avenues used for marketing and advertising. So I hope your post doesn’t stop any authors from using twitter to help with their book marketing. And BTW, I have discovered some great books on there.


    • July 18, 2014 at 1:08 am

      You’re right, of course. Marketing has very different effects on different people, but like I said, my findings are based on the inexplicably infallible study of just one person! That said, many of the commenters below seem to be of like mind. It can be a cultural thing, too – some countries respond better to a hard sell, some to a more subtle approach.


  11. July 18, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I never read book reviews in newspapers. They’re so dull and worthy. I do check them on Amazon though. The last ebook I bought was solely because I saw it on Twitter and I liked the title and the cover. How shallow is that? But I really enjoyed it. Generally, I buy stuff through word of mouth.


    • July 18, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      Yes indeed, Elaine, there is nothing shallower than choosing to buy a book because you liked the look of it. You’d better not let the other kids know, or you won’t be allowed to sit at the Snobby Table. And that would be dreaddddful…


      • July 18, 2014 at 6:00 pm

        Too late! They took my chair away years ago. I’m always buying Pan paperbacks (remember them?) at car boots because of their fabulously lurid covers. And they’re nearly all great stories.


  12. July 19, 2014 at 10:51 am

    I confess I have a rather lazy attitude towards reading self-published books, I definitely need to take more advantage of what hidden gems there are in the self-published market. I agree that seeing authors market their books on twitter really puts me off. Instead I’m more likely to read one when I see that it has really good reviews on amazon from readers who are likely to have a less biased view than their author.


    • July 19, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      I know what you mean – online reviews, like twitter, can be white noise. It’s hard to know what to listen to. I agree with some commenters that the lower-starred reviews can be very enlightening, in that they can strike a chord – or not. I call that ‘the tone of the moan’ 😉


  13. July 20, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.


  14. johanna buchanan
    July 25, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    So I’m very late to this discussion. But I buy self-published books the same way as I buy books that are traditionally published. One, someone recommends it. Two, I like the cover (call me shallow). Three, the blurb introduces characters I wouldn’t mind spending time with.
    Four, the location is somewhere I’d like to hang out for a while. Five, I’ve read something else by the author and enjoyed it. Six, I like the first page.
    All of this means I have to discover the book first though. And that’s the big problem for self-published authors. Discoverability.


    • carolannwrites
      July 25, 2014 at 7:07 pm

      Discoverability! There’s my word for the week now! I need a bit o’ that! 🙂


    • July 26, 2014 at 12:09 am

      I’ve been hearing a lot of people say this week that the cover is number 1 or 2 on their list of what they look for when buying. I don’t think it’s shallow at all. You need the book’s cover to tell you what sort of book it is, and if it’s amateurish, or confusing, it can spell disaster. It will almost certainly result in you not getting discovered, because they’ll never make it to your blurb!

      Your comment is also a good indicator of the step-by-step process most readers go through when deciding whether or not to buy, even if they don’t realise it. It’s not one thing which makes us buy, it’s several factors. As soon as I’ve collected a bit more data, I’ll do a post on it, using all the feedback I’ve got on this post.


  15. BRMaycock
    July 31, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    As a first time self pubber heading into The bright lights(and hopefully not the dark abyss;) of chick lit,I find this entire article terrifying… But very helpful!from my own point of view I am in that class of reader that goes on word of mouth or simply the cover and blurb, though I am now looking at more and more blogs.Scary how much social media selling bugs people,just because that’s always been the way we were told to try to sell,but I can see how irritating a twitter begging letter (which,let’s face it,that’s what it is) well,is!!!I’d love people to read and properly enjoy my book,so I guess I can just try my best and hope!!!; .


    • July 31, 2014 at 10:07 pm

      Oh I hope I haven’t truly terrified you! I am only one person, and rather too fond of graphs at that. And I think the whole social media thing just goes wrong too easily: it’s not that people shouldn’t sell on social media, it’s that lots of people with no marketing or sales knowledge are trying their best and it comes across as pushy or desperate sometimes, which isn’t good for getting people to buy stuff.

      I think if we sit back and think about how we like to find, or buy things ourselves, we should sell them the same way, because what suits your audience might not suit mine, and vice versa. Have faith in your work!


  16. August 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    This was very helpful, Tara, and scary This fall or early winter, I will be self-pubbing my first book. With that in mind, I just started blogging, but have only been writing about the process of writing and a few other issues that interest me. If blogging is the answer, my question is how do I get other people to notice my blog, and how do I get my book noticed by those who blog about other people’s books?

    I know exactly what you mean about spamming. One day in the spring, someone (I don’t remember the name) posted all over facebook the announcement of the publication of his/her book. I saw it so many times that I swore not to buy it, and I remember the cover!


    • August 7, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Hi, and welcome to my den of scary iniquity ;).

      I don’t have the secret of success, I’m afraid (if I did, I would be writing this from an island where I had personally paid for the wi-fi infrastructure from the few million in small change I found down my sofa. I’m not) but I can only tell you the way that writers attract my attention in the best way.

      Most of the self-published stuff I read is because the book blurb described something I wanted to read, on a subject I was interested in, in a style I liked. Most of the blogs I read either tell me something I didn’t know before, but find valuable to know, or just make me laugh. And most of the authors I take notice of online have either written such blogs or such books, or made comments on other people’s social media pages in a way which caught my attention and entertained me.

      I know it’s not easy – but it does work!

      Liked by 1 person

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